It would be rare — if not unprecedented — for this space to take special note of Sunday’s Groundhog Day observance. Birthdays of famous presidents and other figures, commemorations of significant events and other national holidays — yes. But Groundhog Day, the peculiar tradition rooted in a charming, if scientifically unsubstantiated, method of long-range weather forecasting — never. (We admit, however, we did not check issues going back to 1799 to verify that.)
Yet as we have followed the start of the legislative session in Concord, it seems recognition of tomorrow’s “Groundhog Day” is appropriate. Really, though, we’re talking about the 1993 comedy film of that name starring Bill Murray as the weather forecaster who gets caught in a time loop at the annual Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney, Pa., and finds himself waking up each morning fated to relive the same day, seemingly endlessly. That movie came to mind amidst reports Democrats in control of the House and Senate seem have reintroduced much of the legislative agenda that they were unable to get enacted last year and that Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has signaled he stands ready to veto again.
There’s no surprise as to the issues. Major pieces of legislation introduced by Democrats include bills that would raise the net-metering cap, increase the minimum wage, mandate paid family leave and establish an independent political redistricting commission. All are important policies to the party and were cornerstones of the Democrats’ successful 2018 campaign to reclaim control of the House and Senate. All were approved by the House and Senate in 2019. And all were vetoed by Sununu, who was equally adamant in his opposition to them in his 2018 re-election campaign.
So what will be different this year?
Both Democratic leaders and the governor have given indications of their willingness to compromise. Sununu, for example, has thrown his support behind Republican-proposed energy legislation that includes a more modest approach to lifting the net-metering cap than that proposed by Democrats. While some Democrats initially greeted the proposal with skepticism, Sununu’s move led the House to pass a scaled-back version of the Democrats’ proposal, and on Thursday the Senate approved it. The net-metering ball is now in the governor’s court, and, even if the amended bill is not ideal, we hope the governor chooses not to veto it.
But on other major policy initiatives, despite the protestations that they’re open and willing to compromise, it’s hard not to think both the Democrats and the governor are just laying down markers as they position themselves for the elections this fall. Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, D-Concord — who has announced his own plans to run for governor — stressed in a recent interview with the N.H. Union Leader that he wants to seek compromise, but also warned the governor shouldn’t “stand in the way” of bipartisan legislation. And for his part, Sununu has made it clear he remains committed to vetoing bills that come back, describing them to the same reporter as “radical, aggressive things.”
New Hampshire is unusual among the states in having a divided government, and we’d like to think the state’s leaders could demonstrate it’s possible to make that work. If the governor and the Democratic majority in the Legislature don’t find a path forward on important initiatives, New Hampshire residents can expect that the movie reel will repeat and they’ll be waking up in the same place, no matter whether the groundhog sees his shadow this year.