- Associated Press - Friday, April 14, 2017

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Gov. Chris Sununu took office armed with a long list of priorities: tackle the drug crisis, lower energy costs, reform the child services agency, expand full-day kindergarten, tighten election laws and recruit new businesses to the state. He also pledged to fix the state’s mental health system.

But as the first-term Republican marks his 100th day in office Friday, many of his ambitious pledges are coming up against the reality of governing.

“These things will take time to bear results,” Sununu told The Associated Press this week. “You’re not going to see the home run tomorrow with a lot of this stuff, unfortunately.”

Some of Sununu’s priorities, like adding new money and state troopers to handle the opioid crisis, changing election laws and adding children services workers are making their way through the Legislature with favorable odds. But fellow Republican lawmakers have handed him defeats on right to work and funding for full-day kindergarten. Aside from continuing to advocate for the Northern Pass Project, he’s done little to expand renewable energy options or focus on lowering energy costs.

Still, he’s had early successes. School choice advocates cheered his appointment of Frank Edelblut to lead the Education Department, though many teachers were furious he selected a homeschooler with no professional background in public education. The legislature passed a concealed-carry bill he supported.



He pledged to meet with 100 out-of-state businesses during his first 100 days in office and says he has exceeded that goal. Democrats have hammered Sununu for not publicly releasing the names of companies he’s met with, but his team cites a need for confidentiality. He does, however, plan to publish a report on the meetings next week.

Sununu isn’t alone in facing early legislative challenges. His predecessor, Democrat Maggie Hassan, included $80 million in money from a non-existent casino in her first budget, hoping the Legislature would finally legalize casino gambling. It didn’t.

“I never had any presumptions that the Legislature was just going to do what the governor wanted,” Sununu said.

At 42, Sununu is the nation’s youngest governor, but he’s no stranger to the corner office. His father, John H. Sununu, was governor in the 1980s. The younger Sununu served three terms on the Executive Council, which approves gubernatorial appointments and major state contracts. He gave up his post running Waterville Valley Ski Resort to become governor, but his family still has a financial interest in the company.

But he’s never been a legislator, and observers say that inexperience shows.

“He hasn’t always gotten his way, and that’s part of the process and learning to deal with that is part of the process,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley said.

Sununu’s struggles haven’t been limited to the legislative process. He has made his share of verbal blunders, angering New Hampshire’s drug treatment community when he declared the state’s prevention programs “stink.” And he didn’t inform the public or the press before he embarked on his first international trip, to Canada.

“The governor cannot be impulsive,” Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn said. “The governor has to measure twice, cut once, (and) has to have a certain level of pause and discipline.”

Social service and health care advocates say Sununu is engaged on a level they didn’t always see from Hassan.

Tym Rourke, chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Treatment and Recovery, said Sununu is more “in the weeds” on the opioid crisis than Hassan, who engaged on a more big picture level.

Gov. Sununu is looking for something that he can champion,” Rourke said. “He really wants to own something.”

In late March, Sununu declared mental health the state’s “next big crisis,” citing an uptick in the number of people stuck in emergency rooms waiting for treatment beds, and he’s met with mental health advocates and providers.

“In naming it, he’s essentially owning that he’s going to do something about it,” said Ken Norton, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in New Hampshire.

Reflecting on his first 100 days from his Statehouse office, Sununu said he’s been surprised by how many issues need tackling. But he said he isn’t rattled by the myriad challenges.

“I wouldn’t go through the torturous pains of a campaign in 2016 if I didn’t very strongly believe that we can make some huge changes for the better in this state,” he said.

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