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Feb 15, 2017 10:42 AM

In 3-2 party-line vote, NH Executive Council confirms Edelblut as Education Commissioner

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD – The second time around, Frank Edelblut was confirmed as New Hampshire’s education commissioner.

The Executive Council, in a 3-2 party-line vote on Wednesday, approved GOP Gov. Chris Sununu’s nomination of Edelblut. The three Republicans on the council, David Wheeler, Joe Kenney, and Russell Prescott, voted in favor of the nominee, with Democratic councilors Chris Pappas and Andru Volinsky opposing Edelblut.

"I have no doubt what an outstanding job Frank is going to do at that department. He brings just a level of forethought, innovation, implementation," the governor told reporters following the council vote.

Two weeks ago, at the previous council meeting, Sununu called for the tabling of nomination after Volinsky objected to the council moving forward to a vote. Volinsky cited a state statute which dictates the governor shall consult with the board of education before nominating a commissioner.

Sununu, the state’s first Republican governor in a dozen years, met with the board of education on Tuesday. Hours after that meeting, members of the state board, which serves as a board of directors to the commissioner, released a letter of no confidence in Edelblut that it sent to the governor. The letter cited overwhelming concern from “a broad and extensive cross-section of the public” that “virtually all have expressed concerns about the appointment.”

Asked about that letter and the board's opposition to his nominee, Sununu told reporters that "I thought we had a great discussion. Some good questions, some tough questions to be sure."

"They have concerns. A lot of folks have concerns," the governor said.

But he added that such concerns were not enough to delay the nomination.

And Edelbut, sitting next to the governor in speaking with reporters, said that "I’m excited to work with the school board, the state board of education."

"We all have the same goal which is really making sure the New Hampshire school system is the best that it can be for its students," he added.

The tabling of the vote two weeks ago came one day after a nearly eight hour public hearing in the council chambers for Edelblut, a former state representative who grabbed lots of grassroots conservative support in narrowly losing to Sununu in last summer’s GOP gubernatorial primary.

The confirmation hearing turned contentious, with the nominee facing sharp questioning from Volinsky and Pappas, over Edelblut’s strong support for school choice, his qualifications for the job, and his stances on social issues. The nomination of Edelblut, a businessman who home schooled his children, sparked fierce debate due to his lack of a professional background in public education.

The councilors weigh in

Minutes before Wednesday's council vote, Pappas said "I believe this is an individual who lacks the experience and qualifications to be an effective commissioner of education."

"I think he’s taken a number of positions that are way outside the mainstream of what I would like to see from the next commissioner of education," Pappas added.

And he pointed out that Edelblut's "website as of this morning is still up for his campaign for governor… I don’t think that is appropriate for someone that we’re confirming to be commissioner of education."

Speaking after Pappas, Volinsky added "I think he’s an extremely controversial candidate."

Wheeler, the longest serving member on the council, said that " I’m just convinced that Frank will support all education in the state and do what’s best for all the children in the state."

And Kenney said that "I feel very comfortable in looking at him as a fresh new face, someone that we need to get into state government."

"If Frank Edelblut succeeds, we all succeed. If he fails, we all fail. It’s not one person who’s going to run the department of Education. It’s all of us," Kenney added.

Prescott said that "I have seen in Mr. Edelblut a cherishing of education."

The showdown over Edelblut came about a week after U.S. Senate, narrowly confirmed Betsy DeVos, a school choice advocate and wealthy Republican donor, to lead the federal education department. Vice President Mike Pence was forced to break a 50-50 tie over DeVos. It was the first time in history a vice president was needed to cast the tie breaking vote over a cabinet nomination.

The New Hampshire Executive Council votes on the nomination of Frank Edelblut as state education commissioner, on Feb. 15, 2017

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