GOP in NH clash over masks, call Gov. Sununu a tyrant

Malcontents can spoil it for everyone

Chris Sununu is the widely popular sitting governor of New Hampshire. He won reelection to a third two year term in the corner office with a resounding 65 percent of the vote and topped all statewide candidates with over half million votes received.

For those not familiar with New Hampshire politics, it is infrequent for Granite State governors of either party to serve more than two terms. It is impossible to gain statewide office without doing well with independents. Sununu even received more votes than Senator Jeanne Shaheen (a Democrat) this last election cycle. Now, it is the height of popularity to outpoll three-time elected Shaheen, the dean of New Hampshire politicians.

Sununu is a conservative Republican in a very New Hampshire style. That means a common sense approach on fiscal and social issues. The governor is young, smart, likable, and the son of former Governor John Sununu, who served as President George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff.

Most people in New Hampshire, and even outside the state, believe he has navigated well during the pandemic. He recognized the health and business dangers for the state well ahead of the curve. His emergency orders always balanced public safety and business preservation with a dose of common sense and an eye toward data and facts on the ground. The governor was rewarded with bipartisan support and a third term in office.

In short, it is good to be Governor Sununu right now. But you cannot make everyone happy all of the time. Sununu has been dogged by a small band of “Don't Tread on Me” right-wingers, who believe that his series of emergency orders are unconstitutional. New Hampshire emergency measures have been moderate compared to other states. The initial executive order from last March has been renewed every 21 days and was put in place to marshal state resources to fight the COVID-19 virus spread. Many emergency orders have dealt with providing access to relief funds, delay eviction proceedings, and allowing for expanded online and in person health service availability. Gathering restrictions have been balanced against the state of the virus at different times. It was never a hard lock down in New Hampshire, but restaurants and tourist-related business have taken the brunt of the outbreak. Tourism is a big deal for the Granite State economy.

Just before Thanksgiving, the governor signed an emergency order requiring “a mask or cloth face covering over their noses and mouths any time they are in public spaces” when people are unable to maintain proper social distancing. This order is set to expire January 15th (today), but will be extended. This restriction seemed to be a last straw with many libertarian-minded conservatives, and started an intensified protest and calls of tyranny.

The New Hampshire House of Representatives is comprised of 400 citizen-legislators. Seven Republican legislators, backed by a group called Reopen NH, filed a stillborn resolution to impeach the governor. The group of seven believes that the governor is illegally wielding emergency powers to in response COVID-19 outbreak. Reopen NH, now renamed Rebuild NH, believes the governor’s emergency orders restricting business openings and mask requirements are an illegal overreach.

Late last November, right-wing groups amounting to around 100 protesters descended on the governor’s private home to register their unhappiness with the governor’s mask mandate. A group called Absolute Defiance spearheaded the protest.

On December 28th, a small group of protesters organized by Absolute Defiance encountered a police presence at the governor’s house. The town of Newfields, where Sununu lives, had recently passed a town ordinance regulating picketing at private residences. Several of the protesters were fined, and one man who was concealed carrying was detained and perhaps arrested.

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Gov. Sununu, following the December protest, announced that his public inauguration would be canceled in favor of a small private ceremony at the State House. He cited public safety concerns, specifically the armed protesters at his house in recent weeks who were angry about his recent mask mandate. Since then, another Absolute Defiance-sponsored protest occurred on January 3rd, marching past the governor’s home without incident.

With the FBI, and Vice President Mike Pence warning about “chatter” of possible widespread violence prior to Joe Biden’s inauguration, even in New Hampshire, with a popular and sensible leader who makes prudent decisions, we have reason to be concerned. A small group of malcontents have the ability to spoil things for everyone.

We will see how the governor navigates troubled waters post Capitol Hill riot. Stay tuned.