In any other political campaign, membership in a blue chip political family might give a candidate the edge, but as Chris Sununu, who is a Republican candidate for governor knows, 2016 is not an ordinary year.
That’s ok with him because the family legacy is about giving back to the community, he said, with the understanding public service “is just that — it’s for the public.”
Sununu, son of John H. and Nancy Sununu, is the seventh of eight children. His brother is former U.S. Senator John E. Sununu and their father is a former New Hampshire governor. But, despite that legacy, his going into politics was by no means inevitable, he said. His parents would have supported him if he had donated time at the senior center or become a teacher, instead.
“My parents have been exceptional at making me understand what’s important in life,” he said. “The most important aspect is giving back, especially in a state like New Hampshire, where every individual can make a very serious contribution.”
Sununu decided to run because New Hampshire is falling behind other states and needs an executive with his background and “first-hand experience” dealing with three key issues — the economy, the schools and the substance abuse crisis.
“The number one role of a governor is to make sure the economy is moving forward,” he said, but “we don’t have that right now. We haven’t brought any major business into the state in five, six, seven years,” he said.
“We have not had anyone in the corner office in the last few years that has real business leadership,” he continued. “Not that you should run the state like a business, but you need someone in the corner office that understands the variables and dynamics business leaders look at when they determine whether to grow or invest capital; to hire or to expand into new areas. When you don’t have that mindset, it’s very hard to entice anyone to come here.”
Sununu criticized Gov. Maggie Hassan for the stagnation.
“When you have a governor who just last year said high business taxes don’t really matter except to large out of state corporations—that’s an appalling statement,” he said. “Never mind trying to retain the businesses you have, which has become difficult enough, you just shut the way to any major business from wanting to come here.”
General Electric’s decision not to move its international headquarters to New Hampshire is a recent example, he said.
“We had an opportunity to bring GE’s international headquarters up to New Hampshire. They said no. Who could blame them when you have a governor making statements like that? So, what we need in this state is a governor that lives the policies every day,” he explained. He has that experience.
“I own and run Waterville Valley Resort. I’m the CEO but served many years as general manager. I have 700 employees, so when we’re talking about these business-driven policies — whether it’s over -regulation of state or business taxes — or lack of a long-term energy policy that affects us all — those are things we talk about in Concord, but I’m living those issues every day with my employees.”
“I can tell you exactly how Obamacare has impacted my business or how the high and volatile electricity rate has affected my business because I’m living these issues.”
The same principle applies to the second big issue – education, he said.
“I’m a dad. I’m a parent; I’m living these issues every day,” he said. “We can create all the well-intended policy we want; but if you don’t have someone in the corner office that understands on a first-hand basis what is going on; how it affects the quality of the curriculum in the classroom and how it affects the teachers out there, we’re probably missing the boat.
“We have lost our local control of education,” he said. “Washington is mandating so much of what happens to our kids. And local control is something we truly cherish. Local control is one of the great fundamentals we have here—local control and limited government.”
Turning to the third key issue, Sununu said more than 1,000 state residents have died due to substance-abuse. “That’s a thousand families completely torn apart by this issue. Tens of thousands more have drained their bank accounts and 401k’s trying to get help for loved ones. I’ve traveled the state. I have visited recovery center after recovery center,” and talked to individuals “sometimes for hours” to learn the causes.
Prescription drugs and “a lot of gateway drugs,” including alcohol, are part of the picture, he stated. “We need a very aggressive prevention program – programs that go after the workforce in a positive way.” As an employer, he’s once again a stakeholder. He has trained his managers to recognize symptoms of drug addiction.
“We want to keep these people employed,” he said. “We want to help them.” But “government does not have any silver bullet to solve this whole problem,” Sununu tells NH Journal. “It requires a culture change.” And individuals must step up. Otherwise, the young will continue “leaving the state in droves for better opportunities.”
Sununu faults Hassan for not dealing effectively with the epidemic and for putting politics before the public good.
“There’s nothing political about this crisis,” he said. But the “governor brought in our first drug czar, who did absolutely nothing – and didn’t even talk to people — for months,” Sununu said. He demanded the drug czar’s resignation.
“He finally resigned in disgrace in January,” explained Sununu, but the “governor did nothing.”
Then, when the state received a “$12 million grant to fight substance abuse,” a news outlet told Hassan’s office about the funding.
“The response was: ‘we don’t know anything about it,’” he said. “She’s been asleep at the wheel while people are dying. It’s just an unconscionable lack of leadership.” All of her appointments have been political, he also charged.
“That’s exactly what we don’t need,” he said. “That’s my biggest frustration.”
“We’re a great state, but good is not good enough. We are not where we used to be.” New Hampshire used to be New England’s top choice to run a business and raise a family.
“New Hampshire was where business wanted to come,” says Sununu. But now, “we’re looking to Massachusetts” for leadership and the demographics have changed. The young are leaving; the state is home to “more senior citizens on fixed incomes,” but the services they need require the “underpinnings of a viable economy,” he added.
“I have the experience to drive the state forward,” he said. Though not a career politician, he has worked in the political arena for five years as member of the executive council.
Asked how he will win an office the Democrats have long controlled, he states he will rely on “old- fashioned campaigning;” talk to people and “find out the issues that are important to them.
“It’s going to be a good race,” he said. “I’m excited.”
Sununu did not support any candidate in the Primary and will support Donald Trump, the party’s nominee.
“People are frustrated — and rightly so, with politics,” he said. “That’s why Bernie Sanders does so well. It’s why Trump does so well.” These races are no longer about political party, he said.
“It’s more about change,” he said. Voters “don’t want the same old people in the same old positions doing the same old things.” By doing it the New Hampshire way — when we do it ourselves — that’s really what’s going to shake things up,” he said.
He aims to “push Washington out” and return to “New Hampshire people doing things the New Hampshire way.”
Shawn McCoy contributed to this report.