As COVID-19 continues to spread, various departments of the State of N.H. are implementing a number of policies to control the social, political, economic and health-related issues surrounding the pandemic.
Republican Governor Chris Sununu is at the helm of the state’s response, but not without criticism from the other side of the aisle. One of the people at the center of the critique is Andru Volinsky, a Democratic gubernatorial primary candidate and a current Executive Councilor.
“When you think of the Executive Council, you should think of the state’s board-of-directors,” Volinsky said of his position in state government. “We give advice to the Governor, and we are a check on the Governor’s power. There are five of us.”
Volinsky said that he is critical of some of the Governor’s handling of the crisis.
“The Governor has, really, refused to collaborate with the council,” Volinsky said. “We have this constitutional responsibility to be advisers, but Governor Sununu has refused to talk to us.”
Despite the criticism, Volinsky said he also said that he thinks Sununu is doing some things well. Still, he said he encourages Sununu to be more open to feedback from his advisers and get ahead of the curve on certain issues.
“I think you always have to give leaders some space to respond to a crisis, particularly if they weren’t prepared for it,” Volinsky said. “He was slow to issue a stay-at-home order, for example, but to his credit, he recognized that every other state in the mid-Atlantic and New England regions had issued one and he finally went along.”
Volinsky isn’t just critical of Sununu. He also said he believes that the NH Department of Education and Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut should be doing more to make sure all students have an equitable shot during remote learning. Volinsky said he voted against Edelblut’s confirmation but lost on a 3-2 party-line vote.
“The idea that we have converted to remote learning, where the school districts are dependent on their local resources to pull that off, you haven’t heard the state buy a bunch of Chromebooks and give them out to students broadly across the state,” Volinsky said. “I’ve been talking to people and I’ve heard concerns where some parents, because they didn’t have [access to the] internet at home, are driving their kids to school and then sitting in their cars and working off the school’s internet, in the parking lot.”
Volinsky also said that Edelblut is lacking in his response to students who require special services.
“One point where the Commissioner is particularly weak, is with respect to children who require special services,” Volinsky said. “There really isn’t a good plan to help children who are entitled through their individual education plans to special services.”
The NH Department of Education and Edelblut’s office declined a request for comment regarding Volinsky’s critiques.
Volinsky said those in state government recognize that the economy of N.H. will be hit especially hard this summer in places like Hampton and Seabrook, where beach tourism dollars could sharply decrease.
“We were told by the Commissioner of Health and Human Services to expect the peak of the virus in NH to be in mid-May,” Volinksy said. “If the peak is mid-May, it won’t subside until well into the beginning or middle of June, and that will hurt the summer seasons in places like Hampton and Seabrook, and particularly small businesses aren’t getting bailouts from the Federal Government.”
Volinsky said that his message to high school students is to stay optimistic through the crisis.
“You need to be hopeful, you have your whole lives ahead of you, your lives post-COVID-19 will be very different than your lives before the virus,” Volinsky said. “You have an opportunity to remake New Hampshire and America in a way that can be more fair and more inclusive, and I am counting on you to do it.”