In Concord address, Sununu rules out future presidential run, calls for marijuana legalization

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu speaks with Chamber President Tim Sink and others before his last Concord Chamber of Commerce annual State of the State luncheon at the Red Blazer on Tuesday.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu speaks with Chamber President Tim Sink and others before his last Concord Chamber of Commerce annual State of the State luncheon at the Red Blazer on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Marijuana is legal in states within 1,000 miles of New Hampshire. Gov. Chris Sununu said he’d like to see a legalization bill that would limit the amount of businesses, and ensure advertising doesn’t target kids.

Marijuana is legal in states within 1,000 miles of New Hampshire. Gov. Chris Sununu said he’d like to see a legalization bill that would limit the amount of businesses, and ensure advertising doesn’t target kids. Marina Riker / AP file

Gov. Chris Sununu said he would’ve liked to expand the student loan repayment program while in office. The state ranks among the highest for loan debt, with the university system holding some of the highest instate tuition rates.

Gov. Chris Sununu said he would’ve liked to expand the student loan repayment program while in office. The state ranks among the highest for loan debt, with the university system holding some of the highest instate tuition rates. Jim Cole / AP file

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu took questions from the audience at the last of his Concord Chamber of Commerce annual State of the State luncheons at the Red Blazer on Tuesday, March 25, 2024.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu took questions from the audience at the last of his Concord Chamber of Commerce annual State of the State luncheons at the Red Blazer on Tuesday, March 25, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu shook Chamber President Tim Sink’s hand at the last of his Concord Chamber of Commerce annual State of the State luncheons at the Red Blazer on Tuesday, March 25, 2024.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu shook Chamber President Tim Sink’s hand at the last of his Concord Chamber of Commerce annual State of the State luncheons at the Red Blazer on Tuesday, March 25, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu speaks at the last of his Concord Chamber of Commerce annual State of the State luncheons at the Red Blazer on Tuesday, March 25, 2024.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu speaks at the last of his Concord Chamber of Commerce annual State of the State luncheons at the Red Blazer on Tuesday, March 25, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu speaks at the last of his Concord Chamber of Commerce annual State of the State luncheons at the Red Blazer on Tuesday, March 25, 2024.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu speaks at the last of his Concord Chamber of Commerce annual State of the State luncheons at the Red Blazer on Tuesday, March 25, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu speaks at the last of his Concord Chamber of Commerce annual State of the State luncheons at the Red Blazer on Tuesday, March 25, 2024.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu speaks at the last of his Concord Chamber of Commerce annual State of the State luncheons at the Red Blazer on Tuesday, March 25, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu speaks with Chamber President Tim Sink and others before his last of Concord Chamber of Commerce annual State of the State luncheon at the Red Blazer on Tuesday, March 25, 2024.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu speaks with Chamber President Tim Sink and others before his last of Concord Chamber of Commerce annual State of the State luncheon at the Red Blazer on Tuesday, March 25, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu speaks at the last of his Concord Chamber of Commerce annual State of the State luncheon at the Red Blazer on Tuesday, March 25, 2024.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu speaks at the last of his Concord Chamber of Commerce annual State of the State luncheon at the Red Blazer on Tuesday, March 25, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu speaks to the Concord Chamber of Commerce during his final State of the State address at the Red Blazer on Tuesday.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu speaks to the Concord Chamber of Commerce during his final State of the State address at the Red Blazer on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

By MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Monitor staff

Published: 03-26-2024 4:55 PM

Modified: 03-26-2024 5:29 PM


Chris Sununu will celebrate his 50th birthday by turning over his seat in New Hampshire’s corner office. For a while, he thought the best birthday present would be going from a four-term state leader to President of the United States.

Instead, he’ll cast a vote for former president Donald Trump while selecting a new governor on Nov. 5, which will bring his time as an elected official to a close, for now, he said. With a few more months left in office, Sununu rattles off a list of policy priorities, with a healthy dose of national critiques and a dash of humorous quips.

“Fourth term, last speech who knows what the hell I’m about to say,” he joked at the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce’s State of the State luncheon Tuesday.

Over the last year, Sununu has talked about Washington’s inefficiency on national news. He’s laid out policy priorities in the New Hampshire State House and he’s touted the Granite State as the “envy of the nation” on the campaign trail. In a room full of Concord business leaders, he did all three.

Remaining policy

Sununu knows that marijuana is legal within all states 1,000 miles of New Hampshire. But as a pronounced skeptic of legalization, he would like to lead the charge in doing so, knowing that it will be inevitable, he said.

“There’s no better person than to help design a system that could be fraught with problems and risk specifically to kids than the guy that’s most scared of it,” he said.

In talks with the State Senate, the governor has outlined 10 requirements to gain his signature – it should be modeled off of the state’s liquor store commission, only 15 stores will open, towns retain the right to reject a store, and there should be no public marketing targeting kids, among others.

“People just want the accessibility for adults, keeping it away from kids,” he said. “If they can meet those rough stipulations, I would sign it because I think that’s one of the safest systems you’re going to get.”

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A bill that meets those provisions, House Bill 1633, was passed by state lawmakers last month. It was then referred back to the House Finance Committee, and will still need to pass the Senate.

Sununu laid out a path to legalization last May, after saying he would veto any legislation in years prior. But a bill to do so has never reached his desk, with previous proposals passing the House and dying in the Senate.

Now, legislation could be a hallmark of his final term.

“We’ve seen the mistakes other states have made so as not to walk down that path,” he said. “It’s inevitable.”

High housing costs have also been inevitable in the last five years, with interest rates at a high and inventory low. And it won’t be a state-wide issue that Sununu can solve before November, he said.

But there are a few solutions he’d like to see carry on beyond his final term.

In 2022, Sununu utilized $100 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to create the InvestNH housing fund, which provided grants to accelerate the development of affordable housing in the state, offered consultants for municipalities to rewrite their zoning codes and master plans and opened a demolition fund to dispose of old property across the state.

That final component, the demolition fund, was a small sliver of the initial equation that proved highly successful, he said.

“What we found is if you can just help towns do the environmental work or get rid of some of that old housing first, the property values in the surrounding housing go up, and then they actually paved the way for new housing,” he said.

With more applicants than funding available, he’d like to see the state roll out a similar program again. Incentivizing developers, through tax credits and grant programs, will be the framework for continuing to build more, much needed units in the state, he said.

While Sununu can be quick to tout New Hampshire’s strength among other states – in particular California, which he called the blueprint for “holy crap, don’t do that” – there’s one ranking that the governor omits from his praise. The Granite State ranks among the highest for student loan debt, with the University System of New Hampshire holding some of the highest in state tuition rates.

To incentivize young people to go to school in state, and then join the local workforce upon graduation, Sununu would have liked to expand the state student loan repayment program while in office, he said. The current program offers debt relief to health care professionals who work in underserved areas for at least three years.

“It helps them with their debt, but we help incentivize to retain a workforce,” he said. “I love that idea. We don’t do enough of it here. That kind of drives me nuts.”

National agenda

Sununu is quick to joke that he hasn’t received Trump’s Christmas card in recent years. Ahead of the New Hampshire primary he endorsed former ambassador Nikki Haley, guiding her along the state campaign trail and positioning the best path forward for Republicans this November would be to elect a new face.

Yet come November, he’ll cast his ballot for Trump, he said.

A vote for a Republican candidate, who can then appoint other party leaders to cabinet positions and federal agencies, will be more effective, he said.

“You can have a Republican administration in Washington or President Kamala Harris,” he said. ” I don’t see Biden making it for five more years. I’m not saying he is going to die. But I think we all know there’s fiscal issues there and mental capacity.”

But that’s not to say that all Republican leaders in Washington are efficient. In fact, he’s called repeatedly for all members of Congress to be fired and for term limits to be imposed.

The country is successful when states retain their freedom. That will come with Republican leadership, as opposed to continuation of the last four years, he said.

Despite speculation that Sununu would launch his own presidential run this year, or look to do so in the next election cycle, that will not be the case.

“No run for President,” he said. “It’s not in the cards for me folks.”

The country’s current political system, with PAC donations driving multi-million dollar campaigns, is what deterred him from running for Senate in 2022, when Republican leaders hoped he would challenge current U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan.

“They’re pushing to get me elected based on something I might not even believe and that’s screwed up, right?” he said. “The fact that someone can write a $250,000 check to a PAC and no one ever sees it or knows where it comes from, that’s bogus.”

Instead, he’d like to help other Republican candidates on their path to the Oval Office. That was his goal with his Haley endorsement, he said.

“I believe in the Republican Party. I don’t believe democracy is being destroyed,” he said. “Overall this country is going in generally the right direction. The ship isn’t sinking. And remember, even if a ship is going in the wrong direction, it doesn’t mean it’s sinking. You can still turn it around.”