A small group of conservative legislators in New Hampshire are moving for the impeachment of their recently re-elected Republican governor over his recent mask mandate.
Five incumbents and two recently-elected state House representatives are behind the resolution that would initiate an impeachment inquiry against Governor Chris Sununu.
“This move was not taken lightly,” said Representative Andrew Prout, one of the seven pushing for impeachment. “We must restore our government to its constitutional roots – with checks and balances – where the Legislature writes the laws and the executive branch implements them.”
Like governors across the nation, Governor Sununu has been enacting executive orders under certain state emergency powers in response to COVID-19. In the spring, he enacted a statewide shutdown. Last week, he enacted the state’s first mask mandate.
The mandate requires that everyone wear a mask in public spaces, whether indoors or outdoors, where six feet of social distancing cannot be maintained. Exceptions include those with medical exemptions and anyone under the age of five.
The order stands through January 15th.
Sununu announced the mandate in the midst of a “coronavirus surge”, in which New Hampshire saw 529 new cases and 2 deaths on November 19th.
Representative Michael Sylvia is one of those pushing for impeachment. He says the emergency powers statute Sununu is relying on has “very broad language…which allows for arbitrary guidelines that the governor has put in place. And some of these things, they just don’t fit our Constitution.”
For Reps. Prout and Sylvia, along with the handful of others behind the resolution, the impeachment inquiry isn’t a personal attack against Sununu. Rather, it is about drawing a line and protecting the Constitution.
“We know that the Democrats were very happy with the governor taking executive powers,” said Rep. Sylvia. “Because they see a future where they can grab the ring of power and use it in a way that is perhaps less restrained than Gov. Sununu has been.”
The New Hampshire GOP disagrees.
In a joint statement, GOP chairman for New Hampshire Steve Stepanek and vice-chair Pam Tucker wrote:
“The NHGOP has always and will continue to stand with Govenor 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.”
Rep. Sylvia understands that his stance puts him in a difficult position with his own party: “Obviously, this does not put me in great standing with the party. Obviously, we would like to be all unified and this is not…a unifying issue. But we do need to settle this.”
New Hampshire citizens have organized to protest the shutdowns and mask mandates. In the spring, a group called “Reopen NH” organized several protests in the state capitol to protest the shutdowns.
Last weekend, people protested the new mask mandate outside Governor Sununu’s private home. According to the Concord Monitor, Representative-elect Anne Copp was in attendance, and rallied the protesters with a bullhorn, urging the governor to reverse the mask mandate.
Reopen NH has clarified that they were not responsible for the gathering, nor do they agree with the location where protesters chose to demonstrate.
The resolution would require a majority vote in the 400-member House of Representatives before an inquiry could begin.