Councilor Neil Wetherbee wants Republicans in Derry to know he is the “independent” candidate running in the GOP House primary on October 19.
“I’m a guy who is a longtime freelance who has worked with both sides of the aisle over the years,” Wetherbee told NHJournal on Monday.
What independence? He backed Democrat Pete Buttigieg for president last year, and before that he had voted for Hillary Clinton.
Wetherbee, who served on Derry City Council for 10 years, takes on former State Representative Tom Cardon and GOP activist Jodi Nelson in the primary. The winner will face Democratic candidate Mary Eisner, who has no main challenger, in the legislative elections on December 7.
Wetherbee admitted that he had voted in several Democratic primaries over the past decade – including the 2016 presidential primary with Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders – and that he had never voted for Donald Trump. He says he’s like many Republicans who think the party has left them in recent years.
“This latest list of Republican candidates for state, I found there weren’t a lot of people on that list that I could support,” Wetherbee said. “They got pretty radical, there wasn’t a lot of focus on local issues.”
And, Wetherbee notes, serving on city council means focusing on solving local issues, not partisan state-wide political fights. “It’s my job to solve the problems. “
When asked to name some Republicans he admires, Wetherbee mentioned State Representative Phyllis Katsakiores and former State Senator Jim Rausch.
“Rausch was a Republican, but he spoke to everyone. He knew his job was to bring the bacon back to Derry. He secured funding for the CTE building at Pinkerton Academy.
“And he wasn’t afraid to overthrow his party either. He took the initiative to increase the gasoline tax, working in a bipartisan fashion. It was something the state really needed.
In 2014, Rausch sponsored a gasoline tax hike that was enacted by the government of the day. Maggie Hassan (D).
Wetherbee’s main GOP opponents have both noted his recent Republican conversion.
“He hasn’t been declared for quite some time, I think he’s become a Democrat,” said Cardon, who served only one term on Derry City Council and as a state representative. “I guess he decided it was time to run as a Republican.”
When asked what she thought of Wetherbee’s voting record, Nelson said, “It makes me wonder why he’s not running for the Democratic primary.”
Nelson is vice chairman of the Derry Republican Party and is also active in the state party. She says she considers Senator Regina Birdsell a “political mentor” and admires her work ethic.
“She works so hard, but even though she’s had a long day at Concord, if there’s an Eagle Scout ceremony she needs to attend, she will be there. She believes in public service rather than politics, and so do I.
When asked how many times she had voted for Hillary Clinton, Nelson laughed. “Nothing.” She then revealed that she had voted for Gov. Chris Sununu in all three governor primaries. Wetherbee has voted in the Democratic primary in the past three election cycles.
“If people are worried about who you’ve voted for in the past, I’m probably not their candidate,” Wetherbee said. “But the people who care about the issues on the pitch, what really impacts the people in Derry, I think they’ll support me.”
Cardon says he’s drawing on his experience on city council – where he served as president – and the Statehouse. “I am the most qualified candidate for the job. I know my way around the Statehouse and can jump right in.
And, he added, “I am a moderate Republican. With both sides so polarized, I think I can tell the difference.
And has he ever voted for Hillary?
“I’m not this moderate, ”replied Cardon.
Polling stations are open on primary election day at West Running Brook Middle School from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.