Car dealer, software engineer square off to succeed Kahn

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Aug. 4—The Sept. 13 Democratic primary to succeed state Sen. Jay Kahn, of Keene, pits automobile dealership executive Donovan Fenton, who is concerned about the lack of affordable childcare, against software engineer Bobby Williams, who is determined to help the environment.

Kahn announced in May that he would not seek a fourth term in the reliably Democratic Senate District 10, creating an opportunity for Fenton, a three-term state representative from Keene, and Williams, a Keene city councilor.

The Republican primary for this seat has two candidates: Ian Freeman, of Keene, and Sly Karasinski, of Swanzey.

As vice president of the Swanzey-based Fenton Family Dealerships, Fenton hears from employees about how hard it is to find childcare, an issue he has faced personally. He and his wife, Jackie, have two young boys.

"My son is on a waitlist for child care and other young families are struggling with the same thing," he said Tuesday. "We're lacking centers, we're lacking teachers and we're losing a lot of good people in the field."

For those who can find child care, it's often at an unaffordable cost, he said.

"I have a big dog in this fight," said Fenton, 33. "Our Legislature is great, we have all these legislators who have such wisdom and experience but sometimes we don't think of how important child care is."

He said he favored a bill that did not advance that would have provided tax credits to companies offering their employees child care stipends.

Such legislation could also help with labor shortages associated with people who would like to work but can't because of a lack of affordable child care and would be preferable to Republican-backed efforts to reduce business profit taxes, he said.

"My own wife was a day care teacher and when she got pregnant with our first son, we did the math and her full-time wage was less than what it would cost to send our son to day care," Fenton said.

Fenton and Williams agree there is a need for more affordable housing.

"People are having their children move in with them because there is really no other great option for a young family to find a place to live in Keene that doesn't cost a whole lot of money," said Williams, 45. "There's such a very low vacancy rate right now and it's really been felt by a lot of people."

He said he would like to see legislation that would make it easier for municipalities to buy property and create affordable housing. For example, he said the 22-acre property of the former Kingsbury Corp., in southeast Keene would have been a prime opportunity for city-developed housing if there were legal provisions that would have allowed the state to take on potential environmental risks with the property.

Speaking in the middle of a statewide heat wave on Tuesday, Williams said that if elected to the state Senate, he would spend a good deal of effort on environmental issues.

"Global warming is real and we're going to experience it more and more," he said. "It's easy to point to on a hot day like this, but there are fires in California and a giant heat wave in Europe now.

"We need to be serious about emissions reductions and one thing we need to do is find alternative sources of transportation so we're not just relying on automobiles all the time."

He would like to see an expansion of public transportation systems that would be more environmentally friendly than cars and would also provide alternative ways for workers living in outlying areas to get into cities where jobs are available.

"We hear a lot of transportation options for the eastern part of the state with the Amtrak corridor, but someone needs to stand up for southwestern New Hampshire and I would bring that voice to the Senate," Williams said.

Both Williams and Fenton said they are hopeful that Democrats can gain control of the 400-member N.H. House of Representatives and the 24-member state Senate in the upcoming election.

The men agreed that Democratic majorities in the two legislative chambers would be a positive development on a range of issues.

"It seems like the issues that are important to the community are not being addressed by the current majority," Fenton said.

He said there is a lack of support for public education among the present Republican majority in the state Legislature.

"This is part of a national effort to defund, dismantle and privatize public education," Fenton said.

Fenton also objected to legislation backed by Republicans to bar the teaching of certain "divisive concepts" with potential penalties for teachers who fail to comply.

"Instead of investing in teachers, they want to make them criminals," he said.

Williams said he hears from people on the campaign trail who are concerned about gun violence. Republicans have consistently opposed gun safety legislation, while favoring an expansion of gun rights in the state.

"We've had an issue in Keene where a gun range is teaching people to make AR-15s," he said. "One of my concerns is that this gun range is actually treated as a non-profit that doesn't have to pay taxes because they have an educational function.

"But if their educational function is teaching people to make guns, I don't think that's worthy of a tax break."

Senate District 10 comprises Alstead, Chesterfield, Dublin, Hancock, Harrisville, Keene, Marlborough, Nelson, Peterborough, Roxbury, Sullivan, Surry, Swanzey, Walpole and Westmoreland.

Whoever wins the primary will face off against the winner of the Republican primary in the Nov. 8 general election for a two-year term in the N.H. Senate.

Rick Green can be reached at or 603-355-8567