Seven Republican lawmakers say they have had enough of Governor Sununu’s use of emergency powers. They filed a legislative service request for a resolution authorizing the House Judiciary Committee to investigate whether cause exists for his impeachment.
“The mask mandate was the last straw,” Rep. Andrew Prout (R-Hudson) told NHJournal. “Governor Sununu has a newly-elected GOP legislature he should be working with, but instead he continues to rule by executive order without any legislative consultation.”
Prout sponsored the impeachment investigation resolution, which he says opens a probe into the governor for causing undue hardships for Granite Staters, infringing on civil liberties, and undermining the state constitution.
If passed, the resolution directs the House Judiciary Committee to investigate whether grounds exist and report any resolutions or articles of impeachment to the House of Representatives. It grants subpoena and investigative powers to the committee as well.
“There have been several attempts to rein in the governor,” Rep. Kevin Verville (R-Deerfield) says in a press release. “The Democrats tried lawsuits to no avail. This, unfortunately, is the only path remaining.”
The effort is likely to face numerous obstacles, not least of which is the incumbent governor’s popularity inside the party and out. Sununu handily won re-election to his third term by a nearly two-to-one margin, outpacing every other candidate on the ballot. His broad bipartisan approval in polls translated into strong electoral support, even in Democrat strongholds like Keene and Concord.
As for impeaching him over his handling of COVID-19, the numbers look even worse. According to the Granite State Poll released in October, eighty-three percent of voters approved of his management of the pandemic. Ninety-five percent of Republicans and seventy percent of Democrats approved in the poll.
In an April lawsuit, Democratic leadership attempted to force CARES Act spending to go through the bipartisan Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, a group of ten lawmakers from the House and Senate charged with overseeing federal monies coming into the state.
The lawsuit was dismissed, and Governor Sununu’s COVID-19 CARES Act spending group has distributed nearly all of the $1.25 billion the federal government allocated to New Hampshire.
“Unfortunately, Governor Sununu has chosen to disregard the legislative branch, which represents the voice of the people,” said Rep. Mary Jane Wallner (D-Concord) at the time of the lawsuit. Wallner chaired the Fiscal Committee for this biennium. The lawsuit sought an “expedited court ruling to resolve this constitutional crisis,” according to Wallner.
“Our constitution demands co-equal branches of government to ensure a thriving republic, and we will do everything we can to maintain that balance of power for the good of the people,” House Speaker Steve Shurtleff (D-Penacook) said of the lawsuit.
In June, Prout then sponsored a resolution to limit the governor’s ability to enact emergency orders and end some existing orders. That resolution received only 57 votes from the House, ten of which came from Democrats. The measure fell far short of the majority needed.
“Since March, House members have urged Sununu to work with us to find a path that didn’t unnecessarily cripple businesses and families. He failed to listen then, and he still isn’t listening now,” said Rep. Scott Wallace (R-Danville.)
“The people elected us to be their voices in government,” added Wallace.
The House has 213 Republicans and 187 Democrats and has been described as “an attendance majority,” meaning if a handful of Republican legislators fail to show, the party loses its working majority. If Democrats back the impeachment investigation, it would be only seven votes away from passing – assuming the entire House is in attendance.
Along with Rep. Prout, the co-sponsors are Melissa Blasek (R-Merrimack,) David Binford (R-Bath,) Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont,) Rep. Scott Wallace (R-Danville,) Josh Yokela (R-Fremont,) and Kevin Verville (R-Deerfield.)
Throughout New Hampshire’s history, only two impeachments have come out of the House of Representatives, both of them levied against Supreme Court Justices.
In 1790, the House impeached Justice Woodbury Langdon for neglecting his duties. Langdon resigned before a Senate trial.
Two hundred ten years later, the House impeached Chief Justice David Brock in 2000 on four counts of maladministration, malpractice, and lying under oath. The Senate acquitted him at trial, with only seven votes for conviction.
New Hampshire’s constitution specifies, much like the U.S. Constitution, that all impeachments begin in the House and are tried in the Senate. Unlike the country’s Constitution, New Hampshire does not require a two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict. In 2000’s impeachment trial, the Senate passed a rule requiring a two-thirds majority for conviction.
Gov. Sununu’s office declined requests for comment.
UPDATE: NHGOP Chairman Stephen Stepanek and NHGOP Vice-Chair Pamela Tucker released the following joint statement condemning State Representatives’ investigation request:
“Granite Staters elected Republican majorities to our state government in order to cut taxes, expand educational opportunity, and control spending. New Hampshire overwhelmingly approves of the job Governor Chris Sununu has done in mitigating the effects of COVID-19. The NHGOP has always and will continue to stand with Governor Sununu and his team as he fights for Granite Staters during this global pandemic. Talk of impeachment is a severe obfuscation of the reasons Granite Staters elected Republicans on November 3rd and these House members seeking headlines will look foolish when this effort falls flat before it even gets off the ground.”