Posted by Joan Hanna on February 08, 2016 in Blog

New Hampshire might be the last place one would expect two Arab American households to establish revered political legacies, and on opposite sides of the aisle no less. But in truth, New Hampshire is not only a key electoral state known for setting the tone for presidential primaries, but it is also the home of two Arab American families that are predominant on the political scene: the Shaheen and the Sununu families.

Bill Shaheen is an attorney and former District Court Judge, a superdelegate for Hillary Clinton, married to former Governor and current Senator Jeanne Shaheen, and father to three children. One daughter, current Portsmouth City Councilor Stefany Shaheen, is considering a gubernatorial run this year.

Former Governor of New Hampshire John H. Sununu worked in George H.W. Bush’s White House, and has eight children, two of whom, are heavily involved in politics. His first son, John E. Sununu, is a former Senator currently assisting with John Kasich’s Presidential campaign, and Christopher Sununu, his second son, announced last year that he is running for Governor.

Even though the Shaheen and Sununu families are on opposite sides of the political aisle, there is no question that they are civic trailblazers all the same.

Source: Alex Wong/Getty Images North America

For Shaheen, a life dedicated to service began after he received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of New Hampshire. After graduation, Shaheen served in the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant and within two years, became a Captain. He attended the University of Mississippi School of Law and moved back home, where he began working as the Chairman for Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter’s New Hampshire campaign in 1976. He was appointed as U.S. Attorney for New Hampshire and served for four years before opening a law firm, Shaheen & Gordon, P.A., which Shaheen and Steven Gordon have sustained since 1981. Later that same year, New Hampshire Governor Hugh Gallen appointed Shaheen to the District Court in Durham, where he was a Judge for almost fifteen years – only to be pulled back into the political scene one year later, resigning his judicial post to support and help his wife successfully run for Governor.

Source: AP Photo

From that point forward, Shaheen was instrumental in Vice President Al Gore’s New Hampshire primary win as his New Hampshire campaign manager, Senator John Kerry’s 2004 primary election thumping of Senators Howard Dean and John Edwards, and since 2008, he has played a key role for Hillary Clinton's 2008 and 2016 presidential bids. Asked in a New Hampshire Business Review interview why he thinks civic engagement is important, Shaheen responded, “Elections have consequences, and voting is the price we pay and the obligation we owe each other as citizens.”


The Sununu clan would unquestionably agree, as former Governor Sununu emphasized in 1988 that the New Hampshire primary election is of great importance, stating that New Hampshire residents are responsible for “[picking] presidents.” Having earned a bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees in under a decade from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, John H. Sununu’s early professional life was primarily focused on mechanical engineering. Over the course of the next seven years, he worked at Tufts University, first as a professor and then as an Associate Dean of the College of Engineering. It was in 1972 that Sununu first experienced a thirst for politics – he won a New Hampshire House of Representatives seat, serving from 1973 to 1975. Five years later, he was defeated in a U.S. Senate Republican primary race against Warren Rudman.

In January of 1983, Sununu assumed office as the 75th Governor of New Hampshire and went on to serve for three consecutive terms before becoming George H. W. Bush’s first White House Chief of Staff from 1989 to 1991. CNN hired Sununu to co-host Crossfire for the next six years, after which he stepped back and his sons John E. and Chris Sununu entered the political spotlight. John H. Sununu was awarded the Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service by AAI in 2006, and just last year, released a book about his time as Chief of Staff for President George H. W. Bush.

Established as the Granite State’s party leaders, New Hampshire’s two prominent Arab American families squared off in the 2002 and 2008 New Hampshire Senatorial races when former Governor Jeanne Shaheen went head to head with John E. Sununu, losing to him by 20,000 votes; however, the two had a rematch six years later and Shaheen staged an upset of Sununu by more than double the votes she lost to him six years previously.

So, who have New Hampshire's Arab American power players endorsed for President in 2016? Adding another reason why this election cycle is defying conventional wisdom, neither Gov. Sununu nor Bill Shaheen has formally announced their endorsement. John H. Sununu has, however, suggested that he would like to see one of the Governors come out on top, but hasn't given anything more specific than that. Keep in mind that John E. Sununu is leading the New Hampshire campaign for Gov. Kasich. And while patriarch Bill Shaheen hasn't endorsed a Democratic candidate, his previous history with Secretary Clinton combined with Senator Jeanne Shaheen's early endorsement of her, it's pretty clear that the Shaheens are with the former Secretary of State.

In such a decisive state for presidential politics as New Hampshire, we’re proud to see our community at the forefront of leadership of both parties and setting a great example of what it means to bring Arab American values to the national stage: values of duty for public service, being politically informed and active in one’s community and, above all, the importance of civic engagement.