The following is the text of Gov. Chris Sununu’s prepared inaugural address as provided by his office:
Good evening. Thank you for joining me. I appreciate the opportunity to take a few moments to talk directly with my fellow citizens to both cap off what we all can agree has been an extraordinary year and highlight the opportunities that lie ahead for our Great state.
My mom taught me, no matter what the situation, you always start with a Thank You. And there are many people to thank tonight. I want to begin by first saying ‘Thank You’ to the people of New Hampshire, for placing your trust in me to serve another term as your governor. It is been a great honor to have the faith of the citizens especially through such challenging times. And it’s with that faith that our team remains humbled and vigilant in the tasks at hand.
I would like to also thank New Hampshire’s amazing team of dedicated public servants who stood shoulder to shoulder with me through the pandemic. You’ve gotten to know a few of them like Commissioner Shibinette, Dr. Chan and Dr. Daly. However, to the hundreds of individuals that make up their teams that have been working around the clock for the past 10 months, thank you for giving 110% regardless of the situation.
I want to thank the incredible men and women of the NH National Guard who consistently rise to the task no matter what the mission called for. They have given countless hours at the Food Bank, The Veterans Home, the Unemployment Hotline, PPE Warehouse, our Testing facilities and now with our Vaccination Clinics. No matter what the job, they stood tall and were there for us, every time.
And most importantly, I want to thank NH’s Heroes of 2020. The True Citizens of the Year: Our Frontline Healthcare workers, the nurses and caretakers who never stopped, never slowed down, put themselves at risk and when the chips were down, they kept going. They were there for our loved ones when many of us could not be. For that, we will never be able to fully repay you for your service to our families.
Finally, while we could go on all night with ‘Thank Yous’ and appreciation for so many. I want to take a moment to address the 2020 Election here in NH as well as the complexity and controversy we saw across the country surrounding the results, cumulating in the tragic events that unfolded yesterday in Washington. Across the country many states found their systems in turmoil, adding confusion and chaos to an already deepening public health crisis.
But here in New Hampshire we owe a debt of gratitude to all of the town moderators, the volunteers, and our teams working with Secretary of State and Bill Gardner and Attorney General Gordon McDonald for ensuring NH’s elections went off exactly as we needed them to – With integrity and accountability. When it was all done, we had our votes counted on election night and even with over a dozen hand recounts across the state, everyone came back verifying the winner. Virtually no issues out of the over 800,000 ballots casts. It was an incredible accomplishment and it was paramount to the giving our citizens the peace of mind they deserve when it comes to the value and credibility of our voting process.
Once again, this year, NH has been ranked as having not only one of the highest voter turnouts, but also ranked as one of the most reliable and accurate voter systems in America. Where others struggled, New Hampshire set the gold standard.
But as we know, life has a way of always challenging us in very unexpected ways. 2020 was a very tough year. We all have our stories to tell on what appeared to be a constant barrage of never-ending hardships, angst and stress. Whether it was here in NH or what we saw transpire across our great country. It was unlike anything we ever could have anticipated. We had to invent a new vocabulary to describe the uniqueness of the year. Social distancing, PPE, N95, asymptomatic, Antigen, Super Spreader. And then it got nuanced, like Cluster vs. Outbreak, Containment vs. Mitigation, Pandemic vs. Epidemic. We were all faced with an entire new world and the stakes were and remain extremely high.
Remember, just before we identified our first case of COVID on March 2nd, New Hampshire was stronger than it ever had been before. We had the strongest economy in the Northeast, lowest unemployment rate with more people working in our state than ever before, and the lowest poverty rate in the nation.
And our new innovative programs were working across the state. Just a few years after inheriting a completely broken Mental Health system, we had gotten our emergency room waitlist to Zero. And that accomplishment is not just a statistic, that accomplishment saved lives.
After inheriting a system that was literally ignoring many of our abused kids, the number of children in foster care had dropped for the first time in a decade, the number of cases per social worker was cut by 75%, and in 2019 we saw a record 268 children adopted from DCYF Care.
And after seeing the numbers of overdose deaths rise for 10 straight years, our new Doorway system designed to help rural communities have equal access to care was paying dividends and we were on track for our third straight year of reduced overdoses.
The future of all of those programs became very cloudy as the impact of this virus became apparent in those first two weeks of March. We knew it was going to take extraordinary effort to ensure our system did not come crashing down.
Now I don’t want to just review all of the challenges we faced in 2020. You know them. Aside from the COVID crisis, we dealt with a presidential Impeachment trial, divisive political Elections, Social Injustices, the list goes on and on. Nearly every citizen in our state could write their own book on the trials of 2020. We were there together every step of the way. And while I appreciate some of my press conferences would go on a bit long, with some dad jokes mixed in, it was always to guarantee complete transparency in everything we were doing. That transparency, that connection, is what has helped ensure public trust through these frightening times, and it was a fulfillment of my pledge that we would be partners through this crisis.
We have experienced heartbreaking tragedies. Family members’ lives lost to COVID far too soon. For many individuals, life’s plans took a drastic turn as jobs were lost, businesses upended, weeks and sometimes months of isolation, massive disruptions in school.
But in this inaugural address I’d like to focus on new beginnings and the next chapter we will write for ourselves. And I believe our responsibility tonight is to capture the opportunities of tomorrow, not dwell on the ordeals of the past.
What we can never forget though, is how the challenges of 2020, tough as they were, unknowingly created an opportunity to allow the best of Granite Stater’s to shine through.
There are literally hundreds of heartwarming stories of self-sacrifice and community altruism. And each one of those collectively defines the Live Free or Die spirit we all cherish.
There are two stories in particular I want to highlight.
Early on in the pandemic we realized that nursing and staffing were going to be a critical challenge as the virus spread. Working with Commissioner Shibinette we utilized NHResponds.org. A website where individuals could volunteer to help out where staffing shortages may arise. We weren’t sure how well it would work and figured maybe a few people might be willing to step up and help out a few hours a week. Within a couple weeks literally hundreds of individuals had signed up. It was amazing. One particular individual was Jaimie Adams.
Jaimie registered on NH Responds when we put out the call. When a long-term care facility found itself with a staffing shortage in April 2020, Jaimie knew that she had to step in. She volunteered her time and expertise at the facility for six weeks straight, working 3rd shift, 8+ hours/day 4-6 days/week. This meant living in respite housing to avoid infecting her husband and their 2-year-old daughter, and completing a 2-week quarantine between the end of her service before finally being able to go home. Jaimie made a tremendous difference in the lives of the residents and staff during her deployment. It is that kind of sacrifice that told us all early on that we here in New Hampshire were going to be OK.
Then there’s the story of Heidi Kukla. Many of you many know Heidi as one of the lead nurses at Elliot Hospital. Heidi has been caring for some of the sickest patients in Manchester.
When the pandemic hit, she was on the front lines as an ICU nurse. She and her colleagues saw the horrors of what COVID could do to an individual. And it was Heidi and her team that were there by a patients side when families members were not able to be there for comfort. And as hospital beds filled up and the national shortage of PPE turned to a crisis at home, it was Heidi who stepped up, took the initiative for her team and made a plan to maintain appropriate care to New Hampshire residents who desperately needed medical attention. She committed to producing gowns herself for and her colleagues on the front lines.
She created a pattern to make disposable gowns and recruited volunteers to begin production. In 5 weeks her team produced 16,000 gowns. An incredible success for our health care workers.
But she wasn’t done there. It was Heidi who stepped up again just a few weeks ago to receive the first Covid-19 vaccine in New Hampshire. She did it because after all she had seen, she wanted to reaffirm to the citizens of NH the importance of taking the right steps to end this pandemic.
So to Jaimie and Heidi and all of the countless individuals who collectively define the sacrifices needed for our ultimate success, we again say ‘Thank You’
The importance of these stories is that they inspire. And I believe that at the heart of the change we all want to see in 2021 lies the need to be positive, uplifting and lead by example. It is only through those practices that we can expect the changes necessary to create a new and more positive future.
2021 will not be better simply because we want it to be.
2021 will not be better only because we wish it to be.
2021 will only be better if we are willing to look in the mirror and first initiate that change within ourselves.
It’s like resolving to lose a few pounds in the new year. We certainly need to eat healthier and workout, but the truest catalyst for growth is to cultivate a healthy mindset and lifestyle. We have to shed the old habits that failed us.
So how do we do it? Let’s start by accepting that the growing tensions we see throughout American culture are unfortunately nothing new. Much of the division we see in our country has deep roots predating many of us, yet those divisions are our experiences today.
The rich vs. poor, denominational divisions with our faiths, ethnic and cultural differences, democrats vs. republicans. Why must we continue to allow these differences not only divide us, but to define us? Instead, these are differences we should embrace through relationships, as citizens of New Hampshire, and not just geographically, but more importantly, as friends and neighbors.
We read in scripture, in Genesis, that we are all made in the image and likeness of God. So no matter where we reside on the planet, in our case, New Hampshire, that makes us neighbors, and as such, we can learn through our relationships, that we share many of the same values and core beliefs which are more reasons for us to be united. We’re all familiar with the ‘Golden Rule’. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Honestly, I’ve not heard that in a long time and it had really become a cliché over the years. But it is important to set the goal to live to those stands. And beyond that, as the old Christian song expounds, “Let there be peace, and let it begin with me.”
Listen, I’m not trying to preach to anyone, trust me, I am also a work in progress. However, when I look at the condition of our nation today, when we examine what transpired in Washington yesterday, I know it’s going to take the grace of God and all of us working together to bring about the changes I believe we all want.
We have to be transformational in our approach. To remain stuck in our own ways and comfort zones is not logical. Let us never forget: united we stand, divided we fall.
It is that act of looking in the mirror and having an honest conversation about our own role in building a more positive atmosphere for the next generation. That is what will lead us to the next step. Our growth, evolution and development can only start within our own hearts and minds. After all, the person whose verdict counts most in life in the one who is staring back in that mirror.
While it is true that sometimes people may be motivated to action by anger or fear, no one is ever inspired for true transformation unless it comes from a place of optimism, compassion, and positivity. The belief that one’s responsibility to the greater good can coexist with the personal freedoms and independence granted to us by the founding fathers is essential for a peaceful republic.
Holding people accountable to their actions is fine. It’s an important feedback response system to getting better results. But to do it in a way where we’re tearing each other down, belittling and devaluing other views and having a complete lack of empathy for our neighbors, Well, that is NOT acceptable.
And will never persuade.
What is it that compels us to put aside our own instincts of self-preservation and make the sacrifices we have? It is faith, love of our family and respect for those who don’t have the fortunes of good health and capacity. It is those individuals who silently wait in the wings praying for us to live up to our end of the bargain that comes with the Live Free or Die spirt. It is naive and selfish to think that Live free or Die speaks to the individual alone. With freedom comes great responsibility of fellowship and care for one another. And in that we may not depend solely on the unreliable compassions of a government system, but on the steadfast durability of our Granite State neighbors.
I believe we sometimes become so preoccupied in winning an argument that we are driven to the false security of political validation via our political party or elected leaders. And we use those entities as our line in the sand. There is a tendency to show too much deference and wrongly believe those individuals are infallible.
Almost as if they aren’t people, but deities. And often we see many of those elected officials and people in positions of power convince themselves that they hold a higher status simply because they chose a different career path than others. We see individuals trying to cut in line to get a vaccine, or demand that their job is more important than others and therefore they need to be first. That is all a function of the cult like status we give them. But it isn’t real. Let’s remember we are elected to serve those we represent, not the other way around.
Some hide behind our Live Free or Die motto to justify actions and promote an agenda of discord. They use it to defend their unwillingness to make sacrifices for the good of our communities. That is NOT what General John Stark envisioned when he spoke those perpetual words.
Live Free or Die might take on a subtly different meaning for all of us, but in general I believe many agree that it ties New Hampshire to the fundamentals of low taxes, limited government and local control. Yes, we treasure our Live Free or Die culture, but not at the expense of being a good and responsible neighbor. Even though it is not written on a license plate, the New Hampshire I grew up in always put others first. In fact, I would argue that when we put others first our Live Free or Die way of life is strengthened.
Let’s remember that our founding fathers, General John Stark himself, pressed individuals into military service to defend the colonies and the ideals of independence that they were trying to preserve. They had laws and rules just like everybody else. And they often asked individuals to make temporary sacrifices for the good of the preservation of independence and liberty for everyone. For the long-term health and safety of their communities. They weren’t infringing on the live free or die spirit, they were asking folks to make those sacrifices in order to preserve it. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with it, or believe in it, or sometimes like the sacrifices that have to be made. But that collective obligation, at times, in the course of limited events, to do what must be done is an essential ingredient to our freedoms. Because we do not live alone – we are a community. We must make a living together in relative harmony a priority.
This all hit home with me early on in the COVID crisis.
I visited a school for an outdoor event to celebrate some energy efficiency upgrades that came from a state grant. After the event, and due to social distancing, only a few students had a chance to come up and chat with me. So under an outdoor tent, it was a bit rainy, we got to meet and chat. There were about 5 or 6 of them all between 9 and 10 years old. And through our conversations I asked one of them what they thought of wearing a mask in school, Was it easy? Was it too difficult to understand their teacher? Did most kids keep it on, How was it working?
And one little girl said “I really don’t like wearing it but I never take it off.”
When I asked why she said “because I don’t want to let them down”.
“Who?” I asked.
“Everybody else” she said.
Everybody else. That’s what it’s all about. The woman in the cereal aisle you never met and the postal worker that passes you in the hallway of your apartment building. Live Free or Die is about our responsibility not just to ourselves, but to THEM.
It is said that as individuals, we need to seek less to be consoled than to console. And we must seek less to be understood than to understand. This is the freedom I envision for New Hampshire. A freedom enveloped in neighborly caring.
It is the New Hampshire way to join together within our communities and not let politics or prejudice divide us. It is in that effort that we as citizens can become more reliant on one another for solutions and less on the often inefficient approach of government. This is why we protect and treasure local control – it is the foundation for individual responsibility in living cooperatively.
Our motto of Live Free or Die comes with the obligation that we will put our politics and prejudices aside and ensure our family and neighbors are supported.
When our side doesn’t win, it doesn’t mean there’s a conspiracy or the world is out to get us. It simply means we have to try harder next time. We must put forward better and more compelling arguments on the battlefield of ideas.
And we mustn’t let COVID or Politics rob us of our passion for neighborliness. The consistent cynical belief in an overwhelming public corruption at every turn results in a lasting damage to the public conscience as a whole. It tears at the fabric of the Live Free or Die spirit. 2020 has unfortunately shown that there are individuals that take a bit of pride out of such cynicism. Often it is the veil of technology and the unanimity of social media that gives an illusion of acceptance in the enthusiasm to criticize both action and ideals. It was Teddy Roosevelt who said that it is not the untested critic that counts. The credit belongs to those who are in the arena and who toil tirelessly, often selflessly against their own personal interests or even beliefs to achieve that goal of a fulfilled community.
We all carry the responsibility to set the right example for others, especially our kids. No one is perfect, but what we expect as a society is a genuine effort to be decent and just towards one another. Strength is not sacrificed because of decency. And it is precisely that strength – combined with the virtue of community – that separates New Hampshire from everyone else.
With the constant management of the state this past year, I really haven’t been able to read as much as I always resolve to. But when I could, I tried to make it something positive or inspirational. I found myself diving into the writings of Winston Churchill or Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln. Those leaders toiled through their own national crises, but let’s remember, they began as ordinary individuals placed into extraordinary times. And I was thinking about the times we are in, and I found Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address uniquely fitting. He said…
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…”
That’s it. Without conditions or exception, malice toward none, charity for all. It is well within our ability to live to those standards. They aren’t lofty or unreasonable. They’re human. It only takes the will of our hearts to make it happen.
It is fitting that we remember the hundreds of our fellow Granite Stater’s that are no longer with us due to this infernal disease that has brought so much of our world to a halt. But what a disservice it would be to them and their families for us to slow down our efforts now. And in doing that we will have earned the ability to step beyond this crisis and into a new day. And that any lessons we might take from this perilous journey be ones that enhance our ability to expand our opportunities and re-embrace our communities and re-examine the values and spirit of our Live Free or Die motto.
No battle is won without sacrifice. And remember that it is the soldier on the front lines that prays hardest for peace. Not unlike our doctors and nurses and elderly caretakers who have sacrificed the most and seen the worst. Is it no wonder that it is they who are standing up strongest not just wishing for an end to our misery, but working to ensure that all who can and are willing, get the vaccine.
Finally – aside from the COVID pandemic – I want to take a few moments to address some of the policy challenges ahead of us. We must work hard to fight for expanded workforce housing, additional student debt assistance and continue to clear out the waste to create a more streamlined and efficient government.
As we look to the future, we will continue the work of rebuilding our economy by reducing taxes and growing jobs, we will work to maintain one of the best public education systems in the nation while also expanding educational opportunities for students and families, and we will continue to lower the cost of prescription drugs and health insurance premiums.
Paid Family Leave – it can and must be done without an income tax.
More balance in our education funding – it must be addressed.
But all the greatest policies in the world simply will stall and be left as nothing more than words on a forgotten page if we cannot resolve how to move forward with, and be inspired to accept, that we each have a role to play that is bigger than ourselves. Our redemption lies in finding the path that leads us to fight for those tomorrow who may not be fighting with us today.
In Closing – We are at the precipice of a paradigm shift. We each have the opportunity to live with independence and freedom, while fiercely fighting for the best interests of our neighbors, our state and our country. Let’s not waste this chance. As we often do, let New Hampshire lead the way. This COVID crisis is a messy situation that shook our communities to the core, but sometimes a mess is an opportunity in disguise – a chance to reimagine what we can be. But we must set an intension and it is in that defined purpose that we create our own path of success in the future.
Thank you for your time tonight and may God’s blessing be bestowed upon the great state of New Hampshire as we move forth in the new year.