Colin Van Ostern-Executive Council-Year In Review

This week marks one year since I swore an oath to serve the people of New Hampshire on the state Executive Council.

Over the holidays I started a 'thank you' email to you several times, but each time the words have felt like what you might get from any other elected official at the end of the year.

So instead, I thought I'd write down ten personal memories – including some lessons, unique experiences, eye-openers, and snapshots of what the Executive Council really does – that represent the opportunity I am grateful to have on behalf of the people of a great state.

10. RAIL BACK ON TRACK - A great early ‘win’ - the Council resurrected the previously stalled Capitol Corridor rail project to study how to bring commuter rail from Boston to Central NH. I've heard many business leaders express real hope for the economic development rail would bring and was pleased to help pass it as one of our first actions after being sworn-in.

9. A VERY QUIET LISTENING TOUR – Shortly before being sworn in, I held open office hours for a day each in the various regions across the district. I got some great input and visitors – but also, to be honest, spent a fair amount of time alone. I learned quickly that helping citizens on the Executive Council doesn’t involve waiting for them to come to you. Sitting in the City Council chambers alone in the Dover city hall, I resolved to write a personal update after every Council meeting to distribute as widely as possible to help connect our work with more citizens who might be helped (BTW, if you aren’t getting these biweekly updates but would like to, drop me a line and I’ll add you to the list).

8. JOBS, JOBS, JOBS – For the highlight reel: last spring, the Council approved key Business Finance Authority financing to support new job creation via Warwick Mills in Keene and Fruedenberg-NOK in Northfield – and we launched a unique project to convert the I-93 rest stops in Hooksett into full welcome centers with Common Man restaurants, delis, cafes, gas stations, double-sized liquor stores – and 147 full time jobs, with a net positive cash flow to the state from on-site revenues. Every single time I drive by the Hooksett rest area (usually 2x/day!) I think about this project and its potential.

7. STEPPING INTO HISTORY – A personal memory: the Council met at the historic Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion & state park in Portsmouth. Not only had the Council met with the Governor here hundreds of years prior – a humbling context – but my wife actually grew up in the caretaker’s quarters of the property, when her Dad worked for the state park system in the '80s and early '90s. A special visit for me.

6. STOPPING A QUESTIONABLE CONTRACT – An easy date to remember; a few hours after my second son was born (and everyone was healthy & sleeping), I called in to a Council meeting via speakerphone from the hospital. I ended up raising concerns about a six-figure state Dept of Ed contract awarded to a just-departed employee. The Department smartly pulled the contract and re-distributed the work in a more careful manner.

5. ROADS & BRIDGES – Local citizens in the two corners of my district packed field hearings (in Hinsdale, on the VT & MA borders, and Somersworth on the ME border) to advocate for adding two projects to the state ten-year transportation plan: replacement of the Hinsdale Bridge to VT, and a new Exit 10 off the Spaulding Turnpike in Rochester. While we still have a ways to go to get them done, I was proud of the citizens who won these steps in the right direction.

4. PARDON HEARING – The Council voted narrowly (3-2) against granting a pardon to a convicted burglar who turned his life around and became a corrections officer in Cheshire County. I received lots of local feedback on both sides of the issue, voted my conscience informed by a view of how pardons impact our judicial process, and wrote out my thinking to share on my Council facebook page.

3. UNH STUDENTS THANK THE GUV – I was proud to host a Council meeting at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, and to join with students in thanking Governor Hassan, legislative leaders and administrators for passing the first tuition freeze in twenty-five years.

2. SUNDAY NIGHTS AT THE STATE HOUSE – Those Council agenda packets (typically 3,000 – 10,000+ pages) don’t read themselves! Dunkin Donuts hot chocolate with a turbo shot, plus the portrait of Josiah Bartlett (yes, he is a real guy – the 1st American Guv of NH) which hangs near my State House desk kept me moving through the pages. In August, I began using an iPad instead of the hefty paper packet, and in November I asked the Secretary of State & Department of Admin services to end printing of my Council packets entirely – I’m now 100% electronic!

1. FROM THE CONNECTICUT TO MAINE BORDER WITH RAY BURTON – In September, Councilor Ray Burton and I co-chaired the first of 25 field hearings on the state ten-year transportation plan in Charlestown, NH where our districts meet – and that week, we learned that our joint letter to Washington on behalf of a grant for improved freight rail connecting our districts (from Rochester to Ossipee) got the green light. I deeply enjoyed serving with Councilor Burton, who passed away this fall after serving thirty-five years on the Council. I will miss his kindness and the twinkle in his eye.

That’s a lot of great memories in just one year – and there’s even more to come in 2014.

I’m humbled so many people who have helped give me the opportunity to do this meaningful work – from those of you who helped with my campaign two years ago, to those who offer ideas, feedback, questions, and concerns about how our state government can do a better job.

So for these memories over this past year, I thank you.