Sununu’s to-do list doesn’t include tightening N.H.’s voting laws

  • Republican Gov. Chris Sununu shakes hands with Democratic Sen. David Watters before testifying in support of full-day kindergarten during a House Education Committee at the Legislative Office Building in Concord on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

For the Monitor
Saturday, September 23, 2017

Gov. Chris Sununu is confident his policies are improving the Granite State.

“Things are really moving in the right direction in New Hampshire,” he said this week. “We’ve got the ball rolling on a lot of different initiatives.”

And with a touch of bravado, Sununu touted that “I think we’ve gotten more done in the first seven or eight months here than any governor in the last 20 years. And I really believe that. But there’s always more work to do.”

From the state’s $11.7 billion budget and lower business taxes, to tightening laws on voter registration, abolishing concealed carry permit requirements for gun owners and increased state funding for kindergarten, New Hampshire’s first Republican governor in a dozen years saw much of his agenda passed by the GOP-dominated state house.

Sununu experienced some setbacks this year, too.

The failure of the House to pass right-to-work legislation, even after a personal push, was a tough defeat.

The jury’s still out on funding for full-day kindergarten, which is considered his signature achievement. The program relies on revenues from cities and towns that vote to allow keno gambling.

The University System of New Hampshire was flat-funded in Sununu’s budget and tuition at the state’s colleges and universities increased again. New Hampshire has the dubious distinction of giving the least public support to higher education, and the highest average student debt in the country.

And just this week, Sununu created a millennial advisory committee, but plans to increase passenger rail in New Hampshire, which the governor opposes but remains popular with many younger workers, are going nowhere.

One of Sununu’s early achievements was signing the Republican-backed measure known as SB3, which adds new requirements for those registering to vote within 30 days of an election to provide documents proving they are domiciled where they are casting ballots. Earlier this month a superior court judge upheld the law, but temporarily blocked the fines associated with the measure, which reach up to $5,000.

Sununu said the law, which was vehemently opposed by state Democrats, “does a great job of making sure that not a single vote will be suppressed. Everyone that voted in 2016 can vote in 2018. And it makes sure that there’s more integrity in our system, which with the first-in-the-nation primary is so important. I think it’s a good law.”

But some Republican lawmakers want to go further, with the likely introduction in the next legislative session of bills to narrow the definition of domicile for voting purposes. That could possibly jeopardize the ability of out-of-state college students to vote in New Hampshire using out-of-state identification, which is currently legal.

But it doesn’t appear that such bills may win the backing of the governor.

Sununu told the Monitor that the state’s voting law is now “where it needs to be,” adding that “I am not championing any additional legislation having to do with voting laws at this time.”

One of the governor’s biggest critics, longtime New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman Ray Buckley, obviously disagrees with Sununu’s assessment of his 2017 accomplishments.

Buckley claimed Sununu’s being politically expedient, adding that the governor “is fighting for himself, not New Hampshire.”

Looking ahead to 2018, when he’s up for re-election to a second two-year term, Sununu said he’s looking for an expansion of the initiatives already under way rather than a new signature achievement.

Sununu listed the implementation of the governor’s scholarship program as part of his to-do list in the months ahead, and strengthening the state’s economic climate.

“We still have some ideas on workforce initiatives,” Sununu said. “The economic opportunity here is huge. The economy is growing like gangbusters.”

Attracting businesses and young workers remains a top priority.

“You’ve got to have the workforce here to support that. So being a little more promotional about why folks should bring their families up, the benefits in coming to New Hampshire as individuals, not just as businesses. Promoting those aspects. Looking at things like repealing real estate transfer taxes for first time home buyers, for example. Things to really spur that younger generation, that next generation of young families and young workforce to be here,” he added.

The governor also addressed the state’s acute drug epidemic.

“A lot of the steps we took with the opioid crisis were great, but there’s a lot more there,” he said.

“We talk about recovery-friendly workplaces and making sure we have programs in place that support and are there for folks that want to re-enter the workforce that have gone through treatment and recovery of opioid abuse,” Sununu said. “We’re also looking at laws in terms of prescription, opioid prescription amounts, how many opioids you can be prescribed in any given time. We made some big steps a few years ago. I think there’s still a little more room where we could clamp down on the excessive over prescribing of opioids, which most people know can lead to misuse and addiction.”