Gov. Sununu Talks Tightening Voting Laws, Funding Full-Day Kindergarten, & Courting 100 Businesses

Mar 28, 2017

During an interview on NHPR's The Exchange Tuesday, Governor Sununu insisted that a GOP-led effort to require voters to provide proof they are connected to the community where they vote is not meant to exclude anyone but simply to ensure the integrity of the state's voting process.

On full-day kindergarten, Sununu appeared optimistic that his initiative will prevail, despite opposition by House lawmakers who nixed his $18 million dollar budget proposal.  The Governor also addressed several recent controversies surrounding his out-of-state activities, as well as the crash and burn of House Republicans' effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. 

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

The Governor strongly disagreed with a listener who charged that he did not strongly refute President Trump's claims of widespread voter fraud in the state. And he defended GOP-led efforts to tighten voting laws.

I said very clearly I’ve not seen any evidence of voter fraud in the state. I’ve said that repeatedly for the past five months, repeatedly. I have no evidence of voter fraud.

SB3 is tightening how we define domicile, what a residence is.  We have some of the loosest, most ambiguous voter laws in the country, yet we have the responsibility of the First in the Nation Primary. We have the responsibility of an incredibly smart voter electorate here in New Hampshire. We simply want to make sure that the system we take such pride in has the integrity that it deserves.

We asked the Governor if he has received any evidence of voter fraud from President Trump since our interview with him a month ago. 

No, and he hasn’t said much about it. I can’t speak for the White House; that’s not my job at all. I can only speak for us here in the state. We’re going to move forward with SB3. It’s a good bill.

We've listened to folks.  Folks said, Oh, you’re going to get rid of same-day voter registration. No, we’re not. You’re going to restrict people at the polls. No, we’re not.  The same folks that came to vote last time will have every opportunity to come and vote this time.

We’re going out of our way to make sure there is no voter suppression, nothing like that. It's simply tightening up the definition of domicile, making sure people have the proper ID to prove you’re domiciled or a resident of New Hampshire. You can still vote; you can still cast that vote; that’s very important. But (there's a) process of coming back and proving that you are a voter. That’s all. We give people that opportunity.

Nobody that voted last time is going to be rejected from a vote next time around, nobody. If you don’t have any proof of residency and you can’t prove you’re domiciled here, we simply say, you cast your vote, but then there's a process to show you are domiciled and you do meet the residency requirement as stated. It’s really quite simple.  Democrats and people who get up in arms about it are trying to mislead people.

An Exchange listener asks in an email: If there is no significant voter fraud in New Hampshire, Why are you trying to keep poor, elderly, disabled, and marginalized people from voting?

I get upset at that. I don’t get upset at much in life. I try to be more rainbows and unicorns than anything else, but that type of statement...because we’re simply trying to provide integrity in the process. We’re not suppressing  a single vote. We’re simply clearing up the definitions that are very ambiguous. This is supported by Democrat Secretary of State Bill Gardner for goodness' sake, one of the foremost authorities on voting integrity in the country. So this idea that we’re suppressing votes, that we’re not going to allow the students or elderly to vote, those are nice talking points for the Democrats, but the reality is just the opposite.

Despite some apparent frustration with Democrats regarding what he considers to be misleading information on SB3, the Governor wants to work across party lines. He recently consulted with U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan on the opioid epidemic and other matters, for instance. 

Republicans have the corner office and the Senate and the House, the majority, that does not remove our obligation to work with Democrats, understand their needs, making sure we all agree on the priorities and making sure we’re getting whether its funds or resources to those priorities for the state of nh.

On the demise of the GOP health care bill, the Governor said: It's time for Congress to take a deep breath, deal with other issues, and come back at a later date to tackle health care again.

We have to get something done, for sure. It was a little disappointing that it fell apart so quickly, to be sure. I was not a big fan of what Congress was looking to do. I was hoping that..there would be some aggressive floor amendments to give the states more flexibility -- something I’ve been promoting for quite a while.

My hope is that they’ll come back to the table.  I don’t think it will happen in the next few weeks or maybe even in the next few months but whether it's September, October -- hopefully, by the end of the year, they come back with something that is worked out. I’d love for them to pre-work it out so it’s a tighter discussion on the floor,  and amendments will come in, and the Senate will have their say.

It’s important and critical that something get done. I think they just need to walk away; they have a lot of other things they need to address down there, and hopefully they’ll be back at the table. 

I think the call in this election was very clear. Obamacare was front and center. Trump won the presidency.  People in other parts of  the country are paying through the teeth when it comes to Obamacare and that’s going to be a real driver. We’ve been very fortunate here in New Hampshire, thank goodness, but in a lot of other ares of the country, they’re getting abused by the costs and that’s going to put a lot of pressure to get something done.

Meanwhile, Obamacare is, as House Speaker Paul Ryan said last week, the law of the land for the foreseeable future. How has the ACA affected New Hampshire?

In terms of actually getting more people insured or helping people get  recovery or treatment or services for substance abuse, those are all very positive things, but it has come at a real cost. This is a program that has a cost within the state of hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars.

Now, to date, we’ve been very lucky.  The federal government pays 95 percent. And the 5 percent on the state’s end is put up by the insurance companies and the hospitals. Over time, that number keeps growing. It stops at 10%. That’s a lot of money. We’re just going to lean on hospitals and insurance companies to pay that bill. That's 80, 90 million dollars. That’s a big risk to take. They haven’t shown any willingness to say yes.  I think that’s because we’re not there yet. They’ve done their fair share to date. I think we should all be incredibly grateful for that. But at some point there’s going to be a huge cost to the taxpayers if  things don’t change.

The costs of Obamacare are going to still go up. I don’t agree with the sentiment of Trump that we’ll just let it explode.  I don’t think that’s the solution for anything. But that is probably one of the realities,  as these prices skyrocket on the exchange this summer and fall. There’s really no end in sight. 

At the end of the day, we’re in a little bit of a waiting period. Something will likely happen in DC. It will likely come this fall. I hope it does. We’re going to keep putting pressure on them. Again, not to necessarily blow up Obamacare, but to really strengthen the process we have and make sure we’re not taking these undue costs down the road. 

An Exchange listener asked the Governor about President Trump's budget, which entirely eliminates funding for the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, potentially impacting the Great Bay. 

I’m not thrilled with a lot of parts of the President’s budget. There are a lot of cuts in there that I think could be detrimental to New Hampshire. There are a lot of smaller programs that are important to individuals or in this case the estuary in the Great Bay that rely on that funding. So the answer is making sure we’re constantly talking to the Trump Administration, which I’ve been doing. We’re making sure that our voices have been heard.  Let’s also understand that the country is $20 trillion in debt.  There’s no doubt some cuts have to be made. We’re going to keep fighting to make sure that New Hampshire’s interests are kept in mind. Not every program is going to stay but the ones that most impact New Hampshire, we have to keep fighting for. 

When if comes to funding full-day kindergarten, legislative leaders appear more intent on lowering property taxes for seniors. Is there a demographic divide on state priorities? 

I don’t think it’s an age thing. I have no doubt that the vast majority of people in New Hampshire want full-day kindergarten put into this budget. There’s no doubt about that in my mind. It does have real value. Communities have to be willing to come up to the plate just like they do in any educational process and pay their share.

There’s no doubt that it is time that the state kind of wake up to the 21st century and put full-day kindergarten in as part of the program. And we really targeted it at the low-income areas, areas that have second language as a priority;  we know that that extra year of kindergarten can help those kids close that opportunity gap.

 I've really encouraged the members of the House and the Speaker to really go out and listen to the public, listen to the constituency,  listen to the people of New Hampshire. We have a responsibility to 1.3 million people; we have to take that very seriously and listen as a whole, and I think there’s been a lot of strong advocacy. 

My pushback to all those listening out there is: Pick up the phone, call your House of Representatives member, call your state senator, let them know this is a priority. I think a lot of people were shocked when they found out we didn’t do it in every community. But it’s simply a responsibility of the state, and I think as the public makes their desires known, I think it will help get it back into the budget and moving forward.

Casino backers in the legislature haven't given up, after years of trying. Are casinos a good idea?

I have concerns. I’m not against casinos but we have to do it right and for the right reasons. You have to make sure the regulatory structure is in place before you set this up. You have to have a set of metrics and standards for any casino coming in here. You have to understand the pushes and pulls on the local economies.  There are a lot of dynamics. I’m keeping my mind open to it. I  don’t even know if it will make it to my desk but if it does we’re going to have to seriously consider it. 

I’m not saying yes or no. But do we need it as a jobs driver in the state? Not necessarily.... I don’t believe in saying yes to casinos for the revenue. I am a free-market guy to be sure but it can have real impacts on your local economy in a variety of ways, and society in general. It will change the fabric of New Hampshire; there’s no doubt about that. So it's a very serious issue that we just have to consider very carefully.

Contacting 100 businesses in 100 days about moving to New Hampshire? The Governor says he may have already exceeded that goal. Inquiries have come from Taiwan, China, France, Israel, and, more locally, Massachusetts.

It's been very successful. I spent a few days in Quebec visiting with 20, 30 different companies.

They're looking to invest some dollars here. They heard our approach to breaking down regulations, opening up the markets, being a pro-growth state in terms of business. That message has clearly gotten out and people are flocking here to sit down with us. It doesn’t mean every company is going to come here tomorrow.  There is a process if you’re thinking about moving or expanding your company, and that alone takes time.  We have a few companies that have already signed on;  we can’t announce that.  A lot of companies don’t want anyone to know they’re talking with us.  I understand that.  We’ll release a full report in the very near future.  As they’re signing leases and moving in, I will let everybody know.  

A lot of  companies come in looking for tax breaks and tax incentives. Other states do that because they have to do that. We don’t do that because we don’t have to; we have such an incredibly low tax base. The overall business tax burden -- we’re still ranked 7 or 8 in the country.  Business taxes themselves are high, and I’m hoping to lower those, but overall, when you look at the other fees...that come into play, we’re still very advantageous. Then when you add proximity to Boston -- a lot of people want to be close to Boston but they don’t want to be stuck in the traffic. 

As for leaving the state without informing the press, the Governor chalks that up to oversight. 

I’m not trying to keep anybody in the dark. The Quebec trip came up very quickly and was incredibly fluid.... So we’re not trying to keep anybody in the dark by any means. I think the last week we, for lack of a better term, learned our lesson a little bit in terms of being up front about our travel plans, as best we can.

On his Waterville Valley tweet, the Governor was adamant that it was not a mistake -- and not intended to promote a business his family has a stake in. 

I tweet all the time. I tell people where I am, which is exactly what I did. I was skiing with my son at Waterville Valley, that's all I said. And then I said, Be sure to come up to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I'm promoting the White Mountains as a whole. I was actually very careful about that tweet to make sure I wasn't just promoting Waterville. I was just saying where I was but you've got to come up to the White Mountains because the skiing was great everywhere. That's my job. I don't apologize for that. 

The Governor said his family is still very involved in Waterville Valley -- his father is on the board -- but he is not.