By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Don’t expect to see any “politically charged” nominations for commissioners, judges, or key state boards from Gov. Chris Sununu before the November election.
The Republican governor told Executive Councilors at their meeting Wednesday that he is not willing to put forward names in a political atmosphere that has pervaded his nominations to date, and could get worse as voting time draws near.
Sununu, who is running for re-election, gave that response to Democratic Executive Councilor Debora Pignatelli of Nashua who asked him for a status on his selection of a nominee to the state Board of Education after the council rejected the governor’s nomination of Ryan Terrell on June 10 along partisan lines.
Pignatelli, in whose district the vacant position exists, said she has submitted two names of women of color to fill the role and she noted another woman has also put her name forward for consideration.
She said one of the women she recommended to Sununu is not a Democrat. On a 3-2 vote, Democrats said Terrell lacked experience and past interest in schools.
“I thought it would be a 5-0 vote,” Sununu said at the time. “I am absolutely shocked that at this day and age you would be shooting down a candidate like that.”
He said while the council could reject the nomination, “to not have him on the board would be …a missed opportunity.” Terrell is a Republican and a man of color.
Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord, who is running for governor as a Democrat and is in a primary fight for the nomination with state Sen. Dan Feltes, said Terrell lived in four different communities, which Sununu considered an asset.
“He did not show any interest in the schools,” in those communities, did not run for school boards, serve as a volunteer on a PTO or take any opportunities to support schools, Volinsky asserted.
On Wednesday, during the virtual meeting held by phone due to the pandemic, Pignatelli pressed Sununu on revisiting the issue of his nomination for the Board of Education. Sununu said there was nothing new to report.
“So governor, can I assume from that that you are not planning to place a nominee for the Board of Education until after the election…when the council might be a little different?”
Sununu said to some chuckles: “I appreciate your optimism that Republicans will…control the council.”
“What I think my thought process is now, is that knowing there is an election, that is a reality, knowing that this was a politically charged nomination process previously…I think it prudent on significant nominations at this point to avoid the politically charged nature that can come as we approach an election. I do not think it is necessarily fair to those nominations,” Sununu said to go through the political process.
“I think it is appropriate and fair to these nominations and to the process” which he called “politically agnostic.”
“It’s really about avoiding what a lot of people understand could be the controversy around these nominations that previously were not controversial at all…and I think we just want a process that is fair and open and free of the political angst that can stir up during an election season,” Sununu said.
Pignatelli said: “I understand what you are saying. I don’t agree with it.”
The political battle between the governor and the council goes back to last summer when the governor put forward the name of Attorney General Gordon MacDonald to become the chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
It failed on a 3-2 vote with the three majority Democrats all opposing the nomination on issues of qualification. That position remains vacant.
Pignatelli said she also offered a nominee to that top job which she said she could “almost guarantee” a unanimous vote out of the council.
The governor did not engage her in further discussion on that matter.
The council did approve Patrick Hackley to be the director of the state Division of Forest and Lands and the State Forester, Wednesday, and John Coveney of Spofford to the New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission, among others.
Sununu did nominate Roger Phillips of Concord to the Adult Parole Board. All five members of the Executive Council and the position of governor are up for grabs and all are contested this November. Each is for two-year terms.
Two councilors, Volinsky and Republican Russell Prescott of Kingston, are not running for re-election to the Executive Council
The council has been meeting by phone since the start of the pandemic but is looking at having its first in-person council meeting in several weeks at the National Guard Center in Pembroke where the public can be safely accommodated.
Sununu said he reviewed about six or seven potential sites and this National Guard Center was his top pick. The council did not object to him moving forward to secure the facility for the next meeting with many members saying they miss the in-person aspects of their jobs.