CONCORD — A group of five incumbents and two newly elected Republican House members are pursuing a resolution in the 2021 legislative session to investigate the impeachment of Gov. Chris Sununu for abuse of his constitutional authority during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The request follows Sununu’s decision last week to require that people in New Hampshire wear a mask or face covering in public spaces, indoors and outdoors, when they cannot maintain at least 6 feet of social distance.
Sununu’s latest mask order does not impose any fines or punishments for those who refuse to wear one.
It also includes nine exceptions to the mandate, including students and staff in schools and anyone with a disability or medical condition who is unable to wear one.
In response to Sununu’s order, 100 protesters held signs and hosted a noisy demonstration outside Sununu’s home in Newfields last Sunday.
“This move was not taken lightly,” State Rep. Andrew Prout, R-Hudson, said in a statement. “We must restore our government to its constitutional roots — with checks and balances — where the Legislature writes the laws and the executive branch implements them.”
Rep.-elect Melissa Blasek, R-Merrimack, said House Democratic leaders, in response to the coronavirus, shut down the State House last spring and gave Sununu this license to act as an autocratic leader, imposing his will on the rest of the state.
“While Speaker (Stephen) Shurtleff and House Majority Leader Doug Ley abdicated their legislative duties forcing Sununu’s hand, the GOP caucus stands ready and willing to work with him within the confines of the Constitution,” Blasek said. “We can’t have our governor acting as a king.”
Last week, the governor said he knew some freedom-loving conservatives wouldn’t agree with his mask decision.
Sununu said it was called for in light of the renewed COVID-19 threat, which has included a doubling of the number of hospitalizations in two weeks, a tripling of the rate of people testing positive and five new nursing home outbreaks.
“Last I checked masks don’t have a political party,” Sununu said at his COVID-19 briefing last week. “If individuals do not want to look at the data, understand the dangers ... people are going to do what they are going to do.”
State GOP calls it ‘foolish’
Sununu’s office did not respond to the call for an investigation.
Republican State Chairman Steve Stepanek and Vice Chairman Pamela Tucker released a joint statement, condemning the move as “foolish” and representative of a small minority in New Hampshire.
“Granite Staters elected Republican majorities to our state government in order to cut taxes, expand educational opportunity, and control spending. New Hampshire overwhelmingly approves of the job Governor Chris Sununu has done in mitigating the effects of COVID-19,” Stepanek and Tucker said.
“The NHGOP has always and will continue to stand with Governor Sununu and his team as he fights for Granite Staters during this global pandemic. Talk of impeachment is a severe obfuscation of the reasons Granite Staters elected Republicans on Nov. 3 and these House members seeking headlines will look foolish when this effort falls flat before it even gets off the ground.”
Tucker led the effort for the state party to recruit House Republican candidates.
It was Sununu’s popularity, increased in part by his actions on the pandemic, that led to down-ballot victories that enabled the GOP to regain control of the House, state Senate and Executive Council even as three members of the all-Democratic congressional delegation won re-election.
Rep. Kevin Verville, R-Deerfield, said social conservatives who thought the pandemic was overblown urged Sununu to do more to reopen the economy and remove restrictions on individual freedoms, but he refused, leaving this as the only recourse for them to examine the level of his constitutional overreach.
“There have been several attempts to rein in the governor,” Verville said. “The Democrats tried lawsuits to no avail. In June we tried to pass a resolution limiting the emergency powers and failed. This, unfortunately, is the only path remaining.”
Other cosponsors of the request are Republican Reps. Mike Sylvia of Belmont, Scott Wallace of Danville and Josh Yokela of Fremont, and Rep.-elect David Binford of Bath.
The House would have to approve the resolution by a majority vote for an investigation into impeachment to proceed.
After such an inquiry, any articles of impeachment then require a majority vote in the House to send them to the state Senate for a trial.
The New Hampshire Legislature has never acted to impeach a sitting governor.
The House has in its history voted to impeach two judges, the most recent one then-Supreme Court Chief Justice David Brock in 2000. The state Senate voted by a super-majority to acquit Brock after a trial on charges he acted unethically and abused his powers.
Before the trial, the Democratic-led Senate adopted a rule for that proceeding alone that required a two-thirds vote to convict Brock.
He was acquitted by a 17-7 vote.
On Nov. 3, Sununu won a third two-year term by nearly a 2-1 margin over Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, D-Concord.
According to independent polling before the election, more than 80% of likely voters supported the job Sununu was doing during the pandemic.
Democratic legislative leaders sued Sununu last spring, maintaining he illegally used his executive powers to spend money without their permission.
A Hillsborough County Superior Court judge dismissed the case, citing a state law the Legislature adopted after the 2001 terrorist attacks against the U.S. to give the governor even stronger authority during an emergency. email@example.com.