As part of our primary coverage, we’re looking at some of the experiences that have shaped the candidates who are running for governor. NHPR’s Casey McDermott joins us to talk about Republican Frank Edelblut and the record he established during his first term in the House of Representatives.
So Casey, Edelblut is relatively new to political office – correct?
Right – and if you ask him, he’d say that’s a good thing.
It’s his first term in the New Hampshire House of Representatives – he was elected in 2014, and he serves a handful of towns in Hillsborough County. In the legislature, he sits on the child and family law committee, the finance committee and a special committee on public employee pensions.
Outside of the legislature, for what it’s worth, he also serves as a water commissioner in his hometown of Wilton.
But overall, he actually has the shortest record of public service among the Republicans running for governor. In that time, he’s racked up a pretty solidly conservative record. And that, in turn has paid off for him on the campaign trail – he has a lot of conservative groups that have taken notice and endorsed him in his run for governor.
Keeping in mind that he hasn’t been in the legislature very long, what kind of legislation is he putting forward?
So one of his first bills, for example, was a resolution applying to Congress to convene a convention of the states – basically like a modern-day Constitutional convention. This is kind of a fringe issue, but in line with his emphasis generally on being a Constitutional conservative.
The legislation cited a need toguard “against future abuses of power by the federal government” and “crushing national debt through improper and imprudent spending,” and a long list of other grievances.
Again, this was very on-brand with the Constitutional conservative image he played up in the legislature, and now in his gubernatorial campaign.
What about some of the other bills he’s proposed?
So looking at the pieces of legislation he’s brought : The first year he was in the legislature, he sponsored five bills, and two of them became law. One addressed pipeline siting, one addressed taxes for charter schools.
This year, his second year in office, he’s sponsored 26 bills – and four of them have become law
The proposals he’s backed, including the bills that haven’t passed, have reflected a lot of the themes we’re hearing from him in his campaign: constitutional rights, gun rights, personal liberty and so on.
A few of the bills he’s sponsored include:
- A bill that specifically outlined protections for protests, petitions, other acts of expression on college campuses. The bill also set up a process for someone to seek out grievances if they felt their rights had been violated. This did not pass.
- A bill allowing National Guard to carry concealed weapons at national guard facilities. (This question of whether to start arming guards became a hot-button issue following a shooting at military facilities in Tennessee last year.) This also did not pass.
- Several bills asserting parental rights — for example, one that affirmed that "parents have the natural right to control the health, education, and welfare of their children " — a theme that comes up a lot in his campaign.
He was also a prime sponsor on a bill to raise the cap on net metering, which earned bipartisan support. He’s been in the middle of the conversation on this for a while — and, in general, you hear him talk a lot about the innovation economy and removing barriers that might stifle growth for individuals or businesses. So this proposal fit into his broader philosophy there.
Where has he been on some of the other big policy debates this year?
Here, too, he’s established himself as a fiscal and a social conservative.
On Medicaid expansion, he was front and center at the committee hearings to testify against extending that program – he argued against it because of the costs, but he also argued that the program was set up in a way that it risked trapping people in a cycle of poverty.
And then there was his testimony on a completely different issue, a proposal to ban LGBT conversion therapy for minors. He also offered a forceful – and fairly lengthy – testimony arguing against that piece of legislation earlier this year. When the bill was up in the house, he spoke for more than 20 minutes against it. He stressed repeatedly that he wasn’t necessarily for or against conversation therapy itself, but he went almost section-by-section, trying to pick apart the way the bill was written and some of the studies it referenced about the harm that could come from subjecting kids to this kind of therapy.
So those are two examples of other issues where he was really outspoken in the legislature.
Presumably, all of the candidates want to appeal to conservatives in a Republican primary – how does he fit in with the rest of the field?
You don’t really see his opponents going after him – mostly, they’re too busy attacking each other. But you do see him taking aim at the other candidates, questioning their conservative records.
I’ve seen him go after Chris Sununu quite a few times, questioning some votes he’s cast on the executive council – specifically, he keeps bringing up a vote that Sununu took to confirm one member of the board of education who, according to Edelblut, is an opponent of school choice.
Edelblut's also gone after Gatsas on the issue of Common Core. He points out that Gatsas says he opposes Common Core, but the curriculum in Manchester essentially still includes a lot of those standards.
You mentioned earlier that he’s earned endorsements from a number of grassroots or advocacy organizations. Can you give us a sense of what that list looks like?
Even though he has a relatively short voting record compared to some of his opponents, Edelblut is trying to make the most of it – it’s allowed him to rack up conservative credentials with a number of organizations that can typically wield influence during a Republican primary, including: The 603 Alliance, a grassroots conservative group that backed Ted Cruz during the primary; NH Liberty Alliance; NH Right to Life; NH Conservative Majority Project and others. He also signed the Americans for Prosperity "pledge," which gives him some credentials among more libertarian-leaning voters, and he’s won a number of straw polls at events during the campaign.
How is he framing this record on the campaign trail?
The big thing is that he’s trying to turn this lack of political experience into an asset – he boasts about being the only candidate who’s not a lifelong or career politician. And in a year where there’s a lot of buzz around so-called “outsider” candidates, that makes sense that he’d play up this aspect of his biography.
If you visit his Facebook page, get his emails or listen to him on the trail, he does make a lot of references to his endorsements from conservative groups.
But he doesn’t necessarily want to be typecast as only someone who appeals to only the right-wing of the Republican party. I asked him about the support he was building among conservatives last month, and here’s how he responded:
“It’s not just conservatives. It’s across a lot of different sectors. I mean, we have the endorsement of the marijuana project. So think about the headline that was in the Union Leader – they’ve endorsed liberal Democrat Steve Marchand and conservative Republican Frank Edelblut,” Edelblut said. “I’m a very liberty-oriented person, so we’re going to bring a lot of different folks into this campaign.”
We’ll find out on Tuesday just how many people he was able to bring in.