By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Gov. Chris Sununu’s office cancelled his regular news conference on Thursday setting off speculation about why he would not provide a COVID-19 update or take questions from the media with his regular audience tuning in on WMUR.
Sununu’s office gave no reason for cancelling the regular press availability, but said the next conference would be next Tuesday. Since March, Sununu has consistently offered multiple briefings each week.
At Tuesday’s briefing, a small group of protesters held placards opposed to President Donald Trumps rally in Portsmouth on Saturday outside the emergency operations center where the press conferences are held. And the regular contingent of questioners from state and local publications was joined by members of the national media by phone for the first time.
They peppered Sununu with questions about the President’s campaign rally.
Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, who is facing state Sen. Dan Feltes in the Democratic primary to run against Sununu, criticized Sununu for not holding a press briefing.
“Sununu should stop hiding. He should make clear Trump is not welcome and that with the ongoing public health crisis, New Hampshire should not be used as a photo op,” Volinsky said.
Sununu has said he will wear a face covering and greet the President when he arrives, but said he will not attend the rally.
The Trump re-election campaign is hosting a “Make America Great Again!” rally similar to recent ones at Mount Rushmore and in Tulsa, Okla. This one is planned at the former Pease Air Base in Portsmouth at 8 p.m. Saturday.
With cases of the highly transmissible respiratory virus COVID-19 spiking in a number of states, the debate has grown more intense about whether it should be held or if Sununu should mandate masks be worn.
Sen. Feltes of Concord said, “Gov. Sununu is willing to keep himself safe but won’t keep Granite Staters safe. He refused to impose any conditions on the Trump rally even with clear evidence that the rally in Tulsa led to a surge and now he is refusing to answer questions about his decision making. His failure to take any action is a risk to the health and safety of Granite Staters.”
Emma Sands, Feltes’ Communications Director, noted that in not having a press conference Thursday, Sununu avoided questions on legislation that is either headed to or already on his desk for him to sign or veto.
She said Sununu has a history of vetoing legislation on Friday afternoons “to avoid press coverage.”
“He has in the past vetoed paid family medical leave and during recent press conferences said he would ‘err on the side of veto’ over the other legislation,” she wrote in an email.
Portsmouth officials say they have been asked by residents to make masks mandatory for the event but neither Sununu nor the city council has agreed to such a requirement.
Sununu said he will not attend the rally where thousands are expected out of concern for his health but will greet the nation’s commander in chief wearing a face mask, and has urged but not required, attendees to do the same.
Fellow Republican gubernatorial candidate Karen Testerman said she found it unusual Sununu would cancel Thursday’s press conference and that Sununu would greet President Trump, but not introduce him at the rally in Portsmouth.
“It’s surprising that he really wants to distance himself from the President,” Testerman said. “Why would he not want to be gracious and hospitable to the President of the United States. I would think it would be an honor to introduce him. It’s not every day you get the President to come to the state.”
Testerman said she didn’t know why Sununu canceled the press conference but said it was unusual because he has been so consistent holding them for the COVID-19 updates.