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New Hampshire Challenge Exclusive Interview with State Senator Joe Kenny – Republican
By: John Krumm, The New Hampshire Challenge

Senator Joe Kenny is VERY informed about disability issues, as he has first hand and personal motivation to do the best he can for people with disabilities.  More about that, and the reasons why will be described shortly.

Senator Kenny has a friend with a disability who inspires him.  Jim Kelly runs his own business with “perseverance and tenacity” according to the Senator.  Jim is in Senator Kenny’s mind, a solid example of what people with disabilities can do when supported, and given the chance to bite into the NH economy with equal rights.  Joe Kenny also outlined his long history, raising money for Special Olympics of New Hampshire.  Joe has a sister with disabilities who was supported by her family, and today is doing very well. 

And then there was a life-changing event twenty-eight years ago, when Joe met Eunice Kennedy Shriver who inspired him to get involved and support Special Olympics. 

The (then) young marine recruit called Special Olympics of New Hampshire from his duty station in Virginia in the early 1980’s, and made contact with Michael Quinn.   Joe then set out, organized his marine unit, and arranged for a marathon run to benefit his home state’s Special Olympic program.   Joe observed that Michael Quinn stated that he really got motivated to meet Joe, when the checks just kept coming in from Virginia!

Senator Kenny also has recent interaction with Pathways at the University of New Hampshire.  Pathway builds devices for recreational therapy for students with disabilities, and Joe Kenny is both intrigued and interested in the quality of technology research to assist people with disabilities happening at Pathway.  Joe also has a sister who has worked through disabilities in her life, and is functioning well.  Joe knows what having a family member with disability does, in terms of extra work and pressures.  

A twenty eight year vet of the United States Marine Corps, with two tours of the mid-east under his belt, Senator Joe Kenny knows how to stick to a program and overcome adverse conditions.  However, Joe Kenny when you meet him is anything but a hard-nosed type.  “We need a commitment to public service in New Hampshire, not a commitment to power.” Joe called for more volunteerism and open communication to assist needs such as identified in the disability community, and a lessening of the influence of the “me culture.”  Joe observed how the recent mergers of the Area Agencies mimicked what happened in Massachusetts. 

However, Joe said we are at risk of “stretching the consumer of services” to travel long distances in a state not known for public transportation.  Joe speaks with compassion as he outlines these issues.

“We must not give into special interests, except when the special interests are PEOPLE.”  Senator Kenny made this observation as he was reflecting on the “economic and marked based groups” which approach the legislative and executive sides of NH Government, which need resistance.  However, when Joe sees people being labeled as “special interests” he thinks a different sets of rules should apply.  The people’s interests need to be taken much more seriously.

The New Hampshire Challenge observed to Senator Kenny that recent calls from senior GOP leadership to fully fund the DD Wait List were viewed by cynical eyes in the DD community.  Joe said he understood this, but his commitment to fully fund the wait list would continue.  “I am committed to follow up on this.”

Senator Kenny wants to move immediately, by executive order if it is the only avenue available, to remove mercury from NH’s injections.  “No parent needs to wonder if this additive to injections causes autism, we need to get this out of our backyard.”

When asked what he would look for in a Commissioner of Health and Human Services if he is elected, Joe quickly responded that he would look for a person with qualifications in the field, perhaps a modest exposure to corporate underwriting or funding, someone who knows how to take public monies and use them wisely, who would ultimately be a good leader.  Joe specifically said he would look for qualifications in the fields of Health and Human Services, not business experience alone.

When asked if he would continue the recent pressures to consolidate Area Agencies, Joe quickly responded NO he would not.  Joe feels it is time to let the system adjust, and let the agencies involved get closer to the end users.  The Senator again made reference to the fact that NH is not renowned for its mass transit, and we should take care to keep the service providers close to the people.  “We are still a rural state, and we need many access points” for users of Area Agency services, he observed.

The New Hampshire Challenge thanks Senator Joe Kenny for the time and attention he took to outline his understanding of disability issues, and his interests in helping make a brighter future for people with disabilities in NH.