Setting the Record Straight
June 26, 2020
The governor is playing politics with important appointments to state agencies and boards.
Instead of consulting with the Executive Council, he is choosing people he knows cannot be confirmed because they are not good fits, and then blames the Democrats on the Council for failing to confirm them.
I am not going to sit quietly while the governor and his nominees distort what is happening.
The most recent examples of his appointments to the Board of Education and the Office of State Licensure Certification - both with very important responsibilities. In those two cases, the nominees were African American men. They were prepared for various positions in state government such as the governor’s GOFERR Commission or others that would have taken advantage of their business backgrounds, just not the positions at hand. I offered to help one of the nominees if he wanted to explore possibilities.
We Democrats have proposed using Representatives Hall for our meetings and public hearings, but have been denied because of Covid. We all know that gatherings are being postponed or even canceled. It is ironic that I am one who has been criticized for the delay in scheduling a public hearing on a nomination. My efforts in earlier years on the Council are the reason why we have public hearings at all on nominations to lead our state agencies and significant boards. They never happened prior to 2005 when I initiated the practice in order to shed light on the nomination process and invite public input.
I strongly recommended other highly qualified African American candidates to the governor for service on the Board of Education. It is in his hands. I am hopeful, but not optimistic that the governor will act.
I have advised the governor of other excellent nominees for open positions that could easily be confirmed unanimously by the Council. I don’t even know their political affiliation. I understand other Councilors have done the same.
The governor never responds, never consults, and goes on his merry way nominating people who are not good fits and cannot get the needed votes of Councilors who are doing their jobs well.
I am going to have to get another telephone line to field all the calls that I am getting in opposition to this Governor’s inappropriate nominations! The calls and emails from knowledgeable people keep arriving in large numbers.
In my 10 years of experience on the Council with other governors, I hadn’t seen this ineffective approach in choosing leaders of our state agencies and important boards and commissions.
This governor is departing from past practices in a way that is not at all productive for our State. I hope the Press will tell both sides of the story and even ask the governor why he is going so far off track.
Council Meeting June 24, 2020
June 24, 2020
These were my remarks at Council today on being accused of being a racist by Mr. Edwards, the Governor's nominee to lead the Office of Professional Licensure and Certification. Mr. Edwards withdrew his nomination.
"The press gave me a copy of Mr. Edwards letter to you, Governor Sununu. Unfortunately, neither you nor Mr. Edwards sent a copy to me. I don't know if other Councilors got it. I normally wouldn’t comment on this, but since I am being charged with racism, I want it known that nothing is further from the truth.
"This is similar to the charge I heard when I could not support the Governor's nomination of Mr. Terrell to the State Board of Education. I didn’t think the gentleman had the needed qualifications. It was as simple as that.
"But, I did recommend to you, Governor Sununu, two highly qualified black women. I understand another woman of color has applied and she seems highly qualified as well. Governor, could you give us an update on how you are coming along on your vetting of these candidates?
"Or, could you, at least, communicate back when you have had the opportunity to vet them?
"You know, I would have been glad to have recommended these women who are, in fact, from my District, replacing another outstanding District 5 member of the important State Board of Education, Helen Honorow.
"I don't know whether it is you, Governor Sununu, or Mr. Edwards who is playing politics here. I do note that Councilor Volinsky is running for Governor, and the letter attacked him most strongly.
Sounds like pure politics to me, politics of a real nasty sort. We can do better than this, can't we?"
I'm Running for Re-election!
June 15, 2020
I announce my plan to seek re-election to the Executive Council. If successful, this would be my sixth two-year term, following 10 years in the Senate and 5 years in the House.
In my 10 years on the Council, I have seen it take on a larger role in New Hampshire politics. Council District 5 consists of 32 towns from Hudson to Peterborough to Swanzey and the City of Nashua.
The Executive Council plays an important Constitutional role in New Hampshire government. It has to approve all state contracts exceeding $10,000. Its work has avoided a lot of controversy in awarding thousands of state contracts, annually. Rarely, if ever, do we hear of any controversy in the awarding of contracts totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. The Council helps foster clean government.
The Council is critical in making sure that highly qualified people are nominated to all of our courts throughout the state including our Supreme Court, our 11 Superior Courts and our 32 Circuit Courts (District, Probate, and Family). Our Supreme Court will rule on important legal issues that will set standards for the decades to follow.
As Councilors, we also confirm leaders of state agencies. These include the Attorney General and the leaders of our Departments of Education, of Health and Human Services, Labor, of Employment Security of Environmental Services, of Safety (State Police) and many more. The leaders we choose must carry out the important duties of these agencies consistent with our goals and values.
In addition, the Executive Council confirms nominations to state boards and commissions. These include the Board of Education, the Board of Medicine, and numerous others. The Council rules on all pardons and commutations of criminal convictions. It confirms the Poet Laureate. And, it does so much more.
The Executive Council sets the toll rates on our turnpike system. I am very pleased to report that since 2004, I have worked to eliminate the exit 11 tollbooths in Merrimack, the only NH community unfairly hemmed in by tollbooths. My efforts finally bore fruit in January, with the help of the other Councilors.
One of the essential duties of the Executive Council, as I see it, is to help constituents in their interactions with the various state agencies. A good deal of my time is spent helping small businesses and individual citizens in resolving a whole myriad of issues with State government. The work does not make the headlines.
It's all important work, and I'm happy to have the chance to continue doing it. Thank you so much for your past support, and I welcome your help again.
June 15, 2020
Letter to Governor Sununu
April 27, 2020
Here is a letter I sent to Governor Sununu this afternoon. I believe that an elected body needs to keep an eye on Federal Money coming in to help various groups and people and how this money is being distributed. The Executive Council has been charged with this duty in the State Constitution. And we are willing to meet whenever necessary.
Dear Governor Sununu:
As you know, our State Constitution requires that any spending of public monies be approved by the Executive Council.
I know you are relying on input from your appointed GOFERR and I can appreciate your establishing this advisory committee.
The Council can meet on very short notice. No undue delays will result from our following the usual constitutional process.
May I assume correctly that your plans for distributing all federal monies will be presented to the Executive Council for a vote? I believe it is very important that elected officials have a say and a vote in the distribution of these monies.
Debora B. Pignatelli
Executive Councilor – District 5
Letter to the Editor of the Union Leader
September 21, 2019
This was in response to an editorial taking me to task for not supporting the Attorney General's efforts to remove Hillsborough County Attorney Michael Conlon.
The Union Leader is mistaken that the Executive Council "has it in" for Attorney General MacDonald.
The Council members and I respect him and his office. I just didn't believe he was the right fit for our Supreme Court at this time for all of the good reasons I explained before.
Concerning the controversy swirling around the County Attorney's office, my vote had nothing to do with disparaging the Attorney General. Absent criminal conduct, fraud, or gross incompetence on the part of a duly elected County Attorney, which does not exist in this case, I don't believe he should be removed by anyone except the voters.
County Attorney Conlon has made strides in improving his office of dedicated and overworked prosecutors and staff. Yes, he has to do more. With help and an increase in the number of prosecutors, I believe he will.
Debora B. Pignatelli
Statement on the Nomination of Gordon MacDonald to the State Supreme Court
July 10, 2019
I believe the most important vote an Executive Councilor can make is one to confirm a nominee to our Supreme Court. I took this very seriously. I have read everything and have listened to everyone. Taking it all into consideration, I cannot support this nomination.
In the past 23 years, Democratic governors have appointed conservative judges. I have supported them, including the retiring Chief Justice, in 2010. We voted for balance on our highest court. In contrast, Governor Sununu, so far, has shown no such inclination. To the contrary, it is obvious he is trying to pack the court with very conservative justices.
The federal courts seem to be shifting more decisions to our country's state courts. Two weeks ago, the United States Supreme Court refused to correct the worrisome partisan gerrymandering that is distorting our political system. Our own Supreme Court will likely have to rule on that issue as well as voting rights, gun safety, healthcare, women's health issues, funding for education, taxpayer funding of parochial schools, and other critical issues. All of these are very important to me.
In two short years, the Governor disbanded the non-partisan Judicial Screening Committee used for twenty years by prior governors. He has appointed two conservative Justices, at least one of whom was very politically active. Now he wants to place a third one so that there would be a 4 to 1 imbalance. New Hampshire is not a 4 to 1 state. I think 25 years of political elections prove that.
I have no doubt that a Governor Sununu would replace Justice Hicks on his retirement in three years with another very conservative person, making it a clean sweep, 5 to 0. Some have argued that the Council has created a litmus test but that is untrue unless the test is balance on the Court with people who are not political partisan activists.
I know Governor Sununu defeated a highly qualified previous nominee of Governor Hassan to our Superior Court. I did not agree with his rationale, just as he won't with mine this time.
In this case, the Governor has made his nomination without any communication with the majority Democratic Council. Based on my 4 previous terms, that is unusual. That is not the New Hampshire way. Councilor Cryans tried to discuss the nomination in advance with the Governor, but there was no room for negotiation. He had decided.
This appointee would be the third Justice in the last two years who has never worn a robe - has never served on our Circuit or Superior Court. We have had good Supreme Court justices who had no trial prior court experience, and though it is not mandatory, it does add to the qualifications and allows us to examine a record of a nominee's written rulings.
I am not questioning Attorney MacDonald's skills as a lawyer. What concerns me the most, though, is that he has an extensive history as a very conservative political partisan. That gives me no comfort on how he would interpret our state constitution on the momentous legal questions I mentioned and on many more. And, that is by no means limited to the choice issue, as some have suggested in newspaper editorials. For instance, he has already shown his hand on the issue of taxpayer funding of religious schools. Some see me as a partisan, but I face the voters every two years and am not nominated for the state's most important appointment to age 70. I have voted for conservatives to our Supreme Court but never for a partisan activist.
We have, again, extended a hand to the Governor to work with him to fill this vacancy and the position of Chief Justice. In fact, I have shared information on an excellent candidate who would have bipartisan support and could easily be confirmed by the Council. I hope the Governor will work with us.
We all want a highly qualified person with unquestioned ethics. That is the bare minimum. But I am seeking more – a court balanced on the political-philosophical spectrum from liberal to conservative. And, wouldn't it be nice to have gender balance as well? Only then will we get the best decisions - because then all views and values will be reflected in those important court decisions that will govern lives in New Hampshire for years to come.