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In Third Inaugural Address, Sununu Urges Positivity, Community

Governor Sununu photo
Pool photo: Dave Lane / Union Leader
Gov. Chris Sununu takes the oath of office for his third term, from Supreme Court Justice Gary Hicks, Jan. 7, 2021.

Gov. Chris Sununu was inaugurated for his third term Thursday, taking the oath of office in a closed-door ceremony and delivering his inaugural address via YouTube rather than before a live audience.

The unusual private events, on a day normally full of political pomp, were prompted by both public health and safety concerns. Sununu, a Republican from Newfields, had scrapped a planned outdoor ceremony, citing what he called increasingly aggressive protestors who have targeted him in recent weeks over his pandemic state of emergency declarations.

(Read or listen to Sununu's speech here.)

Sununu's 30-minute speech was tightly scripted – a rarity for him – and it repeatedly returned to the state's "Live Free or Die" motto as a metaphor for themes of community and cooperation. He highlighted his administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic, but also said that, in order for things to improve in New Hampshire and the country, all must self-reflect.

"2021 will not be better simply because we want it to be,” Sununu said. “It's not going to be better simply because we wish it to be. 2021 will only be better if we are willing to look in that mirror and first initiate the change within ourselves."

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The speech was laced with the language of self-improvement and spirituality, and was relatively light on any specific agenda for the coming year. Rather, Sununu repeatedly used the address to sketch an upbeat vision rooted in community and self-improvement.

“We have to be transformational in our approach,” he said. “To remain stuck in our own ways and comfort zones is not logical. It is that act of looking in the mirror and having an honest conversation about our own role in building a more positive atmosphere for the next generation -- that is what will lead us to the next step. Our growth, evolution and development can only start within our own hearts and minds.”

Sununu's speech touched lightly on a handful of policy goals: affordable housing, lower prescription drug costs, a paid family leave program, and reducing inequities in education funding. He also declined to directly weigh in on the mob of President Trump supporters who invaded the U.S. Capitol earlier this week. Fellow New England Republican governors Phil Scott of Vermont and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts have called for Trump to be removed from office for his role in inciting that violence.

But Sununu did warn against what he called endowing political leaders with “cult-like status.”

“And we use those entities as our line in the sand,” he said. “There is a tendency to show too much deference and wrongly believe those individuals are infallible. Almost as if they aren’t people, but deities.”

Earlier in the day, more than 100 people gathered outside the State House to protest Sununu's COVID-19 restrictions. The demonstrators spanned local far right groups: Members of the Free State Project were there, as were people who identified themselves as belonging to the white supremacist group the Proud Boys.

Andrew Manuse, the chairman of ReopenNH, a group that has repeatedly called for the lifting of the state of emergency and the statewide mask mandate, told the crowd that the fight for personal liberty will be won when citizens exercise their natural rights.

"It is unlawful to obey government against the law of God, and there is nothing more I need to say,” Manuse said.

State and local police were on hand to monitor the protest, which was spirited by peaceful.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.

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