Concerns over anti-mask protests spur NH’s GOP governor to nix public inauguration

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CONCORD, N.H. – Gov. Chris Sununu – who was overwhelmingly reelected last month to a third two-year term steering New Hampshire – said he’s canceling next week’s outdoor public inauguration ceremony because of "public safety concerns."

The popular Republican governor, who defeated his Democratic challenger by a nearly 2-1 margin in November’s gubernatorial election, has faced mostly small-scale protests nearly every week since implementing a coronavirus mask mandate in New Hampshire in late November.

"My first responsibility is ensuring the safety of my family and our citizens," Sununu said in a statement on Wednesday. "For weeks, armed protesters have increasingly become more aggressive, targeting my family, protesting outside my private residence, and trespassing on my property — an outdoor public ceremony simply brings too much risk. We do not make this decision lightly but it is the right thing to do."

Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire holds a coronavirus pandemic briefing

Sununu said that after consulting with the state’s attorney general and legislative leaders, he decided that he and the five member New Hampshire Executive Council will be sworn-in during a small ceremony on Jan. 7. It will be attended in-person by state House leaders and virtually by all other state lawmakers.

One reason Sununu won reelection in a landslide – with his coattails helping fellow Republicans regain the majorities in the state House and Senate as well as the Executive Council – was likely his high approval ratings on handling the pandemic in New Hampshire. But following last month’s election, as new cases and hospitalizations surged in the state, Sununu implemented a mask mandate.

While New Hampshire was the last state in New England to require masks, some on the far right were still furious. A handful of conservative state lawmakers briefly and unsuccessfully tried to launch a move to impeach the governor.

Demonstrators started gathering outside Sununu’s home in Newfields on Nov. 22, two days after his mask mandate took effect.

Earlier this week, local police arrested one protester and issued summonses to nine others under a new-anti-picketing ordinance passed days earlier by the town’s select board.

The ordinance states that it’s "unlawful for any person to engage in picketing before or about the residence or dwelling of any individual in the town of Newfields." Those in violation of the ordinance are subject to a fine of $100.

The 46-year-old Sununu, the son of former governor and Fox News contributor John H. Sununu and younger brother to former Sen. John E. Sununu, is considered a rising star in the GOP. Many national Republicans are hoping the governor will challenge Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan – Sununu’s predecessor as governor – when she’s up for reelection in 2022.

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