NH Executive Council rejects $27 million in federal money for vaccine outreach, angering Sununu

  • Protestors turned their backs on the New Hampshire Executive Council at the Police Standards and Training Council headquaters in Concord on Wednesday, October 13, 2021. Concord Monitor photos — GEOFF FORESTER

  • New Hampshire State Police Sgt. Nathan Johnston shows Leland Todd the back of his cruiser after his mother and father were arrested at the Executive Council meeting at the Police Standards and Training Council in Concord on Wednesday, October 13, 2021. Johnston said he has children of his own and he wanted to make sure he kept Leland occupied while his parents were being processed.

  • Governor Chris Sununu, sits next to Karen Ladd of the Secretary of State office during the Council meeting on Wednesday, October 13, 2021.

  • Protestors turned their backs on the New Hampshire Executive Council at the Police Standards and Training Council headquaters in Concord on Wednesday, October 13, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Protestors react after one of the protestors is arrested by New Hampshire State Police at the Executive Council meeting on Wednesday, October 13, 2021 at Police Standards and Training Council in Concord. Concord Monitor photos — GEOFF FORESTER

  • One of the signs from the portestors at the Executive Council meeting on Wednesday, October 13, 2021

New Hampshire Bulletin
Published: 10/13/2021 7:15:29 PM
Modified: 10/13/2021 7:16:11 PM

Editor’s Note: This story was first published on New Hampshire Bulletin.

The Executive Council’s Republican majority voted down $27 million in federal money for vaccine outreach Wednesday, 4-1 — some for reasons unrelated to the contracts — pleasing dozens of protesters in the room and angering Gov. Chris Sununu enough that he called Councilor Joe Kenney’s rationale “un-American.”

And while a heavy police presence kept more than 100 anti-vaccine mandate protesters from shutting down the meeting as they did two weeks ago, nine people were arrested and escorted out of the room for outbursts during the meeting.

The two contracts would have paid for temporary staff for the state’s vaccination program to reach homebound residents and other vulnerable populations who haven’t been vaccinated yet or need booster shots. Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said the money was critical to not only getting more people vaccinated but also alleviating the burden on primary care providers who are providing vaccinations in addition to non-COVID-19 care.

The council has approved similar contracts in the past; this one ran into trouble when RebuildNH, a group opposed to vaccination mandates and skeptical of the vaccine’s efficacy, told its followers the contracts’ fine print would require the state to comply with all current and future federal COVID-19 orders, including vaccine mandates.

The majority of councilors were not persuaded by Attorney General John Formella’s legal conclusion otherwise or by reminders from Sununu that they voted for prior contracts with the same language. Other complaints went beyond the contracts’ language and purpose.

Councilor David Wheeler cited objections to the state’s new vaccine registry and Councilor Joe Kenney, whose district includes most of the Upper Valley, said he opposes private employers’ vaccine mandates, neither of which are part of the two contracts.

Sununu said he’d be open to Wheeler’s request that the Legislature change the registry from opt-out to opt-in; at a news conference later Wednesday, the governor reiterated that position but said he would veto any legislation to scrap the new registry.

But Kenney’s reasoning in particular irritated him. The state, he said, has no business overriding decisions of private employers.

“That is being socialist. That is completely un-American,” Sununu told him. When Kenney pressed his point, Sununu didn’t hide his frustration. “That’s not even socialism. That is pure communism.”

He added, “I appreciate you have reservations, but they are based on fantasy.”

Democratic Councilor Cinde Warmington, the lone vote for the contracts, was equally direct, telling fellow councilors they were voting with the “small misinformed minority,” not Granite Staters.

“A vote against this finding is guided by politics and not by the public health of the people of our state,” said Warmington, whose district includes Charlestown and Unity. “More than 70% of our people have been vaccinated. They want to be vaccinated, and we are going to take that away. The irony of councilors at this table arguing the federal government should tell private business what to do is irreconcilable.”

Republican Councilors Ted Gatsas and Janet Stevens said they believed the state has already received generous funding for its vaccination outreach and could find additional money elsewhere or in future contracts. Prior to her vote, Stevens read a lengthy statement citing the “fear and disinformation” surrounding the contracts and supported the state’s vaccination goals.

“I’m confident we can accomplish those goals without using the $27 million at this time,” she said.

The protesters, who turned their backs on the council when Sununu and Warmington voiced support for the contracts, cheered.

The nine people arrested inside the meeting were each charged with disorderly conduct, according to a news release from the Department of Safety on Wednesday afternoon. Two of the nine received an additional charge for resisting arrest. The arrested demonstrators ranged in age from 26 to 70.

Devon Dukelow, of New Boston, N.H., was among those who gathered outside the meeting, held at the Police Standards and Training building in Concord, to urge councilors to vote the contracts down. He said he is anti-vaccine mandate, not anti-vaccine, and does not accept Formella’s interpretation of the contract.

Formella, he said, is Sununu’s lawyer, not the public’s lawyer. “(Elected officials) are here to serve the people and uphold the Constitution,” he said. “The Constitution is being run over by the government now.”

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