Saturday, March 12, 2016
By CHRIS GAROFOLO
NASHUA - Campaign finance reform and government accountability activist Dan Weeks announced this week he will seek the District 5 position on the New Hampshire Executive Council.
Weeks, of Nashua, will run as a Democrat against incumbent Councilor David Wheeler, a Republican who is in his fourth term on the five-member executive body that oversees gubernatorial appointments and large state contracts. He will hold an official campaign kickoff at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 19 in Railroad Square before heading to the Walk to Stop Heroin an hour later in Greeley Park.
"More than a particular partisan ideology, I feel like my commitment is to a fair and representative process and to accountable, good governance," said Weeks, a 12th-generation Granite Stater.
"It struck me - folks have kindly encouraged me to think about politics for a while now - and as we were wrapping up the primary and I was pondering where I could make the biggest impact over the next couple of years ... it struck me that the job of the Executive Council, even though it is often pretty unknown, is basically about good governance," he added. "The job there is not to advance a particular ideology. That's what the Legislature's job is."
District 5, which was redrawn by a Republican-led Legislature and signed into law by Democratic Gov. John Lynch in 2012 based on the latest federal decennial census, covers all of Greater Nashua up to the town of Hillsborough and as far west as Richmond and Swanzey.
In his first conversations about seeking the council seat, Weeks said the body serves as the "eyes and ears" of New Hampshire taxpayers. He praised the work of former Councilor Ray Burton, the longest serving member in state history who was known for his tireless service to his constituents regardless of political party, and outlined issues where he sees a clear divide with Wheeler given the Republican's stances against Planned Parenthood funding, commuter rail for southern New Hampshire and solar energy projects.
"There are a couple of issues where I think ideology has spoiled the council, and the council's job isn't to make that policy but to represent the needs of constituents," he said.
"I think people should vote for the good of the district, in their own families' interests. And some folks will take a look at me and my positions and will disagree, and that's OK," he continued. "I grew up in the western part of the district, went to ConVal (High School) and live out here in Nashua. I feel like I have a decent sense of what our district needs, and I feel like that's just not being represented."
A native of Temple, Weeks served with AmeriCorps as a teenager to work on democratic development abroad after hearing the inspiring words of Doris "Granny D" Haddock as a student at ConVal. He began working with her in 2000, taking over the campaign reform-based Open Democracy in 2014, focusing on the influence of money in elections.
On Thursday, Open Democracy announced Weeks would step down from his role in the organization. Brian Beihl, of Antrim, will serve as interim director until a new executive director is hired.
When asked if he would take any special interest money, Weeks swiftly responded with a "No, sir" and wished for a campaign finance system where candidates did not have to worry about raising large amounts of cash.
"I think it's possible to run a small donor-powered campaign, and that's the challenge I'm setting for myself," he said, hoping to raise small amounts of money from dedicated supporters in each of the District 5 towns. "I'm excited that the state is finally moving to an online campaign finance system. It's voluntary, but that is where I registered my committee so it's there and transparent for anyone to see."
Weeks, a graduate of Yale University, worked with bipartisan leaders, such as the late Sen. Warren Rudman and Gov. Walter Peterson, and helped grow the organization into a well-known political action group designed to increase government transparency and accountability.
During the 2016 New Hampshire primary, he led the N.H. Rebellion campaign to get presidential candidates to address the issue of big money in politics. Weeks previously served as a columnist for The Telegraph until recently when he decided to seek public office.
He and his wife, Sindiso, a human rights lawyer and professor originally from South Africa, live in downtown Nashua, where Weeks volunteers at the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter and serves on numerous nonprofit boards.
Wheeler, who served extensively in both chambers of the Statehouse, was first elected to the council in 2000 and later served terms in 2003, 2011 and 2015. His current seat expires in 2017 and the longtime lawmaker has not made a decision if he will run for a fifth term.
"Nothing 100 percent yet, but that's the plan at the moment," Wheeler said on Friday afternoon. "Within the next month or so we'll decide for sure."
A lifelong resident of Milford, Wheeler has served as the town selectmen's representative to the Nashua Regional Planning District and on the Milford Area School Space Needs Committee and traffic safety committee. During his three terms in the Senate and two in the House, he served as Majority Whip in the Senate and was a ranking member of multiple committees.
"I enjoy the job, I try to do the best I can to get the best bang-for-the-buck for the services for the state," he said.
Chris Garofolo can be reached at 594-6465, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Telegraph_Chris.