inside sources print logo
Get up to date New Hampshire news in your inbox

Gov. Sununu’s Stance on Paris Climate Deal Draws Ire of Democrats

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu made waves in New Hampshire politics over the weekend as he became the first governor in the New England region to say that he “stands by” President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. As expected, Democrats are using his words as political ammo to attack his position on environmental issues, but none more so than a gubernatorial candidate challenging Sununu for the Corner Office in 2018.

“I don’t have a real reaction right now to be honest,” Sununu told New Hampshire Public Radio on Friday. “It’s nothing I’ve really thought about. It’s a federal issue at this point. It’s nothing. I’m focused on the 603 and what we do here.”

He continued to say that withdrawing from the global climate agreement, which involves nearly 200 nations aiming to slow the effects of climate change, could be significant, but he hasn’t spent a lot of time looking at the issue

“You know it’s not my job to go through the whole accord and look at the in-depth impacts across the country, economically,” he said. “The president has done that, his team has done that, and they’ve made the decision they feel is in the best interest of the United States and I stand by that.”

Although some people can interpret that statement as taking a non-position, many supporters and opponents are reading into it that he agrees with Trump’s decision to leave the climate deal.

Republicans took to Twitter to reiterate their support for Sununu and Trump, like Rep. Victoria Sullivan, R-Manchester.

Sununu’s statement is significant because it marks a drastic departure from other states in New England, including his fellow Republican governors.

Four states in the region announced they were joining a bipartisan coalition committed to meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. The U.S. Climate Alliance was started by the Democratic governors of California, New York, and Washington state.

Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said he decided to join the alliance, along with Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott. The Democratic governors of Connecticut and Rhode Island have also joined the coalition.

Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage has not publicly made a statement about Trump’s decision to pull out of the climate pact, making Sununu the only GOP governor in the area, so far, to “stand by” Trump.

The New Hampshire Republican Party has also applauded Trump’s decision, saying the Paris climate deal did not put U.S. taxpayers first.

State Democrats are using Sununu’s words as political fodder to motivate their base and prepare for Democratic candidates to challenge him next year. As expected, all four Democratic members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation disagree with Trump’s decision.

The New Hampshire Democratic Party is calling Sununu out for commenting on other federal issues, like the GOP-led repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the president’s travel ban to several Muslim-majority countries. They’re also blasting him for being an environmental engineer who “must not understand, the environment does not recognize borders.”

Steve Marchand, a Democratic candidate who announced that he would run for governor in 2018, has also taken issue with Sununu’s stance on the global climate pact.

In his first official statement since he announced his candidacy in April, Marchand said as governor, he would support the Paris Climate Agreement and advocate for New Hampshire’s involvement in the U.S. Climate Alliance.

“Unlike many of the nation’s governors, Governor Sununu has not pushed back on President Trump’s decision,” he said. “Both President Trump and Governor Sununu are wrong.”

Marchand, who ran for governor in 2016 but lost the Democratic nomination to eventual nominee Colin Van Ostern, is pushing his progressive message by meeting with various Democratic groups around the state. He is a former mayor of Portsmouth and said Portsmouth was the first community in New Hampshire to sign onto the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign and the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.

“I’ve been a passionate progressive on environmental protection and energy policy throughout my public life, as a mayor, and as a candidate for statewide office,” said Marchand. “I strongly believe we can lower energy costs for consumers, reduce demand for energy, create New Energy jobs, and protect our natural beauty if we are willing to lead on energy and the environment. I’ve got a specific plan for New Hampshire that will do this, and being a part of the U.S. Climate Alliance would improve our ability to do the right thing — both economically and morally. President Trump will not lead, and neither will Governor Sununu. I have, and as Governor, I will.”

Over the entire weekend, Marchand and the NHDP have taken to Twitter to criticize Sununu for not being a supporter of the climate deal. It can be expected for the Democrats to raise this as a campaign issue in the 2018 governor’s race.

In several other states, various cities have said they would still adhere to the Paris Climate Agreement’s terms and reduce their carbon footprint. The only town in New Hampshire to take a similar environmental stance is Hanover, which voted in May to establish a goal of transitioning to 100 percent clean and renewable energy by 2050.

Follow Kyle on Twitter.

Sign up for NH Journal’s must-read morning political newsletter.

What Is New Hampshire’s Role in Trump’s New Presidential Opioid Commission?

There’s a new presidential opioid commission in town, but drug policy experts remain skeptical about its mission and effectiveness. It also appears that New Hampshire does not have a seat at the table, for now at least.

The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis was announced Wednesday when President Donald Trump signed the executive order laying out its blueprint. It will be chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has made the opioid crisis a priority as governor, and will study appropriate steps for lawmakers and federal officials to take to combat the epidemic.

“This is an epidemic that knows no boundaries and shows no mercy, and we will show great compassion and resolve as we work together on this important issue,” Trump said.

The panel’s mission would be to identify federal funding streams that could be directed to address the crisis, determine the best practices for prevention and recovery, evaluate federal programs and the U.S. health system to identify regulatory barriers or ineffective initiatives like prescribing practices, and consider changes to the criminal justice system.

More than 52,000 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2015 — up from 47,000 in the previous year — according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and nearly two-thirds of those deaths involved an opioid.

The commission would make interim recommendations within 90 days of its establishment along with a final report in October. The agencies involved would be expected to take actions implementing those policies.

The commission would be composed of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, and Defense Secretary James Mattis. Another five members from state governments, law enforcement, and other groups would finish it. Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper are reportedly set to sit on the panel.

When the commission was announced, a spokesman for New Hampshire Republican Gov. Chris Sununu told NH1 News that he “doesn’t have a formal role with the commission.”

If that stands, it would be an interesting position from the White House. The Granite State has the second-highest overdose deaths in the country. While Massachusetts has also been devastated by the opioid crisis, Baker did not support Trump in the 2016 presidential election and Governor John Sununu never once wavered from his support for Trump.

There was also no one from New Hampshire taking part in the listening session at the White House when they announced the commission. None of New Hampshire’s Democratic congressional delegation took part in the session.

That’s worth noting because Trump and Christie as presidential candidates often discussed the opioid crisis during their campaign visits in New Hampshire.

“A wall will not only keep out dangerous cartels and criminals, but it will also keep out the drugs and heroin poisoning our youth,” Trump said in a stop in the Granite State in October.

However, drug policy experts are concerned that Trump is focusing on just the criminal justice side of the crisis, and not enough on treatment and prevention.

“We don’t yet fully know what the Trump policy towards the opioid crisis will be,” said Leo Beletsky,a law professor at Northeastern University who specializes in health and drug policy, in an interview with NH Journal.

“During the campaign, he made statements supporting treatment access and focusing on interdiction at the US-Mexico border,” he added. ‘Since the election, we have heard much about the ‘Wall,’ other interdiction efforts, and criminal justice tools to combat the crisis, but not so much about the treatment issue.”

Other advocates are frustrated with actions the Trump administration has already taken that could actually worsen the crisis.

The Office for National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) would support the commission, and the office’s director — known as the “drug czar” — would represent the president. Yet, the ONDCP post is still unfilled, despite reports that former U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta of New Hampshire was being considered for the job.

A new spending plan reported last week would cut the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s mental health block grant by $100 million in 2017. Trump’s proposed 2018 budget for HHS would cut the agency’s funding by nearly 20 percent.

Beletsky was also concerned about Sessions being involved in the commission due his skepticism about treatment and favoring a punishment system to handle the opioid crisis.

“Further, Jeff Sessions is a long-time adherent to the idea that we can arrest and punish our way out of substance misuse in this country — an idea that has been a demonstrable failure and one that has frankly brought us to where we are today,” he said.

Several experts also question the value of the commission and how its efforts could be duplicative of actions and groups already in existence.

In November, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released the office’s first-ever report on opioids and addiction, which included tools and recommendations to combat substance abuse.

There’s also the Bipartisan Task Force for Combating the Heroin Epidemic, which was created in 2015 by Guinta and New Hampshire’s other delegate, Democrat U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster. It’s mission has transformed as the crisis evolved from just heroin to include opioids and fentanyl, but it remains a legislative approach to handling the epidemic.

“The Presidential Commission…appears to be weighed heavily towards a more partisan and more criminal justice-focused approach, in a tone set by the AG,” Beletsky said. “As far as I know, there is not one public health expert on the Commission, which is as clear signal as any that Obama Administration’s mantras of ‘public health approach’ and ‘we can’t arrest our way out of this problem’ will not find much support in this group.”

Kuster appeared supportive of Trump’s efforts to tackle the opioid crisis and create a presidential commission, but cautioned against repealing parts of the Affordable Care Act that provide support for individuals seeking substance abuse treatment.

“We also know that there is not enough capacity for those seeking treatment, and I was pleased to see that part of the Commission’s mission will be to assess the availability of substance use treatment and recovery services,” she said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the Commission and discussing how the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force can be a productive partner in the House of Representatives to advance policies to address the opioid addiction crisis.”

Follow Kyle on Twitter.

Sign up for NH Journal’s must-read morning political newsletter.

The Facts Behind Sununu, Lawrence Mayor’s Fight Over Opioid Crisis

It’s not often where there is a war of words between a governor and a mayor of neighboring state. Yet, that’s what happened last week between New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and Mayor Daniel Rivera of Lawrence, Mass., when discussing who’s to blame for the Northeast’s growing opioid crisis.

“It’s coming from Lawrence,” Sununu said Wednesday at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce breakfast. “Eighty-five percent of the fentanyl in this state is coming straight out of Lawrence, Massachusetts.”

He also pointed to Lawrence again in an interview later that day with Boston Herald Radio, saying the city’s status as a “sanctuary city” is causing problems for New Hampshire.

Sununu said he had a meeting with other New England governors when they met in Washington D.C. for the National Governors Association annual winter meetings.

“I sat down with [Massachusetts Gov.] Charlie Baker and all the governors from the New England regions and said we’re going to cross borders, you better get ready,” Sununu said. “I’m working with the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] in Bedford, working with the DEA in Boston, our state police, their state police.”

Sununu then vowed that “we’re going in.”

“We’re going to get tough on these guys, and I want to scare every dealer that wants to come across that border,” he said. “We’re not giving dealers nine months on parole and probation anymore. We’re putting them away for the five, 10 and 15 years that they deserve.”

Sununu’s “tough on drugs” rhetoric makes sense — albeit an interesting political move to pick a battle with a town in another state. He’s the first Republican governor in 12 years and the opioid crisis is still rampant in New Hampshire. He campaigned on the epidemic being the number one priority the state faces and depending on what he does to curb the crisis in his two-year term, could be a factor in his 2018 reelection campaign.

Despite several media reports about the subsequent back-and-forth between Sununu and Rivera, there is some legitimacy in Sununu’s claim about Lawrence being a hot bed of activity for heroin and fentanyl.

Most of the heroin coming to New England originates in Colombia and travels through Mexico, according to a 2013 report from The New York Times. Despite an increase in the number of seizures along the southern U.S. border, enough is still getting through to major distribution centers, including Philadelphia and New York, which then makes its way into northern New England, “often through Lowell, Lawerence, and Holyoke, Mass.”

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2014 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary, most heroin supplies in the New England region are brought in from New York along the vast interstate highway system, naming I-95 and I-93 as the major routes for New Hampshire’s heroin trafficking routes. The report also named Lawrence as a main distribution center for northern New England states.

“Massachusetts also serves as a staging area or interim transportation point for heroin being transported north,” the report states. “Lawrence and Lowell, north of Boston, are distribution centers for northern New England and Canada. Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont are supplied with heroin chiefly by drug groups in northeastern Massachusetts, particularly in Lawrence and Lowell.”

Western Massachusetts is one of the staging areas for distribution in Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire because drug dealers from those states who want the product have to drive to Massachusetts to get it because drug penalties in Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire are stricter in the three northern New England states.

Because Lawrence sits on the I-93 highway, police have said many drug deals occur at fast-food restaurants off the highway exits.

It is so widely known that Lawrence is a main distributor for the opioid crisis, that even Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said it to the Times in 2016.

“Massachusetts is the epicenter for the heroin/fentanyl trade,” she said. “From Lawrence, it’s being trafficked and sold all over the New England states.”

For example, undercover detectives followed a car on a heroin buying mission from Manchester to Lawrence and back on Sept. 15, 2015, which resulted in one arrest.

Still, despite these reports and former statements that show Lawrence is a main distributor of heroin and fentanyl for New England, Rivera took offense that Sununu called out his city.

“Just like the President is finding out that health care is complicated, I think that the governor is going to find out that this is a complicated issue,” Rivera said in a hastily scheduled press conference on Thursday. “I’m not sure that he meant to threaten the sovereignty of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but he did.”

One of the major problems Rivera had was with Sununu’s claim that 85 percent of the fentanyl entering New Hampshire came from Lawrence.

“I would ask you guys to ask him where he got that number from,” he charged reporters. “I don’t know if it’s a true number. I think the problem is if you think like ‘oh you snuff out what’s happening in Lawrence, it will all go away.’ I know he’s only been on the job 60 days, but the reality is it’s like water, it will find another place to go.”

Rivera and Sununu eventually spoke on Thursday afternoon, and Sununu released a statement after the call.

“The Mayor and his local law enforcement personnel have been doing a good job on this issue, but we must recognize this is a cross-border problem that requires cross-border solutions,” Sununu said. “It has no geographic boundaries and it remains incumbent upon all of us to come together and work collaboratively across our borders along with federal, state and local law enforcement.”

Sununu’s office has not offered any evidence of his “85-percent” claim, but regardless, Lawrence’s role in the opioid crisis cannot be disputed.

Baker, the Massachusetts governor, weighed in on the controversy, and said, “I do view this as a problem that affects us all and I think singling out a single community or a single state is not accurate.”

New Hampshire Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn offered his two cents.

“Instead of antagonizing key regional partners in our collective fight to combat the devastating effects of the opioid crisis, Governor Sununu should be fighting for our state’s successful Medicaid expansion program which has helped over 100,000 Granite Staters gain access to mental health and substance abuse treatment,” he said in a statement. “New Hampshire needs steady and serious leadership from the Governor’s office that focuses on a holistic approach to solving this public health crisis, not reckless, cavalier comments.”

Follow Kyle on Twitter.

Turf War Breaks Out Between NH’s Executive, Legislative Branches on Regulation Authority

Who has final say over New Hampshire’s abundance of regulations put forward by state agencies? That’s the latest battle at the State House, where a legislative committee says it is in charge, not Gov. Chris Sununu, of the process to decide on the need for administrative rules.

The Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules unanimously sent a letter to Sununu on Friday saying the committee and the process that already exists “accomplishes many of the goals of your letter seeking a reduction in governmental rules and regulations.”

During his inaugural address, Sununu called for a 90-day moratorium on new regulations.

“There are a lot of regulations in this state, for such a small state,” he said. “It is unbelievable. Let’s take a pause. Let’s take a step back and figure out what we are doing and why we are doing it.”

The next day, Sununu sent a memo to agency heads and department commissioners asking them to “immediately establish a pause on any proposed adoption, amendment, re-adoption or re-adoption with amendment of administrative rules until March 31, 2017.”

The request did not apply to any proposed rule mandated by law or that was “immediately essential to the public health, safety and welfare.” By March 31, he asked the agency heads to review “each and every regulation under the agency’s jurisdiction that is currently being proposed” or is already in effect.

The bipartisan joint committee includes five state senators and five House members and is authorized, according to state law, to have final say over rules proposed by state agencies, following a detailed approval process.

In their letter to Sununu, the committee members say they’re who oversees the rulemaking process.

“The majority of rulemaking is mandated by statute, and agencies cannot choose not to adopt rules when a statute says that they shall,” the letter states.

Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, who chairs the committee, told WMUR that no rule or regulation can “exceed the authority of the legislation.”

“There seems to be a lack of understanding in the corner office about what the process is to create rules,” he said. “It seems that he was trying to do what everyone promises to do in Washington, stop passing laws that proliferate bureaucratic rules.”

In fact, President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, issued a very similar memo to Sununu’s on Friday telling federal agencies to not issue any more regulations.

He told the federal agencies not to send any regulation to the Federal Register until the rule is reviewed and approved by the new head of that respective agency, who is appointed under Trump.

But Reagan said New Hampshire is different than the federal government. Rules in the Granite State expire every 10 years and must be reauthorized. This year alone, 250 rules and 41 interim rules will expire, he told WMUR.

The agencies must hold public hearings on proposed rules, which are then submitted to the committee, and the committee’s attorneys determine if a proposed rule exceeds its legislative authority.

“What we’re saying to the governor in the letter is, let the process go on because we’re already doing what you want done,” Reagan said. “As chairman, I felt it was incumbent on me to state for the sake of the committee’s reputation to say that we already do this. This is what we have been doing for all these years. We’re not challenging anybody. I just had to make a statement for the sake of the committee.”

Emily Corcoran, a law professor at the University of New Hampshire, said the committee is “reasserting their belief that they have jurisdiction [over rulemaking] and then the courts would be the arbitrator” if the moratorium were to be challenged.

“You also see some changes in power here,” she told NH Journal. “It’s the change we have when a new person with a different political view is trying to separate themselves from what their predecessor did. You also have renewed power struggles among the different branches of government vying for power.”

Corcoran also clarified that Sununu announced the moratorium through a memo instead of an executive order. While both methods essentially produce the same result and are legally binding, the memo method could send a non-confrontational message, she said.

“Executive orders are a way to reverse existing policies,” she said. “If you want to reverse a position from a previous administration, you have to do that through an executive order. To put a policy on hold or not do anything right now to reassess, it signals that there is a new sheriff in town who wants to see where things are and where things are going. It doesn’t send the signal that we are ending anything quickly or completely switching gears.”

“He’s exercising his power to give agencies guidance,” she added. “It could be that he wants to appear measured and also signal to people that voted for him that it will be different under his term than [former] Gov. [Maggie] Hassan.”

Sununu has not issued his first executive order yet.

And Sununu is not alone for calling a halt in new regulations. Missouri Republican Gov. Eric Gretiens issued a similar action this month, except through an executive order, to freeze new rules and regulations.

Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey issued a continuing moratorium through an executive order on Monday. Arizona has had a moratorium on new regulations since 2009.

Even Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker issued a similar executive order halting new regulations in 2015.

While it seems like Republicans are the only ones who halt new regulations, it’s actually not partisan. Former President Barack Obama issued a moratorium, through a memo when he took office on Jan. 20, 2009, telling federal agencies to refrain from sending any new or proposed rules.

“You do tend to see that happen with new administrations,” Corcoran said. “He [Sununu] made campaign promises and he’s acting out on them.”

Sununu’s office responded to the committee’s letter on Monday, saying, “New Hampshire is an over-regulated state with too many rules stifling opportunities for economic growth.”

“As the state’s chief executive, he is leading a collaborative effort with department heads and commissioners to foster an environment in which businesses can more easily grow jobs,” said David Abrams, Sununu spokesman, in a statement to WMUR. “His carefully thought-out request has been met with enthusiasm and cooperation and we are confident that the information we have gathered will lead to meaningful reform.”


Follow Kyle on Twitter.

Sign up for NH Journal’s must-read morning political newsletter.