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Van Ostern running to become NH's secretary of state

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 14. 2018 11:44PM
Former Democratic nominee for governor, Colin Van Ostern, is challenging Bill Gardner to become Secretary of State, he announced Wednesday. (Kevin Landrigan/Union Leader)

CONCORD — Former Democratic nominee for governor and Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern of Concord said he’s running to become secretary of state on a platform of defending voting rights, modernizing state government, banning corporate money and protecting personal privacy.

Van Ostern, 42, refrained from frontal attacks on 42-year incumbent Secretary of State Bill Gardner other than to rail against Republican-led changes in election laws Gardner embraced last year that tightened up the definition of eligible voters in New Hampshire.

“We will never fix the challenges that face our country if we act like those who share our political party are always right, or that we can’t handle the change that inevitably comes to all things,” Van Ostern said alluding to Gardner, a Manchester Democrat.

“It’s time for new thinking. The issues I’ve laid out in this platform are not partisan ones, and I welcome support from those who share these goals, across the political spectrum.”

Van Ostern unveiled a citizens petition at a new website,, that calls for voters to support his agenda to include letting a new non-partisan commission rather than the Legislature redraw voting district boundaries every 10 years.

The Free and Fair PAC will be used to financially support legislative candidates who are on board with this platform, he said.

Van Ostern vowed not to take corporate or business PAC money and said it should be outlawed for all state elections.

“Corporations are not people; their checks are bribes, not speech, and here in the heart of American democracy we need to end them,” Van Ostern said.

“Over 20 states already have done this and New Hampshire must.”

Van Ostern did not rule out taking out-of-state ideological or union money for his PAC but noted all his past campaigns have been primarily financed by “human beings from New Hampshire.”

The 424 elected members of the New Hampshire Legislature choose the secretary of state after the November elections every two years.

During an interview, Gardner, 69, said he’ll be seeking a 22nd term but is not at all focused on the campaign given the varied duties of his office that not only administers elections but manages the filing of all private business trade names along with a bureau that regulates financial securities.

“I have never taken a single political donation in the past and I’m not about to start now,” Gardner said.

“How can you operate this kind of campaign and then take part in election recounts that may involve the very people you have supported or not? I just fundamentally disagree with that approach.”

Van Ostern denied his campaign finance plans for this race would politicize the job. He also said it was not his intent to use the post as a stepping stone to higher office in 2020 or beyond.

“I don’t have any intention to use it as you describe it,” Van Ostern said. “This looks to be a four to six-year agenda.”

The last serious challenge to Gardner came from Salem Republican state Rep. Donna Sytek in 1984. Sytek went on to become the first woman speaker of the N.H. House.

For the past 20 years, state Democratic leaders at times have bitterly fought with Gardner, maintaining that he’s too often sided with the wishes of Republican legislative leaders.

The state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation condemned Gardner for accepting a seat on President Donald Trump’s election integrity commission and his refusal to leave it until Trump by executive order shut it down.

The House and Senate Democratic leaders endorsed Van Ostern’s bid.

“It’s a hard decision; I’ve known Bill Gardner since I was 14 years old,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn of Whitefield.

“I have to look beyond personal relationships and make the changes we need to make in New Hampshire.”

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