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AG: Protesters Who Shut Down Exec Council Meeting Won’t Face Charges

Granite Staters watched in confusion and embarrassment last September 29 as a handful of rowdy anti-vaccination protesters shut down a meeting of the state’s Executive Council, taunting the crowd, threatening state employees, and ignoring the law enforcement officers gathered at St. Anselm College.

Eight months later, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office has finally finished its investigation of the event. It says there will be no prosecutions. 

“Given the specific facts of this case and the state’s inability to prove any potential criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt, the state will not bring criminal charges against any individual as a result of their conduct on September 29, 2021. The Attorney General’s Office is closing its review and will take no further action on this matter,” Attorney General John Formella and State Police Colonel Nathan Noyes said in a statement.

They acknowledged there was evidence the protestors committed the crimes of obstructing government administration and disorderly conduct. But, they said, it was not enough for the state to bring charges.

The dozen or so protestors effectively took over the meeting, roaming among the attendees for close to an hour shouting complaints about access to Ivermectin for COVID-19 treatment, repeating false claims of “thousands of deaths” from the vaccine, and warning vaccination supporters they would be treated the way Nazis were treated after World War II.

“You’re going to be held accountable,” one woman cried. “Maybe not now, but years from now — Nuremberg trials!”

 

“FEMA camps!” shouted a man wearing a Karen Testerman for Governor t-shirt, referencing a conspiracy theory about government roundups of non-compliant citizens first circulated by progressives against President George W. Bush.

Dozens of police officers were on-site from State Police and Goffstown. But they never intervened to stop the protestors. Instead, they escorted employees from the Department of Health and Human Services employees to their cars, employees who said they felt threatened by the protesters.

Without those employees on hand to testify, councilors claimed the meeting could not go forward.

As video of the police standing by amid the chaos hit New Hampshire TV screens, some citizens began questioning why the trained law enforcement officers did not act. Asked if there had been a review of the officer’s inaction, attorney general spokesperson Michael Garrity told NHJournal,  “Any review of the actions of any involved law enforcement officers would be handled administratively by their respective agencies and would not involve this office.”

The issue of police refusing to act is particularly sensitive in the wake of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

Gov. Chris Sununu’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. He also skipped out of the meeting in September, leaving Councilor Dave Wheeler (R-Milford) to announce to the worked-up crowd the meeting was being canceled.

Wheeler said at the time several state employees felt unsafe at the meeting and left. Since those employees were needed to answer questions from the council members, the meeting could not take place.

“Mission accomplished,” one protester shouted at the news.

Councilor Cinde Warmington (D-Concord) said at the time New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette made the decision to have her staff leave as the protesters grew increasingly agitated. Staffers were escorted to their cars by New Hampshire State Police troopers.

When the DHHS employees left the auditorium, the situation in the room got worse.

“Once that happened, we got reports from State Police and the commissioner of safety that the room had become more disruptive and they felt it had become unsafe,” Warmington said.

Despite police deeming the situation unsafe, none of the protestors will be charged. New Hampshire does arrest and prosecute protestors frequently, according to Pat Sullivan with the New Hampshire Chiefs of Police Association. 

“They’ve charged them at Seabrook protesting the nuclear power plant,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan declined to comment on the Executive Council protestors. The town of Newfields wrote an anti-picketing ordinance specifically so it could arrest protesters upsetting the governor’s family by protesting near his house. The Newfields police even arrested the New Hampshire Journal reporter who was covering the protest.

That reporter is scheduled to appear in court July 7.

Many of the same protestors were arrested at the October meeting for their disruption. Michael Garrity, Director of Communication for the Attorney General’s Office, said none of the prosecutions of those arrested in October will be impacted by Tuesday’s decision. Asked why protesters engaged in the same behavior were not charged with a crime in both cases, Garrity said the office could not comment.

“Because the cases that arose out of the 10/13 meeting remain ongoing, we cannot comment on those matters,” Garrity said.

The New Hampshire Department of Safety has refused to even say how many police officers were at the meeting.

“(T)he Department of Safety does not publicly discuss operational details or tactics,” Paul Raymond with the Department of Safety said in September when asked by NH Journal.

Raymond claimed at the time the failure to arrest the protesters in September was due to concern for their constitutional rights.

“Decisions on whether to effect an arrest require officers to carefully consider the fundamental rights granted to protesters by the First Amendment, the text of the criminal code, as well as the safety and security of other bystanders and attendees,” Raymond said.

That concern was apparently resolved when police arrested many of the same protestors for the same behavior a month later.

Shaughnessy Grilled by Executive Councilors Over Bedford Ballots 

CONCORD — Judicial nominee Brian Shaughnessy recited the Serenity Prayer early in his testimony before the Executive Council on Wednesday, an apt sentiment given the rough day he had answering questions about the Bedford 2020 election snafu.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference,” he said, explaining his life philosophy. “I try to live by those rules; they guide my life.”

Several executive councilors were less than serene about Shaughnessy’s nomination.

Councilors Cinde Warmington (D-District 2), Janet Stevens (R-District 3), and Dave Wheeler (R-District 5) hammered Shaughnessy over his role in the investigation and coverup of 190 uncast ballots found after the 2020 presidential election. Shaughnessy was a volunteer assistant town moderator during that election, having previously served six years as the town moderator.

The most contentious issue was Shaughnessy’s strategy, which he presented as legal advice, for his fellow election officials to keep the fact they had bungled the absentee ballots secret from both the public and the elected town council.

Shaughnessy told Warmington under questioning he advised Town Clerk Sally Keller and Town Moderator Bill Klein not to talk about the matter until the Attorney General’s Office completed its investigation. However, when asked, Shaughnessy told council members no one from the Attorney General’s Office told him it was a criminal investigation.

That echoes another falsehood Shaughnessy acknowledged during a town hall meeting in November when he confirmed he had told town employees they could face criminal charges themselves — perhaps even felony charges — if they told the public about the election snafu. When questioned by the town council, Shaughnessy was unable to identify any such law.

Shaughnessy’s desire to keep the election fiasco secret was so strong, he told Warmington one reason he wanted Bedford election officials to keep the details from town council members was that it could create records that could be obtained by the public through the state’s Right to Know Law. 

“Anything told to the town council becomes public record,” he said.

Shaughnessy said he thought the investigation would be completed in a matter of weeks, and that would be the appropriate time to make public disclosures.

“We did not imagine it would be 11 months later that the Attorney General’s Office would complete their investigation,” he said. However, he didn’t explain why he and the other election officials continued to remain silent for nearly a year. 

Warmington took Shaughnessy to task for acting as Klein and Kellar’s de facto attorney, not making any public disclosure, and not contacting the town’s attorney about the matter. The ballot problems were not made public until NH Journal broke the story.

“Did you ever have concerns that keeping this secret would undermine Bedford voters’ confidence about elections?” Warmington asked.

Stevens wanted to know why Shaughnessy, or anyone involved, didn’t at least check with the Attorney General’s Office to see if it could make some kind of statement as the weeks and months passed. Shaughnessy conceded that could have been done, but he did not want to cast blame on others.

“Had I been moderator, would it have been different? More than likely, yes. But I’m not going to put that clickbait out there. That serves no purpose,” he said. “I’m not going to throw anybody under the bus.”

According to Anne Edwards of the Attorney General’s Office, its staff “had follow-up conversations with Bedford election officials, during August and September, about the need to provide notification to the 190 voters that their absentee ballots had not been counted during the 2020 General Election.

Bedford election officials raised concerns with this notification and asked not to notify voters,” Edwards said.

Klein testified in Shaughnessy’s favor, saying his assistant town moderator was not part of the problem, nor was he a subject of the investigation.

“He had nothing to do with any of that stuff,” Klein said.

Councilor Joe Kenney (R-District 1) did n0t mention the Bedford issue but instead asked Shaughnessy about tenant law and his resume. Councilor Ted Gatsas (R-District 4), who represents Bedford, asked no questions.

While Shaughnessy fielded some tough questions from the council members, several supporters testified on his behalf, including New Hampshire Supreme Court Associate Justice Jim Bassett.

“Having somebody like Brian on the bench would be an incredible asset,” Bassett said.

The council will now likely take up Shaughnessy’s nomination at its April meeting for a vote. In the meantime, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office has opened a second investigation into Bedford’s ballots. In September, 10 ballots from 2020 were found in a ballot box, and that information was kept from the public until NH Journal reported the story.

The Attorney General’s Office is investigating the circumstances surrounding the handling of those 10 ballots and has reopened the investigation into the 190 ballots. Shaughnessy said he is not a subject in either investigation.

“I think that with the immediacy of how things happen, I understand how you can make the decisions that are not the best in the moment,” Warmington told Shaughnessy as she wrapped up her questions. “But keeping that secret really did a disservice to the (town) council and the public.”

As Criticism Mounts, Bedford’s Shaughnessy Takes His Defense Public

Brian Shaughnessy took to Facebook to defend his actions during Bedford’s recent ballot fiascos, high-profile missteps that prompted two state investigations and gave the affluent community’s reputation a black eye.

Shaughnessy took the unusual move of posting an extended explanation on social media, a possible sign both his candidacy for town moderator in March and his nomination to the bench are both in trouble.

“What’s the old saying? ‘When you’re explaining, you’re losing?'” one NHGOP political operative told NHJournal.

Shaughnessy is the town official behind the decision to leave voters in the dark regarding 190 ballots from the 2020 election that were never counted due to election worker errors. No member of the public knew about those ballots for close to a year when New Hampshire Journal broke the story in October. 

Now, he is facing a write-in challenge for the town moderator position, and his nomination to the Circuit Court is being scrutinized ahead of a public hearing before the Executive Council.

In his lengthy statement to a private Facebook group this week, Shaughnessy claims there was no intentional cover-up of the ballots. He maintains he advised town officials not to discuss the situation in good faith.

“There was no effort to hide the ball or intention to cover this matter up. I would never be a party to that type of behavior,” Shaughnessy wrote.

Shaughnessy states that since the investigation into the 190 ballots carried the possibility of criminal charges, he recommended that Town Moderator Bill Klein, Town Clerk Sally Kellar, and others keep quiet until the investigation was complete.

“The Secretary of State’s Office was notified within 30 minutes of the discovery which was the appropriate chain of command. During a meeting after the discovery was made, I recommended, and everyone agreed, that we would notify the 190 voters and apologize that they were disenfranchised through an honest mistake. That would only be done, however, once we received permission from the Attorney General’s Office,” he wrote.

The town eventually did send out that letter, falsely claiming the Attorney General’s Office had ordered it to remain silent. Shaughnessy did not dispute the town’s claim at the time.

“I firmly believe every Bedford official acted in good faith, fully cooperated with the investigation, and did what he/she believed was in the best interests of election integrity as a whole,” he wrote on Friday.

Shaughnessy has taken heat for stating during a public hearing in November that he and Klein do not answer to the elected town council or the voters of Bedford. Instead, he argued, they answer to the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office. Hanan Wiseman, who is mounting a write-in campaign against Shaughnessy, is making the idea of accountability to voters a central part of his candidacy.

“We MUST have a town moderator who holds himself accountable to the voters. There is no way for the public to trust the integrity of the elections if the people who oversee the elections aren’t trustworthy and transparent,” Wiseman wrote on his website.

Last November, Klein and Kellar sent a letter to voters blaming their silence on the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, a claim that office refuted. Shaughnessy admitted providing the advice to remain silent, saying it was “haphazard legal advice.”

Anger over Shaughnessy’s actions is widespread in Bedford, with multiple calls for Shaughnessy’s resignation. Shaughnessy dismissed those demands by saying he has no office to resign from.

“I was not an elected official and only serve at each election at the discretion of the moderator that appoints me. There was no office for me to resign from since I am simply a volunteer who does not get paid and is not elected,” he wrote.

Town Council Chair Dave Gilbert said Friday that he agreed, saying that there is nothing for Shaughnessy to resign from as a volunteer. When pushed on whether or not Shaughnessy had a choice to keep a volunteer position or resign, Gilbert said, “I guess he could. The town council has nothing to do with that.”

When asked if he then agrees that Klein and Shaughnessy do not report to the town council, Gilbert got angry.

“This is why I don’t like to talk to you guys, you make stuff up,” he said before hanging up the phone.

Shaughnessy’s nomination to become a Superior Court judge will need the approval of the state’s Executive Council, which is taking up the matter on March 9 — the day after Bedford’s town elections.

Councilor Dave Wheeler (R-District 5) has come out against Sharughnessy’s appointment. Councilor Joseph Kenney (R-District 1) said he needs to know more before making a decision.

“At this point, I reserve all opinions until the public hearing,” Kenney said.

The other three councilors, Cinde Warmington (D-District 2), Ted Gatsas (R-District 4), and Janet Stevens (R-District 3) did not respond to requests for comment.

Their handling of Shaughnessy’s nomination is likely to be an issue in this year’s elections, particularly for GOP primary voters concerned about election integrity.

“The issue of election irregularities is proving to be a potent one,” said Windham Selectman Bruce Breton, a GOP activist and longtime Trump ally. Breton says Republicans concerned about ballot security are watching the Shaughnessy matter closely. And, he says, it is not just the GOP. “This issue reaches beyond just Republican voters.”

Bedford Republicans and political leaders are reluctant to criticize a Sununu nominee. However, they tell NHJournal off the record they fear the public hearing will reflect poorly on their local politics and raise embarrassing questions about why Sununu would nominate such a problematic pick.

“It’s going to be terrible for the town and everyone involved,” one GOP source told NHJournal.

The Attorney General’s Office completed its review of the town’s first ballot mishandling issue and is now conducting an investigation into the second case. It involves an undisclosed number of 2020 ballots discovered inside a ballot box in September and, like the first batch, kept secret. These ballots were counted during the 2020 election but left out of the recount.

Town officials were not notified about these ballots until November, and Gilbert warned town council members not to speak about the issue. 

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported Shaughnessy is being considered for a judgeship on the Superior Court. It is the Circuit Court. NHJournal regrets the error.

 

Unpacking the Dartmouth-Hitchcock, NH Hospital Contract Debacle

In a controversy that led to the resignation of the New Hampshire Hospital CEO, it’s been revealed Wednesday that Dartmouth-Hitchcock has been in violation of a $36 million contract to staff the state’s psychiatric facilities.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers broke the news to Gov. Chris Sununu on Wednesday morning that Dartmouth-Hitchcock has only been regularly providing between eight to 10 psychiatrists, instead of the 11 required by the contract. The position of geriatric psychiatrist has also not been filled since January. The $36 million contract for Dartmouth-Hitchcock to provide services at NH Hospital, the state-run hospital for mental health services, was signed by the Executive Council last fall.

Sununu told the Executive Council during their regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday that he asked NH Hospital CEO Robert MacLeod to “step aside.” He also asked former HHS Commissioner Donald Shumway to run the hospital on an interim basis.

“We’ve been paying for psychiatrists that have not necessarily been there,” Sununu said during a news conference. “It’s troubling, it’s disappointing.”

Meyers sent Dartmouth-Hitchcock a letter Tuesday asking the hospital for a “corrective action plan” to be submitted by May 9. He discovered the violations after Executive Councilor Chris Pappas, D-Manchester, raised questions about the hospital’s staffing during the Executive Council’s meeting last month.

Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord, called for an outside evaluation of the quality of care at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. Sununu wanted a review of the contract for other compliance issues by the state’s attorney general. He would also be seeking reimbursement from the state psychiatric hospital for payments based on full staffing.

Sununu and state health officials said it doesn’t appear that quality of care has been affected, and Meyers said he plans on monitoring contract compliance on a weekly basis.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying state officials were already aware of the staffing levels.

“Throughout the course of this contract, the state agreed that the staffing levels have been appropriate and the patient care is high quality,” according to a statement from the hospital. “From the inception of this contract to provide clinical psychiatric services at New Hampshire Hospital, Dartmouth-Hitchcock has provided the state, including through weekly reports, current and projected staffing levels and any projected deficiencies.”

Dartmouth-Hitchcock also said it has “only been paid by the state through January of this year.”

“In light of questions raised regarding compensation for Dartmouth-Hitchcock, it is critically important to note that the agreement with the state is a ‘fixed price’ contract, and Dartmouth-Hitchcock has only been paid by the state through January of this year,” according to the statement. “Any suggestion that Dartmouth-Hitchcock has not been completely forthcoming with the state is factually incorrect and reflects a misunderstanding that requires clarification.”

The hospital said it is “deeply troubled” by criticisms from Sununu and Meyers and requested a meeting with them.

“Consequently, we have requested a meeting with Governor Sununu and Commissioner Meyers to discuss our mutual concerns and forge a path forward,” the statement reads. “Dartmouth-Hitchcock has been, and will remain, fully committed to the care of the State’s most vulnerable citizens, and we look forward to working with interim CEO Donald Shumway in continuing to provide that care at New Hampshire Hospital.”

Yet, the controversy comes on the heels of several news reports about concerns that the state doesn’t provide enough mental health services and that waiting list times for treatment beds has also increased.

“That’s what you don’t want to happen, a discontinuation in services or a loss in quality of care,” Sununu said. “We can’t go forward trusting the word of an organization that at this point isn’t trustworthy.”

The contract with Dartmouth-Hitchcock was controversial from the start when it was signed in September 2016 and became a significant issue during the election.

Last year, Dartmouth-Hitchcock transferred from Dartmouth College’s medical school to the private hospital and a group of psychiatrists quit amid a labor contract dispute.

The Executive Council approved the contract on September 7 and two days later, Dartmouth-Hitchcock announced its intention to lay off between 270 and 460 employees. The layoff announcement took then-Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan by surprise, she said. It became a talking point for the New Hampshire Republican Party in their battle to reelect former Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

The NHGOP also filed right-to-know requests charging that Hassan knew about the layoff announcement before the Executive Council voted on the contract.

At the time, Sununu, who was an executive councilor and gubernatorial candidate, called to cancel the contract and rebid it. However, he was outvoted and has since not called for the contract to be rebid.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock CEO James Weinstein also announced in December that he would retire from Dartmouth-Hitchcock on June 30.

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Public School Advocates Concerned About GOP Amendment Seeking to Shift Power to Education Commissioner

A proposed draft amendment for an education bill would dramatically shake up the state Department of Education and shift some power and authority to the state education commissioner. Yet, the senator who introduced it said it simply “allows managers to manage their department.”

Frank Edelblut, the new commissioner who previously lost the Republican gubernatorial bid to Chris Sununu in the 2016 election, is already a controversial figure within Sununu’s administration for his pro-school choice views, and this amendment isn’t sitting well with public school advocates.

Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield (Photo Credit: NH Senate website)

Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield (Photo Credit: NH Senate website)

The amendment, drafted by Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, was first posted Wednesday by Reaching Higher NH, an organization supporting high standards in public schools.

Reagan said the bill came at the request of Edelblut and it “permits the commissioner to make some managerial changes.” He said he doesn’t understand where the backlash on the amendment is coming from.

“He should be able to do what he wants to do,” Reagan told NH Journal. “They [public school advocates] don’t like anything that disturbs their monopoly of state dollars. They see something and try to discredit Republican management of government. You should be able to let your managers manage your business.”

Among the proposed changes, Reagan is proposing to eliminate four existing divisions in the state Department of Education (DOE) and replacing them with four new divisions under the direction of the commissioner, and giving the commissioner authority over several programs, funds, and personnel.

The proposal is poised to be an amendment to House Bill 356. Reagan said he talked to Rep. Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, who is the author of HB356 and Ladd gave him the go-ahead to attach the amendment to his bill.

Public school advocates are concerned that the amendment “introduces greater volatility and uncertainty around how we hold N.H. schools and districts accountable for delivering an adequate education to our children.”

Reaching Higher NH says the amendment would make it easier for public funds to go towards schools or education offerings that are not subject to the same rigorous public oversight as public schools.

“The amendment would grant the Commissioner of Education expansive authority that exceeds the discretion provided to most other state departments,” the organization wrote in a blog post about the amendment.

In New Hampshire, the state education commissioner is largely seen as the face of the DOE, simply carrying out policy that the state Board of Education introduces.

“The Department of Education, consistent with New Hampshire’s local control ethos, has historically served primarily as the provider of state education funding and as the intermediary between local school districts and the federal Department of Education,” the post stated. “In these roles, the Department provides much needed expertise and serves as an important guardian of students’ rights to a public education.”

The amendment calls for eliminating four divisions, including the Division of Educational Improvement, Division of Program Support, Division of Career Technology and Adult Learning, and Division of Higher Education within the DOE and replacing them with four new divisions, which have not yet been determined, all under the direction of the education commissioner.

Yet, Reagan said he believes the bill means the divisions will just be retitled, “making it easier for the head manager to move managers around. It’s what any organization should be allowed to do.”

Advocates say the amendment would remove an institutional check that exists to prevent the DOE and New Hampshire public education from becoming overly-politicized.

For example, the Division of Educational Improvement currently has the responsibility to “determine if a district is making diligent efforts to resolve personnel shortages that result in children with disabilities being placed out of district.” The amendment would transfer that power to Edelblut.

Reaching Higher NH also said the elimination of the divisions and allowing the commissioner to create new ones allows for a standard of appointing division directors that could lead to nominees who do not have the education or experience to lead those offices.

That was a significant criticism for Edelblut as education commissioner since he does not come from an education background (his children have also been homeschooled), yet he was tapped to lead the department anyway.

“By eliminating the specific responsibilities of the directors, the amendment lowers the standard for appointing directors — the governor and Executive Council will no longer be able to assess whether the Commissioner’s nominees have the education and experience necessary to serve New Hampshire’s kids and families,” the organization wrote.

Advocates are also concerned with the new amendment in terms of financial accountability and how public funds are used within the DOE. The amendment allows the education commissioner to move funds within the department at any time without approval if it’s under $75,000. That means Edelblut can transfer funds allocated for a specific purpose and reallocate them for something else.

“Transfer funds…as the commissioner deems necessary and appropriate to address present or projected budget deficits, or to respond to changes in federal laws, regulations, or programs, and otherwise as necessary for the efficient management of the department…,” the amendment states.

Reagan said the measure was intended to ensure the education commissioner could move funds where there is a need in the department.

“It’s for small amounts, like allowing office managers to use the funds for pencils to instead be used for toners,” he said.

The Legislature’s finance committees, the governor, and Executive Council still must approve transfers of $75,000 or more, but Reagan said they shouldn’t be “controlling” the department at “that level of detail.”

HB 356 has already gone through some changes before it was introduced to the Senate Education Committee on March 23. When it was first introduced in January by Ladd, it would simply tweak the base adequacy funding amount — the amount the state gives to a district per pupil — from $3,561.27 to $3,591.27, only a $30 increase.

He told the House Education Committee that he wanted to use the legislation as a starting point to eventually form a joint committee with the House and Senate to work on a new formula for the next year in time for the next biennium. The committee voted in favor of his amendment, essentially changing the bill establishing a committee to study education funding and the cost of an opportunity for an adequate education, and the House eventually passed the bill at the end of March.

The Senate Education Committee is expected to act on the legislation this month. Reagan’s amendment has not been formally introduced to the committee yet, but a public hearing on the bill has already happened before this amendment was known to members of the public. Advocates are calling to have another public hearing to discuss the amendment.

NH Journal reached out to Edelblut for comment and will update the story with a response.

 

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Andru Volinsky Becomes Strong Critic of Gov. Sununu’s Agenda

A Democratic member of the state’s highest council is quickly becoming one of the fiercest critics of Gov. Chris Sununu’s agenda. Andru Volinsky, one of the two Democrats sitting on the five-member Executive Council, has been the most vocal about the differences in ideology between him and the governor, especially when it comes to education.

Volinsky, D-Concord, did not support Frank Edelblut’s nomination to be the next state education commissioner. During Edelblut’s nomination hearing in January, Volinsky pushed back on his background in public education and religious views.

The most tense exchange between the two men was over the fact that Edelblut sat on the board of Patrick Henry College, a private Christian liberal arts school in Virginia, and the the school had an “oath of faith” that all of its “agents” needed to sign, which included a belief in creationism over evolution.

“You will be the chief educator to whom all of the science teachers in our state will report. Do you subscribe to this such that the science teachers need to worry about whether you will require creationism to be taught alongside evolution?” Volinsky asked.

He treated his questioning of Edelblut like a court-room cross-examination, using poster board and an easel to showcase his points.

His long questioning at one point drew a rebuke from two of his Republican colleagues on the council, David Wheeler and Russell Prescott, who chastised him for taking too long and accused him of grandstanding. Edelblut, who previously made an unsuccessful bid to be the Republican gubernatorial nominee in 2016, was ultimately confirmed on a 3-2 vote that fell on party lines.

Volinsky also recently criticized Edelblut for not disclosing a $1,000 donation he made to the Croydon School Board’s legal defense fund in a school choice lawsuit brought on by the N.H. Department of Education, which he now has influence over as state education commissioner.

The state education department sued to block the town of Croydon’s practice of using public funds to pay private school tuition for some of its children. The dispute helped spur legislation, known as the “Croydon bill,” that would make the tuition practice explicitly legal.

Edelblut’s disclosure came after the Valley News reported that Croydon rejected a request to reveal the names of the donors to the $23,000 fund and Edelblut, for two weeks, declined to answer questions about his role.

Volinsky emailed Edelblut earlier this month to ask that he make public whether he had contributed to Croydon and to explain why he had not disclosed the donation previously.

“I contributed $1,000 to the Croydon legal defense fund,” Edelblut said in a reply email. “The contribution was made anonymously. I prefer the focus to stay on the cause and not draw attention to myself.”

Volinsky said he doesn’t think Edelblut’s contribution was a crime, but he should be more transparent about any potential conflict of interests.

“I was troubled by the fact that Mr. Edelblut did not respond to this request for disclosure and then reading his response, I’m equally concerned because he said the reason for anonymity was that he did not want to interfere with the cause,” Volinsky told NH1 News. “Think about it. He was running for governor. And the private schools [were] part of his platform. So he was already in the middle of this, number one. And number two, he’s describing the diversion of public funds to private schools as a cause for him. That is contrary to his testimony that he was merely an implementer, and it doesn’t speak well for him being candid during his confirmation process.”

He also said that he was concerned the new commissioner was seeking to further his own “agenda” rather than implement policy created by others. He tweeted, “Ed [Commissioner] secretly helped fund Croydon to support his ’cause’ — diverting public funds to pay for private schools. #edelblutagenda #nhpolitics”

It’s not surprising to see Volinsky come strongly out against Sununu’s education agenda. Volinsky is a lawyer who litigated landmark state education cases before the New Hampshire Supreme Court, and he ran for his seat on the Executive Council with the campaign promise to protect public school funding. Sununu has long been an advocate for school choice.

Volinsky’s comments about the “Edelblut agenda” have made waves in the conservative Twitter community, that sought to take his own words and discuss how the “Volinsky agenda” is bad for New Hampshire.

Volinsky then responded, reclaiming the term as his own and saying what he supports in his own education agenda.

Liberals and Democrats online rallied behind Volinsky’s agenda, posting why they agree and support him.

Volinsky even gave a speech about his agenda at to the New Hampshire State Teachers Association on March 17.

“Every morning with coffee I read my emails and my twitter feeds come through. This morning, some troll tweeted that Edelblut did nothing wrong and my complaints were only part of the #VolinskyAgenda,” he said. “I don’t respond to these things, but thought, the #VolinskyAgenda, huh? So, yea, I have an agenda. The #VolinskyAgenda is good schools, climate change, universal access to healthcare and reducing income inequality. That’s my damned agenda.”

Although it’s only been nearly four months since Sununu’s inauguration, many people are behind Volinsky’s agenda, which could possibly set him up for support for a gubernatorial bid in 2018 if he wanted to run.

It’s not often that Executive Councilors run for the corner office. The five-member regulatory board is charged with overseeing the administrative functions of the state government. The Executive Council advises the governor and provides the check for state contracts. The council also has veto power over pardons and state agency nominations by the governor.

For the first time in recent memory, the 2016 gubernatorial nominees were both Executive Councilors. Sununu was from Newfields in District 3 and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Colin Van Ostern of Concord sat in the District 2 seat.

With the council getting more public attention, it’s possible that Granite Staters could see more Executive Councilors running for higher office, and Volinsky could potentially be the next candidate.

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