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Sununu COVID Policy Protestor Taking Case to State Supreme Court

The only protestor convicted for protesting COVID-19 lockdowns in front of Gov. Chris Sununu’s home is taking his case to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

Frank Negus Staples, aka Foot Loose, is appealing his conviction on one count of disorderly conduct for his role in the protests outside the homes of Sununu and Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald. He was among nine people arrested during the protests, and the only one convicted.

“We were all found not guilty of ‘picketing,’” Staples said. “I was found guilty of ‘disorderly conduct.’”

NHJournal reporter Chris Maidment was arrested during the protests and charged with picketing, despite identifying himself to authorities as a journalist on assignment. NHJournal earned a First Amendment award from the New Hampshire Press Association for its work on the story, and the charges were dismissed before the case went to trial.

MacDonald, who was New Hampshire’s Attorney General at the time of the protests, has recused himself from the case according to Staples. MacDonald’s Department of Justice was instrumental in creating the picketing ordinance used to charge the protestors.

“Gordon MacDonald has recused himself from the case due to his direct involvement in the creation of the town ‘picketing’ ordinance and how to enforce it,” Staples said.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court accepted Staples’ appeal as part of the dozens of cases accepted in November. A hearing date has not been set.

After Sununu started conducting government business from his home due to the pandemic, opponents of the governor’s COVID-19 policies started protesting in the street outside. Sununu and his neighbors expressed their unhappiness with the crowds of sign-waving demonstrators in their cul-de-sac, 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 select board meeting.

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

Concord attorney Seth Hipple, who represented several of the protesters, including Maidment, told NH Journal last year that the government is holding a losing hand.

“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, according to Hipple.

Staples, who told NHJournal people do not like it when he gets loud, was a fixture at anti-COVID lockdown protests throughout the pandemic. He was among several people arrested at an Executive Council Meeting last year who were protesting a federal contract to pay for COVID vaccines.

Staples was also the lead protestor at the September 2021 Executive Council meeting that was shut down because of safety concerns.

Staples made statements to New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services employees that they deemed threatening.The employees were unnerved and subsequently escorted to their cars by New Hampshire State Police Troopers. Staples, who was shouting and acting in an aggressive manner through the meeting denies he meant a threat when he shouted “we know where you live” to the DHHS employees.

Staples and several other protestors at the September 2021 Executive Council meeting were investigated by Attorney General John Formella’s office, but no charges were ever brought.

Sununu Taps AG MacDonald For NH Supreme Court

Gov. Chris Sununu announced on Tuesday he’s nominating New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald to serve as the next Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, filling the vacancy created when Chief Justice Bob Lynn retires at the end of August. If confirmed, MacDonald would be the third Sununu pick to be placed on the bench, giving the governor a majority of appointees on the five-member court.

“Gordon has never been afraid to follow the path or take the action that he believes is right, even when that course may not be the easiest and even when some, including myself, may disagree with him,” Sununu said in a statement. “Our Department of Justice is stronger than ever due to Gordon’s leadership and independence, and I am confident that, if confirmed, Gordon will use his unparalleled legal talents and fair-minded approach to lead our judicial branch with distinction.”

Sununu will make the formal nomination at the Governor and Executive Council meeting on Wednesday, June 5.

In 2017 a bipartisan Executive Council voted unanimously in favor of MacDonald’s appointment to the AG’s office, and his nomination to the court was met with approval from both sides of the aisle.

“Gordon MacDonald is one of the better attorneys general this state has ever had, I hate to lose him,” Democratic state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro told NHJournal. “We win cases with him!  And he has endless energy. It’s an excellent pick.”

Ted Gatsas, a Republican member of the Executive Council, called it “a great nomination.”  When asked if he expected any opposition from his fellow councilors Gatsas replied, “You never know.”

Councilor Andru Volinsky, a Concord Democrat considering a run for governor in 2020, was reluctant to comment on MacDonald’s nomination in advance of a public hearing. But Volinsky voted (along with fellow Democrat Chris Pappas) to confirm MacDonald for the AG’s job and praised him at the time for his high ethical standards.

Given Volinsky’s ambitions, should New Hampshire expect the sort of “I am Spartacus!” hearings that U.S. Supreme Court nominations inspire down in DC? “We generally avoid the sort of partisanship you see in Washington,” Volinsky told NHJournal. “But I have pressed nominees hard in the past,” he said.

There have been some controversial nominees, however, most recently Dorothy Graham. In 2015 Graham, a former public defender nominated by Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), was rejected 3-2 by a GOP-controlled Executive Council over her handling of cases involving accused child rapists. Opponents argued that she was too aggressive in pursuing loopholes and technicalities attempting to reduce her clients’ sentences.

There are currently no dark clouds on the horizon for MacDonald. Former New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice Linda Dalianis, an appointee of Democratic Gov. John Lynch, said in a statement, “I have every confidence that he will be an excellent Chief Justice of New Hampshire.”

And longtime Republican strategist Jim Merrill told NHJournal that MacDonald “is one of the smartest and most honorable men I know and we are better for someone of his caliber agreeing to continue serving New Hampshire.

“Governor Sununu could not have made a finer nomination to the Supreme Court,” Merrill said.

Poll: Sununu Ranks As Popular Governor, Hassan Struggles With Approval Ratings

The rankings for the most popular governors are out and the top 10 are all Republicans. New Hampshire’s own Gov. Chris Sununu isn’t far behind the pack, though, coming in at 16th, highlighting a decent start to the Republican’s first term in the corner office.

Sununu has a 55 percent approval rating, with 22 percent disapproving of the first Republican governor in 12 years, according to a Morning Consult poll released Tuesday.

The New Hampshire online survey was taken between January and March with 644 voters and has a margin of error of 4 percent.

That time period is important because it’s essentially the first three months of Sununu’s term. Politically, a lot has happened during that time and the results could depend on when people were surveyed. For example, Sununu made right-to-work legislation a priority, even mentioning its importance in his inaugural address. Yet, the measure failed in House, where moderate Republicans and representatives with union ties sided with Democrats to kill the bill.

There have been bright spots for the governor too, and these could have led to his positive approval rating. He picked Gordon MacDonald to replace Joseph Foster as attorney general, and MacDonald was widely seen as a great pick across party lines. He was confirmed unanimously by the Executive Council last week, with three Republicans and two Democrats voting for him.

The recent budget battle also probably did not factor into the results either. For the first time in recent memory, the House failed to pass a budget. Conservatives banded together to defeat the House Republican leadership’s budget plan, forcing them to recess before the House could pass a budget. Democrats are trying to paint Sununu as the loser of this budget battle since he couldn’t get his own party, which has a 53-member majority in the House, to pass his, or some version of his, budget.

However, Sununu also stands the most to gain from the House’s failure. The Senate Finance Committee will now begin its part of the budget process and instead of using the House version (since there is none), they’re using Sununu’s original budget proposal as a starting point. The House previously took out his funding for full-day kindergarten, removed increased monies for the Alcohol Fund, and even cut his scholarship program for high school students to further their education. The Senate has been more open to Sununu’s priorities, already passing several bills that honored the governor’s budget wishes.

It remains to be seen what the Senate ultimately does with Sununu’s budget, but if his campaign promises remain in the final version, his approval numbers could increase.

Despite his positive approval rating, Sununu still has a high percentage of voters who don’t know about him. He actually ranked 3rd of all the governors in the country for “most unknown,” coming in at 23 percent. The most unknown governor was Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb of Indiana at 27 percent. That’s expected though for many freshman governors, as voters learn more about them throughout their terms.

Nationally though, Morning Consult’s poll found that more voters are happier with their new Republican governors than with their former Democratic ones.

Sununu, who replaced Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, is 3 points more popular than she was before she headed to Washington to serve in the U.S. Senate. Her approval rating was at 52 percent in the fall.

It also appears that Hassan is struggling with her approval numbers. Morning Consult also looked at the most popular senators in the country and Hassan was ranked in the middle of the pack. Her approval rating is 5 points lower than former Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who Hassan replaced in the 2016 election.

According to the poll, Hassan has a 53 percent approval rating among Granite Staters, while Ayotte’s approval was at 58 percent in September. Their disapproval ratings are similar with Hassan at 31 percent compared to Ayotte’s 32 percent before the election. Yet, despite her four years as governor, 16 percent of voters don’t know who she is or have no opinion of her, while only 10 percent said the same of Ayotte in the fall.

New Hampshire Republicans have been trying to call Hassan a rubber stamp of the Democratic Party. They have also called the freshman senator an “intern” of her New Hampshire colleague U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, since they have similar voting records.

Shaheen is more popular than Hassan, according to the poll. Shaheen’s approval rating is at 57 percent, with 30 percent disapproval, and 13 percent not knowing anything about her or having no opinion.

Hassan and Shaheen aren’t up for reelection in 2018, but Sununu is already expected to face some challengers if he seeks a second term. Democrat Steve Marchard already jumped into the 2018 gubernatorial race, making his candidacy official last week. Libertarian candidate Jilletta Jarvis also threw her name into the fray in March.

In the Morning Consult survey, Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker topped the list as the most popular governor with a 75 percent approval rating. The least popular governor was New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie who had a stunning 25 percent approval rating with 71 percent disapproval.

While more Republican governors maintained positive ratings, according to the poll, it’s important to note that Republicans control 33 governorships compared to the Democrats’ 16 governors.

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