Opinion: Sununu’s Record-Breaking Big Red Pen

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Rep. Marjorie Porter, D-Hillsborough

By Rep. Marjorie Porter, D-Hillsborough

I’m dating myself here, but when I was a little girl, I just loved to play school. And of course, I was the teacher. I made all the kids sit quietly and raise their hands, and I marked all their papers with my big red pen. I sure did love that red pen—it let everyone know I was THE boss!

Governor Sununu must be enjoying using his red pen, too. In a spirit of true bipartisanship, he has now vetoed more bills than any governor in recent history—38 so far. And I’m pretty sure there are more to come. He said early in the year, when it came to vetoes, fifty sounded like a good number. Yikes!

To be fair, this is the first time we’ve had a Republican holding the corner office and Democrats holding everything else. We’ve had the situation in reverse of course, under Governors Shaheen—all three terms!—and Lynch—his first and last terms—and Hassan. Obviously, the situation creates a challenge for the governor. How they meet the challenge is telling.

NHPR recently published a story about the record number of vetoes and created a NH Veto Tracker, available on their website–www.nhpr.org

It includes a graphic showing the number of bills each governor vetoed during each year of their terms. You’ll quickly see the number increased when the opposing party held the legislative majority—to 13 and 15 for Lynch, and 13 for Hassan.  (It’s interesting to note Governor Lynch did not veto the draconian budget passed by the Bill O’Brien Republicans, but rather let it become law without his signature.)

You can also quickly see how very unusual is Sununu’s use of that red pen. His 2019 red line goes up—and up—and up.

Although he promised to govern in a bipartisan way, the governor has not been shy when it comes to talking about the Democratic legislature. He’s on the record as saying we are “wacky,” that we have “really dumb ideas,” and that he will need “to shut stupid at the door,” among other nice things.

What he seems to be forgetting is Democrats won the majority in the House, the Senate, and the Executive Council because the people of New Hampshire liked these ideas. That’s what we ran on; that’s what people voted for.

In response to the NHPR article, the Governor tweeted “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.”

From that statement, one would assume all the bills he vetoed were sponsored only by Democrats and passed only with Democratic votes. But is that actually the case?

Our excellent staff did some research, and come to find out…

Of the thirty-eight bills vetoed so far, thirty-three passed with bipartisan support in the House or Senate, while only three were passed without Republican support.

And of the thirty-eight bills vetoed so far, thirteen had sponsors from both parties, four had only Republican sponsors, and twenty-one were sponsored only by Democrats.

In other words, 87% of the nixed bills were passed with Republican support. 45% were sponsored by Republicans.

Only FIVE were passed by those “extreme” Democrats alone.

Of course, one of the first bills vetoed was SB 1, the family and medical leave insurance bill. He had a lot of fun with that one.

The governor was a supporter of family leave insurance when he first ran and got elected in 2016. The program passed the Republican-controlled House three times that term too. Public support was—and is—running at around 80%. People are willing to pay a small insurance premium each paycheck if it means that paycheck will keep coming if they or a loved one becomes ill and needs care.

But suddenly, by some unknown magic, or maybe just alternative facts, a change occurred.  That insurance premium was renamed an “income tax” and of course, this being New Hampshire…

(I’m wondering now, are my car and house insurance premiums income taxes too?)

The governor’s veto message was cute. Not only did he call the insurance premium an income tax, he wrote gleefully, on the front of the bill folder itself, in big red pen ink, “NO INCOME TAX. NOT NOW! NOT EVER!”

And he made the news again by auctioning a framed copy of said message, along with the flags flying overhead when he signed it, at a Republican fundraiser earlier in the month. I understand there was uproarious laughter at the antics.

I took this one personally, Governor Sununu. It’s been twenty years since my first husband passed away, and I am still haunted by the fact I was at work, and not by his side, during his final conscious hours. I never got to say a true goodbye.

SB 1 would have prevented others from ever having to know that pain.

As I finish writing this, I’ve just learned of three more vetoes. We’re up to forty-one now.

The governor waited a few days before this last batch. Maybe he needed to buy a new red pen.

InDepthNH.org takes no position on political issues. The opinions expressed here belong to the writer.

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