After days of Democratic demands to make the decision, Gov. Chris Sununu announced Thursday that he will follow the lead of other New England states and issue a “Stay-at-Home” order for New Hampshire.
“Today, I announced that the State of New Hampshire will be issuing a Stay-at-Home order, directing all non-essential businesses that have not already voluntarily closed to end in-person and public-interacting operations by 11:59 p.m. tomorrow, March 27, 2020,” Sununu said at an afternoon news briefing. A full list of “essential” businesses will be released on Friday, the governor said.
While repeatedly reiterating that he was not issuing a “Shelter-in-Place” order — something no state has done — Sununu made it clear that he wants New Hampshire residents to remain at home.
“We can’t stress this enough — you should stay at your house unless absolutely necessary. Of course, we won’t prevent you from leaving your home to go for a walk, or when heading to the store for groceries, or going to an essential job. But beyond essential necessities, you should not be leaving home.”
Sununu had been under tremendous pressure from Granite State Democrats to take this step. On Monday, the two Democrats running to replace him — State Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes and Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky — both called on Sununu to issue a stay-at-home edict. On Wednesday, 200 Democratic members of the N.H. House of Representatives released a letter urging the same.
For days, rumors had swirled in New Hampshire political circles that Sununu was considering such a move — including a discussion among the governor’s top staff last Friday. (Sununu’s spokesperson denies any such discussion occurred). Now that he’s made the call, Democrats are praising Sununu while the GOP’s reaction has been muted.
“I’m glad the calls of medical providers, law enforcement, firefighters, and others have finally been heard and a Stay-at-Home directive has been issued,” Sen. Feltes told NHJournal. “This is an important step to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and help those on the front lines.”
“This is the right decision to protect public health, and I’m glad Gov. Sununu made this call,” Rep. Chris Pappas tweeted. “It won’t be easy, but we must take extraordinary steps to stop the spread of coronavirus and keep New Hampshire safe.”
But Jim Roche, president of the Business and Industry Association, was more circumspect. “BIA is not able to say if this is the right move. We don’t have the information and resources that Governor Sununu has to make that call,” he told NHJournal.
“Given the governor’s order, we’re most concerned about how the state is defining ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ businesses. For our members — leading employers in every corner of the state — that’s where the rubber meets the road.”
For some libertarian-leaning Republicans, the rubber and road meet at enforcement. None wanted to speak on the record, but they aren’t thrilled with the governor’s call. “If people start getting fined for a walk in the park, it’s going to be a problem,” one told NHJournal.
Sununu insists that’s not going to happen. “We’re not calling out the National Guard to force people back into their homes,” he said.
Other Republicans see political problems for Sununu and his party ahead. “I’m so distraught,” one Republican activist told NHJournal. “The economy is toast. Of course, Democrats are praising him. We’re headed to 20 percent unemployment, and now they actually have a chance at beating him.”
Perhaps not. According to a new ARG poll, Sununu’s approval rating has jumped nine points since December, from 53 to 62 percent, including 50 percent approval among New Hampshire Democrats.
“When you do the right thing, and this clearly is the right thing, the politics take care of themselves,” veteran GOP strategist Tom Rath told NHJournal. “This is as tough a moment as I can remember a New Hampshire Governor ever having to face. Chris Sununu is serving in the way a Governor should. He is making a tough decision and making it himself regardless of the political consequences.”
But there are consequences, particularly for the economy. With new weekly unemployment claims jumping from 500 to 41,000 in a matter of days, Granite Staters are worried about the future. Sununu’s message to them:
“There is an endgame. It’s going to be a long haul, it’s going to be a very tough journey, but we’re going to get through it.”