June 19, 2012 at 10:44 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Gay N.H. Executive Council candidate stumps in D.C.
Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay New Hampshire

Chris Pappas (Photo courtesy of Chris Pappas)

The Victory Fund on Friday hosted a fundraiser for gay New Hampshire Executive Council candidate Chris Pappas at the Beacon Bar and Grill’s Sky Lounge in D.C.

Gay New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley was among the roughly 50 people who attended; while U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.,) former Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese and Maryland Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County) are among those who co-hosted the gathering.

“It was a nice group and a successful event,” said Pappas.

Pappas, who co-owns a popular Manchester restaurant that his family opened nearly a century ago, was a state representative before he served two terms as Hillsborough County treasurer. He declared his candidacy for the five-member gubernatorial advisory and oversight body in March after former Manchester Mayor Ray Wieczorek announced he would not seek another term. Pappas, 31, will face either current Hillsborough County Treasurer Robert Burns, state Sen. Tom DeBlois or local business owner Chuck Rolecek in November.

He told the Blade that he decided to run in response to the Republican Party’s near sweep of statewide offices in 2010. Pappas specifically pointed to the GOP-controlled Executive Council’s decisions to defund the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics and block a federal grant that would have funded a study into the proposed expansion of a commuter rail line from Boston into southern New Hampshire as two issues that specifically influenced his decision.

“The Executive Council has real power over the decision making process and the purse strings of our state,” he noted. “I think they’ve been using that to real extreme political ends.”

Pappas applauded lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who overwhelmingly voted against a bill in March that would have repealed the law that has allowed gays and lesbians to marry in New Hampshire since 2010.

“It was years in the making of folks who had worked on the ground here building a coalition of not just Democrats and progressives, but Republicans and Libertarians as well,” he said. “That proved a successful strategy in the Legislature this year.”

Governor John Lynch, who announced last September that he would not seek a fifth term, signed the state’s same-sex marriage law in 2009. The two leading Republican gubernatorial candidates — Kevin Smith and Ovide Lamontagne — have said they would sign a same-sex marriage repeal bill if elected.

“We want to elect people who are advocates and [who are] going [to] work for us on this issue,” said Pappas. “It could come to a head again this year if we don’t elect the right governor.”

Pappas has hired a full-time campaign manager and opened an office in Manchester since officially declaring his candidacy. He said his sexual orientation is “not an issue” among potential voters, but conceded that he will need to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to remain a competitive candidate going into November.

“We have a tactical advantage, but that can be easily outweighed with the amount of money that’s going to be put into television ads and the amount of money that’s going to come from these national right wing super PACS,” said Pappas, referring to New Hampshire’s status as a swing state in this year’s presidential election. He added he remains confident that voters will “see through efforts” from the Koch brothers and Karl Rove to “influence our elections with secret corporate money.”

“All the television ads in the world won’t outweigh the impact of neighbors talking to neighbors about the issues and values that matters to working families,” added his campaign in a follow-up e-mail to the Blade. “That’s what our grassroots team is already doing.”

In spite of these concerns, those who attended Pappas’ D.C. fundraiser were quick to praise him.

“Chris is a rising political star who’s already deeply experienced and knowledgeable about state government,” said Victory Fund CEO Chuck Wolfe. “If he wins this race he’ll be one of the state’s highest-ranking openly LGBT officials, but more importantly he’ll be in a position to serve all the people of New Hampshire. We’re proud to endorse him.”

Buckley, a former New Hampshire state representative from Manchester, agreed.

“Chris has the ability to bring people together and solve problems,” he added. “He has a bright future.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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