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On the Trail: Battle for governor heats up as Sununu, Feltes, and Volinsky file

  • Republican Gov. Chris Sununu (top photo) and his two Democratic challengers, state Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes (middle photo) and Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky (above photo), filed their candidacies for governor on Friday. Paul Steinhauser

  • State Sen. Dan Feltes of Concord files to run for governor on Friday. Courtesy photo Steve—

For the Monitor
Published: 6/12/2020 4:45:44 PM
Modified: 6/12/2020 4:45:30 PM

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and the top two Democrats hoping to challenge him in November’s general election filed on Friday to place their names on the ballot, as New Hampshire’s filing period came to a close.

As he did two years ago, Sununu – without any fanfare – made the short walk on the second floor of the State House from the governor’s office to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Sununu, who’s running for a third two-year term steering the state, said in a statement that “now more than ever, New Hampshire families demand their leaders have the management experience to get the job done without raising taxes.”

“Before life as we know it changed, the Granite State had the strongest economy in New England and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation,” he said. “Bringing New Hampshire back remains my top priority.”

Sununu, who garnered extremely high approval ratings in the most recent public opinion polls, is facing a last-minute long-shot primary challenge launched by longtime conservative activist and Franklin city council member Karen Testerman.

Soon after Sununu filed, Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky made his case as he formally filed to place his name on the September primary ballot.

The Democrat from Concord – who was the lead attorney for the victorious plaintiffs in the historic Claremont school district funding lawsuit two decades ago – signed a pledge to lower property taxes as he spoke to supporters gathered in the State House plaza.

Pointing to what he said was a $320 million increase in local property taxes during Sununu’s tenure as governor, Volinsky charged that the GOP incumbent has “ignored working families and instead balanced our state budget on their backs.”

And signing his pledge, he vowed that “if I am elected governor … we will reduce the local property for the majority of New Hampshire residents.”

Asked in an interview with the Monitor where he’d make up the shortage in revenues, Volinsky said that “everyone coming out of this pandemic and economic crisis has to be prepared to make sacrifices and that means for a change everyone in New Hampshire has to pay their fair share to support the important and crucial services that the state provides, like education.”

And Volinsky, who has highlighted his refusal to sign the decades-old broad-based tax veto pledge, added that “we cannot take anything off the table. Every option has to be on the table and the pledge that has existed is tied to the past while we must look to the future.”

Firing back, Sununu spokesman Benjamin Vihstadt told the Monitor that Volinsky’s claim is a “flat out lie. Instead of downshifting costs to municipalities, Governor Sununu has downshifted cash.”

And Vihstadt noted that “in light of the COVID-19 pandemic the state potentially faces hundreds of millions of dollars in a revenue shortfall, yet the governor has committed to maintaining pre-agreed-to supports in the last budget for municipalities and school districts and not pass the buck.”

As he signed his own pledge, Volinsky said that “I left another line on this pledge to lower property taxes, and invite my friend Dan to join us in protecting local property taxpayers.”

The Dan to whom he was referring is state Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, his rival for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Volinsky spent part of his speech indirectly taking aim at Feltes as he made his case that he’s the best Democrat to paint contrasts with Sununu in November’s general election.

Spotlighting the importance of combating climate change, Volinsky said that “the time for half measures is gone. That is why I so strongly oppose the Granite Bridge fracked gas pipeline. That is why I will not take Liberty Utilities’ money. We cannot let fossil fuel companies buy our future. We cannot stand up to the governor if we don’t make a contrast by rejecting the fossil fuel money he so covets.”

Volinsky’s comments were obvious shots at Feltes, who has received contributions from Liberty Utilities and who has been supportive of the Granite Bridge pipeline, which would bring natural gas from Exeter to Manchester.

“I am saying that I am the candidate to take on Chris Sununu in November,” Volinsky said. “I am saying that I can make a contrast with Chris Sununu on the fact that I don’t take fossil fuel money, that I don’t support the fossil fuel infrastructure projects.”

Hours before Feltes filed to place his name on the ballot, his campaign released a video in which the state senator from Concord, who served as a legal aid attorney, also spotlighted the coronavirus crisis as he took aim at the governor.

“Working families are being left out and left behind. And Gov. Sununu’s vetoes and his agenda of looking out for those at the top meant working people here are getting hit even harder by this crisis. So now, as we rebuild, we must do it with them in mind,” Feltes said in the video.

And he once again contrasted his modest upbringing with that of Sununu, the son of former three-term governor John H. Sununu, saying “my dad wasn’t governor. I was never gifted a ski resort. My dad worked in a furniture factory his entire adult life. Forty-five years. The same furniture factory.”

Feltes told the Monitor and WMUR that New Hampshire has “the sixth-highest unemployment in the nation under Chris Sununu, we have the highest health care costs in the nation under Chris Sununu … we have the second-worst opioid epidemic in the nation under Chris Sununu.”

Contrasting himself with Volinsky, Feltes said, “I don’t support a broad-based income or sales tax.”

The lawmaker stressed that he’s also pushing to lower property taxes and said he’d make up for the shortfall by further closing business tax loopholes that benefit large corporations.

Asked by the Monitor about Volinsky’s pledge to lower property taxes, Feltes said “it appears to be a diversion from a long history of supporting a broad-based income tax.”

And pushing back against Volinsky’s questioning of his clean energy credentials, Feltes touted his record on the issue and added that “I’m committed to doing a comprehensive clean energy agenda. I’ve been the leading the way on that as vice chair of the Energy Committee.”

But the senator quickly returned his focus back to the governor.

“The singular barrier to clean energy progress in reducing electric rates in the state of New Hampshire is Chris Sununu and we’re going to focus on Chris Sununu throughout this race,” Feltes said.

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