August 16. 2018 11:56PM

Businesswoman mounts write-in campaign against incumbent Woodburn

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader


KATHLEEN KELLEY 

RANDOLPH — A former Randolph School Board member announced she’s mounting a write-in campaign to oppose embattled Sen. Jeff Woodburn of Whitefield in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary.

Kathleen Kelley, 62, said her decision is not meant as an attack on Woodburn for his arrest earlier this month on a myriad of domestic violence related charges but is driven by a belief her region needs a “strong, trusted voice” to face top issues in the coming years.

“This is a unique situation,” Kelley said during a telephone interview Thursday.

“Jeff and I have worked over the past six years and I have nothing but respect for his work in Concord representing our region. I feel very passionately that the state is going to make a lot of decisions over the next several years that are going to have a lot of impact on the North Country.”

Voter registration, the opioid crisis, taxpayer vouchers to support private schools and renewable energy are some of those top issues, Kelley said.

A native of southwestern Indiana, Kelley said she decided she wanted to one day live in the North Country while hiking the White Mountains as a college student with friends.

She met a Berlin man and married Mark Kelley. They have lived in Randolph since 1988 as the parents of four adult children and one grandchild.

Kelley served nine years on the Randolph School Board or the board representing the cooperative school district that includes Gorham, Randolph and Shelburne.

She is a board member of North Country Education Services that supports all the region’s schools and is a former president of the state chapter of the American Association of University Women.

“The North Country is filled with incredibly resilient people who have an impressive history of innovation; however, our community has lost many jobs that allow residents to raise children, send them to college, and then comfortably retire. We continue to lose many of our loved ones to the heroin and opioid crisis. These critical issues are exactly why we need a strong, trusted voice representing the North Country in the Senate,” Kelley said.

“While the circumstances around my decision to run are unique, this is not a campaign about outstanding legal questions. This is a campaign focused on the North Country and the critical policy issues facing our communities.”

A trained CPA with an expertise in fighting computer fraud, Kelley has helped her husband run White Mountain Lumber Co.

Kelley has served on other boards including the Women Rural Entrepreneurial Network, Randolph Mountain Club, Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Coos Economic Development Corporation.

“I was reluctant to get involved at first but at the same time when you say there is a problem and somebody needs to step up and you don’t step up yourself, that is not very helpful,” Kelley said.

Woodburn, 53, has waived arraignment and pleaded not guilty to the nine misdemeanor counts of sometimes violent contact with his “intimate partner,” Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald said in announcing Woodburn’s arrest.

The chairman of the state Democratic Party, Gov. Chris Sununu, the entire congressional delegation and all but one of his Democratic colleagues in the state Senate have called on Woodburn to resign.

After a few days, Woodburn voluntarily stepped aside from his role as Senate Democratic Leader and his peers promoted then-Deputy Leader and Manchester Sen. Donna Soucy to replace him.

But last week, the Coos County Democratic Committee declined to follow suit and pass a petition calling for Woodburn to quit.

Kelley said she’s been bothered by the reaction of some that question whether North Country residents have a zero tolerance attitude toward domestic abuse.

“There are lovely people here. We do love our heritage, our family homes, our families, but we are not idiots,” Kelley said.

In her only other state campaign, Kelley agreed to be the Democratic nominee for Coos County treasurer in 2016 and lost to Republican Suzanne Collins.

Former BAE Systems executive David Starr of Franconia became the GOP’s choice as the candidate for this Senate seat after nobody signed up to oppose Woodburn during the filing period.

The new candidate is hoping coffees she’s planning will help spread the word but recognizes a write-in campaign has its own challenges.

“I am trusting people who I have worked with if they are registered Democrats will take action, but it’s a hurdle,” Kelley said.

“My friends know me here as Katie Kelley. My old colleagues in Ohio and the Midwest knew me as Kathy Kelley, but I’ve got to get everyone to make sure to write in Kathleen Kelley.”

klandrigan@unionleader.com