By John Celock
Pledging a customer service oriented government; Republican Chris Sununu was sworn-in as the 82nd governor of New Hampshire Thursday.
Sununu used his inaugural address to outline a government focused on customer service, along with pledging new solutions to the state’s heroin and opioid crisis, school choice, right to work, decreased regulation and a greater focus on economic development. Sununu succeeds Democrat Maggie Hassan, who did not seek a third term as governor in order to successfully seek a seat in the U.S. Senate. State Senate President Chuck Morse (R-Salem) had served 60 hours this week as the state’s acting governor, since Hassan stepped down Tuesday morning to take her Senate seat.
“If there is anything we take out of this speech it is customer service,” Sununu said in his inaugural address. “We can have the best programs in Concord but if the individual in their homes and they cannot integrate with us and know those opportunities, we are doing that person a disservice. It is about customer service and the individual.”
Sununu, the nation’s youngest governor at 42, said that part of his economic program will be to pass a right to work law in the state. A popular program among Republican governors and lawmakers, the plan would allow employees to opt out of labor unions. It has been a priority for the Republican-controlled New Hampshire Legislature, but was opposed by Hassan.
Sununu outlined several other conservative staples, including promoting school choice in the state. He said that he wants parents in the state to have the “ultimate choice” on where to send their children to school, regardless of the parent’s income level. He also said that he wants to provide increased flexibility to teachers to decide what and how to teach in their classrooms.
Noting his background in engineering, Sununu said that he wanted to focus on re-engineering state government and if need be the education system. He said that solutions for decades ago in government or in schools may not be the best practice for the present time and that the state may need to take it apart and examine what works and what doesn’t work.
Sununu also said the state’s foster care system is a priority, including reducing the caseload for social workers and protecting children in the state’s care. He also said that he wants to work to support police officers and firefighters around New Hampshire.
“They need to know that no matter what we have their back every time,” he said.
Sununu spent much of his speech addressing the state’s heroin and opioid crisis, which has dominated the agenda in Concord for the last two years. He said that the state has been moving in the right direction in previous years but that there more to be done. He said that he wants to focus on educating parents around the state about the crisis and the warning signs, noting that the current crisis is not like the drug epidemic in the1980s.
Sununu said that the state would also need to put in place aggressive drug prevention programs in schools and needed more beds for women’s recovery programs.
“We have to be smarter about it. We have to educate ourselves. We have a lot of opportunity in the recovery program,” he said. “This state has made great leaps and bounds in the last two years in the rehabilitation program.”
Sununu comes to the governorship after six years on the state’s Executive Council, a board that oversees government management, contracts and gubernatorial nominations. The son of former Gov. John Sununu (R) and brother of former U.S. Sen. John Sununu (R), he captured the governorship in November, defeating Democrat Colin Van Ostern for the post. Sununu has been the chief executive of a ski resort prior to becoming governor.
Sununu is the first Republican governor of New Hampshire since Republican Craig Benson left office 12 years ago.
Sununu touched on his business background by saying that the state needed to be more focused on the long term. Noting the state’s two year terms for all lawmakers and the governor, he said that longer-term thinking is needed.
“We have to change the mindset in this state. We need long term planning and thinking,” Sununu said. “In terms of business, not what we’ll do for business in two or four years, but five, ten years down the road.”