Newsletter and Subscription Sign Up

Gov. Sununu Addresses NH’s Challenges During Speech to Seacoast Business Community

Published Tuesday Mar 12, 2024

Author Scott Merrill, Staff Writer

Ben VanCamp, chief collaborator and president of the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce, and Governor Chris Sununu at the chamber's "State of the State 2024" event in Rye. (Photo: Scott Merrill)

Gov. Chris Sununu made the case that the state is in “really good shape” despite continuing crises on several fronts during his “State of the State” address to members of the Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth at a breakfast event on March 12 at the Atlantic Grill in Rye.

Sununu spent a big chunk of time speaking about the state’s mental health crisis, the need for more affordable housing, LGBTQ issues and education.

Affordable Housing

Will Arvelo, executive director of Crossroads House, a transitional shelter in Portsmouth, asked the governor about incentives provided to municipalities in 2023 intended to loosen zoning restrictions and whether they’re working. “A lot of small rural communities don’t want workforce housing and I don’t believe the state should be forcing towns to do x, y, or z. I believe in incentives,” Sununu answered, conceding that the state’s use of Invest NH funds to provide municipalities with $10,000 per unit of workforce housing built in their towns and cities hasn’t worked as well as he thought it would.

In an interview, Arvelo said he was disappointed to hear municipalities weren’t more receptive to the state’s incentives. “I thought [Sununu] might say it’s not perfect but there’s some success,” he said. “To have a strong economy we need housing for young families and their children. This is ultimately an economic issue and an issue of fairness.”

When Sununu was asked by Portsmouth City Councilor Beth Moreau whether Portsmouth would be receiving more money for its Community Housing Navigator program awarded in 2022 to help expand the supply of housing, Sununu said bluntly, “not really.”

“If there's opportunity to continue to fund … it' will really be through the more traditional way … it'll be more traditional through New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority,” Sununu said.

Mental Health Crisis

Addressing the state’s mental health crisis and shortage of providers, Sununu said spending money on the broken system he encountered in 2017 would have been the wrong direction. He commended the state’s purchase of Hampstead Hospital to provide mental health care for children, investments in mobile crisis units and the placement of the mental health and suicide hotline on the back of student IDs. 

“It’s all about the results and too often politicians get too much credit just for putting money into something. They should only get credit when they deliver results,” he said, explaining that identifying and reaching people with the strongest needs has been a priority.

Sununu lambasted hospitals across the state for their treatment of people struggling with mental health challenges. “I don’t want the headline to read I’m tearing into hospitals but when it comes to mental health, the hospitals are shameful, absolutely shameful,” he said. “They’ve made it very clear that if you’re having a mental health issue, having a crisis, and you go to the ER, you have to be out of there in 24 hours. That’s awful.”

LGBTQ and Education

Bill Blum of Pride Toolbox, a home repair business, asked for Sununu to comment on how NH’s businesses and public spaces can continue to be a safe and welcoming space for marginalized community members.

Sununu said the state does “really well” with the LGBTQ community. “If you’re waiting for government to solve a cultural or community or a societal problem, stop. There’s no law that you’re going to pass to make everyone in the LGBTQ community feel welcome,” he said, but added he was also not in favor of people’s call for bans related to issues and ideas that they disagree with. “I don’t like banning things. Because it’s not about saying ‘no’ all the time, it’s about saying, ‘Look, as a business you do you. As a community, you do you.’”

One Rye resident, who said he worked in schools for 15 years and whose wife is a teacher in Rye, was concerned about not being able to talk about certain issues in school.

“What can you not say in a school that you could say before?” Sununu asked. “My big thing is discrimination. Right? It should be a no brainer. You can’t tell a white kid that he should feel guilty about being white, you can’t tell a black kid he has a propensity for racism, can’t tell an Arab kid that he comes from a bunch of terrorists.”

Lessons Learned and the Presidential Election

Asked what comes after he leaves the Statehouse, Sununu said, “I’m not out of here yet. I have a lot more to do.”

“I’ll probably get back into business,” he continued. “I’d like to make some money. Environmental engineering was great, but it didn’t pay the bills.” Sununu said running Waterville Valley Holdings, a ski resort, was great but “really didn’t pay the bills.”

Speaking about his leadership style, Sununu said he ignores “socialists on the left and the extreme loonies on the right.”

Sununu said leaders need to be the most disciplined during the good times to avoid raising taxes and ending up in a deficit. “The antithesis of New Hampshire is California. Gavin Newsome has a $100 billion deficit just this year. You go to LA or go to San Francisco it will literally bring you to tears. Tragedy. Let’s not go there. It takes discipline. Smart investments.”

As for next year’s Presidential election, Sununu, who supported presidential candidate Niki Haley, said, “The stage is set. … I think there’s a 30 percent chance Biden’s not the nominee. His health is too bad. We’ll see where it all goes.”


All Stories