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CONCORD, N.H. – Republican Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire isn’t mincing his words.
A day after newly elected state House Speaker Dick Hinch, a fellow Republican and strong Sununu ally, was found dead in his home, and hours after an autopsy determined the cause of death was from COVID-19, the governor called his friend’s unexpected death “a tragic and cautionary tale” and took aim at other GOP state lawmakers who’ve resisted wearing masks at large gatherings.
“For those who are just out there doing the opposite just to make some ridiculous political point, it is horribly wrong,” Sununu said on Thursday. “Please use your heads. Don’t act like a bunch of children, frankly.”
Another New Hampshire Republican was even more critical of his colleagues who’ve opposed a mask mandate implemented by Sununu last month. New cases of the coronavirus soared and hospitalizations surged to their highest levels in New Hampshire since the pandemic first swept the nation in February and March.
“Those in our caucus who refused to take precautions are responsible for Dick Hinch’s death,” state Rep. William Marsh, a retired doctor, wrote on Twitter as he retweeted the official statement from the state Attorney General’s office on the speaker’s cause of death.
State Senate majority leader Jeb Bradley praised Sununu, telling Fox News that "the governor has shown extraordinary leadership during the entire pandemic."
And he emphasized that "all of us have a personal responsiblity to protect each other."
But a conservative state lawmaker called Sununu’s comments inappropriate.
“I don’t think his comments were appropriate,” the lawmaker, who asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely, told Fox News. “I don’t necessarily think it was appropriate the way it went down. That’s the kind of stuff you try to take care of in your own house.”
The 71-year old Hinch was found dead in his home on Wednesday. His passing comes amid a fierce partisan debate in New Hampshire over wearing masks. On Nov. 9, Hinch and roughly 50 other state Republican lawmakers were celebrating the election results, where their party stormed back and regained the majority in both the state House and Senate. They were photographed at the indoor gathering not wearing masks.
Eleven days later, Republican state representatives gathered indoors again, for a caucus meeting at McIntyre Ski Area in Manchester. The meeting came on the same day that Sununu, a very popular GOP governor who last month was overwhelmingly reelected to a third 2-year term, signed an executive order mandating mask-wearing. The state’s Department of Health and Human Services later determined that at least four lawmakers at the meeting — where there a lack of mask-wearing, little social distancing, and an open buffet — contracted COVID-19.
Democratic state lawmakers were furious after not being told of the coronavirus outbreak until the eve of the swearing-in ceremony for the newly elected legislature, which is known in New Hampshire as Organization Day. The event, which was held outside on an athletic field at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, was boycotted by most of the Democratic representatives, to avoid possible exposure to the virus.
In this Dec. 2, 2020 photo, New Hampshire House Speaker Dick Hinch speaks during an outdoor legislative session at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. Hinch died, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, just a week after he was sworn in as leader of the state’s newly Republican-led Legislature. He was 71. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Roughly 80 GOP lawmakers, who refused to wear masks at the ceremony, were seated in a sectioned off area for the event. Outgoing Democratic Speaker Steve Shurtleff charged that “this decision puts the lives of all members and staff of the House of Representatives at risk.”
Sununu, who has faced small anti-mask protests outside his private home the past couple of weeks, last week called his fellow Republicans handling of the Organization Day controversy “poorly managed.”
The conservative lawmaker said he didn’t think the death of Hinch would change the minds of some of his colleagues, noting “I don’t see a big swing of the pendulum for anyone.”
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