An Unusual Challenge In The North Country
An unusual and important race in the North County will be decided on Tuesday.
It’s the political future of Bing Judd, a longtime Coos County Commissioner and one of the best-known figures in the region.
NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.
For the first time in more than a decade Coos County Commissioner Burnham “Bing” Judd is being challenged for the commissioner’s spot he’s held since being appointed by a court in 1997.
Judd is 79 years-old and lives in the northernmost part of the county in Pittsburg. He hardly pauses after being asked about the lack of opposition over all those years.
“Must be people have been happy. Satisfied.”
One person who isn’t satisfied – and is betting he is not alone - is another Republican, Rick Samson of Stewartstown.
Samson is 66 years-old, a former Wausau mill worker, veteran of 26 years in the National Guard and active opponent of the Northern Pass hydro-electric project.
And since there is no Democratic opponent the Republican winner of Tuesday’s primary will have the commissioner’s job.
Judd is one of three commissioners who share the job of managing a county of about 33,000 people with an annual budget around $31 million.
Coos is strong in scenic beauty and recreational opportunities.
But Judd says there is no doubt about Coos’ biggest challenge.
“Create some jobs. And I don’t know at this point what.”
Samson says Judd and the other commissioners haven’t been resourceful and focused on new ways to bring jobs to the areas around Groveton, Colebrook and Pittsburg.
“I think they have more or less been caught in a mindset of the last ten or fifteen years and I don’t think they have explored options, I don’t think they have talked to the residents.”
However, Samson doesn’t have any specific ideas for boosting the economy.
But he says he would seek advice from Coos residents and consider their opinions on all issues, something he asserts Judd does not do.
“I don’t think the job of any politician, be it on the national or state level, is to dictate what they think is best. I think what they need to ask the people: ‘What do you think we need? What do you think is best?”
Within the limits of civility Judd probably couldn’t object more strongly.
“That’s the biggest lie that ever was.”
Judd says public hearings and meetings are held throughout the county and rarely does anyone show up.
“We three commissioners work together and we love to hear from the public.“
But Judd says sometimes financial limits mean the commissioners can’t always do what people want.
However, Samson says when some of the county’s biggest issues have been decided that public input hasn’t been part of the deal.
In 2008 Samson notes Judd and the two other commissioners made a deal with a wind turbine developer. The deal allowed the developer to make fixed payments to the county instead of taxes.
That decision was before a series of public hearings during which considerable opposition to the wind farm was voiced.
Judd says that deal wasn’t final until it was approved by the Coos County delegation which is made up of state legislators from Coos.
“It was a tentative contract.”
Judd also says he’s proud of the deal for the wind farm which is bringing money to the county.
But Samson contends those payments of $495,000 a year for a decade are too little and shortchanged taxpayers.
Judd says he is proud of helping bring the wind project to Coos.
Judd’s tenure has seen some controversy.
A year later – in 2009 – he and the two other commissioners were criticized for refusing to sign a grant application for about $3 million in federal stimulus money for the New Hampshire Grand tourism project.
Judd denied assertions that the commissioners were angry because commissioner Tom Brady’s family business – Six Gun City – was seen as not being good enough to be listed among the New Hampshire Grand attractions.
Judd said the trio hadn’t had enough time to consider the idea and taxpayer funds - even from the federal government - shouldn't be wasted.
But in 2012 the hottest issue in Coos is the Northern Pass hydro-electric project.
Samson has worked against it.
Judd says he is “totally” against eminent domain.
But he declines to say if he is for or against Northern Pass.
He says he sees good things and bad things about it.
“There’s millions of dollars if it goes through for Coos County. That’s a good thing. And, the bad thing, depending on what the route is.”
But people who chose to sell land to Northern Pass shouldn’t be criticized, he says.
Judd says he deserves another term. He says he’s been able to get things down in the county. In the last few years he says he is proudest of adding a sunroom to the county nursing home in West Stewartstown.
Before the only view residents had was from the windows in their rooms, he says.
He says he really isn’t sure whether he’ll win another term.
“It’s the people’s choice. If they want him, it is no great – it would be a loss to me, yes. But power to him if he gets it.”
Meanwhile Samson promises to seek advice from residents and be open to new ideas and opinions and he’s hoping Coos voters see it that way on Tuesday.
For NHPR News this is Chris Jensen