Meredith’s Jeanie Forrester goes for governor

09-06 Jeanie Forrester

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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Sununu emphasizes business know-how

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — The son of a New Hampshire governor and White House chief of staff, and brother of a United States senator, Chris Sununu, when asked about his own budding political career, is apt to credit his mother.

09-06 Chris Sununu with tie

Although he may choose to wear his political bloodlines lightly, in an election year in which an unprecedented presidential campaign has consumed the attention of voters, his surname has afforded him the highest name recognition of the four major candidates vying for the Republican nomination. An executive councilor serving his third term, Sununu prefers to emphasize his job as chief executive officer of Waterville Valley Resort as "the cornerstone of my campaign," adding, "We need a governor who has a job."

After graduating from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in civil and environmental engineering, Sununu spent a decade designing systems to clean up hazardous waste sites and protect soil and groundwater from contamination. He was an owner and director of Sununu Enterprises, a family business engaged in strategic consulting, property development, technological investment and business acquisitions. In 2010, Sununu led a group of investors who acquired Waterville Valley Resort with plans to expand the resort, which have been slowed amid a recovering economy and warm winter.

Drawing on his experience managing a business with some 800 employees, both full-time and seasonal, Sununu lists the high costs of health care and energy, high rates of business taxation and burdens of state and local regulation as the most significant encumbrances on economic growth. As a business owner, he said he wrestles with all these issues virtually every day.

To address the number of young people leaving the state, Sununu proposes forgiving a share of student debt accrued by graduates of the University System of New Hampshire who enter professions where the shortage of skilled personnel is especially acute, including licensed nurses, clinical technicians and school teachers.

"They must have some material incentive," he said.

However, he said that New Hampshire should not introduce a state minimum wage, but continue to adhere to the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour. Any significant increase in the minimum wage, to say $10, let alone $15 per hour, he said, would cause all wages to rise, adding already high costs of doing business.

At the same time, Sununu favors investing in community colleges and technical schools to develop a more robust workforce as well as providing tax credits to businesses that sponsor job training programs, especially for recovering addicts.

Sununu said that the state must reconsider the mandates it imposes on health insurance carriers, which have driven companies from the market, which has become increasingly less competitive. He acknowledged that because mandates differ from state to state, health insurance cannot be readily sold at competitive prices across state lines, but suggested the New England states could form a regional market with greater competition and lower prices.

"I am a believer that anything can be done," he said.

He said that although the Medicaid expansion program requires fine tuning, including adjusting the eligibility requirements and incentives to seek employment, he would not leave the nearly 50,000 enrolled in the program without health insurance. That, he said, would place additional costs on providers, which would be reflected in higher premiums for others.

The epidemic of opiate addiction, Sununu claimed, "is an out of control problem. I have three children. I'm an interested party in this and I'm scared. Addiction itself is not the crime."

He called for aggressive prevention programs not only in the schools but also in the workplace , along with greater capacity for treatment of substance abuse and job training programs for those in recovery.

The state, Sununu stressed, must take the lead in pursuing projects to reduce the cost of energy. The Northern Pass project, he said flatly, "should happen. We need that power in the state." He said it is not feasible to bury the entire transmission line, which would add unreasonable costs to the project that would ultimately be born by ratepayers. Nor he said, when New Hampshire consumes 9 percent of the electricity from the regional grid, is it reasonable to expect 30 percent of the power from the project to be allocated to the state. Likewise, he said "We need more natural gas." He criticized Kinder-Morgan for the ham-handed way it went about building a pipeline.

"It's not the New Hampshire way and they should not have succeeded," he said, adding that "state government can help projects like that along."

"The state made promises it couldn't keep," said Sununu, referring to the withholding of revenue sharing and revenue from rooms and meals tax from cities and towns while transferring the state's share of contributions to the New Hampshire Retirement System to municipalities. He said that the impact of downshifting costs to local property taxpayers has its greatest impact on senior citizens a greater share with fixed incomes, the fastest growing segment of the population. Without committing to restoring the funding, he said, in a Sununu administration "promises made are promises kept."

Sununu pointed out that 31 states have Republican governors, all bent on trimming taxes and relaxing regulations to compete for business. "I'm a competitive guy," he remarked, "and it will take more than just our mountains and lakes."

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Big houses, small families

New law accommodates those who don’t need large homes

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

About six months ago, a city man went before the Zoning Board of Adjustments and asked permission to build an apartment above his garage for his aging parents.

The request was denied because the proposed apartment was about 700 square feet, which is nearly double the 400-square-foot maximum set by the city in 1997.

Because of a new state law, if he had waited until July 1, 2017, all things being equal, his request likely would have been allowed.

In March, Gov. Maggie Hassan signed a state-wide zoning law that allows “accessory dwelling units” to be allowed by right, by special exception or by conditional use in every community. Such housing can benefit the smaller families and aging population in New Hampshire, which has bigger houses than they need or can afford.

According to attorney Eric Mahar in an article he wrote for the New Hampshire Law Review, the new law limits restrictions individual communities can place on accessory dwelling units, which are defined as a residential living unit within or added to a single-family home that provides independent living facilities for one or more people to include bathroom, kitchen and sleeping. Think apartment over a garage, basement apartment, or even a tiny house in a back yard.

“Homeowners can have an accessory unit without the need to comply with any additional requirements for lot size, frontage, space limitations or other controls beyond what its otherwise required for a single-family dwelling,” he wrote. Communities can require a larger lot size if the accessory dwelling is in detached unit.

There is no longer a requirement that accessory dwellings be occupied by family members, and municipalities cannot require that the door between them remain unlocked.

Municipalities can regulate the size of an accessory dwelling provided it is not less than 750 square feet. As in the example above, Laconia's current requirement is no larger than 400 square feet.

Every single-family residence is allowed one accessory dwelling unit in all zones that allow single-family residences.

“(The new law) was enacted to refocus the purpose of land use regulations from controlling or limiting population growth to promoting and encouraging it,” said Mahar.

“I think this will affect the small towns the most,” said Gilford Town Planner John Ayer, who added that Gilford's ordinance only needs a few tweaks because ADUs have been allowed by right for quite a while. He said they will strike the current restriction on them in the Island Resort District.

“I do think it's a little odd for the state to impose their will on the towns,” he said.

Ayer said he thinks smaller rural communities will be more affected because most housing in the state's cities, including Laconia, is already on lots that don't allow for physical expansion because of other reasons like setbacks, parking requirements and other dimension restrictions.

Economist Russ Thibeault agrees.

The reasons for the change, said Thibeault of Applied Economic Research of Laconia, are to try and reconcile New Hampshire's housing supply with its housing demands.

Thibeault said his research for the American Community Survey for New Hampshire showed that in 2013 25 percent of the 519,000 households in the state have only one person and 38 percent of them have two people, meaning slightly more than one half of the households have two or fewer people.

This 53 percent fall into two distinct categories. There is the aging population, who have either moved to New Hampshire or are retiring in place, and there are the young adults who are either single or recently married people who have put off having children until their 30s.

On the supply side, of the 617,000 housing units in New Hampshire, 380,000 have three or more bedrooms and many are second homes.

“We have lots of small households with lots of big houses,” Thibeault said.

Both the old and the young can benefit from an increase availability of accessory housing units, he said. The elderly benefit from having the opportunity for some additional income that can come from renting an accessory dwelling unit, often times to family members in the young adult categories. Young couples without children, or DINKS (Double Income No Kids), can benefit from such accessory apartments, which can be more affordable as they struggle with entry-level incomes and massive college debt.

The goal of the new law is to add more affordable housing units to the state.

While some states have seen building booms because of the relaxation of rules on accessory dwelling units, Thibeault doesn't see additional construction as being a big economic driver in Lakes Region.

While a small construction boom generated by the construction of accessory apartments or the renovation of larger homes to include accessory apartment is possible, he thinks that most of the Lakes Region's more densely populated areas are already at the construction limits.

“(Construction) could have an impact in the North Country,” he said.

The author is an alternate member of the Laconia Zoning Board.

09-06 accessory dwelling unit

This is an example of an accessory dwelling unit as shown in the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning publication. (Courtesy photo)

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