CONCORD, NH – Attorney General John M. Formella says he is reviewing the facts and circumstances surrounding Wednesday’s canceling of the Executive Council meeting after chaos erupted caused by people opposed to vaccine mandates that frightened state employees into leaving.
Formella said in a news release that the investigation will focus on the “conduct of individuals at the (New Hampshire) Institute of Politics, the location where the Governor and Executive Council meeting was scheduled to occur.
“The scope of the review is to determine if any individuals violated any criminal laws,” Formella said.
Sununu’s spokesman Ben Vihstadt said the governor wasn’t aware of the investigation until it was made public.
“The governor supports their in-depth, independent review to ensure all laws were followed. Another meeting has already been scheduled for October 13. At that time the Executive Council will take up the contracts and nominations that were not addressed on Wednesday,” Vihstadt said.
But the state Democratic Party took Sununu to task for “downplaying” what happened while he appeared on talk radio.
The Party quoted Sununu saying, “nothing gets delayed, nothing slows down” because the meeting was canceled for safety reasons, but they say there are real-world consequences for Granite Staters.
By blocking the meeting, protesters blocked the Executive Council from approving opioid treatment for pregnant women and critical health care for children and the swearing-in of state Rep. Elect Catherine Rombeau, a Democrat. They pointed out this is the second time that the Executive Council has delayed approving federal funds to get more Granite Staters vaccinated at a time when New Hampshire’s vaccination rate is last in New England and continues to fall behind nationally.
Protesters wanted the council to kill two contracts totaling $27 million in federal funds for the state’s vaccine programs including an attempt to increase COVID-19 vaccinations among the state’s citizens which have stalled in the 56 percent range since May.
House Democratic leaders responded to a report that the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College will not hold public meetings following the fracus that some described as an insurrection Wednesday.
House Minority Leader Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, said he is the son of a Saint Anselm College graduate and a citizen.
“I am saddened by the announcement that the college won’t be holding public meetings. Today’s announcement shows the lasting impact that the unruly and dangerous behavior such as we saw yesterday can have on political discourse and our hallowed institutions.
“By coddling extremists even in the budget process, fanning flames with anti-vax State House rallies and continuing to allow a conspiracy theorist to lead the Finance and Fiscal Committees, the NH GOP has brought us to this day,” Cushing said.
Cushing said Granite Staters take pride in being politically engaged, exemplified by a long history of welcoming Presidential candidates and facilitating debates and discourse at the local, state, and federal level.
“Allowing for conspiracy theorists and extremists to endanger common-sense public health measures, halt the functioning of our government, and forcing institutions to close to political events out of safety concerns is the most harmful blow to the First in the Nation primary that we have seen,” Cushing said.
InDepthNH.org’s Garry Rayno reported that on Wednesday morning Sununu did not appear at the beginning of the Council meeting at Saint Anselm College, but later called the group “unruly and very aggressive” and said they crossed a line not seen before.
At a press conference later Wednesday, Sununu said there were a few individuals who were very aggressive and threatened state Health and Human Services employees and councilors, but there was no attempt to remove the individuals for fear of escalating the situation, Rayno reported.
At a public hearing on rules for the state’s vaccine registry, a similar disruption occurred earlier this month. The Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee meeting scheduled for Friday was also going to discuss the same contracts and was also postponed. Sununu is also canceling his Harvest Fest this Saturday in Walpole.
The disruption also postponed a public hearing scheduled Thursday for Manchester of the House and Senate redistricting committees. The committees are traveling to all 10 counties to hear public comments about the redrawing of the state’s political boundaries for Congress, Executive Council, Senate, House and some county commission districts.
The organizers of the protest plan a rally at the State House from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday.
A press conference several weeks ago called by the Republican House leadership to criticize Biden’s vaccine mandates, also was disrupted by protesters who wanted lawmakers and Sununu to do more to protect them from the mandates.
There are numerous bills proposed for the 2022 legislative session to prohibit vaccine and mask mandates for public and private entities.
InDepthNH.org’s State House bureau chief Garry Rayno contributed to this report.