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Sununu glides to a fourth term as New Hampshire governor

Governor Chris Sununu speaks with people at his 2022 election night party in an arcade and bowling alley, as neon letters that read "PLAY ON" hang overhead.
Dan Tuohy
Gov. Chris Sununu gathered with supporters for a victory party at PiNZ Bowl in Portsmouth on Tuesday night.

Gov. Chris Sununu cruised to a rare fourth term as New Hampshire governor, defeating his Democratic challenger state Sen. Tom Sherman.

“Leadership is important, but it ain’t about us. It is not," Sununu said at a victory party Tuesday night. "I have got to represent 1.4 million people. And the best part of my job is that I get to be super selfish. My job is to put them first every single time.”

Sununu also cheered the "huge turnout" and voter participation seen across New Hampshire on Tuesday.

"These are the days we announce ourselves to the rest of America," he said. "This is why you have the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire. We’ve earned it. We’ve absolutely earned it."

Through the campaign, Sununu stressed fiscal management and what he called his steady stewardship of New Hampshire’s economy, as Sherman argued Sununu had “broken trust with New Hampshire” by signing a law that bans almost all abortions after 24 weeks.

Sununu is likely to head into his fourth term in the corner office with significant political momentum and a growing national profile, with the opportunity to expand on the conservative record he’s built over the past six years.

Find all of the AP's results for New Hampshire races up and down the ballot here.

Sununu has led New Hampshire during boom times and through the COVID pandemic. Throughout, he’s promoted himself as a “systems guy,” committed to reengineering government to empower individuals.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican from Newfields, at his election night party at PINZ Bowl in Portsmouth.
Dan Tuohy
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican from Newfields, at his election night party at PINZ Bowl in Portsmouth.

Tax cuts have been a Sununu priority since he first took office in 2017. He presided over serial reductions to business taxes, and also the phase out of the state’s 5% tax on interest and dividends. Should Republicans retain control in Concord, Sununu said more tax cuts — including a faster phase out of the interest and dividends tax — could be on the table.

Education policy is an area where Sununu and Republican legislative majorities have worked in concert and will likely continue to do so. The Education Freedom Accounts, a voucher-style school choice program targeting lower income families, has been a shared point of pride for Sununu and other State House Republicans: In a recent debate, Sununu praised the program that provides families with around $4,500 to spend on private parochial or home schooling, as “awesome.”

Sununu has also said he’s game to expand the program. Right now, it’s limited to families who make no more than 300% of the poverty level, which stands at about $83,000 for a family of four. Separate bills to raise the eligibility to 500% of poverty to do away with the income cap entirely have already been filed for the upcoming legislative session.

“I would be open to expanding it if lawmakers want to do that,” Sununu told reporters last week.

If Republicans end up holding a solid majority in Concord, such a bill would likely make it to Sununu’s desk.

Manchester Rep. Ross Berry, who helps direct the Committee to Elect House Republicans, said in addition to expanding the school choice program, State House Republicans would also look to put a Right-To-Work bill on Sununu’s desk. Such a bill, which has been passed in other states but repeatedly fallen short in New Hampshire, would limit the ability of private sector labor unions to charge membership fees.

With two legal challenges pending against the state’s school funding system, Sununu’s fourth term may also include something that’s bedeviled several predecessors: a major fight over school funding.

The challenges are familiar: how to equalize the financial burden for towns of lower property wealth, without increasing new state taxes to pay for education costs.

The latest lawsuits have been in the courts for some time, but Sununu has largely skirted direct involvement in school funding particulars. But that may change, depending on how the courts rule.

“The formula isn’t working, there is no doubt,” Sununu said when pressed on the issue at a debate held at New England College last month. “So let’s get together — the governor, the Legislature, the stakeholders, the school districts — and find a better formula.”

But funding isn’t the only thorny education issue Sununu could face. The debate of parental rights in the public school system is another.

Sununu’s veto threat last spring helped scuttle a Republican-backed bill that would have required schools to “promptly” inform parents about developments with their child, including “gender expression or identity.”

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, teachers and civil rights groups all opposed the bill on the grounds it would force schools to “out” LGTBQ+ and trans students to their parents. They argued doing so could put some students in danger. But the bill had strong support among Republican leaders.

Expect that debate to be revisited in January.

Abortion rights, a topic Sununu debated throughout his race with Sherman, is another issue likely to be prominent in Concord in 2023.

Sununu supported adding new restrictions on abortion after 24 weeks as part of last year’s state budget bill.

Sununu likes to point out that when the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson ruling ended the constitutional right to abortion at the federal level, “nothing changed in New Hampshire.”

But that court decision inflamed activists on all sides of this issue, and anti-abortion Republicans in Concord are expected to push to further limit on reproductive rights. Democrats, meanwhile, will push to codify abortion protections in state law.

Sununu has said he would block further limits on abortion; would sign a law codifying Roe; and would add rape and incest exceptions; and would strip criminal penalties for doctors who violate the state’s current 24-week ban.

Republican House leaders have said they have no plans to further limit abortion rights, and Republicans who oppose further limits believe a coalition exists to block more restrictions. But if voters send enough social conservatives to Concord in the next Legislature, it’s conceivable a bill including new abortion limits could reach Sununu’s desk.

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Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.

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