Sununu: Rail not a worthwhile investment

  • Chris Sununu at the Monitor editorial board. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Chris Sununu speaks at the “Monitor” last week. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 8/22/2016 12:17:07 AM

Commuter rail has become a defining issue in New Hampshire’s gubernatorial race. As far as Republican Chris Sununu is concerned, it is not a worthwhile investment for the state.

“When we have real infrastructure priorities and needs that can help the 700,000 people a day that drive on (the) roads, why should we be spending $300 million for a train so maybe we can send a couple thousand people a day to work in Boston?” Sununu said. “That makes no sense.”

Democrats in the race have support a plan to extend commuter rail from Massachusetts to Nashua and Manchester, saying it will create jobs, drive economic development and attract young people. Sununu disputes that, arguing the up-front cost and continued maintenance expenses are too high and should be invested in the state’s neglected red-listed bridges and crumbling roads.

“Putting all your young workforce hopes into a boondoggle train project that frankly has no chance of going anywhere, it’s bad leadership,” he said in an interview with the Monitor’s editorial board Friday.

Sununu, a third-term executive councilor, announced his run for governor almost a year ago. The Newfields Republican has a long family history in politics; his brother John E. Sununu served as U.S. senator and his father John H. Sununu was the state’s governor.

Sununu, who is CEO of Waterville Valley, says he is running on his own merit, not family name. “People like to talk about the dynasty,” he said. “In New Hampshire, I grew up in a family where my mom was very clear, she said you have to give back to your community in some way.”

Sununu faces off against three Republicans in the Sept. 13 primary race; state Rep. Frank Edelblut, state Sen. Jeanie Forrester and Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas.

Substance abuse is a key issue in the race, as the state faces an opioid crisis that led to more than 400 drug overdose deaths last year.

Sununu balked at Republican rival Forrester’s proposal to deploy the National Guard to New Hampshire’s borders to stop the flow of illegal drugs into the state.

“That is a horrible idea,” he said. “Militarizing a border patrol between us and Massachusetts . . . that is a terrible idea that should never be implemented on any level. Did someone really say that?”

Sununu said his plan would include adding more drug prevention in schools, and increasing resources.

He didn’t name any specific dollar amounts, but said the state should send money into communities faster. “We have a lot of resources, we have to be able to get the money out there,” he said.

Sununu emphasized his opposition to Common Core standards, and support for school choice. He is against a repeal of the state death penalty and said he would oppose efforts to again raise the state gas tax.

He said Northern Pass, the controversial transmission line that would pass through the state, should be built. It is a partnership between Eversource Energy and HydroQuebec.

“The project should go forward because we need the energy, and it will go forward because Eversource has taken some real viable steps in understanding the local issues at hand, and doing their best to address it,” he said.

The 192-mile project would run mostly overhead, but would be buried roughly 50 miles through the White Mountain National Forest. Some advocates have pushed for full burial, saying the line would mar natural landscapes and lower property values. Sununu echoed Eversource’s message on the topic, saying burying the entire project would make it financially unfeasible.

“You are never going to bury the whole line,” he said. “If we force that on them the project is just not going to happen.”

His position breaks with other gubernatorial candidates, who call for further burial.

Sununu said he backs renewable energy, but it has to be done in an economic way.

Sununu voted in 2015 against a $3.9 million solar array project to generate power for the city of Manchester. The proposal fell in a 3 to 2 council vote. Sununu said Friday the payoff – an estimated $26,000 in annual savings for the city – wasn’t worth it.

“Are you kidding me? No. That is a bad project that has no economic benefit other than to the developers,” Sununu said. “We have to support projects that help the end users lower their rates.”

Sununu would sign a bill, he said, doing away with the state license needed to carry a concealed gun. He has privacy concerns about sending mental health records to the federal gun background check system that is used to vet buyers.

He is opposed to establishing a state minimum wage; New Hampshire relies on the federal floor of $7.25 an hour.

Sununu is open to casino gambling in the state should he see the “right” bill, but he did not elaborate on what that would look like. Despite years of effort, proposals to bring a casino to the state have never passed the House.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or

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