POLITICS
11/16/2012 02:02 pm ET Updated Nov 16, 2012

New Hampshire Executive Council Gains Democratic, Under 40 Majority

The new composition of an obscure but powerful council in New Hampshire could usher in big changes for the state, including the return of funding for Planned Parenthood.

After Election Day, Democrats took control of three out of five seats on the state's Executive Council, reversing a five-member Republican majority that has dominated the body for the past two years. The panel functions as a state board of directors, and controls appointments and state contracts over $10,000.

The agency is currently under scrutiny for blocking state funding of Planned Parenthood, along with rejecting federal funds to set up a health care exchange and to study trains connecting Concord and Boston.

"Keeping the council out of charged political fights is the direction the people of New Hampshire want to go in," Executive Councilor-elect Chris Pappas (D-Manchester) told The Huffington Post. "It's the last place you want to see extreme ideas."

Pappas, who was elected alongside Democrats Colin Van Ostern (Concord) and Debora Pignatelli (Nashua), said that the group plans to move away from the partisan domination of the council and focus on the group's traditional role overseeing state spending.

Pappas pointed to several issues, including the decision to block Gov. John Lynch's (D) proposed contract to fund Planned Parenthood's health services, along with rejecting the federal funds, as examples of "extreme" views. Among the council's other powers are accepting or rejecting federal funds for the state, and planning and overseeing highway projects. He and Van Ostern both said that if Governor-elect Maggie Hassan (D) brings a Planned Parenthood contract to the council it would likely win approval.

"It is a shame that the council put ideology ahead of women and families," Pappas said.

Van Ostern and Councilor Chris Sununu (R-Newfields) also both described a need for the council to work together and function in a non-political way. Van Ostern pointed to a need to move the body out of the spotlight of the past two years along with focusing on economic development.

"On a couple of the issues, like rail and health care, those are critical economic issues," Van Ostern said. "As we look to fill positions, we need to focus on job growth."

Pappas, 32, and Van Ostern, 33, join Sununu, 37, as the council's first under-40 majority. The council traditionally was filled by long-time New Hampshire politicians, who previously held mayoral and state legislative seats. The three members point to their private business experience as a plus for the state.

Van Ostern is business manager for Stonyfield Yogurt, while Sununu, the son of former Gov. John Sununu (R), is the CEO of Waterville Valley Resort. Pappas, a former state representative and Hillsborough County treasurer, is co-owner of his family's restaurant and is the first openly gay member of the council.

Pignatelli is a former state legislator who served on the council before her 2010 defeat, while Councilor Raymond Burton (R-Bath) has been in office since 1980.

Sununu said the new councilors will help focus on a business approach to government, but also downplay the partisan shift. "It will definitely change the Council," Sununu said of the election. "The Executive Council is one of the more nonpartisan bodies in the state. So much of what we do it due process and due diligence. It is taking the politics out of government."

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