Jeannie Forrester (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)
By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Belknap County has never sent a governor to the State House, nor has the Republican Party ever elected a woman to the corner office. After serving three terms in the New Hampshire Senate, Jeanie Forrester of Meredith is bidding to make history by drawing on her experience as a community activist and touting her commitment to conservative ideals to offer herself to voters as "a governor for the people."
A native of Michigan, Forrester was raised in a blue collar family and came to New Hampshire from Texas with her husband, Keith, who grew up in Hollis, after the two met while working together at Exxon-Mobil. She earned degree from the University of New Hampshire to become the first member of her family to graduate from college and, while working, added a master's degree in business administration from the Whittemore School of Business Administration. The Forresters own and operate a small environmental technology firm.
Forrester has established a prominent and popular presence in the Lakes Region. She has served as an executive director with the New Hampshire Main Street Program both in Plymouth for two years and with the Greater Meredith Program for five years prior to stepping down in 2009. She was among those on roster of Municipal Resources Inc., which provides managerial and technical support to cities and towns, which earned her a two-year stint as town administrator in Tuftonboro and as interim town administrator in New Durham. And for the past six years she has represented 27 towns in Belknap, Grafton and Merrimack counties in the Senate, visiting each one at least once every year.
Forrester was no stranger to politics prior to her election to the Senate in 2010. She was a personal assistant to Gov. John H. Sununu as well as a legislative aide to his chief legal counsel and executive director of his Initiatives Program for Excellence in Education. Subsequently she served as a special assistant to Congressman Bill Zeliff, who represented the First Congressional District from 1991 to 1997.
In the Senate, Forrester rose quickly, primarily as the foremost opponent of the Northern Pass project, which would encroach on more than two-thirds of the towns in her district. In her second term she was named to chair the powerful Senate Finance Committee. Yet even from the ranks of Senate leadership, Forrester set her own course, dissenting on controversial votes to reduce the taxation of hospitals, increase the gasoline tax and most recently to expand eligibility for Medicaid.
When Forrester first ran for the Senate, she proclaimed that she would be a champion of the communities and their residents, whose interests, she claimed, were at best overlooked and at worst undermined by state government. She has struck the same theme in her campaign for governor. She offers a plan, titled "A Government for the People," to reform state government, which includes capping state spending to the rate of price inflation and population growth, requiring a supermajority of two-thirds to increase an existing tax or levy a new tax and "the Forrester Factors," seven criteria she will apply in deciding to sign or veto legislation."These are ideas," she said. "As a state, we need to think outside the box."
During Forrester's tenure in the Senate, the Legislature has withheld some $150 million in revenue sharing and $58 million in proceeds from the Rooms and Meals Tax from cities and towns while reducing and then eliminating the state's contribution to the New Hampshire retirement System for municipal employees.
"When I could make a difference, I have tried my best to restore that funding," she said, stressing that as governor restoring the funding would be a priority. "I would be advocating for cities and towns," she declared.
Forrester has considerable experience and success promoting economic and community development at the municipal and regional level. She said that during her first 100 days she intends to "meet with local officials and discuss with them what can the state do to make their communities economically viable." At the same time, she said that state officials can explain to their local counterparts "what they may be doing unintentionally to hold back their own growth."
As governor, Forrester said she would aggressively recruit businesses to relocate to New Hampshire while streamlining the processes of licensing and permitting required to open a business. While easing regulation, she favors lowering the business profits tax, business enterprise tax and interest and dividends tax as well as deferring a share of the statewide property tax for businesses that invest in expansion and applying 25 percent of budget surpluses to reducing taxes and attracting business.
Forrester stressed that universal access to health care depends on a dynamic economy with full employment at living wages. She favors a offering consumers more control over their care by fostering increased competition among both insurance carriers and medical providers while requiring transparent pricing, introducing health savings accounts and opening an interstate market for health insurance.
Among those who brokered the expansion of the Medicaid program, Forrester voted against reauthorizing the program this year when when the legislation failed to include an assurance assure that recipients would be required to hold gainful employment or perform community
service. She said that as governor she would veto any reauthorization of the program that failed to include a work requirement or imposed costs on taxpayers.
To address the epidemic of opiate addiction, Forrester called for stricter measures to curb drug trafficking and expanded capacity for treatment and recovery. She said that if the expanded Medicaid program, which includes a benefit for substance abuse, is curtailed, "The private insurance companies will have to pick up the slack." She said that if the state is unable to provide sufficient capacity for treatment and recovery in the near term, she would enter relationships with facilities in other states.
The challenge for Forrester has been to convert her regional popularity into statewide appeal.
"I knew it would be a challenge for me," she said of her relative lack of name recognition, which a recent poll conducted by the Survey Center at the University of New Hampshire for WMUR-TV pegged at 31 percent among likely voters. Moreover, her war chest is the leanest of the four major candidates. Last week, her campaign reported receipts of $237,053 and expenditures of $192,044, leaving cash in hand of $45,009, much less than her principal rivals.
Meanwhile, last week Forrester received the blessing of The Union Leader, the most widely circulated newspaper in the state. After interviewing all the all the candidates, publisher Joe McQuaid wrote that despite her lack of fame and wealth Forrester offers Republlicans "the best chance they have had in years to take back the governor's office.
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