LACONIA — "I want to do the job that Ray Burton made famous," Joe Kenney of Wakefield, the Republican candidate for the Executive Council in District 1, said recently. "No one can fill the shoes of Ray Burton," he continued, "but I have the time, energy and experience to do the job, to carve out my own brand of leadership."
Describing himself as "a Ronald Reagan conservative, more conservative than Ray Burton," Kenney, who has served in the Marine Corps for 34 years and will retire as a colonel, insisted during an interview at The Daily Sun that the election of an executive councilor "should not be about ideological differences." He said that during his 14 years as a legislator — eight in the House and six in the Senate — "I never asked are you a Republican or Democrat? I asked what is your problem and how can we solve it together?"
While a selectman in Wakefield, Kenney said he also served as welfare officer for more than two years, routinely addressing the challenges of those in need. At the same time, he provided support, he asked the recipients where the money came from and reminded them to thank a property taxpayer. He explained that he sought to instill a sense of "civic responsibility" in return for the support the community provided. He said that his concern for senior citizens contributed to the establishment of the Greater Wakefield Resource Center.
Kenney said he especially proud of a granite bench bearing his name at a dental clinic in Tamworth, recalling his efforts to ensure access to oral hygiene and dental care for those of meager and modest means. Likewise, he backed the mid-wives in their campaign to secure third-party reimbursement for home deliveries from insurance carriers, adding that they reduced the cost from $12,000 to $4,000 and "never lost a child."
Turning to mental health, Kenney said "we've lost our way and I don't know what happened," adding that his family has been directly affected by the lack of access to quality services. He said that in the 1980s the state's mental health system was a model for the country, but since then funding has diminished. "The state needs to step up and increase funding for mental health services," he said.
Reflecting on the significance of social services, earlier in the day, Kenney told the Laconia Rotary Club, "sometimes Republicans need to be more compassionate about these issues."
Kenney said that the most important problem facing the state — and especially District 1, which covers the northernmost 70-percent of it — is "jobs, jobs and jobs. There are not enough quality jobs." As a consequence, he continued, young people are leaving the state and not returning. "We must give young people an opportunity to work," he remarked.
Better marketing of the state's comparative advantages — low taxes, good schools, natural environment and quality of life — Kenney thought, would attract employers. But, he also acknowledged the need for improved infrastructure, particularly roads and bridges. He suggested that communities could use "crowd funding," soliciting investment on-line, to fund local projects while sparing property taxpayers.
Kenney said that but for his experience in the Legislature he would not have run for Executive Council in what he called "a unique election," noting that the winner will serve for nine months before facing re-election. He stressed that he already has relationships with many of the leaders in District 1, who he met as a lawmaker, as well as with officials throughout the departments and agencies of state government.
Since the campaign began, Kenney said he has collected some 20 issues from those he hopes will be his constituents. "I can hit the ground running," he said, "and not need on-the-job training."
A staunch opponent of both Northern Pass electricity transmission project and so-called wind farms along the state's ridgelines, Kenney said Granite Staters need to protect their natural resources because "it's what makes New Hampshire unique". Asked about the relatively high price of electricity in New Hampshire and what could be done instead to bring it down, the candidate first answered, "it is what it is". He then added that another reactor (besides Seabrook) would help and expressed general support for nuclear energy.