With Two Members Gunning for Higher Office, Executive Council Gets the Spotlight

Oct 22, 2015

Executive Councilors David Wheeler, Joseph Kenney, Colin Van Ostern, and Chris Sununu at Governor Hassan's inauguration in January, 2015
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

N.H.’s Executive Council took its show on the road Wednesday to the town of Mason. There was no high-profile item before the council, but regardless of the agenda, expect the council to be front and center politically through next November.

There are two things that made the council meeting in Mason a bit out of the norm: the dozens of people who showed up to voice opposition to the proposed Kinder Morgan Pipeline -- a project over which the council has no direct say -- and the political dynamic afoot now that Governor Hassan is running for U.S. Senate and two councilors, Republican Chris Sununu and Democrat Colin Van Ostern, are openly vying to be her successor. This all collided outside Mason town hall.

"I’m getting educated about it. FERC is getting educated about it.  The SEC will be very educated by it."

That was Governor Hassan talking to one protestor.

Across the street, Councilor Colin Van Ostern spoke to another.

“I mean I’ve heard a lot of concerns both about the fracking, but also  why it’s coming through NH in the first place. And I haven't heard good answers to those questions yet."  

A few steps away an activist was waylaying Councilor Chris Sununu.

“Where do you stand?”

“You know I’m keeping everything open, like I was saying. I’m meeting all of them.”

“That’s spinning. You’ve got to come out. You can’t just keep it open. You’ve got to come out, for or against." 

“One way or the other we will get there, absolutely." 

Sununu was talking about staking a firm position on pipeline, but the same could be said about keeping the council running smooth through November. Election years tend to make the generally collegial council more partisan. And never before have three of the six people sitting at the council table been gunning for statewide office.

That means there will be no shortage of scrutiny of the council’s work. 

The chambers of the Executive Council at the N.H. Statehouse in Concord
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

On this day a tracker from the Republican group America Rising was filming Governor Hassan’s every move. The Democratic group American Bridge has been known to do the same to Councilor Sununu.

As election season begins in earnest the attention will only grow. Governor Hassan will likely bear the brunt of this, but says she’s confident the fresh prominence of a generally sleepy part of government won’t get in the way of the state’s business.

“I think we’ve been focused on the work of the council  well in the last few meetings and you see that everybody is working very hard. “

And will be working hard to win next year’s election.