Gov. Sununu polling strong despite limited legislative setbacks

  • FILE - In this photo taken Wednesday June 29, 2016 Executive Councilor Chris Sununu listens during the Council meeting Concord, N.H. Sununu is seeking the Republican nomination for governor. New Hampshire has struggled to attract and retain young people, a trend that's likely to continue without major policy changes. While the gubernatorial candidates propose solutions to the problem in bits and pieces, few have a full scale of ideas to address New Hampshire's demographic challenges.(AP Photo/Jim Cole/FILE) Jim Cole

For the Monitor
Saturday, May 05, 2018

With six months to go until Election Day, Gov. Chris Sununu’s poll numbers may be the envy of other incumbent politicians facing voters this fall.

Partially fueling those numbers was the Republican governor’s success last year in seeing nearly all of his agenda passed by the GOP dominated legislature.

But this year’s State House session is full of some wins, and some difficult defeats.

With bills dealing with explosive issues like voting eligibility, educational savings accounts, Medicaid expansion, family leave, and a proposed constitutional amendment giving crime victims rights equal to those of alleged perpetrators – the session’s seen legislative landmines jam-packed with political consequences.

And in the past two weeks, two of those landmines exploded.

The governor was a major proponent and top cheerleader for the victims’ rights constitutional amendment, known as Marsy’s Law. While the measure sailed through the state Senate earlier this year, it was killed late last month by an overwhelming 284-51 margin in the House. In a stinging defeat for Sununu, only 11 Republicans in the House voted for the amendment.

This past week, a school choice bill that the governor championed was twice narrowly rejected by the House.

The legislation (Senate Bill 193), which Sununu has pushed for since campaigning for governor during the 2016 election, would set up a voucher-like system – allowing families who remove their kids from public schools to be able to put state money into an education savings account to spend on alternative education such as private or home schooling.

Other items the governor pushed for, such as tax credits for first-time homebuyers and “recovery friendly” workplaces, were also sidetracked in recent weeks.

“Anytime you don’t get everything you want, of course you can be frustrated. But that’s just the process,” Sununu told the Monitor.

“I would have loved to have seen (SB) 193 passed, but it was a very close vote. It didn’t pass in that vote. We’ll see what happens down the road. We’re going to keep fighting to make sure that we provide opportunities, especially for low-income families, when it comes to education. That’s what this bill was all about,” Sununu said.

But the bill may be resuscitated, as Senate Republicans late Thursday added it to another education measure. Sununu vowed to keep fighting.

Instead of dwelling on defeats, the governor touted his legislative wins.

“We’ve had huge victories here over the last 18 months. And it’s not just the victories you have in the State House. It’s also what we’re doing beyond the State House walls,” Sununu said.

The governor pointed to the passage Thursday of two Senate bills that he described as “the most comprehensive child welfare funding that the state has seen in a longtime. Regulatory reform passed, which again was the most comprehensive regulatory reform the state has ever seen. Licensure reciprocity. These things can fundamentally transform how the state does business.”

While the defeats may have been painful in the corner office, a couple of Republican representatives who spoke with the Monitor pointed fingers at House GOP leadership rather than the governor.

“I believe it’s more a reflection of House leadership,” Rep. David Bates said.

Pointing to the school choice showdown, the conservative from Windham said, “looking at the roll call vote, there were six members of the leadership team that voted against the Republican position and if those members had reversed their position, we would have had a complete opposite outcome.”

“I don’t agree with everything the governor has done but on this you can’t fault him,” Bates said. “This, I think, was the fault of the Republicans. It was Republicans who stopped this.”

Rep. Patrick Abrami of Stratham also placed blame on House leadership, saying “the governor did his thing. I don’t think he could have done anymore.”

Greg Moore, state director for the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity and a former state House of Representatives chief of staff, pointed out that “the second year of any legislative session is tougher for everybody. It’s always harder to build a consensus in an election year.”

“That’s not going to change regardless of who the governor is,” Moore said.

Democrats disagreed.

Longtime state party chairman Ray Buckley, a perennial critic, argued “Governor Sununu’s own party just won’t listen to him. On issue after issue, Sununu has become the kiss of death for his own priorities, even as Republicans hold large majorities in every governing body in the state”

While the setbacks were the talk of the State House, many voters don’t closely follow the legislature.

“Those issues may mean much more over in that building (the State House) than they do on Main Street,” former state attorney general and longtime GOP consultant Tom Rath said.

Rath said he feels Sununu may get credit “for having made the good fight.”

“I think if you fight hard for something that you believe in, even if you don’t win, you get points for fighting hard for what you believe in. And Chris Sununu did stake out those positions on those issues and championed them. It doesn’t mean he’s always going to get the votes,” he said.

And Rath argued that “what really matters is the budget and he’s in surplus.”

“His plusses far outstrip his negatives on this and he’s done it all with a personal and an involvement that shows engagement and openness,” Rath added.

Those plusses seem to be registering in public opinion polling.

Sununu scored a 65 percent approval rating in a new Saint Anselm College Survey Center poll and stood at 59 percent in a recent University of New Hampshire Survey Center Granite State Poll.

Sununu took to Twitter to write that he was “humbled” by the approval “of the job we’re doing!”

And a new Suffolk University survey indicated Sununu topping the two Democratic candidates running to challenge him by more than 20 percentage points in hypothetical general election showdowns.

And as Sununu runs for re-election, he’s also got history on his side. Only one Granite State governor in the past 90 years has lost re-election to a second two-year term.