In a philosophical inaugural address Thursday, Gov. Chris Sununu called on state residents to embrace community responsibility in an era emphasizing personal freedom.
He said the state’s “Live Free or Die” is not only about personal freedom, but also about caring for neighbors and communities.
The call for shared responsibility comes as the state faces record daily deaths, hospitalizations, and new cases of the coronavirus and a growing backlash after he issued a mask mandate in November.
Sununu, who is in his third term as governor, delivered the 30-minute speech without an audience after he cancelled the planned ceremony in front of the State House because of safety concerns he had for himself, his family and the public.
Protesters have picketed his home after the mask mandate and last week, an armed protester was arrested near his home. On Tuesday he said the threats to him and his family have escalated.
He urged people to look in the mirror and said the pandemic provides opportunity for people to make positive change.
The governor acknowledged 2020 has been an extremely challenging year with the pandemic that has led to lost family members, lost jobs and economic and emotional struggles.
“2021 will not be better simply because we want it to be. 2021 will not be better only because we wish it to be,” Sununu said. “2021 will only be better if we are willing to look in the mirror and first initiate that change within ourselves.”
He said people often become entrenched in their own political beliefs and use those beliefs to divide instead of remembering they are elected to serve the citizens.
“I believe we sometimes become so preoccupied in winning an argument that we are driven to the false security of political validation via our political party or elected leaders,” Sununu said. “And we use those entities as our line in the sand. There is a tendency to show too much deference and wrongly believe those individuals are infallible…Let’s remember we are elected to serve those we represent, not the other way around.”
He spoke of the pro-Trump mob that violently overran the nation’s Capitol Building the day before and urged everyone to turn down the rhetoric to find common ground instead of differences.
He said the growing tensions throughout American culture now is nothing new, separating rich from poor, or different faiths or Democrats and Republicans.
He turned to the state’s motto as if addressing the people in and out of state government who refuse to wear masks as the pandemic worsens – including about 90 members of the House who on Organization Day in December when Dick Hinch was elected House Speaker only to die a week later from COVID-19. At least three other House members, a state senator and legislative and Sununu staff members have recently had the disease.
“Some hide behind our Live Free or Die motto to justify actions and promote an agenda of discord. They use it to defend their unwillingness to make sacrifices for the good of our communities. That is not what General John Stark envisioned when he spoke those perpetual words…Live Free or Die might take on a subtly different meaning for all of us, but in general I believe many agree that it ties New Hampshire to the fundamentals of low taxes, limited government and local control,” Sununu said. “Yes, we treasure our Live Free or Die culture, but not at the expense of being a good and responsible neighbor. Even though it is not written on a license plate, the New Hampshire I grew up in always put others first.”
He said the pandemic has produced many heroes from doctors and nurses, to first responders and family members.
He cited two people who went above and beyond and said that is what is needed from everyone as the state continues to face very significant challenges from the pandemic.
“It is the New Hampshire way to join together within our communities and not let politics or prejudice divide us,” Sununu said. “It is in that effort that we as citizens can become more reliant on one another for solutions and less on the often inefficient approach of government.”
The state’s motto comes with the obligation to put politics and prejudices aside to ensure family and neighbors are supported. “When our side doesn’t win, it doesn’t mean there’s a conspiracy or the world is out to get us…. And we mustn’t let COVID or politics rob us of our passion for neighborliness,” he said. “The consistent cynical belief in an overwhelming public corruption at every turn results in a lasting damage to the public conscience as a whole. It tears at the fabric of the Live Free or Die spirit. 2020 has unfortunately shown that there are individuals that take a bit of pride out of such cynicism.”
Sununu quoted from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address saying “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
“It is well within our ability to live to those standards. They aren’t lofty or unreasonable. They’re human,” he said. “It only takes the will of our hearts to make it happen.”
He spoke briefly of policies he wants to focus on during the next two years: workforce housing, student debt assistance, government efficiency, rebuilding the economy by cutting taxes and adding jobs, maintaining and expanding the state’s education system and a paid family and medical leave program “without an income tax.” Sununu vetoed two family leave bills in the last two years, claiming they were funded by an income tax, but proponents said it was similar to an insurance premium payment.
“The greatest policies in the world simply will stall and be left as nothing more than words on a forgotten page if we cannot resolve how to move forward with, and be inspired to accept, that we each have a role to play that is bigger than ourselves,” Sununu said.
“We are at the precipice of a paradigm shift. We each have the opportunity to live with independence and freedom, while fiercely fighting for the best interests of our neighbors, our state and our country,” he said. “Let’s not waste this chance. As we often do, let New Hampshire lead the way.”
During his last term, Democrats controlled the House, Senate and Executive Council, and Sununu set records for the number of bills he vetoed.
The Executive Council also blocked his choice for state Supreme Court Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald. Earlier in the day, with a Republican controlled Executive Council, he renominated MacDonald for the post.
Sununu easily won his third term in November’s election defeating former Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes of Concord.
Sununu was the leading vote getter in the general election, breaking a record for a gubernatorial race.
Sununu, who served three terms on the Executive Council before running for governor in 2016, lives in Newfields with his wife and children.
His father John H. Sununu was New Hampshire’s governor for three terms from 1982 until 1988.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.