Gov. Chris Sununu’s pick to lead the state’s licensing office says "structural political racism" is to blame for his stalled nomination.
Eddie Edwards, a former Republican congressional candidate who once led the state’s liquor enforcement unit, has pulled his name from consideration to be the next director of the Office of Professional Licensing and Certification. The office oversees licensing practices of various industries in the state, including many health professions.
Sununu nominated Edwards, who is Black, to the post in March and later urged the Executive Council to confirm Edwards to a $112,000 a year job without a public hearing, or risk the state being “shorthanded” during the coronavirus pandemic. The Democratically-controlled council was unpersuaded and never gave Edwards’ nomination a hearing.
In a four-page letter addressed to Sununu Tuesday, Edwards wrote that he could no longer put his life on hold while the council engaged in what he called “an attack on a citizen for political gain” and withdrew his name from consideration.
“I’m not sure there has ever been a better example of structural political racism,” Edwards wrote. “This is textbook discrimination: delaying, redefining, denying, moving the goal post or using a different set of standards.”
Edwards lay much of the blame on one councilor in particular: Concord Democrat Andru Volinsky, who called Edwards “unqualified" and said he planned to oppose the nomination as soon as Sununu announced it earlier this year.
“Councilor Volinsky knew two facts about me before falsely declaring that I had no experience or expertise,” Edwards wrote. “He knew I was Black and that I had run for Congress as a Republican.”
The label “unqualified” itself plays into a racial stereotype, Edwards wrote. “It would be shocking if he were unaware of the historical context associated with false claims that Black people are not qualified as a tactic to exclude them or deny career opportunities,” Edwards wrote, citing his 25 years of experience in licensure and certification.
In an interview, Volinsky said he didn't want to argue every point Edwards made in his letter, but said several were inaccurate, including Edwards’ claim that the council was unwilling to give him a hearing. He also said the Executive Council had been working on finding a venue to hold several public hearings, including on Sununu’s nomination of Edwards, as recently as Tuesday.
“This was really just a matter of working through the logistics of getting this done,” Volinsky said.
Volinsky also rejected Edward’s claims of bias.
“I have 40 years worth of efforts to improve social justice, to improve racial justice,” Volinsky said. “I stand by my record.”
In 2013, the state paid Edwards $160,000 to resolve complaints that he faced racial discrimination at the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, where he worked from 1995 to 2013.
The state denied wrongdoing as part of the settlement, and Edwards agreed to leave his job and never seek work at the commission again.
Edwards, who has also been police chief in South Hampton, did not return a call seeking comment.
Sununu appointed Edwards this week to a new 14-member state commission to improve police accountability and transparency. Sununu said it’s the council’s prerogative to judge nominees, but he said Edwards had been poorly treated.
“You always give someone a hearing,” Sununu told reporters. “They didn’t even let him have a voice.”
Edwards’ withdrawal follows the Executive Council’s rejection earlier this month of Ryan Terrell, a Black businessman from Nashua, who Sununu tapped to join the State Board of Education. Terrell’s nomination was defeated on party lines after Democrats questioned his qualifications.