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Dave Solomon's State House Dome: Sununu swears off a future run for Congress, Senate

January 28. 2018 3:20AM
Gov. Chris Sununu at work in his State House office (Dave Solomon/Union Leader)

As Gov. Chris Sununu prepares for his State of State address, scheduled for Feb. 15 in Representatives Hall, it's obvious that he has enjoyed his first year as governor. He also made it clear in an interview with the Union Leader that his political ambitions stop in Concord.

The success he's enjoyed so far, as evidenced by high popularity among Republicans and Democrats, has not changed his previously stated aversion to seeking federal office.

"My thinking on that has not changed one bit. I don't foresee that," he said. "My focus is on the state of New Hampshire."

Sununu likes calling the shots, and can't see himself relegated to the legislative role as U.S. senator or congressman.

"As someone who is in business here, has a family here, I understand that my job as governor can really create some positive change in people's lives," he said. "I don't see me as being able to have that kind of effect as a senator or congressman. I think it would be a massive letdown, frankly, to move on to that. It might be politically advantageous to some, but that's not my interest."

He said his upcoming speech would be a look backward and forward, focusing on the legislative and policy initiatives of the past year, and next steps in each case, including school choice, mental health initiatives and a constitutional amendment known as Marsy's Law.

"It's important for people to realize the successes we've had in 2017, but those success are important because you need to build on them," he said. "Look at the significant steps we took in mental health. Now we are getting some data back, which is going to help us decide the next steps."

Expect a major push for Marsy's Law in the speech.

"It's going to be a real pinnacle for us, in terms of promoting it and hopefully getting the votes to support it, not just in the State House, but across the state in November.

"That really only comes into play because we set the table with some of the bills we passed in 2017," he said.

Sununu threw his support behind efforts to guarantee transgender civil rights protections in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Rep. Ed Butler, D-Hart's Location, was the lead sponsor on a similar bill that was tabled last year. He's back with a new bill, HB 1319, with 15 co-sponsors, including 12 Republicans (nine reps and three senators).

Faith leaders, women's and anti-violence advocates, legislators, transgender people and their families are planning a rally on Wednesday at the Legislative Office Building just ahead of a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Butler's bill.

Gender identity is at issue in at least three bills now before the Legislature. In addition to Butler's bill that would modify the state's civil rights statutes, there's a bill to ban the use of Medicaid money for sex change surgery and another to ban conversion therapy.

Sununu said he opposes conversion therapy, the practice of trying to change an individual's sexual orientation using psychological or spiritual interventions. "I don't believe in it," he said. "So I'm curious to see if that bill will move forward," hinting that he has a signature pen in hand.

The legislative committee that controls administrative rules recently approved a rules change that allows the Department of Health and Human Services to include sex reassignment surgery as a procedure covered by Medicaid when medically necessary, and Sununu says, "I'm supportive of the rules the Legislature moved forward."

When it comes to adding gender identity to the state's civil rights statutes, Sununu said he is ready.

"I haven't seen the final bill, so I don't want to be too committal," he said, "But yes, I'm inclined to move forward with it."

Proponents of legal marijuana, however, will have to wait at least another year. A legalization bill passed the House, and if by some chance it gets through the Senate, it will die on Sununu's desk.

"This year is not the right time," he said. "If things change and we start making some inroads in the opioid crisis, and we start to understand how other states are regulating it, all that information will come into play in terms of whether it's appropriate down the road."

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