Jackie Cilley: Five Days In The North Country

Jul 12, 2012

There are three Democratic hopefuls in the gubernatorial primary this September. One is Jackie Cilley, an outspoken Berlin native. She’s not shy about not taking the pledge. She says ideologues in the legislature are embarrassing and undermining the state. And she says in crucial ways the government is failing its citizens and businesses.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen spent a day with her on a marathon, five-day tour of the North Country as jumped in and out of her  Toyota Camry Hybrid.

In the Canadian border town of Stewartstown Jackie Cilley settles into a small office at the county nursing home.

Across the table is Sue Collins, the Coos County administrator.

And the subject is a heavy one: Property tax.

 “There are so many elderly who can’t afford to stay in their homes anymore because they can’t afford the property tax.”

Collins says the state needs to raise more revenue.

 “My question to you would be how can New Hampshire enhance its revenue so that we can do better job on behalf of those who are needy?”

That’s the same question raised earlier in the day in Colebrook where Cilley was touring the Indian Stream Health Center and she meets Dr. John Fothergill.

The last syllables of the glad-to-meet-you pleasantries are still echoing when Fothergill asks the question.

 “So, are you going to take the pledge.”


“Good for you.”

“I said from the moment I stepped out I wasn’t taking the pledge and I have no intention of it.”

The pledge, of course, is the promise to oppose a general sales or income tax.

Cilley says she is not advocating a state income tax but she doesn’t want to rule anything out.

 “I have a vision for this state that is based on investments in the key areas of education, transportation and communication infrastructure and a healthy environment. Those things that I talked about that will bring businesses here and that will create jobs. And it is based on a willingness to consider all the tools in the toolbox and not do it on wishful thinking.”

The refusal to take the pledge is shaping up as a key element of Cilley’s campaign.

But another may be her background. She was born in Berlin and made sure North Country residents knew it.

I am very much a factory girl. My grandfather worked for the Brown paper mill company. My father drove a logging truck for them so that meant he was unemployed about half the time. About half my family hadn’t had the opportunity to finish high school.”

But it has been decades since Cilley lived there. She now lives in Barrington. After leaving Berlin she went ahead to get a masters in business administration from UNH and to teach there in addition to running her own business.

She is spending a considerable amount of time, five days, talking to people in northern Grafton and Coos, clearly seeking a connection she hopes will help her win the September 11 primary.

Cilley has been in politics for a while. She served terms in the House and Senate. She routinely tells those with whom she meets that she’s appalled by what’s happening in the capitol now.

 “What we see in Concord are ideologues, extremists that have so damaged our state and its competitive positioning that it astounds me. It absolutely astounds me.”

That includes cuts to education and social programs including drug and alcohol prevention.

“All of those things are in my mind an immoral approach to governing and meeting the priorities of this state.”

Cilley takes a hard line on Statehouse politics but when it comes to the proposed Northern Pass project she’s leaving herself a little room.

It’s an important issue in the North Country and one farmers Cindy-Lou and John Amey want her to address when she visits Pittsburg.

They settle into the dining room of  an 1858 farmhouse, eat strawberries and sliced apples.

The Ameys are against the hydro-electric project which would erect towers within sight of their land.

Cilley responds.

“We don’t trade our land to a for-profit company. We don’t trade our sky scape. We don’t trade our tourism jobs, some of which go back generations, to a for-profit company.”

But then Cilley says construction workers could use the jobs and she’s not ruling out burying the lines.

However, she says, New Hampshire has to have something to gain.

“And, by the way I don’t think we are a conduit from one place to another for anybody.”

One of the bodies that must approve Northern Pass is the state’s Site Evaluation Committee.

Technically the governor does not control that committee.

But earlier in the day, sitting in a café in Colebrook, Cilley says if she was governor:

“I think I would urge the site evaluation committee to not approve a plan that included towers that interfered with the scenic beauty of our state.”

By late afternoon it is time for Cilley to move along.

(Sound of meeting breaking up…)

“I think you are the first gubernatorial candidate ever to come to my home.”

“I’d come again, John.”

Then, she’s headed back on the campaign trail. She’s got three more days to go in the North Country.

For NHPR News this is Chris Jensen