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Exec Council Approves $50 Million for Sununu’s Housing Fund

The Executive Council approved the first $50 million in funding for Gov. Chris Sununu’s InvestNH Housing Fund, an ambitious plan to deal with the Granite State’s housing crisis. 

“This initial $50 million investment will create 1,500 new rental units across the state, helping increase supply, drive down costs, and ensure New Hampshire is the best state to live, work, and raise a family,” Sununu said.

InvestNH is a $100 million investment plan to boost housing construction by covering the gaps in hard construction costs on affordable multi-family developments.

The plan uses money from the state’s portion of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act. The fund will eventually direct $60 million toward developers, with $10 million going to the New Hampshire Housing Authority, and another $10 million earmarked for non-profit and small-scale for-profit developers. The remaining $40 million is going to municipalities to help streamline the zoning and planning process to get the projects built. There is also money that municipalities can use to demolish old structures and update zoning ordinances to meet current needs.

This first $50 million will be used for housing projects which will be held to affordability restrictions and construction completion deadlines within 18 months.

Both Sununu and his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Tom Sherman agree the current crisis in affordable housing availability is putting the state’s economic growth in danger. There are tens of thousands of high-paying jobs available in New Hampshire, but not enough potential workers can find places to live.

Sherman has released his own housing plan, which he said builds on Sununu’s $100 million investment.

While the council approved the housing funds, it stalled funding for a decade-old sex education plan a fourth time. No member of the council moved to vote on the $682,000 contract, leaving it in limbo.

The program is aimed at reducing teen pregnancy in Sullivan County and the city of Manchester, pockets of the state with the highest rates.

Republican councilors Joe Kenney, David Wheeler, and Ted Gatsas all previously supported the same program, but now cite concerns about parental rights when arguing against the contract. While parents must give permission for their children to participate in the program, details about what the curriculum exactly teaches are not available to the public.

Liz Canada, Advocacy Manager for PPNNE/Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund, blasted the move, saying it puts women and children in harm’s way. The council has previously voted to defund family planning contracts with clinics that also perform abortions.

“By gutting the family planning program and rejecting routine funding for after-school sex education, the Executive Council has jeopardized New Hampshire’s capacity to reduce rates of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in our state at a time when the landscape of reproductive health care nationwide is in chaos because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Canada said. “Now is not the time to risk the ability of trusted community organizations to deliver what could be life-saving information and support.”

Ed Funding Lawsuits Aim at Pushing More Local School Costs onto State

The way New Hampshire funds education could be completely upended as two separate lawsuits advance in court. One suit seeks to halt education property tax rates and the other attempts to increase the amount the state pays per pupil. 

Plaintiffs in the Grafton County education lawsuit are set to argue Friday that the state should not be able to set a rate for the Statewide Education Property Tax (SWEPT), arguing the tax is unconstitutional as implemented.

Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Sununu won’t be forced to sit for a deposition in the Contoocook Valley Regional School District lawsuit. Rockingham Superior Court Judge David Ruoff ruled the plaintiff school districts failed to show the governor is in possession of any unique knowledge.

Both lawsuits are attempting to force the state to pay more of the costs for local schools, with plaintiffs in both cases alleging the state has never followed the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s rulings in the 1980s and 1990s Claremont cases.

The Grafton County case involves several state residents who are also commercial and residential property owners. They claim New Hampshire is violating the 1997 Supreme Court’s Claremont II decision.

In Claremont, the court ruled New Hampshire has a constitutional obligation to provide an adequate education. That decision found, in part, that the use of local property taxes with varying rates to pay for the state’s obligation to provide its students with an adequate education is unconstitutional.

The ConVal case, which now includes dozens of school districts as plaintiffs, seeks to force the state to increase the per-pupil grants for an adequate education from $3,600 per pupil to around $10,000 per pupil, alleging the current grant does not cover the necessary services.

According to attorneys in the Grafton County case, Andru Volinsky, John Tobin, and Natalie Laflamme, the state continues to ignore the Supreme Court by using varying rates for the SWEPT, which in effect continues to punish poor communities with lower property values.

“Ever since (Claremont II,) the state has tried numerous mechanisms to avoid implementing an equitable tax system that would have the effect of imposing a fairer tax burden on wealthier towns, requiring the courts to intervene and protect the constitutional rights of New Hampshire citizens. Now, the state is primed to once again impose a tax using the same mechanisms previously held unconstitutional that will result in some taxpayers paying up to seven times as much for education funding as their wealthier counterparts,” the attorneys write in a new filing with Grafton County Superior Court.

The Grafton County plaintiffs are now seeking an injunction to prevent the state from setting a tax rate, asking the court to keep the SWEPT rate at $0. A hearing on the injunction is set for Friday.

The SWEPT accounts for 30 percent of education funding in New Hampshire. The tax started in 1999 as a response to the Claremont decisions, which found the state has a constitutional obligation to fund an adequate education. The money raised, more than $360 million estimated in the coming year, is used to fund state adequacy grants.

According to the plaintiffs, wealthy communities raise more funds per pupil through SWEPT than the state’s low standard for what it asserts is the cost of a state-funded adequate education. And since 2011, the state has allowed those wealthy towns to keep the surplus, which flies in the face of the Claremont decisions, according to the motion.

“The SWEPT tax as currently administered is not uniform in rate as the state allows towns with surplus SWEPT funds to either set a negative local education tax rate to offset the state’s official equalized SWEPT tax rate or retain the excess,” the motion states. “Both of these mechanisms have been previously deemed unconstitutional by New Hampshire courts.”

In the ConVal case, the plaintiffs sought to depose Sununu in order to get him to testify about the reasons he vetoed a bill that would have increased education spending by $140 million. The bill would have paid for the increase by rolling back some of Sununu’s business tax cuts.

Ruoff found the plaintiffs did not articulate how Sununu’s veto was directly related to the issues involved in the lawsuit, like funding for transportation, meals, and other necessary services.

Ruoff has already found the state is not following the Claremont decisions and that it is unconstitutionally underfunding education. The ConVal case is slated for trial in the spring to try and determine what the adequate education grant should be per pupil. 

National GOP Group Backing NH State House Women

Women in New Hampshire’s GOP are getting a boost from the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national organization throwing its support behind women candidates in State House races up and down the ballot. 

“The RSLC is encouraged to see so many women candidates running in state legislative races who will effectively represent their communities in Concord and advance commonsense policies to counteract Joe Biden’s failed agenda,” said RSLC National Press Secretary Stephanie Rivera.

The RSLC has so far spent $500,000 to help send women and others to Concord this election cycle. According to Rivera, 27 percent of the Republicans running for the House this year are women, as are 26 percent of the GOP Senate candidates. Betting on Republican women is a safe wager, she said.

“In the State House, 51 percent of Republican women who ran in 2020 won their campaigns. In the Senate, Republican women had a 55 percent success rate,” she said.

According to Rivera, the RSLC’s Right Leaders Network is leading the effort to grow the Republican Party through the RSLC’s Right Women Right Now and Future Majority Project initiatives. The committee is focused on recruiting, training, supporting, and electing thousands of diverse state Republicans across the country.

New Hampshire is a key state for both Republicans and Democrats, as the national parties are looking to gain a foothold in state legislature races. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) is targeting legislatures in New Hampshire, Michigan, and Minnesota, pumping money and resources in an effort to turn all three state legislatures blue.

“We know what we’re up against, but we are making a play to undercut GOP power in the Michigan House and Senate, the Minnesota Senate, and the New Hampshire House and Senate,” DLCC President Jessica Post said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

It makes sense for the national GOP to invest in New Hampshire races, according to Rivera, as the GOP leadership in Concord has proven successful in handling the economy and the COVID-19 pandemic, and voters are looking to continue that success.

“New Hampshire has the best economy in the New England region and the second lowest unemployment rate in the country because the Republican-controlled Legislature has made the economy a top priority by passing a historic state budget that includes $171 million in tax relief for working families and small businesses, cuts taxes for retirees, and reduces property taxes by $100 million to provide relief. This diverse slate of candidates will help Republicans hold both chambers in the Granite State to continue this record of success,” Rivera said.

Democrats have been leaning heavily on abortion as an issue to motivate their base. They’re spending big money on ads attacking GOP Gov. Chris Sununu for signing a law that bans abortion after 24 weeks, or six months, of pregnancy. Sununu’s challenger, Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, is using abortion as a major campaign plank, arguing against any restrictions on abortion.

“I would want to put in place Roe v. Wade in the state of New Hampshire,” Sherman said. “New Hampshire does not want the state in between a doctor and a patient, especially on such an intensely private issue.”

The issue may play with well Democratic donors, but not even New Hampshire Democrats support unrestricted abortion through all nine months of pregnancy. A St. Anslem College poll taken in August found about a quarter of Granite State Democrats support some limits on abortion, as do about 70 percent of the general population.

Rivera said New Hampshire voters, especially women voters, see the GOP as having the answer to issues like out-of-control inflation, soaring energy costs, and the price of food.

“Just like all voters in New Hampshire, women are pleased with the job being done by the Republican trifecta in Concord to push back against Joe Biden’s inflation with tax cuts that put more money in the pockets of working families,” Rivera said.

National Dems Target NH State House, But Packard, GOP Aren’t Worried

A national Democratic organization that works to win state legislative elections is targeting Concord with the goal of wresting control from the Granite State GOP. But despite its money and aggressive rhetoric, local Republicans say they aren’t worried.

“Good luck with that,” said New Hampshire GOP chairman Steve Stepanek, a former member of the House himself.

According to a report in the Daily Beast, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) is targeting legislatures in New Hampshire, Michigan, and Minnesota.

“We know what we’re up against, but we are making a play to undercut GOP power in the Michigan House and Senate, the Minnesota Senate, and the New Hampshire House and Senate,” DLCC President Jessica Post said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

And while Democrats pushing the plan are angry the Democratic National Committee has refused to fund their efforts, President Joe Biden came through with a direct fundraising appeal on the DLCC’s behalf to help fill their war chest.

“State legislatures are the key to stopping Republican abortion bans, attacks on L.G.B.T.Q.+ rights, bills that undercut our democracy by making it harder for people to vote,” Biden wrote in an email to the DLCC mailing list. “Not just that, state legislatures are essential — I mean it, essential — to lowering prices for American families and building an economy that works for everyone.”

And, the DNC says, it is spending on federal races in New Hampshire and other swing states which will help drive up turnout for every Democrat on the ticket.

State Rep. Matt Wilhelm, D-Manchester, who may be making a play to lead the House Democratic Caucus, touted the state party’s campaign to take control in Concord. He said at a recent party gathering that the team behind the Democrats’ fall push has put together a data-driven organization focused on winning the House and Senate.

“We have built an unprecedented campaign,” Wilhelm said.

But despite the big talk — and big money– House Speaker Sherman Packard (R-Londonderry) told NHJournal he feels very good about his party’s prospects to hold both the House and Senate.

“Their chances of flipping the legislature are extremely thin. How anybody could think they could flip the House or Senate with the disastrous fiscal policies Democrats have imposed at the federal level,” Packard said. “And if the Democrats did take over here, the terrible fiscal policies of Washington, D.C. would come to Concord. Let me tell you, that’s not what the voters of New Hampshire want.”

As for resources, Packard says Republicans will have the money they need “to get out the message about what Democrats would do if they take over.

“And that stunt in Rockingham County– where I live –and their claim that it was a printer’s mistake? That’s beyond laughable. It was a trick and they got caught. Where did the printer get the name of the ‘Rockingham Board of Elections?’ It’s a typical Democratic stunt, trying to fool the voters.”

State Rep. Ross Berry (R-Manchester), one of the members working on the House campaign efforts, said state Democrats need the out-of-state cash and all the help they can get, because the Democratic Party is not a winning organization in the Granite State.

“It is not surprising that New Hampshire House Democrats will once again benefit from large out-of-state contributions and D.C. support. In their last report one couple in California gave them $40,000,” Berry said.

“If this was a race of New Hampshire money only, they wouldn’t have two pennies to rub together,” he noted. “The Committee to Elect House Republicans has a record number of donors (over 950), virtually all of whom are from New Hampshire and over three times the number of donors as the House Democrats. Sadly, extremist liberals from New York and California are more than willing to finance the lies and half-truths of New Hampshire House Democrats, but we weathered their storm in 2020 and we will do it again in 2022.”

Another asset for GOP legislators? Having popular GOP Gov. Chris Sununu at the top of the ticket. Polls consistently show he is popular with both Republicans and independents, and he is credited with helping his party flip the state House and Senate in 2020, even as Joe Biden was beating President Donald Trump in New Hampshire by about eight points.

With Biden’s job approval numbers deeply underwater among Granite State voters, he is unlikely to help Democrats improve their performance over two years ago.

Still, Democratic Party state chair Raymond Buckley sees a blue wave coming, despite recent polling that puts Republicans on top when it comes to the economy, crime, and border security. The national funding could be just what Granite State Democrats need to buck the trends.

“Granite State Democrats more than doubled our voter turnout in this year’s Primary Election over the last midterm when a Democrat controlled the White House,” Buckley said in a recent email to his fellow Democrats. “Even with a limited number of contested primary races, over 90,000 Democrats turned out and voted, as opposed to 2014’s 40,000. There is so much at stake this November, and Granite State Democrats have shown time and time again that we are fired up and are doing what it takes to win.”

Both House Democratic Leader Rep. David Cote (D-Nashua) and Senate Leader Donna Soucy (D-Manchester) declined to comment for this story.

The political website CNalysis, one of the few that analyzes state legislature races, reports the New Hampshire State House “tilts Republican” and predicts Republicans are likely to hold onto their majority.

And Packard said he sees a strong showing for the GOP as voters worry about inflation, soaring grocery prices and high energy costs — all under the leadership of Biden and the Democrats.

“People are hurting like hell right now. And if Democrats ran things in New Hampshire and Washington, they would be hurting even more,” Packard said.

Sylvia Accuses Sununu of Unethical Behavior as Gunstock Battle Boils Over

The state representative blamed for the ongoing fiasco at Gunstock Mountain Resort has raised the stakes, accusing Gov. Chris Sununu of a conflict of interest and suggesting he may have accepted an improper political donation from the resort.

Rep. Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont), who heads up the Belknap County delegation, is accusing Sununu of interfering with the county-owned Gunstock Mountain Resort to benefit his own ski property, the Waterville Valley Resort.

“This is an ethical quandary for the governor as it interferes with the leadership of a competitor ski area, whose closure stands to benefit his family and his pocketbook,” Sylvia said in an open letter responding to Sununu’s criticisms.

The Sununu family is the principal investor in the Waterville Valley Resort. Sununu worked as CEO at Waterville until he was elected governor. 

Sylvia is also calling out Sununu for a $500 campaign donation he accepted from the resort for his 2020 re-election campaign.

Sununu isn’t backing down, lashing out at the extreme political views of Sylvia and some of his allies.

“They wanted to secede from the United States of America, completely un-American. They don’t believe in democracy,” Sununu said Wednesday. “I think those individuals should be removed for a variety of reasons. This is just the latest episode of their craziness.”

Asked if he was urging Belknap County residents to vote out a fellow Republican — meaning Sylvia– Sununu replied, “Oh, absolutely.”

Among the three lawmakers singled out by Sununu, only Sylvia voted for secession. Sununu said it is impossible to try to convince Sylvia and his followers to return the Gunstock management team to the resort.

“There are individuals that don’t believe in government. They don’t believe in America. They don’t believe in the Republican Party. They don’t believe in anything that we really stand for, so there really is no reasoning or rationalizing with them,” Sununu said.

Sununu also defended the management team and their decision to walk out.

“I think (Gunstock’s General Manager) Tom Day and the team that he’s had there have done a tremendous job. It took a lot of guts to do what they did, but they’ve made it clear they want Gunstock to succeed,” Sununu said. “They want to come back and make sure it gets right back on the right track, but they’re not gonna do it under the same circumstances.”

In his letter, Sylvia also claimed Day was under investigation for using Gunstock money to make a political donation to Sununu’s campaign when he quit.

“Since Gunstock is owned by Belknap County all its funds are public monies and using public dollars to support a political campaign is clearly improper and possibly violative of the law,” Sylvia wrote.

Sylvia claims Day quit rather than submit to the investigation. Sununu has offered Day and the other managers jobs at Waterville or with the state if they cannot work out a resolution at Gunstock. Sylvia claims that is more proof of Sununu’s unethical meddling.

Sylvia also supplied a copy of the $500 check from Gunstock that Day sent to the Friends of Chris Sununu in 2020.

“Making such an offer after receiving a campaign contribution is the definition of quid-pro-quo,” Sylvia said.

Sununu’s campaign manager Paul Collins pushed back on the accusation of impropriety, saying no law was broken.

“Under state law, a contribution from the Gunstock Area Commission is not a prohibited political contribution and the Friends of Chris Sununu did nothing wrong in accepting a contribution,” Collins said. “The governor is standing with thousands of citizens in Belknap County and beyond calling for a new commission that will get Gunstock open and serving the public again. There is no quid pro quo, and such an accusation is without merit. If any of our contributors request a refund of their contribution, we of course oblige their request.”

Rep. Aidan Ankaberg (R-Rochester) called for greater scrutiny of Sununu’s actions after he learned about the donation.

“This is public malfeasance and there needs to be transparency and accountability,” Ankaberg said.

The management team at Gunstock quit last week after months of fighting with the Gunstock Area Commission, accusing the political appointees of incompetence and interference. Gunstock enjoyed record revenue under the management team. The resort employs 600 people making it Belknap’s biggest employer.

The commission is made up of five members who are all appointed by the county delegation, which is currently controlled by Sylvia. Sununu has called for Sylvia and his supporters in the delegation to be voted out of office and to have commissioners Peter Ness and David Strang removed from the commission. According to Commissioner Doug Lambert, the management team has agreed to return once Strang and Ness are removed.

Meanwhile, the Belknap County Commission has joined in the call for the two problematic commissioners to resign, and they have sent a letter to the state Attorney General’s Office urging oversight of the resort’s assets.

“The County Commissioners believe nothing less than the survival of Gunstock as we know it is at stake,” they wrote to Attorney General John Formella.

 

Newfields Prosecutor (Finally) Drops Case Against NHJournal Reporter

After 18 months, Newfields Police Prosecutor Michael DiCroce is finally giving up on the case against an NHJournal reporter who was charged with a crime while covering protests outside Gov. Chris Sununu’s house.

DiCroce said he was tired of losing.

“We’ve tried eight or nine of them before Judge (Polly) Hall and she’s found all of them not guilty,” DiCroce said. “I’m not going to waste my time prosecuting the one or two left.”

On December 28, 2020, Newfields police used a controversial new ordinance to ticket protesters gathered outside Sununu’s home. They also ticketed Chris Maidment, a NHJournal reporter at the time who was covering the protest. Maidment repeatedly informed authorities he was a reporter and his coverage of the protest appeared at NHJournal the next day. Still, DiCroce insisted on prosecuting the case and does not concede the police did anything wrong.

“Town officials knew he was a reporter. I spoke to the prosecutor myself,” said NHJournal Managing Editor Michael Graham. “We repeatedly requested they drop this case, and they repeatedly declined. The fact that they still won’t admit that arresting a reporter for doing his job is wrong — particularly when politics are at play — should concern every First Amendment supporter in New Hampshire.”

DiCroce declined to say why he persisted in prosecuting Maidment.

“That’s something you’ll have to ask State Police,” DiCroce said.

New Hampshire State Police were involved in the protests by providing security for Sununu. However, documents obtained by NHJournal through a Right to Know request show Newfields Police coordinated with State Police, sharing information on the anti-picketing ordinance, and coordinating the press release about the original arrests.

“It’s quite obvious this case was without legal merit and a blatant First Amendment violation,” said Maidment, who now works for the New Hampshire chapter of Americans for Prosperity.

Concord attorney Seth Hipple, who represented several people charged that night including Maidment, said the government had a losing hand from the start.

“The prosecution’s case was a dumpster fire,” Hipple said.

None of the arresting officers were able to individually identify any of the protesters who were charged, and they were unable to specify what actions the protestors took that violated the law.

“It seemed really clear to me throughout this case the focus of law enforcement was to shield (Sununu) from seeing anybody protesting in front of his residence,” Hipple said.

After Sununu began conducting government business from his home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, opponents of the governor’s COVID-19 policies shifted their protests to the cul-de-sac outside his home.  Sununu and his neighbors expressed their unhappiness with the crowds of sign-waving demonstrators, but the protestors were on public property.

In response, the town Board of Selectmen, including Sununu’s brother Michael, drafted an anti-picketing ordinance designed to discourage — if not prevent — the protests. Three members of the Sununu administration, including Department of Safety Commissioner Robert Quinn, testified on behalf of the protest ban at a December 8, 2020 select board meeting.

Hipple said the town used legal language that was constitutionally problematic in the ordinance. The way it was enforced and prosecuted by Newfields police was even more problematic.

“The fact they arrested a reporter and continued to prosecute a reporter who identified himself shows it has nothing to do with enforcing the law,” Hipple said. “It’s definitely true that the impetus for passing this ordinance was that they didn’t want to have protests where (Sununu) was conducting state business.

The language for the ordinance came directly from the Attorney General’s Office, according to emails obtained by NHJournal.

The process began with a November 24, 2020 email from Michael Sununu to Newfields Police Chief Nathan Liebenow regarding, “complaints I have received from several residents on Hemlock [Court] regarding the protests this past weekend,” and suggesting existing town ordinances “which we need to consider enforcing.”

Chief Liebenow the next day wrote Senior Assistant Attorney General Matthew Broadhead thanking him for “reaching out and offering your assistance on this matter.” The Attorney General’s Office usually responds to requests from local law enforcement rather than reaching out and offering assistance.

Chief Liebenow told Broadhead he had been “speaking with his Board in Newfields” about town ordinances that “are most relevant/applicable in our situation.”

On November 30, 2020, Broadhead responded by suggesting potential language for an anti-picketing ordinance he believed could pass court muster.

“Chief, FYI, in a U.S. Supreme Court case, Frisby v. Schultz… the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the following ordinance: ‘it is unlawful for any person to engage in picketing before or about the residence or dwelling of any individual in the town of Brookfield.’ The court ruled that this ordinance does not violate the First Amendment,” Broadhead wrote.

That language was eventually adopted word for word by the Newfields select board. 

Sununu’s team has denied the governor had anything to do with the ordinance or its passage.

The New Hampshire Press Association gave NHJournal’s coverage of the story a “Free Speech” award earlier this month.

Maidment said he expects the involved parties to do the right thing.

“I expect a formal written apology from the New Hampshire State Police, Newfields Police, and Prosecutor DiCroce any day now,” Maidment said.

Would Parental Rights Bill Force Schools to ‘Out’ Students?

State House Republicans are gearing up for another showdown with Gov. Chris Sununu, this time over HB 1431 the parental rights bill critics say would force teachers to out LGBTQ+ children and teens.

Sununu, backed by Attorney General John Formella’s office, has said he will veto the bill because of the potential harm it could do to children, and the potential liability it could create for schools. 

The bill has become a lightning rod, with Republican backers calling it an “anti-grooming” bill and Democrats saying it will put the lives of children in danger. The language in the law does appear to require schools to inform parents about their child’s sexual identity. Supporters say if a male student is using the female locker rooms or taking similar overt actions while at school, parents have a right to know.

The law was meant to solidify the legal right parents have in directing their children’s education. The rights enumerated in the bill include the right to see their child’s school records, obtain information about courses and after-school clubs, and the right to review tests and classroom materials, among other items. It’s one section deep down in the law’s text that is drawing concern. It reads that parents have:

“The right to be notified promptly when any school board, school district, school administrative unit, school administrator, or other school employee initiates, investigates, or finds the need for any action by school authorities relating to the student pursuant to school policies governing student conduct, truancy, dress code violations, sexual harassment, bullying, hazing, behavior management and intervention, substance use, suicide prevention, gender expression or identity, disability accommodation, and special meal prescription.”

Assistant Attorney General Sean Locke, with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Unit, told lawmakers last week this section of the law is problematic.

“This language could be construed to require school staff to effectively ‘out’ students–against the student’s wishes–to their parents if and when those students seek to avail themselves of protections pursuant to the school’s gender expression or identity policies,” Locke said in a statement. “This language targets students based upon their gender identity or expression for different treatment from other students, which denies those students the benefits of the particular policies designed to protect them from discrimination in schools.”

State Rep. Kimberly Rice, R-Hudson, who is also the speaker pro tempore of the House, said this section of the law would clearly result in school districts outing students to their families. She has called it a bad bill.

“I do believe it will force schools to out kids,” Rice said.

New Hampshire Democrats have tried to label the proposal a “Don’t Say Gay” bill, a reference to an unrelated law passed in Florida. That law simply restricts sexual content from the K-3rd grade curriculum. The “Don’t Say Gay” claim has been repeatedly debunked and the proposal had the support of a majority of Florida voters, including 55 percent of Democrats.

This factually-questionable criticism from Granite State Democrats is making it difficult for some New Hampshire parents to decide if the parental rights bill is really a problem.

New Hampshire’s bill does not ban teaching sexuality, but even some of its backers concede it could be problematic. State Rep. Aidan Ankarberg (R-Rochester), one of the co-sponsors, was surprised by the opposition to the bill. He said the proposal ought to pass and then lawmakers can fix the outing concerns after the fact.

“I will also tell you that in regards to HB1431 it was never intended to discriminate against the LGBTQ community in any way. I personally never heard of any such opposition to the bill as it traveled through the legislative process and to take it a step further, next year I will be happy to sponsor an amendment to ensure that under the provisions of the parents bill of rights that no discrimination can be justified along the lines of sexual/ethnic orientation, etc.,” Ankerberg said. “We can find solutions to these issues in the next legislative term but the governor first should sign the bill into law and we can amend it from there.”

According to Ankarberg, the law is meant to give parents solid legal footing when dealing with the state, and with schools.

“Since its conception, HB1431 has been about codifying the relationship between the state and parents, while outlining the responsibilities of that relationship therein,” he said.

The controversial section of the bill — section (g) — does not automatically out LGBTQ+ students when they disclose their identities to teachers, he said. Any disclosure to parents happens if and when the school initiates an action involving the student, he said.

“Section (g) states that parental notification will only occur once action or investigation in violation of a policy is initiated. If a child is bullied, assaulted or discriminated etc. against by staff, other students, or members of the public on school grounds or other non- private property or spheres of influence and an incident is reported and investigated, parents should have a right to know what led to the violation and the details of the investigation as relates to their child. This reasonable bill is a huge step forward for parental rights and transparency and I look forward to its passage into law,” he said.

Another backer of the bill, Rep. Erica Layon, R-Derry, said the law keeps teachers from engaging in possible inappropriate behavior with students, and it puts the right of the parents first.

“​When I was a kid, we learned in school that if any grownup asks you to keep a secret from your parents you need to tell your parents right away,” Layon said. “Just as our teachers should be treated as innocent until proven guilty, our parents deserve the same respect. Unless there is abuse, the parent-child relationship must come before the teacher-student relationship.”

A conservative lawyer who spoke to NH Journal said there is no problem with the bill as-is since schools can still use a certain amount of discretion. This source said criticism of the bill boils down to assuming parents will be abusive if they found out about their child’s orientation. 

“Do we deem all parents abusers until proven innocent and withhold this kind of information on the off chance a parent might be abusive? Of course not: schools only have in loco parentis authority in the first place because it has been delegated to the school by the parents,” this source said. “(S)chools default to disclosing this information to parents, and withhold it only if we have some specific reason to suspect parents are abusive. The schools can do the same thing here. Nothing in the policy prevents them from adopting policies that withhold information from suspected abusers.”

Opponents of the bill, like Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, suggested that children should be able to explore their sexuality with a trusted teacher, without telling their parents.

“What I think we end up doing is we end up policing curiosity,” he said according to NH Bulletin. “The child who wants to explore things, think about things, maybe get together with other groups of children and talk and learn about how they are.”

Meg Tuttle, president of the NEA-NH, the state’s largest teacher’s union, said it is dangerous to let parents get between teachers and students when it comes to talking about sex.

 “HB 1431 disregards these well-tended relationships, substituting them with rules that make our schools and classrooms less safe for every student, risk their mental and physical health and well-being, and undermine the state’s obligation to provide an adequate and inclusive education for all students. Today, for the sake of a radical political agenda, the committee put the lives of children at risk,” Tuttle said.

Tuttle has previously said teachers in the classroom should be activists, especially when it comes to teaching subjects like sexual identity.

‘Trump Is F’ing Crazy!’: Sununu Steals Show at D.C. Insider’s Dinner

It may have been a Washington event for D.C. insiders, but it was New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu who stole the show at the return of the annual Gridiron Club dinner Saturday night.

And his biggest laughs came at the expense of former President Donald Trump.

The white-tie and snark affair is part of the fabric of elite D.C. culture, with politicians, lobbyists, and journalists gathering for a night of schmoozing. Always a bipartisan affair, Sununu was representing the GOP while Rep. Jamie Raskin did the comedy work for the Democrats.

According to Politico’s reporter on the scene, Sununu went straight after Trump:

“You know, he’s probably going to be the next president,” Sununu said of Trump, musing about his “experience,” “passion,” “sense of integrity” and the “rationale” he brought to his tweets. As the room quieted to see where he was going with this, he paused, then yelled: “Nah, I’m just kidding! He’s F***ING CRAZY!” The ballroom roared with laughter. “ARE YOU KIDDING?! Come on. You guys are buying that? I love it … He just stresses me out so much! … I’m going to deny I ever said it.”

It didn’t stop there: “The press often will ask me if I think Donald Trump is crazy. And I’ll say it this way: I don’t think he’s so crazy that you could put him in a mental institution. But I think if he were in one, he ain’t getting out!”

While edgy comedy is a Gridiron Dinner tradition, Sununu went out of his way to target the former president. When he mocked conspiracy theorist and pillow manufacturer Mike Lindell, he threw in a shot at Trump.

“This guy’s head is stuffed with more crap than his pillows, Sununu said. “And by the way, I was told not to say this, but I will: His stuff is crap. I mean, it’s absolute crap. You only find that kind of stuff in the Trump Hotel.”

Also from Politico:

Sununu also told a story about a time Trump visited him in New Hampshire and invited him to ride inside the presidential limo, The Beast. The then-president suddenly stopped talking and pointed out the window at people lining the road holding American flags, saying, “They LOVE me!” Only problem, said Sununu, was that the man he pointed to held a sign that read, “F*** TRUMP.”

While some Granite State Republicans shrugged it off as comedy — “It’s a Gridiron roast. Political jokes. I don’t take any of it seriously,” said RNC Committeeman Chris Ager — Trump allies like longtime advisor Corey Lewandowski were not amused.

“Chris Sununu is not his father. His father is very tough and a true Trump supporter,” he told NHJournal. “If Chris had any guts, he would have run for U.S. Senate, and instead took the easy way out. And if the right Republican were to run against him, I’d be willing to bet Donald Trump would endorse [Sununu’s] opponent.”

Former GOP state Rep. Josh Whitehouse, who served in the Trump administration, was even blunter:

“Chris Sununu has positioned himself to be the anti-Trump guy. He is appointing Democrats to judgeships, supporting anti-Trump candidates, and spiking a great redistricting plan to protect his beer buddy [Jeff Cozzens] in CD2. I guess the only thing I am surprised about is that he isn’t running on the other side of the ticket.

“Of course, nothing should surprise any of us when the governor is a guy whose only real qualification was his last name,” Whitehouse added.

In February, Lewandowski told radio host Howie Carr, “The president is very unhappy with the chief executive officer of the state of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu. And Sununu, in the president’s estimation, is someone who’s never been loyal to him. And the president said it would be really great if somebody would run against Chris Sununu.”

This is a far cry from the days when Sununu infamously called himself a “Trump guy through and through.”

Team Sununu took the reaction in stride.

“The Gridiron dinner is an annual comedic event built around using self-deprecating humor to instill a spirit of bipartisanship,” Sununu advisor Paul Collins, said in a statement Sunday. “Gov. Sununu began by making fun of his own father and family and included jokes on everyone from CNN to Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Jenn Psaki. It was a great night where no one took themselves too seriously, and given the crowd’s reaction to some of the governor’s jokes, he will be keeping his day job.”

While attacking Trump isn’t exactly the third rail of GOP politics, it does put Sununu at the center of the biggest debate dividing the Republican Party. Last week’s St. Anselm College Survey Center poll found Trump’s approval rating is 84 percent among registered Republicans and 94 percent among very conservative Granite Staters.

That compares to 86 percent among GOP voters who approve of Sununu, and 83 percent of very conservative Republicans.

Trump is even more popular in early primary states like Iowa and South Carolina, where he handily defeated Biden in the 2020 election. (Trump lost New Hampshire by 7.5 points.)

Republican strategists in New Hampshire and D.C. told NHJournal Sununu’s aggressively anti-Trump stance is a sign he is looking seriously at a presidential bid in 2024. He appears to be betting big that GOP primary voters will have a very different view of Trump in 18 months than they do today.

“This is a huge gamble,” one GOP strategist said. “There is no walking this back.”

“I’d say it’s a win for the governor,” GOP campaign vet Craig Stevens told NHJournal. “He took advantage of the moment and he showed people he’s not afraid of President Trump. And he did with charm, humor, and humility.”

Stevens, who worked on the George W. Bush and Mitt Romney campaigns said that, as a result of this speech, “Republicans and independents all over the country who had never heard of Chris Sununu are going to be talking. And many who may be looking for an alternative to Trump and his acolytes have someone new to watch. And, in this case, that’s the definition of a win.”

If that was Sununu’s goal, it worked. In addition to being the top story in the Politico Playbook, his comments made headlines in The Washington Post, the Associated Press, and the Big Three broadcast newsrooms, plus the London (U.K.) tabloids.

While more than 600 people attended the purportedly bipartisan event, only two GOP members of Congress, Sens. Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Susan Collins (Maine), showed up for the dinner. President Biden was also a no-show, but he sent a video in which he thanked Sununu for “helping Democrats keep the Senate.”

In January, Biden gave Sununu a shout-out during a press conference, using Sununu’s criticisms of Senate Republicans to defend his own record in the White House.

Few Granite State Republicans wanted to speak on the record about Sununu’s take on Trump. In the U.S. Senate primary, retired Gen. Don Bolduc and state Senate President Chuck Morse declined to comment. However, former Londonderry Town Manager Kevin Smith said he believed the goal among Granite State Republicans should be unity as the midterms approach.

” I continue to believe our party is better and stronger when we are united, and I have no doubt that in November, we will be. As for me, I’d gladly go back to when we had no inflation, $2 gas, were energy independent, had secure borders and our country was safer.

“Say what you want about Trump, but we were much better off two years ago than we are today – and that’s no joke,” Smith said.

Sununu Rejects Calls to Close Schools Amid Latest COVID Surge

As COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise amid the cold-weather surge, Gov. Chris Sununu said Tuesday there are no plans to close schools due to the worsening pandemic.

“Kids really need to be in school. They want to be in school, and that’s the best place for their education,” Sununu said during his weekly COVID-19 press conference.

Many schools in the Granite State went to remote learning models around Thanksgiving because of the pandemic last year. The state announced Tuesday an average of 900 to 1,000 new cases of COVID-19, a 43 percent increase, and 21 deaths reported in the last week, stretching back to the Thanksgiving holiday. Sununu noted cases are also up in Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts as well.

“Like the rest of New England, we’re seeing the winter surge that we had always predicted, and it’s very severe,” Sununu said.

New Hampshire schools will also have the funds available for masks and cleaning supplies to keep students safe, Sununu said. In extreme cases, schools might need to opt for remote learning, but that will not be the rule as New Hampshire heads into the holidays and beyond, he said. 

Remote learning hurts kids when it comes to mental health and educational outcomes, data show. According to the CDC, nearly 25 percent of parents whose children received virtual instruction or combined instruction reported worsened mental or emotional health in their children, compared to 16 percent of parents whose children received in-person instruction. 

“Going remote can be so detrimental,” Sununu said. “We really want kids to be in schools.”

So far, no Granite Stater under the age of 19 has died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Sununu touted the recent court-ordered halt to President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers in facilities that receive Medicaid and Medicare funds. New Hampshire was already experiencing a healthcare employee shortage before the pandemic, and he said many facilities in the Granite State faced forced closures if the mandate went into effect.

New Hampshire is involved in multiple lawsuits opposing Biden-backed mandates, and the current order is temporary pending more court action. Sununu has pledged to fight the mandates, though he continues promoting vaccination as a choice.

“We want everyone to get vaccinated. But if the vaccine mandate risks closing our nursing homes, it is a bad idea,” he said.

When asked about nursing home residents being cared for by unvaccinated nurses and staff, Sununu said he’d rather have an unvaccinated nurse than no nurse at all. Opponents of the mandate note medical professionals cared for COVID-19 patients for a year before the vaccines were available.

And a recent survey of 1,200 senior care providers by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) reported 99 percent of nursing homes and 96 percent of assisted living facilities said they didn’t have enough workers.

Sununu stressed the need for people to get vaccinated if they are able and for people eligible for a booster to get one. He plans to get his booster shot at the state’s Dec. 11 Booster Blitz, where vaccination sites will be operating at locations throughout the state.

 

Sununu Announces, Twitter Reacts

Gov. Chris Sununu’s decision to ditch Washington and run for a fourth term in the Granite State has political Twitter buzzing. Some tweeters are trying to figure out why, some are looking at the impact of Sununu’s bow out, and others are looking at what could happen next.

The New York Times’ Shane Goldmacher said Sununu’s decision not to run could be one of the biggest stories for the upcoming mid-term elections.

 

 

The news did not seem to go over well in Sen. Mitch McConnell’s circle. The Senate minority leader heavily recruited Sununu for months. Here’s McConnell’s former campaign manager, Josh Holmes, shortly after Sununu’s announcement. (Holmes co-hosts the popular “Ruthless” podcast, and Sununu was a featured guest over the summer.)

 

 

Fox New’s Laura Ingraham said no one should have been shocked, and blamed McConnell and other establishment Republicans.

 

 

The liberal magazine, The New Republic, echoed Sununu’s views on life in the U.S. Senate.

 

 

Dave Weigel, a Washington Post reporter, seemed to like Sununu’s path.

 

Raw Story’s Matthew Chapman blamed McConnell for botching the recruit.

 

New Hampshire Bulletin’s Annmarie Timmins raised a possible presidential run.

 

CNN’s Dan Merica took note of how Sununu made the announcement: By going after Washington.

 

The decision is good for the state Republicans, according to Chaz Nuttycombe with CNalysis.

Kyle Kondik with Sabato’s Crystal Ball sees it ultimately helping Hassan.

 

Speculation as to who might jump into the race is getting heated up and Drew Nirenberg, the communications director for Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, threw out a new name.