So much of our focus this year has been on flipping state legislatures from red to blue in order to pass progressive legislation and end gerrymandering. It’s absolutely crucial work, but just as important as flipping those legislatures is defeating Republican governors and cementing Democratic trifectas in as many states as possible.
The best chance to do that this year is in New Hampshire, where Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has been acting as a giant roadblock to progressive legislation — he’s vetoed a record number of bills — and spent much of his time cashing in on his position since taking office in 2017. Democrats have a great opportunity to replace him with a very inspiring progressive candidate named Andru Volinsky, with whom I spoke earlier today.
Chris Sununu is a lot like George W. Bush, a scion of a political dynasty that has lorded over Republicans for multiple generations. In fact, his father John Sununu served as governor of New Hampshire and then as chief of staff in the first Bush White House, where he famously stopped an international climate treaty that could have saved the planet 30 years ago. Chris has continued the proud tradition of poisoning the environment by supporting coal plants, vetoing bills that would expand solar energy, and removing the state from a regional cap and trade. And his brother, Michael, is a lobbyist and straight-up climate change denier.
It’s not just the environment, either. Over just the past few months alone, Chris Sununu has vetoed laws that would have expanded red flag gun control, established paid family leave, approved independent redistricting, and created permanent no-excuse absentee voting. On the other hand, he has directed federal money meant to help low-income neighborhoods to pump money into a ski resort that his family owns, so it’s good to know he has some priorities.
It’s clear that the guy has got to go for anything good to happen. But who should replace him? Democrats have two candidates in a primary that is less than a week away. Andru Volinsky, by far the more progressive candidate, is running against an establishment leader who has raised a lot more money and used it terribly. Volinksy’s campaign has that Ed Markey coalition energy, riding a wave of support from young people and enthusiastic grassroots voters to a small lead in the most recent poll, out today.
As he joked in our conversation today, “everyone running this year is pretending to be a progressive,” but Volinsky is the real deal. He’s one of five members of the powerful state Executive Council, an oversight committee that serves as a check on Sununu. Volinsky has successfully blocked some of Sununu’s most corrupt gambits, including promoting an anti-choice Supreme Court justice and dispensing COVID-19 recovery money in secrecy.
Volinsky has a very long history of fighting for working people and progressive policies while combating conservative power. He spent years working as a public defender and fighting against the death penalty; in January, he took a week off from his campaign to put in a final, successful push to commute a 30-year client’s death sentence, pulling through with just a few hours to go.
Meanwhile, Sununu has said that he doesn’t believe that systemic racism exists in his police departments or elsewhere in the state.
“He said that in the face of Black Lives Matters, protests and other really appropriate challenges to how we do law enforcement, health care, and education,” Volinsky says, shaking his head. “But we know that four times as many young black people get arrested for pot as white kids and we’re no different on that score. We know that black and brown people have disproportionately poor health care outcomes compared to white people. And we know our two most diverse cities spend the least on their school kids.”
Volinsky is known for being the lead lawyer in a landmark case that required New Hampshire to better fund its schools. It was transformational, but he knows that there’s a lot more work to do on the education front; he told me that education will be one of his main priorities, along with the environment and a constellation of equality issues, including the legalization (and taxation) of marijuana.
New Hampshire has been known as a fiscally libertarian state, but Volinsky is unbowed by that reputation. He refuses to take The Pledge, an outdated Republican oath to fiscal conservativism that prioritizes the wealthy and shortchanges working families, children, and seniors. Notably, his rival in the Democratic primary was happy to sign on. Volinsky is also against fracking, another thing that makes him unique in the race.
Volinsky has been a community leader for decades, on the vanguard of a progressivism that has come into vogue over the last half-decade. Now, Volinsky is seeking to make big aspirations like the Green New Deal — he wants to create a regional version if necessary — and expansive criminal justice reform a reality. He was Bernie Sanders’ New Hampshire campaign lawyer in 2016 and Sanders has returned the favor by endorsing his campaign.
“Now’s the time for bold ideas and courageous leadership,” he says. “I get some resistance from the insiders, who say ‘you can’t do this during a crisis.’ But if you think about it, it was during our country’s worst economic crisis, the Great Depression, when Social Security, a minimum wage, rural electrification, and federal home loans all started. And it’s because we had to make big changes.”
New Hampshire is a small state with an outsized influence on the country. If we’re focused on flipping states to make progressive policy a reality, we need to be fighting for candidates like Andru Volinsky.