Sununu and the Search for Bipartisan Collaboration
Six years ago, I was honored to serve on a bipartisan committee with then-Executive Councilor Chris Sununu and other New Hampshire leaders. Our mission was to tackle the growing opportunity gap so that every child could have a fair chance to succeed. Although our work was far from complete, I found the future governor to be engaged and open-minded, more focused on evidence than ideology. He reminded me of leading New Hampshire Republicans with whom I worked during my career in government reform, including the late Sen. Warren Rudman and Gov. Walter Peterson.
Then he ran for higher office in the party of Donald Trump.
It is not my place to judge Gov. Sununu’s heart (I have plenty to judge about my own). But it is my job — and that of every voter — to judge his conduct as chief executive of our state before we hire him for another term. However constructive Sununu may seem on TV, his actions to thwart bipartisan collaboration at nearly every turn tell a different story — 65 vetoes of bipartisan bills and counting. They betray, in his own words, “a Trump guy through and through.”
Consider the governor’s actions on three important issues affecting our state: the environment, democracy, and economic opportunity.
When it comes to conserving the environment — a cornerstone of New Hampshire conservatism I learned from my forebears — Sununu has abandoned the scientific consensus on global warming and stood by President Trump in blocking climate action since they both assumed office in 2017. When asked about climate change in a WMUR debate, Sununu stated, “No, I don’t believe in it” and added “with myself in the governor’s office, we have an opportunity to have a governor that understands these issues.” In 2017, he again refused to accept the basic science and rejected calls to join his Republican counterparts from Massachusetts and Vermont in a bipartisan coalition of governors supporting the Paris Climate Accord after Trump withdrew the United States.
On the legislative front, Sununu has vetoed numerous bipartisan bills from net metering to energy efficiency to PFAS accountability that would conserve our environment while adding thousands of well-paying jobs in clean energy. Some of these measures like net metering even passed with unanimous support in the Senate and over 70-percent approval in the House. Yet when it came time to override his veto, Sununu reportedly told a closed-door meeting of Republican legislators, “It’s not about the issue or your constituents — it’s about me your governor.” Meanwhile, his top campaign contributors have been utility companies and power generators that oppose net metering and profit from fossil fuels, much like Trump’s.
Beyond his rejection of traditional Republican values of conservation, Sununu has also shown a striking disregard for safeguarding democracy itself. He has vetoed multiple bills to expand transparency and accountability in Concord, like closing the LLC loophole which allows individuals to skirt campaign finance limits by making multiple donations through corporations they control without revealing their identity. He has also blocked legislation to replace partisan gerrymandering with an independent redistricting commission; to expand absentee voting and registration options during the pandemic; and to protect the voting rights of students and low-income people after the courts struck down Republican restrictions under SB 3.
And after New Hampshire Republicans and Democrats marched for hundreds of miles to protest big money corruption, Sununu vetoed bipartisan legislation calling on Congress to “regulate the role of money in elections [to] ensure transparency, prevent corruption, and protect against the buying of…influence over representatives.” Indeed, the web of Sununu family self-dealing — from paying family and friends over $165,000 in private contributions for ‘organizing’ his 2017 inauguration to redirecting federal tax credits for low-income communities to his family-owned Waterville Valley ski resort — is sadly similar to that of Trump.
Finally, when it comes to ensuring every Granite Stater has the opportunity to succeed in a crippling economic recession, Sununu has systemically undermined public education and vetoed bipartisan bills to establish a livable wage and paid family/medical leave. He supported the Trump administration’s controversial rule to take part of the CARES money designated for public schools and divert it to private ones. Through his Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, he advanced privatization plans that would shift funding from cash-strapped public schools to unregulated private and religious schools and even private businesses. He vetoed prevailing wage requirements for hourly construction workers at state-funded public works projects. And he twice vetoed legislation to establish a state minimum wage of $10-$12 per hour instead of the federal floor of $7.25, which leaves thousands of Granite Staters in poverty while working full-time. His latest veto coincided with a $31,000 automatic pay raise for himself.
On these and other issues affecting the wellbeing of our state, the differences between Sununu and his opponent, Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, could not be more clear. Not only has Feltes built bipartisan coalitions time and again to move New Hampshire forward on the major issues of the day, but his humble roots, respect for science, and past career as a legal aid lawyer serving folks in need stand in stark contrast to Sununu.
For the sake of our environment, our democracy, and economic opportunity for all, I urge Granite Staters of every stripe to put an end to Trumpism in all its forms this November.
Dan Weeks worked on government reform and educational equity from 2001–16 and served as president of Americans for Campaign Reform (now Issue One) under co-chair Warren Rudman; he now works in clean energy and lives in Nashua with his wife and kids