CONCORD — After working with a 3-2 GOP majority on the Executive Council during his first term, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu will have to adapt to a 3-2 Democratic majority, at least for the next two years, as he brings his key appointments and major state contracts to the council for approval.
Officially known as the Governor and Council, the five councilors act as a board of directors for the state and are often at the center of controversial contracts surrounding such issues as funding for Planned Parenthood and support for commuter rail.
The blue wave that flipped the majorities in the state House of Representatives and state Senate also turned the tide on the Executive Council, although by some very narrow margins.
Only two incumbents will be returning to the council when it convenes for the first time in 2019.
Democrat Andru Volinsky of Concord sailed to victory in the Democratic-dominated district that runs horizontally across the middle of the state from Dover through Concord to Keene, defeating Republican James Beard of Lempster, 58-42 percent.
The other returning incumbent, Republican Russell Prescott of Kingston, had a much tougher fight. His Democratic opponent Joe Pace, a Stratham native and former three-term Exeter selectman, did not concede until close to midnight on Tuesday.
With 97 percent of the votes accounted for by mid-day Wednesday, Prescott was leading by only 663 out of nearly 113,000 votes cast in the Seacoast area district.
“The people of our district have made their decision for the next two years and I respect their voice,” said Pace. “I congratulate Councilor Prescott on his reelection and wish him the best.”
Prescott said he worked hard to get out the vote and linked his campaign to that of Sununu.
“I really enjoyed working with Chris so much the past year,” said Prescott. “I think he’s moving the state in the right direction, and asked people to vote for me to keep that going.”
In a close race for the Manchester area council seat left vacant by newly elected 1st District Congressman Chris Pappas, former Queen City Mayor Ted Gatsas eked out a narrow victory over local tech entrepreneur Gray Chynoweth, 49-47 percent.
Gatsas, who’s used to working with Democrats, said he has no qualms about being one of only two Republicans on the council.
“I’ve only governed in the minority,” he said. “It’s not like I’m used to having a majority when I’m elected. In the mayor’s office I was always in the minority and we got an awful lot of things done.”
In the remaining two districts, Democratic challengers unseated longtime incumbents.
In District 1, which covers northern New Hampshire, Republican Joe Kenney lost to Democrat Michael Cryans, who has run in three previous elections against Kenney.
Kenney had not formally conceded as of Wednesday afternoon, despite trailing 47-51 percent.
“I haven’t seen the official Secretary of State result yet, but all indications are there will be a new executive councilor,” Kenney said. “The voter turnout in the Upper Valley did not go my way.”
Another recurring match-up in the district that stretches from Nashua to the Monadnock Region saw Democrat Debora Pignatelli of Nashua retake the seat she once occupied from Republican Dave Wheeler of Milford.
Tuesday’s match-up was the fourth time the two have squared off for the council seat.
Pignatelli, who has overcome the health problems that led her to step down at the end of 2014, said she will pick up where she left off.
“Besides watching the dollar and being in favor of commuter rail and women’s right to make their own health decisions, I am going to look to maintain our excellent judiciary, actively provide constituent services as I always have and support our public schools,” she said.
Wheeler could well be on the ballot again two years from now. “The district flips on the mid-term year quite a bit,” he said. “I think the seawall wasn’t tall enough to catch the blue wave.”