Republicans hold on to 4-1 Executive Council majority despite strong challenge by Democrats

By: - November 10, 2022 9:16 am

Democrats lost their bid to unseat four Republican executive councilors. From left to right, Somersworth Mayor Dana Hilliard, Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, Katherine Harake, Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh, and Nashua Alderwoman Shoshanna Kelly filed for office together. Only Warmington won her race. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin.)

A unified and well-funded campaign by Democrats to claim all five Executive Council seats fell short Tuesday, with the four sitting Republicans beating their challengers. 

The election results maintain the 4-1 party split that has given Republican members the votes to eliminate funding for low-cost family planning health care and halt a vote on a long-standing sex education class for communities with high teen pregnancy rates.

The five Democrats made both priorities on the campaign trail – individually and as a group.

“We have an opportunity unlike ever before,” Councilor Cinde Warmingon, the council’s lone Democrat, tweeted Sunday with a photo of the five. “One where we can elect a Council majority that guarantees access to reproductive health care, defends public schools, & lowers property taxes & everyday costs for Granite Staters. On Tuesday, vote for your EC Democrat!”

Wednesday Warmington issued a statement looking ahead to the next election.

“While we had hoped for a more balanced Executive Council after last night’s results, our fight for hardworking families and common sense solutions is far from over,” Warmington said.

 “During the last two years, we built an organization that will carry on into the future and work towards electing an Executive Council that reflects the values of Granite Staters,” she said. “We will continue to educate voters about the importance of the Executive Council and its impact on the daily lives of the people of New Hampshire.”

Taking on incumbents was not their only challenge. Of all the elected offices on Tuesday’s ballot, the Executive Council – and its power – is among the least understood

At least three councilors must approve judicial nominees; state Supreme Court Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald lost his first bid for the job in 2019 when Democrats had the majority. And the governor and state agencies must get the council’s approval to sign contracts worth more than $10,000 with outside agencies – which provide the bulk of the state’s services.

Two of those votes raised the council’s profile in the last two years. The council’s Republicans have voted four times since 2021 against family planning contracts with the three agencies that provide free or low-cost basic reproductive health care to nearly 17,000 Granite Staters. The four cited concerns that Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Equality Health Center, and Lovering Health Center also perform abortions, though state officials assured councilors their audits confirmed no public money was used for those procedures.

More recently, council Republicans have halted an after-school sex education program aimed at reducing teen pregnancies in Manchester and Claremont, which have the state’s highest rates. Three of the four, Councilors Joe Kenney, Ted Gatsas, and David Wheeler, have previously voted for the contract in the 10 years it has come before for the council.

Among the Republicans, only Councilor Janet Stevens of Rye outraised and outspent her Democratic opponent, Katherine Harake of Hampton. Harake lost to Stevens by nearly 10 percentage points. 

Warmington, of Concord, easily beat her challenger, state Sen. Harold French of Franklin, in fundraising and votes. According to their most recent campaign finance reporters, Warmington raised nearly $434,000, while French listed only about $12,000 that he carried over from his last Senate race. Warmington beat French by nearly 20 percentage points.

Gatsas, a Manchester Republican, was also challenged by a sitting senator, Kevin Cavanaugh, also of Manchester. Gatsas won by nearly four points. Somersworth Mayor Dana Hilliard lost to Kenney, of Wakefield, and Nashua Alderwoman Shoshanna Kelly lost to Wheeler, of Milford.

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.

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