New Governor Meets Constituents, and Their Concerns, on Inauguration Day

Jan 5, 2017

Valerie and Chris Sununu with Maggie O'Neil
Credit Allegra Boverman / NHPR

It’s tradition in New Hampshire for the new Governor to meet and greet his constituents following the inauguration. The reception line lets voters come face to face, if only for a moment, with the state’s next chief executive.

Most New Hampshire residents will never meet their governor. But on Inauguration Day, after the swearing in and the speech, the pomp and ceremony, the newly minted governor grants an audience to anyone willing to wait in line.

"We’re in a really nice – I would call it a hall, not a room, actually – and a lot of paintings of old people, and everyone’s in suits, even the ladies, and it’s a pretty formal shindig, I would say," O'Neil smiled, "and I’m waiting in line to see the new governor.'

Maggie O’Neil is standing at the tail end of a receiving line that trails out the door of the Governor’s reception room, on the second floor of the State House. She’s 25, and she just moved to Newmarket, New Hampshire with her husband, too late to vote in the local elections. But after Election Day, she felt the need to take a more hands-on approach to politics.

"And so," O'Neil explains, "a few friends of mine were like, you know what? This is the chance to go. So I said, okay, I’ll do it, and I’ll meet the new governor on his first day."

While Sununu’s family, friends, and fellow lawmakers roam the room, enjoying free food and a rare party at the State House, O’Neil is here to make a point.  

"I’m hoping he’s gonna commit to his campaign promises," says O'Neil, "you know, he really promised that he’s gonna defend women’s health care, and that’s incredibly important to me."

Attendees only get a minute or two with the governor, to shake hands and offer their congratulations or concerns, but O’Neil feels that showing up is half the battle.

"I think it’s important, really, really, to remind them and humanize ourselves and be more present even when it is intimidating. "

And O’Neil wasn’t to the only one today reminding the new governor of his task at hand. The halls outside of the House of Representatives were lined with protestors urging lawmakers to craft  what they called a moral budget, a preview of what’s to come for the new governor.

Sununu’s real work begins the moment the party ends, but the looming to-do list didn’t seem to dampen his outlook.

"We’re having a great day, we’re having a great time, there’s energy, there’s optimism, seeing lots of friends and family, supporters, Republican, Democrat, everyone’s coming together," the new governor beamed, "I think people are trying to get excited."

And with that, Sununu was ushered through the dwindling crowd to hold his first meeting as the Governor of New Hampshire.