In a one-on-one interview on the eve of Independence Day, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu told NHJournal that despite the legitimate issues raised by the Black Lives Matter protesters, America’s founding was still something to be celebrated “with pride.” He also reminded Democrats in the legislature that tough fiscal times are ahead due to the coronavirus, and he took a moment to tout the successful launch of his bid for a third term this week.
“We’ve been busy with the pandemic, and I think we’ve dealt very well with that. And now we’re just launching our campaign,” Sununu said. “You have to remind people of what you’ve done and, hopefully, earn their support with your record of success.”
The Sununu campaign sent out their first fundraising email of the season on Wednesday and, he says, it was “hugely successful.”
“Within just one day, it was the most successful campaign email we’ve ever sent. That was nice to see, because there’s a lot of folks out there who appreciate the leadership we’re providing. They know we’ve got some big decisions to make over the next couple of years, as both our state and our country come out of the COVID-19 crisis. And they know leadership does matter,” Sununu said.
The latest polls give Sununu a job approval rating north of 70 percent, while more than 80 percent of Granite Staters approve of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes more than 70 percent of Democrats.
The Democratic-controlled legislature has not been quite as kind, hardly a surprise when the state Senate majority leader is one of the Democrats running for a shot at Sununu’s job. Sununu didn’t see a lot to like in the close of the COVID-shortened session.
“Unfortunately, the session was so mismanaged by the Democratic leadership, it resulted in these clunky omnibus bills with sometimes 30 or 40 bills all mixed together,” Sununu said, noting that “a lot of it was done without public discussion and public hearings.”
That lack of hearings, some House GOP members argue, means the omnibus bills were passed in violation of the New Hampshire constitution. They argue Sununu should veto all of the omnibus bills as both a matter of law and as a message to Democrats that refusing to work with the GOP minority is a mistake.
“I appreciate that sentiment. But there are some good things here like telemedicine, which plays a vital role, not just today amid the pandemic, but moving forward, too. And that bill was designed and crafted the right way and it’s something I can support,” Sununu said. He also indicated he was likely to sign the “Howie Leung” legislation prohibiting sexual contact between New Hampshire teachers and students regardless of the student’s age. The bill came in response to the arrest of Concord High School teacher Primo “Howie” Leung, charged with sexually assaulting a student in Massachusetts in 2015 and 2016.
Sununu was less certain about the omnibus bill containing policing reform legislation, including a mandate that police report misconduct by their fellow officers and a ban on chokeholds unless the officer’s life is in danger. “I’m inclined to sign it,” Sununu said, “but on all these omnibus bills, I have to see how they’re written, how the final version comes out, before I make my decision.”
When will that be? “I don’t know when these bills are actually going to get to my desk. Last time, I was literally getting bills in September — three months after the session. Secretary of State [Bill Gardner]’s office told me it was the longest it had ever taken for bills to get from the legislature to their office,” Sununu said.
“The Democrats were just so disorganized. They have no sense of themselves,” Sununu said.
Sununu argues that the legislature doesn’t have a realistic sense of the budget crisis headed toward Concord, either.
“I had heard some folks talking on the radio the other day about a $100 or $200 million shortfall. And I said, ‘guys — no, no, no, no.’ We’re short about $540 million, and that’s over one year,” Sununu said. “Normally we’re talking about the biennium and what we have to cut over two years. No–I have a year to cut that. And that doesn’t include the federal funds.”
Sununu said he’s open to dipping into the $115 million rainy day fund (“It’s certainly raining right now”), but he is less willing to consider borrowing money for operating expenses.
“I think the federal government will come through, as they’ve committed to doing. But they’ve committed to lots of things that they don’t come through on. If they don’t come through by mid-August, we’re going to have to make some very tough decisions, and everyone’s going to have to be involved.”
NHJournal also asked Gov. Sununu about celebrating America’s Independence Day at a time when protesters are in the streets decrying the nation’s structural racism and pulling down statues of the Founders. Is America still a nation whose founding is worthy of celebration?
“Oh, absolutely,” Sununu said. “And with pride.”
“The Fourth of July is the time to take a moment of reflection, appreciate what this country was founded on, the incredible work of the Founding Fathers.
“That doesn’t mean there weren’t some people with questionable morals and values or were pro-slavery. Those are terrible things that this country fought tooth-and-nail over, and rightly so.”
But overall, Sununu says, “When the Founders wrote the Constitution, they got it right. When they wrote the Declaration of Independence, the themes that were put in it were spot on: about the value of freedom, being able to express those values, and then building something off of those values is so important.”
“The Fourth of July should be everybody’s favorite holiday,” Sununu said.