Some Parting Thoughts After Six Years On The Executive Council
For the past six years, it has been my distinct honor to serve as a member of New Hampshire’s Executive Council. During that time, I represented nineteen communities and was truly proud to work to make a difference for my district by putting people before politics. As I transition into a new position representing the 1stDistrict in Congress beginning January 3rd, I have been taking some time to reflect on my work as a councilor and how it might prepare me for what lies ahead.
The Executive Council embodies the best of our citizen-led government by providing checks and balance within state government, oversight of the various state agencies, and transparency for the citizens of New Hampshire. Our chief duties include voting on most state contracts; leading the state’s 10 year transportation planning process; considering pardon requests; and confirming (or rejecting) nominees to hundreds of key posts from our courts to departments, boards, and commissions.
In many ways, the power and impact of the Council is rooted in the ability of councilors to ask good questions — of nominees for key positions, of the Governor, or of department heads. Through this process, you often find nominees and contracts can withstand thoughtful inquiries and focused scrutiny. Sometimes, you come across individuals who are unprepared or contracts that are not a good use of taxpayer funds. This careful oversight creates more efficient and effective state government — Washington sure could use a healthy dose of such scrutiny and sunlight.
Through the literally hundreds of thousands of pages on our agendas over the past six years, there have been many highlights including instances where my one vote swung a decision in an important direction:
Medicaid Expansion — In 2014, a 3–2 vote of the Council began the implementation of the bipartisan compromise plan to expand the state’s Medicaid program as part of the Affordable Care Act. The program, funded by more than 90% federal funds, now covers more than 53,000 Granite Staters. It has improved health outcomes, lessened the strain of uncompensated care on our health care system, and expanded services to those suffering from substance use disorder.
Family Planning Program — On two occasions — in 2011 and 2015 — the Council rejected critical funding for Planned Parenthood as part of the state’s family planning program which. jeopardized cancer screenings, annual exams, and wellness visits for thousands of Granite Staters. This action thrust the Council into a charged political space where it didn’t belong, but by fighting back we were able to restore funding in subsequent years.
Opioid Epidemic — The Council worked closely with Governor Hassan and Governor Sununu to approve important grants and expand the availability for prevention, treatment, and recovery services. It is clear that as our crisis of addiction and mental health evolves over time, we need partners at the federal level who will fight for resources to invest in New Hampshire strategies that are working.
Transportation Infrastructure — The Council puts a great deal of effort in identifying transportation priorities and approving contracts that move those projects forward. The last six years have seen a flurry of construction work including the I-93 expansion, the 101 widening in Bedford, two new bridges in Portsmouth, and the Spaulding turnpike expansion. We have also brought about an increase in paving, bridge and culvert repairs, and safety upgrades that help address our state’s needs. More needs to be done including investing in alternative modes of transportation. Commuter rail from Manchester to Boston is an economic game-changer, yet we failed to move it forward over the past four years. I hope to work with state officials to bring this and other critical priorities to fruition.
Renewable Energy — The Council approved a number of renewable energy grants for important projects across the state, but I regret we couldn’t muster the political will to get others done. From hydro to solar to biomass projects, these grants made the difference in bringing about renewable energy projects. What’s clear is that Granite State households, communities, and businesses want to be a part of the change we need to make to reduce our carbon footprint and confront climate change. We need bold federal strategies that are going to complement these efforts and move us forward.
Those are just a handful of the issues that have landed on the Council table where the agenda is always expansive in its breadth. Just as I remember some of the bigger battles, I think of many other moments that don’t make headlines: getting out and seeing the impact of a program like Meals on Wheels; taking our meetings on the road to locations such as the Food Bank and Castle in the Clouds; and having a steady stream of fourth graders livening up the Council chambers.
I’ll cherish the time I spent working collegially with two governors and eight different councilors. Truthfully, the best lessons I learned about being a councilor and public service more generally were from Ray Burton, and they will stay with me as I move on. He once told me that the best councilors are the ones who spend the least time at the State House and the most time out in their districts. I think that advice is sage for members of Congress as well.
That should give you a sense that the most meaningful work of a councilor — and the most memorable for me — is the constituent service. Helping someone in need navigate state bureaucracy or get a problem addressed is an essential part of the job. I have received countless calls and emails from folks seeking assistance. People have reached out when their house was in foreclosure, when a family member struggled with addiction, or when they had trouble with their benefits. In my new capacity, I am eager to build a strong constituent service operation in our district offices that will be responsive to those who need us.
There’s nothing like the Executive Council anyplace in America. I have great faith that the next Council will again rise to the challenge of its constitutional charge, focus on getting it right for the people of New Hampshire, and be a good steward of the institution. Its roots may be in the colonial era, but the Council remains as relevant as ever to the function and future of our state government. I am humbled to have been a part of it all, and I know these experiences will guide me as I assume a new role. I’m thrilled by the opportunity to bring some New Hampshire know-how to Congress, and I can’t wait to get started.