On the trail: Sununu says ‘attendance matters’ in deeply divided state House 

  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu waves as he and the Executive Council are introduced on Organization Day at the State House on Wednesday. Sununu swore in the representatives during the day. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff


  • New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu swears in the house representative on Organization Day at the State House on Wednesday, December 7, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER

  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu says he won’t endorse retired Army Gen. Don Bolduc for the NHGOP chair. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

For the Monitor
Published: 12/10/2022 11:00:54 AM

Gov. Chris Sununu had two words to describe what it will be like to deal with an incoming state House of Representatives, which is nearly evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.

“Super fun.”

“I think it’s super exciting that it’s ... basically a 200/200 House, depending on what the attendance is,” the governor said this week. “Boy, attendance matters.”

While attendance has always mattered when the margins between Democrats and Republicans in the 400-member chamber are close, it’s even more urgent in this new session, with 201 Republicans, 198 Democrats, and one race still tied. It’s the slimmest majority for either party in the state House in at least three decades.

On Organization Day on Wednesday when GOP state Rep. Sherm Packard was re-elected Speaker five of the six absent representatives were Democrats.

“It will be very interesting to see how some of these votes go and how they are dependent on attendance,” Sununu said. “It really forces everyone to work together. Often that is a very, very good thing.”

For Sununu and state lawmakers, job No. 1 in the months ahead will be hammering out the state’s next two-year budget.

“Knowing that a recession is coming. Being fiscally responsible….how to spend that surplus money, I think everyone’s going to come together and have an agreement on that,” the governor stressed.

Republican state Sen. Jeb Bradley, who succeeded now-former state Sen. Chuck Morse as the chamber’s president, told the Monitor that “the top priority always is going to be the budget … a budget has to meet the needs of the people of the state of New Hampshire so things like mental health and substance abuse and families with disabled children and child protection, those are really important things that we have to make sure we get it right.”

Bradley, a former congressman who served for years as state Senate majority leader, added that “we also have to make sure that we drive the economy and tax incentives that we’ve created have helped make the New Hampshire economy strong, and even with a recession and inflation, we’re still ahead of other states. We need to maintain that and a budget is really important in that.”

He also warned that “we need to protect taxpayers and live within our means and not overspend. So those are to me the three priorities in what’s always the most important part of any legislative session – the budget.”

While the GOP majority in the state House shrank in last month’s election from a relatively comfortable 26-vote cushion to the current razor-thin margin, there was no change in the balance of power in the state Senate, with Republicans holding onto their 14-10 majority.

“There are only 24 of us as state senators. It’s one of the smallest elective bodies in the country and it forces us, because we’re just glorified volunteers, to work together. And I think that will continue,” Bradley emphasized. “I have a lot of respect for Sen. Soucy, my Democratic colleagues. Where we can agree, we’ll agree. Where we can’t agree, we’ll debate, and I think we will always try to be agreeable even when we’re not agreeing.”

Ager jumps into NHGOP chair race, Gargiulo mulling bid

Republican National Committeeman from New Hampshire Chris Ager is hoping to succeed current NHGOP chair Steve Stepanek, who announced a week ago that he wouldn’t seek a third two-year term steering the state party committee.

The move by Ager, a businessman and veteran who’s also chair of the influential Hillsborough County GOP, was far from unexpected once Stepanek decided against running for another term.

The NHGOP will meet in late January to pick their new state party chair, who will serve the next two years.

Lou Gargiulo told the Monitor on Fridaythat he’s also considering a bid for state party chair.

The former state representative from Hampton Falls and two-time GOP state Senate nominee in the Seacoast-centric District 24 said he’s “exploring” a campaign after having received up to 40 calls from people encouraging him to run.

“I’m certainly looking at it,” the businessman and veteran said.

Sununu, as the titular leader of the GOP in New Hampshire, said he’ll express his opinions in the state party chair race.

“I’ll absolutely weigh in. There’s too much at stake,” he said on Wednesday.

Asked about Ager’s entry into the race, Sununu said, “I think they’ll be more candidates in the mix, and I think it’s important to have a good, healthy mix of candidates to make sure the party’s successful, we actually get out the vote, win back some of these seats we unfortunately lost but probably shouldn’t have lost.”

“I get involved in this stuff as much as I feel I can be effective,” Sununu said. “But I also understand that it isn’t just me picking somebody. That’s not the right process. Do I agree with who the delegates pick all the time? No. But that’s why we have lots of delegates. It’s not just about me.”

And the governor, who for a second straight cycle easily won re-election by double digits, highlighted that “when it comes to what’s effective and how to win in this state for Republicans, I think I’ve proven I definitely know what I’m doing. And I think I have a lot to offer to that conversation and if there are willing ears and folks that want to not just win primaries but actually win in November – last time I checked that’s all that matters when it comes to party politics – you gotta close the deal in November to make sure that you can govern with the right policies. That’s all that matters.”

While Sununu didn’t say whom he may support for chair, he did indicate a candidate he won’t back in the race for NHGOP vice-chair.

Asked if he’ll endorse former Army Gen. Don Bolduc, the 2022 GOP U.S. Senate nominee who lost to former governor and first-term Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan by 10 points in last month’s general election, Sununu answered that’s “not going to happen.”

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