By: Paul Steinhauser and Kevin Landrigan
SALEM –Chris Sununu returned Monday to the town where he was raised to announce his candidacy for governor of New Hampshire.
The Republican executive councilor launched his gubernatorial bid at the Salem Republican Committee Labor Day Picnic, which was held at the Derry-Salem Elks Lodge along the Salem-Derry border, just a few miles from where Sununu grew up in Salem.
Speaking one-on-one with NH1 News just minutes after announcing his campaign, Sununu said “New Hampshire needs a change. No doubt about it.”
And in an apparent dig at Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, Sununu added that it’s important to have “an executive in the corner office that can make decisions and stick with them and not just give policy and rhetoric that they think that people want to hear.”
Sununu is the son of former three-term Gov. John H. Sununu, who later served as chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush. And he’s the younger brother to former congressman and former Sen. John E. Sununu.
Sununu was first elected to the executive council in 2010, and easily re-elected in 2012 and 2014. His district makes up most of Rockingham County and the Seacoast region. The MIT graduate is an environmental engineer who serves as the chief executive officer of the Waterville Valley Ski Resort.
“I have employees up north that I work with all the time. I see what’s going on with the Executive Council and executive leadership in this state. We need someone to make real decisive decisions because if we don’t start making a change we’re going to set ourselves up for real trouble in the long term, ultimately and it starts with education and the closing opportunity gap,” Sununu told NH1 News.
Asked about his famous last name, Sununu said “I’ve won three elections as an executive councilor in my district. I have my name, but one thing is for sure, I have to go out and earn every vote. There’s no doubt about that. I have to connect with people one-on-one. That’s why I’m getting in early. There’s a lot of work to do. It’s important that people understand who I am, what I stand for, and then they can make their choice based on that. But it’s important for people to get out there and understand who Chris Sununu is and that’s why I’ve gotten in early and I think 2016 is going to be a really great year.”
Sununu, who turns 41 in November, and his wife Valerie live in Newfields and are the parents to three young children. He says his family’s a major motivation in his candidacy for governor.
“My family’s exactly why I’m running for governor,” Sununu said “We need to set ourselves up for a long time future. We have young people that are leaving this state. We have skilled workers who are walking away from this state. We need to put policies in place now that take off the burdens of overreaching government, policies that don’t work, so that we can retain our young workers, so my kids, your kids, can work and raise a family here in New Hampshire.
In an email release announcing his candidacy, Sununu pledged to “veto a sales or income tax, but that pledge is not enough. Unlike the Democratic governors of the past, I will make sure that pledge is not used as an excuse to expand other taxes and fees.”
Democrats have won the nine out of the last ten gubernatorial elections in the Granite State. Craig Benson’s 2002 victory was the last for a Republican. And since 2016 is a presidential election year, the expected larger electorate is considered more favorable to the Democratic Party.
The big questions going forward are whether other Republicans will announce for governor. And will Hassan run for re-election or launch a Democratic challenge to GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte in 2016.
On social issues Chris Sununu’s more of a moderate than his father or older brother. He’s been hands-off on New Hampshire’s same-sex marriage law and is pro-choice on abortion. But Sununu was a lightning rod for reaction last month when he became the pivotal vote to block state family planning contracts with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
As one might expect, Sununu’s gubernatorial announcement touched off highly partisan reactions.
“Chris Sununu voted to restrict access to birth control and cancer screenings for thousands of women who rely on local Planned Parenthood health centers and opposed the successful bipartisan expansion of health care to over 41,000 New Hampshire citizens,” said Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley, in a statement.
“He’s stood in the way of numerous renewable energy projects that would cut energy costs and create jobs and has done everything he can to stop commuter rail from Boston to central New Hampshire and the jobs that will come with it. He also supported the fiscally irresponsible GOP budget that would create a $90 million hole in our state’s budget.”
State GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Horn said Hassan deserves to be defeated next year.
“Maggie Hassan has been an ineffective, hyper-partisan governor who has threated core state services with her politically motivated veto of the state budget. Governor Hassan has been focused on advancing herpolitical career instead of serving her constituents, and its clear that she is using the corner office as a stepping-stone for a United States Senate campaign,’’ Horn said in a statement.
“Republicans are pleased that an extremely formidable candidate like Chris Sununu is already declaring his candidacy while qualified candidates like Representative Frank Edelblut are also considering running. We expect a positive and productive primary that will produce a strong nominee who will take back the corner office in 2016.”
Sununu said he would place a large emphasis on education in this campaign to include more state support for charter schools, more opportunities for parents to have choice in their child’s education and more of a move away from federal bureaucratic requirements in education such as the Common Core standards.