Editorial: The state of Twin States leadership

  • New Hampshire Governor Christopher T. Sununu gives a thumbs up to the crowd after being sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice Gordon J. MacDonald at Represenative Hall at the State House with First Lady Valerie Sununu on Thursday, January 5, 2023. Sununu then gave his Inaugural address to begin his fourth term. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Vermont Gov. Phil Scott delivers his inaugural address, Thursday, January 5, 2023, to a joint assembly of the Vermont General Assembly in Montpelier, Vt., after being sworn in to his fourth term as governor. (Jeb Wallace-Brodeur/The Times Argus via AP) Jeb Wallace-Brodeur—AP

Published: 1/16/2023 1:02:29 PM
Modified: 1/16/2023 7:59:01 PM

This is a tale of two neighboring states, told by their Republican governors in inaugural addresses as they embarked on their fourth terms in office earlier this month.

The first is a fairy tale spun by New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, which consisted largely of a Panglossary of ways in which the Granite State embodies the best of all possible worlds.

According to Sununu’s list of superlatives, New Hampshire has become during his six-year tenure “the envy of the nation”; “an island of freedom”; “the gold standard of states”; “the #1 place in America to live, work and raise a family”; a beacon of “smart management” and “responsible decision-making”; the place that taught the rest of America how to administer elections and which continues “to lead the way in citizen engagement, personal responsibility and individual liberty.”

Did we mention the primacy of the individual? Sununu did, no fewer than eight times, although we did not catch any reference to how in a healthy society, the personal preferences of individuals sometimes have to yield to the larger needs of communities (see COVID-19).

He also made the remarkable claim that his leadership has ensured that “everyone — regardless of income, gender, race or religion — has the same opportunities to succeed.” We suspect that that fantasy would be a hard sell equally to parents of a 6-year-old in Claremont and a 6-year-old in Hanover, as well as to a homeless mother who gave birth to a baby boy in a tent in Manchester on Christmas night.

In his (partial) defense, Sununu is pretty clearly suffering from at least a mild case of presidential delusion syndrome, so some allowance has to be made for hyperbole as he tests the waters. But at bottom, his address reeked of smug complacency.

Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont, on the other hand, delivered a reality check that contrasted sharply with the magical thinking displayed by his counterpart across the Connecticut River. While giving a nod to Vermont’s considerable strengths, he refrained from any similar paroxysm of self-promoting exceptionalism. Instead, Scott issued an urgent plea to lawmakers to “shorten the distance between reality and opportunity” for communities in the state that have been left behind while others have forged ahead.

Recounting a day in November spent visiting all 14 counties in the state — a journey of more than 500 miles — he noted that in a short span of time, “the view goes from vibrant downtowns, healthy neighborhoods and bustling offices, to tarped roofs, abandoned homes and shuttered businesses.” This perception certainly rings true to anyone who has traveled widely in the state, or even just within the borders of Windsor County.

Scott asked lawmakers to imagine “a future where workers and families from Newport to Newfane have equal access to education, child care, after-school programs, quality health care and decent, affordable housing,” and urged them to use the ample one-time resources available to the state this year to help make it happen.

Whatever you make of the specifics Scott proposed to narrow the gap between have- and have-not communities, and there were many, his speech was at least a serious attempt to grapple with reality on the ground, as opposed to glossing over the struggles that many families in the Twin States are facing, as Sununu mostly did, save for a departure to discuss New Hampshire’s “looming energy crisis” and the steps taken to combat it.

To be sure, New Hampshire can lay claim to many lovely and admirable traits. But the arrogance of its governor is not one of them.

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