N.H.’s Gov. Sununu embraces vetoes in first year of divided Statehouse

  • FILE - In this May 3, 2019 file photo, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu vetoes a bill that would repeal the death penalty in the state during an event at the Officer Michael Briggs Community Center in Manchester, N.H. Through mid-July, Sununu had vetoed 30 bills this year, more than quadruple his total for his first two years in office combined. (Nick Stoico/The Concord Monitor via AP, File)

Associated Press
Published: 7/20/2019 10:26:20 PM

CONCORD — Republican Gov. Chris Sununu is on a veto spree — rejecting dozens of bills so far and promising to block even more. What critics call childish, he characterizes as a counterweight to Democrat legislators’ extremism.

As of this week, Sununu had vetoed 38 bills this year, including eight on Friday, more than five times his total for his first two years in office combined.

“I have, like, 40 more vetoes in the next couple of weeks,” he said at a GOP fundraiser in Wolfeboro on July Fourth, when the tally stood at 14.

At the request of the event hosts, Sununu auctioned off a signed copy of one of the vetoed bills — a paid family leave program Democrats counted among their top priorities — along with a flag that flew over the Statehouse on the day of the veto.

“I don’t know what bills are coming to my desk; I’m just going to veto everything,” he joked, according to video recorded and shared by the state Democratic Party, which has criticized both Sununu’s actions and attitude in issuing vetoes.

“He’s really shown a childlike glee over vetoing policies that would help people of the state,” Democratic spokeswoman Holly Shulman said in an interview.

She said the auction, in particular, shows Sununu is treating government like a game.

Sununu turned the criticism back on Democrats.

“I’m not out to set a record, but the Democrats have passed so many extreme bills that I’ve been left with no choice,” he said in a written statement. “In just a year of the Democrats holding a majority in the House and Senate, I’ve been forced to veto everything from an income tax to bills that would have skyrocketed energy costs.”

Sununu is the state’s first Republican governor in modern history to face a Democratic Legislature. Over the last two decades, three Democratic governors found themselves in the opposite situation for at least part of their tenures, but none wore out as many veto pens as Sununu.

Republicans controlled both the House and Senate for four years of Jeanne Shaheen’s three terms as governor. Shaheen, now a U.S. senator, vetoed 27 bills during that those four years, with a high of 12 in 2002. Her successor, John Lynch, vetoed 33 bills in the four years he faced Republican majorities in both chambers, ranging from one in 2005 to 15 in 2012. And Maggie Hassan, also now in the U.S. Senate, vetoed 26 bills in the two years in which Republicans controlled the Legislature.

Together, the three Democrats averaged just under nine vetoes per year during times of divided government.

While each was more likely to veto bills when Republicans controlled the Legislature, none increased their veto rates as dramatically as Sununu, who vetoed just one bill in 2017 and six last year when his party held majorities.

Ten other governors also lead states where the opposing party controls the Legislature. In Vermont, Republican Gov. Phil Scott vetoed 11 bills in 2018, including the state budget. This year, when Democrats had a veto-proof majority in both chambers, he has issued only two vetoes.

In Massachusetts, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has vetoed just one bill this session. The Legislature later overrode his veto.

In North Carolina, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed 28 bills during his first two years in office only to have Republicans use their veto-proof majority to override him 23 times. This year, Republicans, who now only hold simply majorities, have thought twice before passing controversial legislation only to have it blocked by the governor, and Cooper has only vetoed two bills.

Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor has vetoed three bills so far, as has the governor of Kansas, who also vetoed several individual provisions of the state budget. New Hampshire doesn’t allow line-item vetoes, and Sununu’s biggest action has been to veto the entire two-year, $13 billion budget.

Speaking to reporters earlier this month, he denied a suggestion that partisan rancor had increased to the point of endangering a budget solution.

“If there was this division that you’re talking about, I don’t think Democrats would be coming into my office later this week to discuss it,” he said, offering particular praise for Democratic Sen. Lou D’Allesandro.

“We maintain a wonderful relationship and we’ll continue to do so,” Sununu said. “We’ll get it done.”

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