Gov. Chris Sununu will be front and center as he presents his state budget Thursday. With Democrats running the State House, the political landscape has changed for Sununu.
Something that hasn’t changed, though, is a familiar voice in his ear, coming from advisor Paul Collins. And while Collins operates largely behind the scenes, his service to the Sununu family goes back decades.
Collins’s work in GOP politics has carried him from his hometown of Warner to the State House, to the White House, to the halls of Congress - and almost always at the side of a Sununu.
It started in the 1980s, when John H. Sununu was governor. Back then, Collins was a staffer, who followed Sununu to the White House to work for former then-President George H.W. Bush.
Starting in the 1990s, when John E. Sununu - son of the former governor and brother of the current governor - was elected to Congress and then U.S. Senate, Collins was there, too. Throughout, the 59-year-old Collins has earned a reputation as detail-oriented, and as a person of pronounced habit.
"I think he ate a tuna sandwich on rye almost every single day when I worked with him," said Neil Levesque, who directs St. Anselm College’s Institute of Politics and has crossed paths with Collins in New Hampshire GOP circles for decades. "But it’s just because he’s very methodical about the things he does and does them right.”
For Collins, doing it right means avoiding the limelight, including the media. Good luck finding a photo of Collins or a quote attributed to him in any newspaper. Collins took a pass on participating in this story.
And while he’s managed local campaigns in races ranging from the New Hampshire Senate to U.S. president, Collins’s political identity is defined by his service to the Sununu family.
“People think it's is kind of weird," said Dave Carney, a New Hampshire political consultant who's also worked for the Sununus. " 'You’ve been doing this for 30 years - what are you, some sort of serf, or renter in the manor house?' No, it's just that he has value that very few political people have; he has knowledge that is irreplaceable.”
But knowledge - whether it's knowing which political activists to trust or which levers to pull to help a constituent - is only part of it. There is also the sense shared by people who have worked with Collins that he is at once competent and devoid of ego.
“Paul Collins is not about advancing his own interests; he is there to serve, and he doesn’t ask anyone to do anything he wouldn’t do himself," said Ovide Lamontange, who hired Collins to run his 2012 race for governor. "He’d be cleaning the office, he’d be walking in parades with us, he’d be working the phones. He’d be doing everything that he’d expect the volunteers or staff members to do.”
Collins’s role for the current Gov. Sununu is to look beyond the day-to-day and carry out a larger strategy. His compensation reflects that role. Besides a $106,000 state salary - the highest of any Sununu staffer - he’s also collected an additional $150,000 since 2016, working on the governor’s political campaigns and inaugural committee.
And true to Collins’s reputation for detail, the coversheets for those finance reports have been hand-written in his own precise print.
All of which speaks to the trust the Sununu family has put in Collins' hands through the decades.
As then Gov.-elect Sununu indicated in 2016, Collins has been there for him for a very long time, even when he was just a boy, in crisis over a broken chocolate treat on the eve of the annual Easter egg hunt.
"I took money out of the allowance and Paul or somebody on the staff went out and had a new one by the next day, and all was good," Sununu said.
"Good for the Sununus," it seems, has always been good for Paul Collins.