N.H. Executive Councilor Andru Volinksy announced Monday that he has formed a steering committee for a potential gubernatorial campaign.
Volinsky, a Concord Democrat whose executive council district includes much of the Monadnock Region, said he sought support from local leaders in assembling 177 signatories for the committee, including former Keene city councilor Margaret M. “Maggie” Rice; state Rep. Alexander H. “Sparky” Von Plinsky, D-Keene; and state Rep. Craig Thompson, D-Harrisville.
“Andru Volinsky has been an excellent Executive Councilor, and I look forward to participating on his exploratory committee,” Rice wrote in a message to The Sentinel Monday night.
Thompson said he signed onto the committee because of Volinsky’s long history of advocacy for adequate education funding.
Earlier in his career, Volinsky served as lead counsel for the Claremont School District’s landmark lawsuits against the state, leading the N.H. Supreme Court to establish a constitutional obligation for the state to provide an adequate public education.
The issue over school funding remains fraught, with the ConVal Regional, Monadnock Regional, Winchester and Mascenic school districts recently winning a similar suit that could force the Legislature to redraw its school-funding formula.
“There’s still only one overarching issue facing New Hampshire, and that’s our education funding overlapping with burdensome property taxes,” Thompson said Monday. “We have a 19th-century tax system and a 21st-century problem.”
In an interview Monday, Volinksy said education funding and property tax relief would be central to a potential campaign.
“I always pair education funding with the overburdening of the property tax,” Volinsky said. “So I think of it both in terms of educational opportunity for the children in the schools and the burden of all of the downshifting from the state to the local [property taxpayers] ...”
New Hampshire’s five-member executive council serves as a check on the governor, responsible for approving any contract greater than $10,000 and handling nominations to state government positions. Volinsky, who is in his second term in the council’s second-district seat, is the latest executive councilor to seek higher office after Colin Van Ostern ran an unsuccessful bid for governor against Chris Sununu in 2016 and Chris Pappas succeeded Carol Shea-Porter in Congress.
Sununu, a Republican, was also an executive councilor when he first ran for governor, in 2016.
Race for corner office begins to take shape
With the launch of his committee, Volinsky becomes the third Democrat to announce a potential run against Sununu in 2020.
While Democrats retook majorities in both chambers of the Legislature in the 2018 midterms and held both of New Hampshire’s Congressional seats by healthy margins, Sununu still won re-election to his second term by 7 percentage points over his Democratic opponent, former state senator Molly Kelly of Harrisville.
Sununu is seeking his third two-year term in Concord’s corner office, while Kelly said she is considering another run for governor in a May interview with The Sentinel.
Volinksy argued that he would draw a clearer contrast than Kelly with the governor on education funding and property taxes.
“I think the distinction between Chris Sununu and me is a lot more clear and crisp than was the distinction between the governor and Molly Kelly,” Volinksy said.
“I’m front and center, 30 years’ worth of working on school-funding issues, and I think I can speak with more detail and more forcefully on that topic than virtually anyone in the state,” he continued, “and Chris Sununu doesn’t really understand the topic, and hasn’t shown a real interest in learning how it affects the children and [workforce development].”
Kelly’s 2018 primary opponent, former Portsmouth mayor Steve Marchand, also told The Sentinel he’s mulling another run, and was given the blessing of his new boss, Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, to whom Marchand is serving as a senior campaign adviser.
Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, a Concord Democrat, is also said to be considering a challenge to Sununu, according to the Valley News of Lebanon.
A spokesman for the governor’s office declined to comment on Volinksy’s announcement Monday.
Volinsky said a final decision on whether he’ll enter the race should be made by mid-fall, and that he will continue working on executive council items over the summer, in addition to traveling the state to hear from voters.
In the Monadnock Region, he said he is hoping to hear from residents about their priorities and welcomes questions about his positions.
“I expect and encourage people to kick the tires, so to speak.”