GOFFSTOWN, N.H. – New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu and State Senator Tom Sherman squared off in a showdown of policy jujitsu and philosophical street fighting on Monday morning during a gubernatorial debate at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, hosted by the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
In a sight that may be foreign to followers of modern-day national politics, the two candidates for the highest executive office in New Hampshire state government often agreed with each other over the approximately hour-long debate. However, that agreement was tempered by both men in saying that the other had not gone far enough in support of that idea, or was approaching that idea in the wrong way, taking credit for the other’s idea, or challenging the other for taking credit when it was not deserved.
The tone came in part from Sununu’s signature down-to-earth and solution-based outlook.
Sununu often deflects connections to Republican extremism by focusing on efforts to work with moderate elements of both parties during periods where Democrats and Republicans alternated control of the state legislature while he held his office. He also praised Democratic State Senator Donna Soucy of Manchester at one point in regard to efforts to provide increased dental insurance coverage for Granite Staters.
Sununu also refused to engage with Sherman’s attempts to connect Sununu with Republican legislators opposed to expanding Medicaid coverage for New Hampshire residents or opposed to the concept of Medicaid altogether, referring to the claim as nonsense.
Sherman aimed to connect Sununu with extremist Republican elements by Sununu’s refusal to veto the state budget in 2021 that included measures supported by the Republican base such as abortion limitations.
While Sununu praised Soucy and even occasionally supported Sherman’s ideas, such as the importance of workforce housing and the importance of community colleges, Sununu indirectly attacked the Biden Administration’s efforts to address inflation, stating that a recession will be forced upon the states once federal aid inevitably dries up. He also attacked the U.S. Treasury Department’s announcement that New Hampshire will no longer be eligible for federal rental aid assistance, calling the Treasury “a mess” and stating that U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen should resign.
On the issue of federal rental aid assistance, Sherman saw Sununu’s claims as one of several instances of grandstanding taking the place of what needed to be done, with Sununu’s inaction rather than the Treasury Department as the primary reason for the loss of the federal funding.
Sherman also said that Sununu did not do enough to support childcare providers needed for working families beyond aid given during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and his lack of action on pursuing renewable energy sources compared to nearby states and other initiatives such as housing weatherization that could lower energy costs.
Sununu cautioned against an over-emphasis on renewable energy and a lack of emphasis on natural gas, which in turn would cause market disruptions. He also attacked Sherman on his opposition to the Northern Pass energy transmission line proposals, with Sherman, in turn, stating that Northern Pass focused on the energy needs of Massachusetts and Connecticut rather than New Hampshire and other states and saying that states that have pursued more aggressive renewable energy portfolios.
Sherman also attacked Sununu on a lack of action regarding paid family leave coverage, with Sununu defending efforts by his administration to create voluntary programs that cost nothing to those who don’t opt-in.
The two closed the debate by re-emphasizing the themes they repeated over the course of the event, and perhaps the themes one would expect an incumbent and a challenger would approach in any election.
For Sununu, the closing message revolved around positivity, bookending a message at the beginning of the debate that state government should attempt limit government frameworks that stifle New Hampshire residents with undue bureaucracy.
“This state’s rocking it, it really is. We have challenges, but at the end of the day, we’re taking them head on, this is the place to be, we are the envy of 49 other states. We’re not kind of good, kind of average, we’re literally the envy of 49 other states,” said Sununu. “We have one of the best public education systems, one of the lowest poverty rates, one of the lowest unemployment rates, some of the highest wages in the country, some of the highest economic growth in the country, that’s why we’re the fastest growing states in the Northeast and that’s super cool.
Meanwhile, Sherman said he is running to help businesses lacking infrastructure support, the state’s homeless population, senior citizens facing higher energy costs and property taxes and others while Sununu has either done little, taken undue credit or been a tool of the far right, going as far to call his approach “chaotic.”
“He’s not focused on New Hampshire, he’s focused on what the extremists want him to do in the legislature,” Sherman said of Sununu, specifically referring to Republican actions on abortion access and state aid for private schools. “He’s taking a victory lap before we even have plans in place.”