During a testy exchange with radio host Jack Heath on Wednesday, New Hampshire Governor — and possible 2024 presidential candidate – Chris Sununu claimed he never issued any stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 crisis.
In reality, the governor’s website shows he issued multiple stay-at-home orders in the first months of the pandemic, a fact that was well publicized at the time.
Heath raised recent reports that many COVID strategies like lockdowns were far less effective at containing the pandemic than originally believed. “When you look back on New Hampshire and the executive orders and the stay-at-home orders, do you regret that in hindsight?” Heath asked.
“Jack, we didn’t have any stay-at-home orders,” Sununu shot back. “We were one of the most flexible states of the country. New Hampshire was ranked number one for personal freedoms during COVID. Stay-at-home orders? What are you talking about?”
Heath, who was clearly taken aback, reminded the governor the radio host “had to get a FEMA permit to drive for two weeks because of a stay-at-home order. Am I right or wrong?”
Sununu insisted he issued no such orders.
“No, no, no. Businesses stayed open here in New Hampshire. Did we have a time when we shut all the businesses down? No.
“I will put my record against anybody else’s. We were one of the first states in the country to insist that kids get back into school and get rid of remote learning, way before everybody else,” Sununu said.
Heath praised the governor for the school policy but asked again, didn’t you issue stay-at-home orders? Or was it just a recommendation?
“You’re not going to rewrite history like that,” Sununu insisted. “I’m number one on the Cato Institute’s [list of states for] personal freedom. A state with stay-at-home orders does not have that ranking. And that’s over and above Florida.
“Those first two weeks, the entire country came to a grinding halt, but we did not have stay-at-home orders,” Sununu added. “You can’t rewrite history.”
However, according to the New Hampshire Governor’s website, on March 26, 2020, Sununu issued “Emergency Order # 17 Pursuant to Executive Order 2020-04 Closure of non-essential businesses and requiring Granite Staters to stay at home.”
The order read in part, “Beginning at 11:59 p.m. on March 27, 2020, New Hampshire citizens shall stay at home or in their place of residence.”
On May 1, Sununu transformed it to “Stay At Home 2.0” which lifted some, but not all, of the restrictions on businesses from his first order.
Sununu ended the order on June 15, 2020, tweeting: “Our Stay at Home 2.0 Order will expire at 11:59 p.m. on Monday, June 15. We will also remove the cap on scheduled gatherings of 10 or less.”
The governor’s office responded to NHJournal inquiries about the comments with a statement.
“The Governor understood Jack’s comments to mean that New Hampshire was under the same level of liberal-extreme lockdown seen in states like California and New York. Clearly, New Hampshire was not, so the Governor pushed back. New Hampshire is still hailed as one of the best-run states during COVID.”
The issue is problematic for Sununu in a Republican primary, where part of the GOP base opposed COVID restrictions, lockdowns, and mask mandates from the start. A small but vocal group of Granite State Republican activists, including organizations like ReBuildNH (formerly “ReOpenNH”), have leveled a steady barrage of criticism at Sununu over his handling of the COVID pandemic.
For Sununu, who is already being labeled a “moderate” by the national political media, the controversy could be another wedge between his candidacy and the conservative voters who make up a majority of the national GOP primary electorate.