Sununu Sets Priorities and Tone in First Speech as Governor

Jan 5, 2017

After being sworn in Thursday at the State House, Republican Chris Sununu has officially become the 82nd Governor of New Hampshire

In his inauguration address, Sununu laid out his priorities for the next two years but also offered an indication of his leadership style.

Chris Sununu is no newcomer to politics – his dad served as Governor of New Hampshire in the 1980s, his brother was a U.S. Senator and Congressman. But his style is a little more off the cuff than most politicians.

That showed Thursday during his inauguration address. Sununu spoke without a script, barely looking at his notes. And throughout the day’s procession there were a lot of say lighthearted moments such as when Sununu was being sworn in by Chief Supreme Court Justice Linda Dalianis.

“I (long pause) Chris Sununu," Sununu said stumbling as the crowd laughs. "Remember we talked about this," Dalianis said. "What happened to state your name?," Sununu said with a chuckle. "You practiced - remember," Dalianis said. "I know - it's been a big day," he said laughing.

Listen to the full inauguration address here.

His guest list also reflected a more casual demeanor like having New England Arm Wrestling Champ Cathy Merrill read the traditional poem during the inaugural ceremony.

At 42 year old, Sununu is the youngest Governor in the country. But he got right to business in his first speech in office. At times he struck a blunt tone, especially when stressing the need for bipartisanship. 

“I never want to start off on a negative note but let’s just cut right to it – we have a tendency in this body, in this State House to be divisive, to let politics get in the way, to worry about the next election cycle," Sununu told the House Chamber. "The next election cycle is only two years away, but that is not what we are here to do. As an elected official if any of you are here worrying about those next votes – you are here for the wrong reasons.”

Gov. Chris Sununu's wife Valorie held the bible that Sununu used when he was being sworn in as Governor. The 1913 bible was his great-great grandfather's.
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Sununu then laid out priorities familiar from his campaign, such as cutting business taxes and regulations, reducing the cost of energy and the need to more aggressively combat the state’s opioid problem. 

“It infiltrates everything in our society – workforce, education, our daily lives, the cost – the cost of lives,” Sununu said.

Sununu talked about the drug crisis at length, calling for more prevention efforts in the classroom, increased treatment and continued support for first responders.

Another issue he said needed immediate attention was the state’s child protection agency. The agency recently received heavy criticism from an outside review. Sununu called the agency’s shortcomings “unacceptable.”

“I call on this legislature – I call on you sitting here, to act without delay, address the increasing caseload of our social workers, correct the regulatory framework in our system and let’s make sure our kids our safe,” Sununu said followed by loud cheers.

Sununu’s calls to make the state, as he put it, “open for business” drew a standing ovation from his Republican colleagues. Sununu urged lawmakers to support continued cuts to the state’s business taxes, removing regulations and passing so-called Right-to-Work legislation.

But that part of his address also struck a nerve with Democrats such as House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff.

“A lot of things were in generalities, talking about reducing business taxes – we are all for reducing taxes but if we are going to be making cuts we want to know who is going to be impacted by the loss of revenue and how we are going to make it up,” Shurtleff said after the speech.

Gov. Chris Sununu poses for a selfie with one of the dozens of New Hampshire residents who came to greet the newly sworn in Governor after his address.
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Sununu may not have been specific on how to pay for these changes but he did lay out his plan to attract more businesses to New Hampshire. He calls it his “100 Business in 100 Days” initiative, which he says he already began by talking to companies in Massachusetts and Vermont.

After roughly 20 minutes on the podium, Sununu wrapped up his speech the same way he began it - stressing the need to work across the aisle.

“And not just use bipartisanship as a tagline and on a twitter feed – we have to commit ourselves and put action behind those words,” he said in closing.

Some may see that as an attack on his Democratic predecessor Maggie Hassan who earlier this week was sworn in as a U.S. Senator.

But Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley argues Sununu isn’t here to play politics.

“Governor Sununu is off to a great, great start – people like him, he is very outgoing and friendly as you can see from that kind of speech. It’s going to resonate very well in New Hampshire."

The real test will be how he sets his priorities in his state budget proposal next month.