CONCORD, N.H. — As first-term Gov. Chris Sununu builds out his cabinet, he’s largely turned to appointees with little to no professional experience in the departments they’re being asked to lead.

For education, he tapped Frank Edelblut, a businessman who homeschooled his children. For labor, it’s Ken Merrifield, a city mayor and former state employee, but one without experience in labor relations. For administrative services, the state’s fiscal management arm, Sununu’s pick is Charlie Arlinghaus, his budget director and longtime head of a free market think tank.

“What I’m trying to do is not look within state government just to find more state government people to move up the chain, but really bring outside perspective from folks who have some association or area of expertise,” said Sununu, a Republican.

Sununu’s immediate predecessor, Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, often reappointed choices of the governor before her, also a Democrat, and occasionally conducted formal searches. Critics say Sununu has failed to cast a wide net to find the best people for the job, although the Executive Council has confirmed three of four nominees so far. Arlinghaus had a public hearing Wednesday and is up for a confirmation vote later this month.

“There’s been a dearth of documented experience and competence in the area they’re being asked to manage,” said Democratic Councilor Andru Volinksy, a critic of some choices.

Supporters, meanwhile, say Sununu’s nominees are well-qualified and note Sununu has inherited a government largely built by members of the opposing political party. Before Sununu, Democrats held the corner office since 1996, with the exception of Republican Gov. Craig Benson’s single term.


“You’ve had 18 years of Democrats, so there is not a ready corps of experienced Republican nominees to throw into these things,” said Tom Rath, a former Republican attorney general and member of Benson’s transition team. “The bureaucracy he’s dealing with is one that’s been picked by Democrats.”

Commissioners are appointed for terms typically of four to five years, meaning many of Hassan’s picks will stay on through much of Sununu’s term. All gubernatorial nominees must be approved by the five-member Executive Council, a unique check on executive power. For half of Hassan’s four years in office, she dealt with a council led by the opposite party.

Of Sununu’s five picks so far, all have been well-known in Republican political circles, whether as donors or operatives. Hassan, for her part, made several political picks, including her attorney general. Sununu has nominated no women, and conducted no formal searches. Instead, he’s largely chosen people who have come to him offering to serve.

His most widely praised choice was Gordon MacDonald, who was confirmed 5-0 as attorney general. Unlike the other nominees, MacDonald has a long history in the field, working as a prominent attorney in Manchester and leading several legal organizations. Republicans and Democrats alike lauded his nomination.

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