Governor Chris Sununu’s announcement that he’s ending the state’s mask mandate is a result of pressure from members of the conservative wing of the state GOP who are threatening the budget over hot button issues, like banning the teaching of critical race theory, according to Rep. Ken Weyler.
Weyler, a Kingston Republican and House Finance Chair, said he recently met with Sununu and warned him that the final version of the state budget needs to include controversial amendments added by Republican House members if the bill is going to pass.
“He said ‘This is all going to go away in a few days’,” Weyler said.
Sununu’s staff did not respond to a request for comment.
Sununu has been critical of the House budget, which includes a provision to ban the teaching of critical race theory in New Hampshire schools, as well as measures to curb Sununu’s emergency powers. Many New Hampshire Republicans have objected to Sununu’s mask mandate and other emergency measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Sununu called the House budget “off the rails” and said he would veto the critical race theory ban on free speech grounds. Sununu is opposed to critical race theory.
HB 544, the bill to ban “divisive concepts” on race and gender from being taught in school, was laid on the table last week, putting the bill on hold. It was instead added to HB 2 as an amendment. Rep. Jason Osborne, a sponsor of the bill, said pushing the ban is a priority for Republicans.
“We have no intention of allowing this priority issue to die.”
The budget is currently in the hands of the Senate, where many thought Sununu would work to remove the more controversial elements added by the House. However, Weyler warned the Senate this week that if it wants Republican votes in the House, the bill must include the critical race theory ban. He said there is a contingent of 40 to 50 GOP members willing to spike the budget over those issues.
“It isn’t irresponsible when you have to pass a budget,” Weyler said.
Weyler said he does not have a big enough majority to ignore the 40 to 50 members who want the critical race theory ban. He also supports banning concepts like critical race theory from being taught in New Hampshire, calling it a “Marxist, anti-American, anti-White” program.
According to Weyler, the country’s current problems with race stem from former President Barack Obama manipulating African Americans. Before that, America was making steady progress on race, he said.
“This country was doing fine on race until Obama got elected,” Weyler said.
Critics and supporters of critical race theory agree it’s being used by some government institutions, including municipalities and school districts, as part of what advocates consider diversity training. Some use critical race theory to highlight issues like redlining and inequalities in the economy and health care fields, while one of its best-known national advocates, Ibram X. Kendi, describes “whiteness” as inherently problematic to society and advocates discrimination as part of an “anti-racism” solution.
Nashua Democrat Michael O’Brien said watching the GOP hold the budget hostage over culture war talking points is disappointing. O’Brien watched his efforts to change the state’s pension program to help alleviate local property taxes get sidelined, while the GOP is making demands about critical race theory and mask mandates.
“It’s very funny watching it from my seat,” he said.
The GOP can be a responsible governing party, O’Brien said, if it ignored its more radical members. He said it’s similar to the issues Democrats have balancing the progressive wing of the party with the goals of the more centrist members.
“I think they are a serious party,” O’Brien said. “I think both parties right now are somewhat fractured.”
Weyler said there are many of the members in the Statehouse pushing the radical items who identify as Republican, but in fact are members of the Libertarian Free State project.
“They might not be Republican, they might be Libertarians or Free Staters, but they helped us get a majority,” Weyler said.