The Sure Thing
In New Hampshire, it’s not just Death and Taxes you can count on.More than 1,000 New Hampshire residents are running for elected office this fall, ranging from U.S. Senate to County Register of Deeds. There are first-time candidates and experienced political veterans, untouchable front-runners and no-shot challengers.
Some contests will be so close they will require recounts, but it is safe to make one prediction: Ray Burton will be re-elected to another term as Executive Councilor.
Burton, a Republican from Bath, is the longest-serving executive councilor in state history. In November voters will decide whether to add to the 32 years he has been on the council representing a North Country district making up well over a third of the entire state’s landmass.
But geography only adds to Burton’s myth, whose solid political standing every election even has Democrats repeating the phrase “Burton for Certain.” He has sat in the same chair – the first to the governor’s right – through the administrations of nine governors and dozens of fellow executive councilors.
But Burton is not the state’s longest continuous office holder. That distinction, by a technicality, goes to State Rep. Laura Pantelakos, a Portsmouth Democrat. Both are going for their 17th term, but Burton wasn’t on the council for a two-year period in the late 1970s.
Pantelakos is one of 400 in the New Hampshire House. Burton is one of five on the council. Pantelakos also doesn’t have the forceful reputation that Burton has obtained in his fierce defense of his constituents. Some have joked that Burton, a fiscal conservative, would support the politically blasphemic state income tax if it meant that the North Country would disproportionately benefit.
He was born in the North Country. Raised in the North County. Attended college in the North Country. Every night for decades he has been at some type of community board or community event. He can walk into any restaurant and will know someone and their children’s names. His constituents have a sense of pride in him to the point this Republican got 60 percent of the vote for his re-election in 2008, despite a Democratic victory so large that they won every major office in the state that year.
In 2005 the loyalty of his constituents was tested. He admitted to employing a convicted sex offender as a campaign staffer. Burton said he knew about the conviction, but did not know about the arrest of the same aide who gave a 14-year-old boy a beer and a cigarette and then police found lengths of rope, duct tape and KY jelly in the trunk of his car.
Popular Democratic Gov. John Lynch called on Burton to resign, joining all four Republican members of Congress. Burton refused. The people of the North Country knew him, trusted him and a year later re-elected him.
When Burton signed up for re-election in June he did it with his own political tradition. Instead of paying the $25 filing fee as most others do, Burton collected signatures in his trusty old shoebox until it contained enough that he didn’t need to pay the fee. NH