Rep. Donovan Fenton of Keene to run for Jay Kahn's seat in NH Senate - Rick Greene, Keene Sentinel
N.H. Rep. Donovan Fenton, a Keene Democrat and vice president of Fenton Family Dealerships in Swanzey, said Monday he will run to succeed Jay Kahn in the N.H. Senate.
Kahn, 71, also a Democrat from Keene, announced last Wednesday he will not seek a fourth term.
Fenton, 33, a three-term representative, said that as a young father he intimately understands bread-and-butter issues that may be lost on older lawmakers.
He and his wife, Jackie, have two boys, Harrison, 3, and Cooper, 1. The couple has had difficulty finding child care, a problem throughout the state.
“As a younger voice, I am living this right now,” he said in an interview Monday evening. “I think there may be one or two other senators who are living it as well, but until we get more people involved in the Legislature that are going through this and struggling with it, I’m not sure it gets changed.”
He sponsored legislation to create a committee to study providing a tax incentive to companies that provide a stipend to their workers to help defray child care expenses. The House decided on a voice vote early this year that the bill would not move forward.
Fenton thinks he might have more success in pushing such legislation as one of only 24 senators in New Hampshire as opposed to one of 400 state representatives.
As a businessman, he said he understands viscerally that the lack of available child care and scarcity of affordable housing make it hard to recruit workers, and create an impediment to economic growth.
“I can’t hire employees right now because there is no housing,” he said. “It has gotten to the point where we’ve considered building an apartment complex to house our employees.”
State budget surpluses aren’t being utilized sufficiently to reduce property taxes and encourage construction of workforce housing, Fenton said.
“I think that mindset has to change if we want to grow New Hampshire’s economy,” he said. “Right now we’re not attracting anyone because we physically can’t locate them here.”
Fenton said that while he’s concerned about issues affecting families and businesses, it seems like a lot of time is spent in the Legislature on other matters.
“I think we have a lot of out-of-state extremists and activist groups that try and push a lot of New Hampshire legislation,” he said, citing the school-voucher movement.
“It seems like the defunding-public-education train came up out of nowhere,” he said. “I’m a Keene High graduate myself. The way I look at this is, imagine what that school could do with more funding.”
Supporters of vouchers say it’s not a matter of taking money away from public education, but giving parents more choice of where their child is educated.
But Fenton said he simply doesn’t think taxpayer dollars should be spent on religious and private schools.
“If you choose to send your child there, that’s your prerogative; however, public-education money is deemed for public education,” he said.
Fenton also pointed to election integrity as taking up significant time in the Legislature, although he said he doesn’t believe there have been significant election problems in New Hampshire or nationally.
“I think it’s just a way to get people’s mind off of the important issues,” he said. “It’s like saying, ‘Look what’s over in this left hand,’ while this other hand defunds public education and raises your property taxes.”
Fenton holds a bachelor’s degree from Towson University in Maryland and a master’s degree from the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management in Washington, D.C.
The family automobile-dealership business has given him a background in sales. “I got one of the best educations ever from being in sales,” he said. “That directly translates to the Legislature in my opinion. You work with people, you learn their wants and needs, and you provide for them.”
No other candidates have announced for Kahn’s district, which covers 15 communities in Cheshire County, and has been reliably Democratic. The candidate filing period is June 1-10. Senate terms run two years.
This article has been changed to correct N.H. Rep. Donovan Fenton's age. Rick Green can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-355-8567.