Gov. Chris Sununu says he isn’t bothered by the sudden surge of Democratic attacks on his coronavirus policies and they aren’t going to stop him from distributing federal relief funds when are where they are needed.
“If you want to take shots at me, go right ahead,” Sununu said at Tuesday’s COVID-19 press conference. “I’ve got big shoulders. I can take it.”
Sununu was responding to a question from NHJournal about the apparently coordinated attacks from New Hampshire Democrats over his decision to create an advisory committee to dole out the $1.25 billion in federal emergency coronavirus funding rather than seek the approval of the legislature’s Fiscal Committee. Democrats like state party chair Ray Buckley and the party’s two gubernatorial candidates, state Sen. Dan Feltes and Executive Councilor Andu Volinsky, are accusing Sununu of abusing his authority. Phrases like “power grab,” “slush fund” and “king” are part of the Democrats’ anti-Sununu message.
And the Democratic Governor’s Association launched a controversial new ad Monday featuring the phrase “Sununu Flu,” an apparent attempt to link the Republican governor to the deadly virus that has claimed at least 27 lives in the Granite State.
“When it comes to people who want to take political shots — for some reason the last couple of days folks are coming out of the woodwork — I don’t care, I gotta be very blunt about it,” Sununu said. “There’s not a single decision we’ve made that isn’t incredibly difficult, and there isn’t a single decision we’ve made with politics in mind.”
On Monday, Democratic legislative leaders went to court seeking an injunction stopping Sununu from spending the federal funds — which aren’t expected to arrive until the end of the month — without going through the Fiscal Committee, which has a Democratic majority.
Sununu insists that if their legal challenge is successful, Democrats will have stopped the flow of dollars to Granite Staters in need. For example, Sununu announced Tuesday that the state will pay a weekly $300 stipend to frontline healthcare workers at long-term care facilities. But, Sununu warned, “if this injunction, if this lawsuit of theirs goes through, it all stops and everything slows down,” Sununu said. “We can’t release funds quickly. We can’t give people the help they need.”
Democrats reject this argument, insisting the Fiscal Committee has the flexibility to act quickly when necessary.
“The Joint Fiscal Committee has always been central to accepting and expending federal funds during emergencies – including under Governor Benson during the 2003 floods and Governor Lynch during the Great Recession. The Fiscal Committee has always acted quickly and judiciously,” state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro said in a statement.
A group of Democratic legislators published a joint op-ed in the Concord Monitor accusing Sununu of “trying to hide behind emergency powers but Sununu’s scheme violates the New Hampshire Constitution.”
“Sununu’s scheme is irresponsible and could delay funding to Granite Staters who need it. The Fiscal Committee is already established. It’s experienced at accepting and expending funds during emergencies like this one, and it is the fastest vehicle for getting communities across the state the funding they need,” the wrote.
And the New Hampshire Democratic Party has posted a petition online in support of the party’s legal efforts against Sununu. “Instead of abiding by the constitution, Sununu is wasting precious time trying to give his office sole authority over the distribution of federal COVID-19 funds. This move is irresponsible, unaccountable, and illegal,” the petition reads. “Sign this petition to stop Sununu’s illegal power grab in the midst of this pandemic, and to make sure the relief funds get to where they need to go as quickly as possible!”
Sununu shows no sign of backing down.
“We’ve got a mission to accomplish, and we are way for away from the end of that road. We’re just going to put our heads down and get the job done.”