LACONIA — When Republican Joe Kenney brought what he bills as his "coffee shop campaign" to succeed the late Ray Burton as Executive Councilor in District 1 to My Coffee Shop yesterday only one voter, Cook Anderson, known to his neighbors at the Taylor Home as "Cranky Yankee," was on hand to "catch a cup of Joe."
Kenney of Wakefield, a colonel in the United States Marine Corps on the brink of retirement, is one of three Republicans competing in the primary to be held on January 21. Christopher Boothby of Meredith, a former Belknap County Commissioner, and Mark Aldrich of Lebanon, a former congressional aide and director of economic development in Claremont, complete the field. As the Republican candidate for governor in 2008, Kenney may be the most widely recognized throughout the district.
The reception reflected less on Kenney than on the challenge of catching the ear of voters celebrating the holidays in a district that sprawls across two-thirds of the land area of the state, reaches into six of its 10 counties and includes four of its 13 cites, 101 of its 221 towns and 19 of its 25 unincorporated places. Kenney recalled that when one voter asked him "are you crazy or insane?" he replied "no, I'm a United States Marine."
Casey Crane, who is managing Kenney's campaign, said that "in a lot of places we've gone they don't even know there's an election."
Kenney, who served four terms in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and three in the New Hampshire Senate, is touting his experience in state government. In the House he served on the Commerce, Labor and Executive Departments and Administration committees and chaired the Transportation Committee in the Senate, which he said familiarized him with the staff and work of most state agencies.
"I'm the guy with the state service," Kenney said, "who knows how to navigate state government for the benefit of my constituents. County experience," he continued, "doesn't prepare you for the executive council. The others will need nine months of on-the-job training, but I'll hit the ground running."
Kenney, who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, said that because he will soon be retiring from the USMC he intends to make serving as an executive councilor his full-time job, unlike the other candidates, all of whom have other occupations.
Kenney said that improving the infrastructure, especially the roads and bridges, in the northern reaches of the district would be among his highest priorities. He noted that firms have either avoided the region or relocated elsewhere for lack of adequate transportation. "Roads are my forte" he said, adding that he would seek to incorporate projects in the Ten-Year Highway Plan.
Kenney said that he would also continue Burton's legacy of seeking to ensure that the district is properly represented in state government by placing constituents on various boards and commissions.
The primary election will be held on January 21. The winner will face Democrat Mike Cryans of Hanover, who serves on the Grafton County Commission, in the general election on March 11.