Goffstown Nonpartisan Elections Caught Up in Local Polarization

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Courtesy Lauren Doukas Facebook

Lauren Doukas outside of the Goffstown Police Station the day before Election Day.

Above, a screenshot of the ad targeting Lauren Doukas that was uploaded to Facebook.

Above, a screenshot of the ad targeting Peter Grigorakakis that was uploaded to Facebook.


GOFFSTOWN – Lauren Doukas wanted to be involved in local government from the moment she moved to Goffstown in 2020. During her time on the town’s budget committee from 2021 to 2024, Doukas was drawn to any work related to schools, leading to her latest campaign bid for school board.

“That’s really where my passion lies, is in public education and serving our schools,” Doukas said in a phone interview.

What she didn’t know when her campaign began earlier this year, is that it would be disrupted by Goffstown’s ongoing polarization—and that she would receive threatening messages right up until Election Day, March 12.

In late February, two Facebook ads were launched by the Republican-backed PAC Granite Solutions, targeting Doukas’ school board campaign and budget committee candidate Peter Grigorakakis. At press time, the official vote count wasn’t available but the unofficial tallies indicated Doukas likely lost and Grigorakakis won.

Doukas knew there would be people unhappy that she was running, as a self-proclaimed “vocal member of the community,” and after getting caught up in the town’s culture wars. At the contentious September 12 school board meeting last year, Doukas was one of the community members to speak up on behalf of LGBTQ+ children in Goffstown, who many like her felt were discriminated against amid calls to remove certain gender and sexuality-related materials from public schools.

The ad funded by Granite Solutions, which was found through the Facebook Ad Library, took an excerpt from Doukas’ school board testimony where she stated as a paraprofessional in a school in Manchester, they have kindergarten-age students learning about pronouns and “people in families of all structures.” With the caption, “Radical Lauren Doukas isn’t afraid to let you know she’s taught kindergarden (sic) students about pronouns and gender ideology,” it calls for voters to “reject Lauren Doukas” and vote against her on March 12.

Doukas’ campaign for school board was based on “strengthening schools” and “putting students first,” according to her own online ads, and does not use language related to her previous testimony. Doukas also said she wasn’t trying to campaign “against anyone,” but instead focused on informing voters about who she is and her values as a potential school board member.

But for Doukas, the repercussions from Goffstown’s polarization grew far more serious than advertisements. The day before the election, March 11, Doukas spent the day at the police station after becoming increasingly concerned by messages she was receiving on Facebook from one individual.

This person was messaging her “at all hours of the night,” Doukas said, for several days. The messages ranged from personal attacks to insinuating that Doukas was actually a man “trying to infiltrate a school and do harm to children.” Once the messages escalated from insults to referencing other women in the country who had been recently abducted and murdered, Doukas decided to go to the authorities.

“This person will not let me go even though I have not interacted with them,” Doukas said she told the police. “My address is posted on the town website. I’m very easy to find, so I was very concerned.”

Doukas declined to tell InDepthNH.org the name of the person she believes is threatening her out of concern for her safety.

The police told her that there was nothing they could do because the perpetrator’s words had not yet crossed a certain threshold in free speech laws to force them to act. They showed up at the sender’s house and told them they were “very close to being arrested,” Doukas recounted.

Instead of finishing up campaigning and talking to voters, Doukas’ day before the election was spent in fear.

“I had to spend the day thinking about my safety, thinking about my family’s safety,” Doukas said. “I’m running for school board for Pete’s sake.”

While Doukas wasn’t sure if the person who threatened her saw the Granite Solutions ad, she still felt that inflammatory language like that could pour gasoline on the fire.

“Folks’ lies are being taken as truth to some people and compels them to violence,” Doukas said.

Doukas was not discouraged enough to drop out of the race, but she was concerned about the kind of climate that the polarization in Goffstown has created. She said she wouldn’t blame anyone who wouldn’t want to run for any local election at this point.

 “We shouldn’t be accepting fear and violence in our political system,” Doukas said. “It’s OK to disagree but it’s not OK to do harm.”

Peter Grigorakakis was the only other candidate in Goffstown targeted by the Granite Solutions ads. In the oppositional ad, also found on the Facebook Ad Library, the caption prompts voters, “Goffstown, do you really want someone who hates Fiscal Responsibility on the budget committee?” The text overlays a video of Grigorakakis in an interview saying he hates the phrase, “fiscal responsibility.”

Grigorakakis said the quote was taken out of context from a previous interview. What he meant, he said, was that he simply does not like the word “fiscal” because it’s difficult to say. He thought the ad was “silly.”

“I didn’t understand where it came from to be honest,” Grigorakakis said. He self-identifies as “fiercely independent” and non-partisan, so he didn’t know why a Republican PAC was targeting him.

“It’s deceptive. It’s not true,” Grigorakakis said. He previously served on the budget committee from 2017 to 2020, where he enjoyed the work he did. Now, he’s concerned about the polarized atmosphere of the community.

“I just want for us to be able to talk about spreadsheets again,” Grigorakakis said. He’s noticed a stark shift in discourse in Goffstown, largely fueled by social media, where polarization has grown inside an online echo chamber.

But Grigorakakis insists that the division isn’t political, even though he felt he was targeted for being perceived as left-leaning.

“This isn’t partisan. There’s a faction, they have their own particular thing they’re after,” Grigorakakis said. “There are many Republicans in this town that think this is ridiculous.”

The PAC behind the ads, Granite Solutions, is run by Rep. Joe Sweeney, R-Salem. Grigorakakis said he was confused as to why Sweeney was involved in a local election in Goffstown, being a legislator from Salem.

Grigorakakis thought the ad could have been fueled by the increasing taxes and costs in Goffstown that are leaving locals frustrated about spending, especially after he saw online that part of Granite Solutions’ mission was to put an end to “reckless spending.” But Grigorakakis doesn’t believe any “reckless spending” is going on in Goffstown.

“I’m not sure why he’s in Goffstown,” Grigorakakis said, referring to Sweeney. “To me, he’s taking a problem that is serious and being disingenuous about it.”

Sweeney said in a phone interview that Granite Solutions’ goal as an organization is to “support fiscal conservatives at state and local level” as a way to compete with progressive political organizations such as 603 Forward, which ran an ad for Lauren Doukas, and Granite State Progress. He said that the PAC did not get involved in any other local elections beyond Goffstown, as a way “to test what we were attempting to do” in future elections.

“The left has been doing this for years,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney explained that he identified certain candidates he wanted to support, such as Republican representatives Joe Alexander and Lisa Mazur who were running for Budget Committee and Library Trustee Board in Goffstown, and others he did not want to see elected— Grigorakakis and Doukas.

While Grigorakakis was running for Budget Committee, which would align with Granite Solutions’ concerns about fiscal issues, Doukas was running for school board. Sweeney still thought she represented ideas that people on the right would not support, even in a non-partisan election.

“I truly believe she would have represented a tax and spend agenda at the school board,” Sweeney said about Doukas. He continued that it was a priority to Granite Solutions that a “far left liberal activist wouldn’t be elected to the school board.”

When asked about how the ads might contribute to the escalating polarization in Goffstown, Sweeney wasn’t concerned.

“I don’t think it’s the Republicans that have started that charged local political messaging,” Sweeney said. “This was something that the Democrats started planting the seeds for going back to 2017.”

Sweeney did not know that Doukas received threatening messages leading up to the election, but condemned the person who did send them. “That has no place in politics,” Sweeney said. “Nobody running for office deserves to get threatening comments.”

Grigorakakis was concerned that the ad could mislead voters, particularly those sensitive to the rising taxes and costs in town. They might direct that frustration toward a potential candidate like Grigorakakis if they believe what it says. “It’s not fair to them, to lead them in that direction,” he said.

He said he didn’t think the ad impacted his campaign, though. Grigorakakis explained that he spoke with many long-time Republicans and other potential voters who agreed that the ad was ridiculous.

Sweeney remarked that he didn’t think the ad about Grigorakakis was taken out of context.

The official results of the Goffstown elections have not yet been confirmed, but the unofficial tallies are available on the town website. Sweeney said that Granite Solutions’ efforts were successful, however. He commended Mazur, Alexander, and Israel Carey for winning their respective elections for Library Trustee Board and Budget Committee.

Grigorakakis wants a return to the non-partisan elections they’ve always had in Goffstown.

“I would love for residents to know what’s going on in their community, to know the credentials of people running for the committee seats that they’re running for,” Grigorakakis said.

Like Grigorakakis, Doukas said how she was targeted misrepresented her candidacy for school board. She agreed with Grigorakakis that advertisements like those from Granite Solutions are keeping voters “disinformed.”

She also believed that the people exacerbating and taking advantage of divisions within Goffstown are a small minority, and that this isn’t a clear split along party lines. Doukas is worried, however, that even with a small group, they could reach a large audience—namely, on social media.

“We don’t need to accept this as being our new normal,” Doukas said. “I’m trying not to let it discourage me from doing good work.”

Above, A screenshot of a Granite Solutions Facebook post following the Goffstown local elections.

Ani Freedman is a contract reporter with InDepthNH.org. She is a recent graduate from Columbia Journalism School with a passion for environmental, health, and accountability reporting. In her free time, she’s an avid runner and run coach. She can be reached at anifreedmanpress@gmail.com

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