New State Senator: No Conflict of Interest in Leading N.H.'s Largest Teachers Union

Dec 28, 2016

Scott McGilvray
Credit Michael Brindley

  An incoming state Senator who also heads New Hampshire's largest teachers union says he’ll be open about any conflicts of interest that may come from serving in the two roles simultaneously.

But Scott McGilvray, a Hooksett Democrat, said it's only "critics" raising concerns about where his interests will lie.

"Being part of running the state’s largest teachers union, it certainly puts a big target on my back," he told NHPR's Morning Edition.

  McGilvray said before the election he planned to keep working as head of the state chapter of the National Education Association while also serving in the state Senate.

He says he won’t vote on bills where he has a personal conflict of interest, such as bills that could affect his pension, but says he's still working on where to draw the line.

“Advocating for children and our public schools I don’t believe is a conflict of interest," McGilvray said. "If we had to turn around and do something that would affect the salary and benefits of school district employees, then I would need to take a look at that then.”

McGilvray, a retired educator, was also a lobbyist for the union until earlier this year. As NEA president, McGilvray will continue to earn a salary; he was paid $161,875 in 2014.

He wouldn't say whether he would vote on bills the NEA is lobbying for in the Statehouse.

"I certainly will vet (bills) with the Senate majority and minority leader as well as legal counsel," he said. "I’ve already talked to all of them about this. And we’re going to have to see as we go."

The NEA represents more than 17,000 school employees in New Hampshire, according to the organization’s website.

Before the election, State Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Horn said it would be impossible for McGilvray to serve his constituents and keep his job. According to the Union Leader, Horn said McGilvray is risking conflicts on the state budget, and any bills relating to retirement, labor laws, and private and public education.

You can read McGilvray's full interview below:

I do want to ask you about your plan to keep working as president of the state chapter of the National Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. What’s your response to critics who say this will be a conflict of interest?

Well, if it was a conflict of interest, there are plenty of people that are at the Statehouse that work for companies or own businesses that would benefit from business taxes and other things. I will certainly disclose any conflicts of interest, and if I need to recuse myself, I certainly would.

But you could see where some people would have legitimate concerns or some worries about that?

Yeah, and those are the critics. Being the only person to flip a seat, I’m an easy target. Being part of running the state’s largest teachers union, it certainly puts a big target on my back. (editor's note: there were two Senators to flip a seat: Republican Harold French ousted incumbent Democrat Andrew Hosmer).

Is it fair for people to question where your interests lie?

Well, I would think they would look at me and say you’re an educator, you’re going to be gung ho for education. You’re the leader of a large union, you’re going to be pro-labor. I certainly will do my work and advocate for education and proper funding of it, full-day kindergarten, but I’m no longer lobbying and haven’t since almost near the end of last session.

Would you vote on a bill the NEA was lobbying for?

If it was a conflict of interest in a personal way, then we’re going to have cross that bridge when it comes.

What do you mean when you say a conflict of interest in a personal way?

For instance, I’m part of the state retirement system. My wife is, too. I shouldn’t be voting on a retirement bill that would affect my pension. Advocating for education and our public schools I don’t believe is a conflict of interest. If we had to turn around and do something that would affect the salary and benefits of school district employees, then I would need to take a look at that then. I certainly will vet (bills) with the Senate majority and minority leader as well as legal counsel. I’ve already talked to all of them about this. And we’re going to have to see as we go.

You’ll also be sitting on the transportation committee, and a lot has been made about New Hampshire’s red-listed bridges, and the need to address the state’s aging infrastructure. Taking into account budget limitations, what do you see as the priorities on this issue?

I think we need to invest in projects for our infrastructure, fix our red-listed bridges. We can see the impact of the full expansion of I-93 is good in both directions; getting people down into Massachusetts and getting people from Massachusetts up here. It’s like if you own a house and ignore it, eventually you end up with decay and you end up with issues. So coming up with a solid plan and invest in projects is the way we need to go.

How do you find the money for some infrastructure projects? Would you be in favor of any tax revenue?

I’m not in favor of raising income tax. I think, you know, Live Free or Die is our motto for a reason, so we need to find other ways, use a lot of ingenuity and creativity to find money.

But how do you get creative and find that revenue?

Well, certainly I think we need to look at supporting job training projects and create jobs that create more money. If you’re only making minimum wage, you’re not contributing as much back into the economy. I’m certainly in favor of raising the minimum wage and that money comes back into your community.

On the economy and jobs, obviously the state’s unemployment rate is in a good place right now, but businesses say they’re having trouble finding skilled workers to fill jobs. How do you address that?

Certainly retaining and attracting qualified employees to work in companies is very important. I would think that we need to start to expand opportunities for high school kids to partner up with these businesses and get some education. For example, you can graduate from most of the tech schools in communities in say cosmetology and you’re fully licensed. The day you graduate you can go out and obtain a job. Or partner up with the automotive industry so that kids are getting time and experience working on automobiles so they can go in and work as a mechanic in a good-paying job, or plumbing or electrician, things like that.

Obviously, the opioid crisis is something that’s not going away any time soon. What has the state been doing right here, and what needs to be done differently?

It’s just like any problem you deal with in your life: you’ve got to come at it from multiple directions, multiple angles. The same old way doesn’t work with everybody. I’m really in favor of it being a multi-part solution, not just a silver bullet. Safe stations are great, so are drug courts, so is education, so is treatment. I think we really need to take a look at that as a state and as a community.

As an educator, what would you like to see done in the schools, as far as talking to students about this?

It’s certainly, and this is not something that’s been talked about, is that we need to educate kids. And not just high school kids, but all the way through. Our drug education is very limited in health classes. I certainly believe that educating is one of those approaches, along with the other stuff.

You’d like to see something put into a curriculum?

Correct.