Forrester could be in line for chair of powerful Senate Finance Committee

CONCORD — Midway through her second term in the New Hampshire Senate Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith) could find herself chairing the powerful Senate Finance Committee with the reshuffling of the Senate leadership following the decision of Senator Peter Bragdon (R-Milford) to resign as President of the Senate.

Bragdon resigned the presidency amid controversy triggered by his original decision to keep the position while simultaneously serving as executive director of the Local Government Center (LGC). Almost at once Senator Chuck Morse (R-Salem), chairman of the Finance Committee, announced his bid to succeed Bragdon and was immediately endorsed by Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro), who equally quickly endorsed his candidacy. Morse is serving his fourth term in the Senate and his third as chairman of the Finance Committee.

Forrester, who was the lone freshman to serve on the Finance Committee in her first term became vice-chairman in her second. Yesterday Forrester acknowledged that she has been the subject of speculation, but declined further comment.

Meanwhile, Harrell Kirstein, communications director of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, charged that Forrester was tied to controversy surrounding Bragdon's acceptance of the post with the LGC. According to Kirstein, Bragdon, speaking on WMUR-TV last weekend, indicated that he began considering the position with the LGC on July 12 while flying to a conference in Seattle. A week later he appointed Forrester to committee studying the LGC and the statute governing the management of risk pools.

"Why, days after he decided to seek the LGC job did he abuse his powers as Senate President to stack an oversight committee with Senator Forrester?," Kirstein asked. "What promises did Forrester make to Bragdon in exchange for being appointed to a committee overseeing the LGC?," he continued. "Did she know that he was seeking a publicly funded $180,000 per year job with the organization at the time?"

Forrester flatly denied suggestions that there was anything improper about her appointment. She said that that she was not aware that Bragdon had taken an interest in the job with the LGC when he appointed her to the study committee. As the vice-chair of the Senate Public and Municipal Affairs Committee and a former town administrator in Tuftonboro and New Durham, she considered the appointment appropriate. She said that she had a significant interest and extensive experience of the controversy surrounding the LGC and during the summer hosted several roundtables in her district with George Bald, the LGC's interim executive director.

"The LGC did some things that must be corrected," Forrester said, recalling that the issues by the Bureau of Securities Regulation, especially the refund of excess premiums to municipalities, were raised when she was a town administrator. However, she added: "If these problems can be corrected, I don't want to to see the LGC go away." Likewise, she insisted that the New Hampshire Municipal Association provides valuable services to cities and towns and is no longer bound to the LGC.