THANKS IN PART to his actions during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Chris Sununu‘s popularity is at an all-time high.
In last week’s Granite State Poll from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, Sununu had an 87% approval rating for his handling of the crisis, including 89% of Democrats and 91% of Republicans.
The Washington Post recently reported that only Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan had more positive ratings.
That doesn’t mean all Republicans, especially those of a conservative bent, are happy with the governor, especially as COVID-19-related restrictions continue.
On social media, activists and some GOP elected officials have complained for the past few weeks that Sununu’s decisions have reeked of Big Brother governance.
Chris Maidment, a candidate for state representative, said on Facebook he will no longer vote for Sununu because he won’t reopen the state.
Rep. Werner Horn, R-Franklin, said he would work for a primary challenger.
Rep. Kevin Verville, R-Deerfield, said Sununu was “drunk with power.”
A woman identified as Dawn Johnson posted on Facebook that she might file as a primary opponent against Sununu.
“I am seriously looking into the fact of running on the Republican ticket, still looking into this but it’s time we get real people with common sense and real values,” Johnson posted.
During a chat, Andrew Manuse, a founder of the Reopening New Hampshire group, urged Johnson to be realistic.
“I don’t want to discourage you from running, because frankly I know you’d be better than Sununu, but to win it takes millions of dollars and people knowing and liking you,” Manuse advised.
Doris Hohensee, a conservative Nashua activist, said Sununu has let down the political base that put him in office.
“We need a candidate who follows our platform, respects our rights, including our right to work. Sununu failed this test,” Hohensee wrote.
Many GOP regulars came to Sununu’s defense late last week, dismissing such thoughts as the rantings of a small, bitter group.
“I may not agree with the governor on every decision he makes, but he is doing what is in the best interests of New Hampshire’s 1.35 million people. Instead of confrontation, he aims for consensus whenever possible,” said Rep. Mark Pearson, R-Hampstead, and an assistant GOP floor leader.
“When he says, ‘I get that,’ I believe he really tries to understand the breadth of opinion. He has to make some incredibly tough decisions, but I am proud to call him my governor.”
First-term Rep. Gates Lucas, R-Sunapee, went right after Horn when defending Sununu.
“It’s no surprise that Werner Horn is attempting to initiate a primary challenge to Governor Sununu after the governor called for Representative Horn’s resignation after his incredibly racist Facebook comments last year,” Lucas said.
“The governor is doing a superb job managing this crisis and the polls confirm that. These are tough decisions and this is just armchair quarterbacking from a few disgruntled people.”
Sununu called for Horn to step down last year after Horn told the Union Leader that slavery was an argument about economics, not race.
“Slavery later on in the American South was not about the color of the skin of the slaves but their value as workers on the plantations,” Horn wrote at that time.
“The U.S. had abolitionists since the start, people who felt slavery wasn’t moral but they weren’t enslaving black people because they were black. They were bringing in these folks because they were available.”
Sununu called the comments “racist and offensive” and said the GOP would be “better off” with Horn out of the House.
Stay-home support ebbing
The UNH poll detected some interesting movement on opinion about Sununu’s Stay-at-Home Order 2.0.
In April, the societal blueprint to deal with COVID-19 had 81% backing.
Last week, that support was down to 56%.
The big change was in the “neither support or oppose” category, which came in at 28%, compared to 9% a month ago.
Sununu has enjoyed strong support for his decisions to reopen certain activities.
But as he has often said, it doesn’t get easier from here.
Only 24% of those polled said they support reopening gyms, 28% favor opening churches to groups of more than 10 parishioners, and 23% want movie theaters to open.
New GOP Senate candidate
As we first reported on Twitter, longtime Republican activist and Trump 2016 convention delegate Lou Gargiulo of Hampton Falls is joining the State Senate District 24 GOP primary.
Hampton Selectman Regina Barnes was already running for the seat now held by Rye Democrat Tom Sherman.
Gargiulo is a former selectman and past, two-term member of the House.
In a mailing to supporters asking for donations of up to $7,000, Gargiulo went after Sherman.
“Although Dr. Tom is an affable guy, he is a wolf in sheep’s clothes. Tom favors an income tax, sales tax, capital gains tax, higher rooms and meal tax, curtailment of our second amendment, and Medicaid for all just to mention a few,” Gargiulo wrote, though his mailing did not contain details.
“I oppose all of those proposals.”
Sherman has vowed to oppose broad-based taxes.
Levenson aims high again
Dr. Stewart Levenson of Hopkinton, one of the whistleblowers in the Manchester VA Medical Center scandal, never takes the easy way.
Two years ago, the moderate Republican ran for the 2nd Congressional District seat, which has for the most part been reliably blue the past 30 years.
Ex-Congressman Charlie Bass of Peterborough was the only one who had managed to walk the tightrope into the seat until Democrat Annie Kuster retired him in 2012.
Levenson narrowly lost the 2018 GOP primary to ex-State Rep. Steve Negron of Nashua.
Now, he’s going for the Executive Council seat that’s opening up as Concord Democrat Andru Volinsky runs for governor this fall.
Four Democrats already are running for this seat. By party registration, Democrats have a 7% advantage in the district, the highest of the five council districts.
“The Democrats on the Executive Council care more about scoring political points against our governor than serving the needs of the people. This must stop,” Levenson said in his announcement statement.
Senate hopeful gets backer
Concord Democrat Becky Whitley won the support of Rep. Sue Mullen, D-Bedford, in her bid to replace Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes of Concord, who also is running for governor.
Mullen is a party rock star, a longtime school guidance executive who broke through the GOP brick wall to win a House seat in her Republican stronghold hometown.
“Becky has shown her persistence and detailed knowledge of the Granite State as a disability rights attorney, climate activist and champion for children’s mental health,” Mullen said.
Former Congressman and Concord lawyer Paul Hodes also is running in the Democratic primary for the District 15 Senate seat.
House hits milestone
As the New Hampshire House of Representatives prepares to return June 11 for its first session in nearly three months, Speaker Steve Shurtleff, D-Penacook, said his colleagues are getting the hang of their “remote learning.”
House committees have finished work on 30 bills during the pandemic. Last week, four members met, the most in a week since the shutdown.
By the way, apparently some participants in House Zoom sections were attired too casually. House leaders put out an advisory Friday that all are expected to “dress appropriately” for these sessions.
The House will hold its first post-COVID-19 session on the campus of the University of New Hampshire.
“I know there are still many questions about the session at the Whittemore Center on the 11th. We are working hard with UNH to iron out the many details to make sure the day runs smoothly and we are all safe,” Shurtleff wrote in his weekly message to the House.
The session will begin at 10 a.m., but Shurtleff said caucuses for both major political parties will be held beforehand so everyone has enough time to safely get to the sports arena venue.
Too close for comfort
Volinsky had hoped to have his first face-to-face with Sununu since the pandemic at last week’s council meeting.
Volinsky declared that he would join Sununu, who hosts the remote council meeting from the Emergency Operations Center in Concord.
Sununu said that wouldn’t be fair to the other councilors who would not be there in person.
Volinsky had tried to survey his colleagues to determine whether anyone else was interested in being on site but ran out of time and joined the meeting remotely with the rest.
New warden at women’s prison
The council unanimously confirmed Nicole Plante as the new warden at the New Hampshire Correctional Facility for Women in Concord.
Plante started as a corrections officer 19 years ago and most recently was a major at the women’s prison in Goffstown before the new, 224-bed Concord prison opened in April 2018.
Meanwhile, Sununu nominated Administrative Services Commissioner Charles Arlinghaus to a full, four-year term.
His current stretch ends this July, but the council is widely expected to support him.