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Jun 28, 2016 6:09 PM

Sununu in spotlight ahead of crucial vote on Planned Parenthood funding

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD -- Once again, Chris Sununu will be the swing vote.

All eyes are on the Republican Executive Council member from District 3 ahead of Wednesday’s crucial vote over state funding for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

At stake, a nearly $550,000 contract for PPNNE that was rejected last summer by the council. Sununu, who had previously voted in favor of the funding in 2014 (it was approved 4-0), was the swing vote, joining the two other Republican members of the council, Joe Kenney and David Wheeler, in voting against the contract.

Democratic Councilors Colin Van Ostern and Chris Pappas voted in favor of the contract for the group, which is the largest provider nationwide of women's reproductive health services, including abortions.

Van Ostern and Sununu are now both running for governor. On Friday, minutes after word that the Executive Council would vote on Wednesday, Van Ostern put out a statement urging Sununu to vote in favor of the contract. And Van Ostern and Pappas, both abortion rights supporters and strong backers of Planned Parenthood, set up an on-line petition.

On Monday, reacting to the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a Texas law that restricted abortion clinics, Van Ostern wrote "on Wednesday, New Hampshire's Executive Council now has the chance to follow the Supreme Court's lead by restoring state funding for birth control, cancer screenings, and annual exams that was shut off last summer by Chris Sununu and two other men despite its broad bipartisan support. It's time to right this wrong and restore these funds."

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Connolly also urged Sununu to vote in favor of the contract.

“When the health of tens of thousands of Granite Staters—and their access to safe, affordable care—is at stake, there’s only one way to vote,” Connolly wrote on Monday. “That's why I urge the Executive Council to approve this critical funding for Planned Parenthood. Earlier today, I sent an open letter to my councilor, Chris Sununu, laying out the case for this contract and noting my expectation that he will do the right thing and vote to support it, along with his fellow councilors

Sununu has not hinted how we’ll vote. But in a statement Monday he said “I’m in the process of reviewing the proposed contract and continuing to talk and listen to people on the matter. As I’ve always done, I will cast my vote on Wednesday with the best interest of my constituents in mind.”

Republican rivals criticize Sununu

Manchester Mayor Ted Gatas, a rival for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, fired away at Sununu in statements on Friday and Monday

“Councilor Chris Sununu has repeatedly voted for state contracts that provided tax dollars to Planned Parenthood. He flip-flopped his position in recent months only after he began to think about running for governor. Now he is refusing to say how he will vote on a similar contract before the Executive Council this week – raising concerns that he is preparing to change his position again,” Gatsas wrote.

“New Hampshire doesn’t need timid politicians who hide from tough questions and refuse to give their positions on important issues. Councilor Sununu has had plenty of time to review this contract and he needs to pledge that he will vote against taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood,” he added.

Tuesday, speaking one-on-one with NH1 News, Gatsas said “I’m not sure what he’s (Sununu) trying to do. I leave that to up to him to explain to the public what he’s attempting to do.”

“I don’t ever believe that funds should be used to pay Planned Parenthood with taxpayers dollars. I never supported that and never would.” Gatsas added “it’s just not the right thing to do.”

State Rep. Frank Edelblut, who’s also running for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, Tuesday charged that "politician Chris Sununu is just like many other politicians in New Hampshire. When it comes to taking a stand, he just can't make up his mind. He voted to hand over taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood, then he votes no, then waffled on doing it again."

"The problem with Chris is that he has to poll test what he wants for breakfast. We need a Governor with a backbone, not someone trying to fulfill a legacy," added Edelblut.

And the other Republican running for the Corner Office, state Sen. Jeanie Forrester, also criticized Sununu, saying “how can Chris Sununu be so confused about whether the taxpayers of New Hampshire should be giving money away to the nation’s largest abortion provider?” Forrester said. “A leader doesn’t leave people questioning his convictions on matters of principle.”

Sununu, who supports abortion rights, explained last August that he changed his vote on funding Planned Parenthood because he was waiting for the results of an investigation into undercover video from conservative activists that alleged the sale of fetal body parts by Planned Parenthood officials.

“Most of us saw those videos on-line and the vast majority, it’s disgusting, it’s disturbing, and it’s an absolute point for us again to take that step back,” Sununu told NH1 News at the time.

The videos caused a firestorm and prompted conservative lawmakers in Congress to try and repeal federal funding for Planned Parenthood. The heavily edited videos were later discredited.

PPNNE said that since the state defunding of the program last summer, there’s been a cut back in services that that the agency’s Manchester, Derry, Exeter, and Keene facilities remain open. The group added that the state funding represented about one-third of the public funds PPNNE uses to subsidize services for people without health insurance.

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