CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Republican Gov. Chris Sununu was sworn in for a fourth term Thursday, exuding confidence and calling for increased cooperation, civic engagement and local control.
Sununu defeated Democrat Tom Sherman in November, becoming only the second governor in New Hampshire history to win a fourth term. His latest inauguration — almost exactly 40 years after his father was inaugurated as governor — marked a return to tradition. Two years ago, he was sworn in during a private ceremony because of concerns about both the coronavirus pandemic and potential violence.
“We are finally here. We’re back, we’re in person, we’re shoulder to shoulder, and what an amazing opportunity that is,” he told a crowd of lawmakers, state officials and guests.
After facing intense pressure to run for U.S. Senate, Sununu shocked the political establishment by seeking re-election instead. But he hasn’t ruled out a run for higher office, including president, and has been building and maintaining a high profile nationally.
On Thursday, he devoted much of his speech to championing New Hampshire’s successes, calling the state an “island of freedom surrounded by frankly highly taxed and highly regulated states.”
He touted its high rankings for public safety, personal freedom and economic opportunity. He highlighted investments in housing, property tax relief and substance use disorder treatment.
“None of this is an accident. It’s the result of smart management, responsible decision-making and simply putting individuals — simply putting people — first,” Sununu said.
The speech included no policy proposals — those likely will come in a budget address next month. Instead, he sought to set a tone for the next two years at a time when the country and state are deeply divided.
Sununu called New Hampshire’s near-even split in its 400-member House “an awesome opportunity” to show the nation that cooperation and compromise are possible.
“The voters of New Hampshire do not reward those who yell the loudest, but they reward those who work hard, roll up their sleeves and get the job done,” he said.
One area of cooperation will be the state’s effort to protect its first-in-the-nation presidential primary as the Democratic National Committee moves to shake up the nominating calendar. Both Sununu and New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley wrote protest letters to the DNC’s rulemaking arm Thursday, and Sununu said in his speech that the two parties stand united.
“It’s a strong message of bipartisanship, and frankly, as strong as any one you’ve ever seen here in the state,” he said.
Moving from national politics to the local level, Sununu extolled both the state’s embrace of civic engagement and the guiding principle of local control. Those in government should stay connected to constituents, he said, while also getting out of the way.
“It’s a very simple formula. In New Hampshire, we distill decision-making down to the lowest possible levels of power, empowering individuals to make their voices heard at the local level, where their voice is the greatest,” he said.
The original plan for Sununu’s 2021 inauguration called for an outdoor ceremony and speech to allow for social distancing during the pandemic. But he canceled the ceremony because of armed protesters who had been gathering outside his home to oppose mask mandates and other restrictions.
On Thursday, protesters outside the Statehouse included those taking Sununu to task for signing a state budget that included abortion restrictions and for backing legislation they argue amounts to voter suppression. Others carried signs urging him to remove what they consider pornography from school libraries.
Democrats criticized the speech, saying voters should look beyond Sununu’s “aww shucks” attitude. “When this governor has been in New Hampshire — and not touring the country in an attempt to prop up his national image ahead of a doomed presidential run — his work has centered on a predictable strategy: take credit for everything good, deny blame for everything bad,” Buckley said in a statement.