Four years ago, at this point, a few days after the election, we noted the challenges facing those given the reins of government after a grueling, divisive slog of a campaign year. “Among the biggest challenges will be healing the divides — ideological, political, racial and economic — laid bare during this election,” we noted. “… Now, we need to move toward a point where our similarities and common goals are the focus, rather than differences of opinion, color, religion or politics. The latter have been used to leverage power by opportunists for far too long, and our nation has suffered for it.”
The hope was that the long-simmering cultural discord had reached its apex, and that having poured gasoline on the smoldering embers for a year and a half, Donald Trump would seek to unite the nation in office, so as to heal our split and maximize our potential. We all know how that turned out. After four years of a widening partisan gulf — something we would have thought near impossible — we’ve just seen the most divisive election in recent memory; and it’s not over yet.
Late acceptance of mailed-in votes and probable legal challenges mean it’s still not certain who the president for the next four years will be. But whether it’s Trump again — who would have nothing to campaign for and, thus, we might hope, nothing to gain by further dividing and antagonizing the nation — or Joe Biden — who is of a much different temperament and more likely to seek common ground — we again hope for the entire nation that the next four years are less fractured and frantic.
Here in New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu clearly earned high marks from the voters for his handling of the pandemic crisis over the past year, and his coattails extended down the ticket to flip both chambers of the Legislature and the Executive Council red.
Republicans might conceivably want to read these results as a mandate for a return to the sort of reckless budget slashing and regressive agenda that has too often characterized past Republican-dominated state governments.
We hope that’s not the case and that Republicans keep in mind that, despite Gov. Sununu’s popularity and his support for President Trump, Granite Staters voted solidly Democratic in the presidential and the three congressional contests. Instead, the lesson from the election ought to be that the divided priorities of the past two years should be a nonfactor, with aligned viewpoints allowing the Legislature and governor to make actual progress in moving the state forward.
Doing that means passing on the opportunity to ram through measures that serve only one half of our very purple state. It means taking on the hefty responsibility of redrawing political districts in the wake of this year’s census without putting political motivations first. It means living up to the ideals expressed a while back by a popular Granite State politician.
“It’s about the ‘we.’ … Let’s just cut right to it: We have a tendency in this body, in this Statehouse, to be divisive, to let politics come in the way, to worry about the next election cycle. … But that is not what we are here to do. … We have to change the mindset in this state. … Over time, working together, we can do great things. … Let’s not let the political attitude of yesterday overcome what we need to do tomorrow. … 1.3 million people out there are looking at this chamber right now and saying, ‘Are they going to do it differently and be positive and open and not just use bipartisanship as a tagline on a Twitter feed?’”
Those words, from the inaugural speech of first-term Gov. Chris Sununu in 2017 to a Republican-led Legislature, set high goals, which over the past four years have been met all too infrequently. The past two years, especially, have been marked by a lack of progress and positivity, as Sununu set himself up as a wall through which no progressive legislation would pass. He vetoed a record number of the Democratic-led Legislature’s initiatives. Even some true bipartisan bills have fallen victim to his veto pen.
Sununu has come into his own in many ways during his time in the corner office, earning from voters a chance to continue as governor at least while there’s a public-health state of emergency. Now, he’s back where he was in 2017, with his party in charge of all facets of the state. It’s time to see whether he lives up to his own lofty, stated objectives, or whether his words were just taglines for his Twitter feed.