A state senator and an executive councilor are going head to head for the Democratic nomination for New Hampshire governor.
N.H. Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes and Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, both attorneys from Concord, are the only two Democrats on the primary ballot. Three Republicans are also seeking the post: incumbent Gov. Chris Sununu of Newfields, Karen Testerman of Franklin and Nobody, a Keene resident who was known as Rich Paul before legally changing his name. The winners of the Sept. 8 primaries will face off during the Nov. 3 general election.
In addition, Bill Fortune of Lee and Darryl Perry of Manchester have both filed declarations of intent to run for governor as third-party candidates.
Here’s a look at the Democratic field:
Dan Feltes, 41, a third-term state senator, has lived in Concord since 2006, shortly after he earned his law degree from the University of Iowa. A native of Dubuque, Iowa, Feltes earned a masters in public policy from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., with an emphasis on energy and regulatory policy, and an undergraduate degree from the University of Northern Iowa.
After finishing his law degree, Feltes was employed by N.H. Legal Assistance, where he worked until 2014 representing families of low to moderate income, veterans and seniors. For four years, he directed the organization’s Housing Justice Project, which provides support to individuals and families that are either without shelter or at immediate risk of becoming homeless.
Since becoming a senator, Feltes has continued to do some legal work and taught part time at New England College in Henniker. But he said he has made his elected role his number one priority.
While on the campaign trail for governor, Feltes has put forth policy plans to improve education, address systemic racism and reduce the state’s environmental impact.
He says that prioritizing clean energy projects is good not only for the environment, but also the economy and could help jolt the state out of difficult financial times due to the pandemic.
“Those new jobs in clean energy, and unlocking that opportunity, is in part how we get out of COVID-19,” he said recently, while visiting the solar-powered building that houses Keene Ice as well as the city’s police and public works departments. “Those jobs for workers and working families are good jobs.”
His plan includes three recommendations to reduce the state’s carbon footprint and energy costs. They are encouraging the implementation of clean power projects at the local level, pushing developers to think about clean energy when constructing new buildings or renovating and pursuing clean transportation options.
Feltes also said he would establish an office of racial equity within the governor’s office. He said Vermont has done this, and New Hampshire should follow suit.
“The office of racial equity would be staffed by a person of color,” he said. “It would identify systemic policies and practices in state government that have a disproportionate impact on communities of color and then work to eradicate those policies or adjust them.”
He said he is committed to nominating a person of color to the N.H. Supreme Court, who would be the first person of color to serve on that body. Housing security and paid family leave are also priorities, he said, both generally and as they relate to racial justice.
As for the COVID-19 pandemic, Feltes said the state should have offered more guidance to schools as they prepared to reopen and has criticized reopening guidelines that left many key decisions up to local districts.
His education plan details everything from cleaning and mealtime protocols to social-distancing measures and assessments of school buildings to ensure they have proper ventilation.
“[The plan] is a product of actually working with public health officials ... constructing an actual, safe school reopening plan to support our communities,” Feltes said. “These folks that sign up to school boards, they’re not epidemiologists.”
Andru Volinsky, 64, is an executive councilor representing the second district, which spans from the border with Maine to the Vermont line and includes much of the Monadnock Region. A native of eastern Pennsylvania, he now lives in Concord and has been a New Hampshire resident for nearly 40 years.
Volinsky earned his law degree from George Washington Law School in Washington, D.C. Before that, he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Miami in Florida. He said he was the first in his family to go to college.
He got his start as a lawyer practicing criminal law and teaching at the University of Tennessee before moving to New Hampshire in 1982 and becoming a public defender. For the past 17 years, Volinsky has worked for Bernstein and Shur, a law firm with offices in New Hampshire and Maine.
He has served as both legal counsel and a board member for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and said he has done volunteer work, both in representing death-row inmates and during the Claremont school funding case that was decided by the N.H. Supreme Court in 1997. That decision established the state’s constitutional obligation to fund an adequate education.
Addressing disparities in the state’s education funding, which is heavily reliant on property taxes, has become a focal point for Volinsky and something he said he would continue to pursue if elected. While New Hampshire voters and politicians have long resisted new taxes, Volinsky said income, sales and other taxes must be considered to increase financial resources for schools. He also advocated for legalizing and taxing marijuana and using those revenues to help fund schools.
“New Hampshire has the most regressive school funding system of any state in New England,” Volinsky said. “The communities that tax themselves the highest raise the least, and taxes are always higher where people are poorest.”
But it’s not just the funding aspect of education that interests Volinsky. He also said education generally needs to be improved, especially schools’ ability to function during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Remote instruction works well in communities with resources, he said, but for those with fewer resources, it isn’t as successful. Like Feltes, he said the state should provide more guidance for reopening school buildings rather than leaving it up to individual communities.
Aside from education reform, Volinsky said one of his other priorities is climate change. He said he would oppose any new projects that would derive natural gas from fracking, would establish a “citizen-informed plan” to make the state carbon-neutral by the year 2030 and would promote the creation of new green-energy jobs.
He also said he would make a point to staff his office with people of color, which he said he has done in his campaign and legal offices, and would seek “broad input” from minority communities when considering nominations for state positions. He supports demilitarizing the police, which has been a common talking point among anti-police-brutality activists, and enhancing officer training in an effort to decrease the need for use of force.
“I would take advantage of the fact that New Hampshire has a single police recruit academy so that all new officers would get implicit bias training, deeper training and experience in conflict de-escalation and mediation skills,” he said. “We’re lucky to have that one point of training that everyone comes through, and we should make good use of it.”
Regarding the pandemic, Volinsky said he would issue a statewide mask mandate. And funding for businesses that have suffered financially due to the outbreak should be more closely targeted toward small and medium-sized companies, he added.
He also supports urging the state’s federal delegation to support an “Andrew Yang-style” universal basic income and a universal, single-payer health-care system. He added that he supports a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour and noted that the need for more financial stability for the working class has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.
“COVID makes those issues much more acute, and we’re not getting out of COVID any time soon,” he said. “So now is the time to put together the kind of supports that people need to live.”