In the races for the two N.H. Executive Council seats representing parts of the Monadnock Region, we endorse Cinde Warmington of Concord in District 2, which covers Keene and the northern part of the region, and Debora Pignatelli of Nashua in District 5, representing the southern half.
In District 5, incumbent Pignatelli again faces Republican David Wheeler of Milford. In 2018, the Nashua Democrat defeated Wheeler, who was then the incumbent. In fact, the two have traded the seat for most of the past two decades — dating back to when the district encompassed Keene and the bulk of the Monadnock Region.
As we noted then, Wheeler knows Granite State government. A former member of both the N.H. House and Senate, he’s knowledgeable and serious about the role and not shy about putting in the required effort.
The same can be said of Pignatelli. As a councilor, she worked to stop the practice of awarding no-bid contracts without scrutiny, except in specific, necessary cases. She was also instrumental in beginning the practice of holding public hearings for judicial and departmental nominees, in both cases creating needed transparency where there had been none.
One trend we’ve noted in recent years is the increasing degree to which ideology and partisanship have affected the votes of councilors. The position, though candidates run representing their parties, has historically not been one in which ideology has a major role. The main jobs are to be a check on state spending and to vet major gubernatorial nominees.
Pignatelli put the blame for the recent trend on Gov. Chris Sununu, a former councilor himself, saying he’s politicized appointments to key positions. But the councilors must choose for themselves on what basis they’ll determine their assessment of judicial and department-head nominees. And in the case of Supreme Court nominee Gordon MacDonald, the state’s attorney general, the ideology was clearly a factor. Pignatelli noted her own decision on MacDonald was largely based on her wish to keep the court “balanced” and because the attorney general has indicated support for school vouchers.
Wheeler, for his part, has made clear ideology drives his actions to a great degree. He’s said that any judge must meet his anti-abortion and pro-gun rights limit tests to get his approval. He’s voted in the past against a judicial nominee who, as a public defender, actually defended a client whose crime offended Wheeler. He has in the past, and again this year, said flat out he won’t vote for state funding of Planned Parenthood’s women’s health contract because of that organization’s stance on abortion, and he refused to approve paying for a state contract for expanded Medicaid — something passed in a bipartisan agreement — because of his personal opposition to the Affordable Care Act.
If Pignatelli’s hope to keep Sununu from packing the court with conservatives is off-putting, Wheeler’s wholesale refusal to fund important health benefits for thousands of Granite Staters is far more objectionable, and his position on judicial appointments would also be driven by ideology. We endorse Pignatelli.
The race in District 2, which stretches from Hinsdale to the Seacoast, is between Lempster Republican Jim Beard and Concord Democrat Cinde Warmington.
Beard ran two years ago against Andru Volinsky. At the time, he struck us as a smart businessman, but someone who’s outlook for the position of executive councilor seemed off — his positions all reflected a desire to be legislating or directing policy, rather than acting as a check on spending and appointments. This time around, he seems to have a better understanding of what the council does. He told The Sentinel in August he feels his background in the aviation business gives him the knowledge of contracts needed to oversee state deals, while he stressed the need to address spending related to the COVID pandemic. Still, it’s hard to shake the impression he’d rather be running for state Senate, if he weren’t in the district of fellow Republican Ruth Ward.
Warmington, however, seems better-suited to the job. She’s spent decades in hospital management and then as an attorney in the health-care field, and with Health and Human Services being the state’s largest department, that experience could be invaluable — particularly in the midst of the twin crises of the coronavirus pandemic and the mental health/substance abuse woes already facing the state. She’s capable and impresses with her understanding of the important oversight role the council plays. She would represent the district well.