Primary Conversation: GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Jeanie Forrester

Sep 6, 2016

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

All this week, Morning Edition is talking with the Republican candidates running for governor.

Monday morning, we heard from Jeanie Forrester. She’s in her third term as a state Senator from Meredith, and currently chairs the Senate Finance Committee.

Let’s start with the substance abuse crisis in this state, which will be one of the top priorities for the next governor. How do you see your approach to this issue differing from that of your opponents?

I would say that probably I have more and more in-depth experience on this issue. I sit on the Governor’s Commission for Drug and Alcohol Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery. I’ve been on that commission for the last four years. I also led in the Senate four years ago to get more funding for prevention and education for youth in our schools. So I think I have a really good understanding of what’s happening in our state, having been kind of on the front lines of that issue. I was the last candidate to get into the race and the first one to lay out a plan that talks about how we take back New Hampshire from this heroin and opioid epidemic that we’re facing.

On this issue, you’ve talked about a public awareness program targeted at the state’s youth. What would that look like?

In my plan, I talk about prevention, education, enforcement, treatment, and recovery. On the prevention and education side, I think what we need to do – and this is talking with superintendents, principals, substance abuse counselors, and others – about what that would look like. A prevention education program that starts early and often, K-12, consistent and age appropriate through the grades. It needs to be science based, so young people aren’t just being told to stay off drugs, but they’re also being taught the science behind why they need to stay off drugs and what will happen if they start to do drugs, what that will lead to and what they will look like for them in their life.

On health care, you voted for Medicaid expansion in 2014, but now you say you would let the current program end when it expires at the end of 2017. This is a program that some 50,000 low-income Granite Staters now rely on. What’s your alternative?

Let me start by saying this: my philosophy is I believe, and I believe most Granite Staters feel the same, is that everyone should have access to high-quality health care in the state of New Hampshire. The bill that I voted on in 2014 is very different than the bill I voted on this time. The bill in 2014 was 100 percent federally funded. Fast forward to this budget cycle: $35 million is what the taxpayers of New Hampshire would be on the hook for. I did vote against that, and I brought in an amendment and asked that there be a work requirement. That was rejected and I voted against the bill.

In terms of what we would do going forward, I do have concerns because even with the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion, people are falling through the cracks. They’re not getting the help they need. And what I did was introduce legislation to look at voluntary health care as a potential way to address those folks who are not getting the care they need. They’re doing it in Florida very successfully. Essentially, it indemnifies health care providers, dentists, medical professionals who would volunteer their time, and the state indemnifies them. In Florida they’re doing it, and I think they’ve provided since 2010 $2.6 billion in free health care to over 400,000 people.

Do you have numbers to show that could be translated to a smaller, more rural state like New Hampshire?

That’s a very good question. So I introduced the legislation and it was turned into a study committee and I will be on that committee this fall. Florida is very different from New Hampshire. We need to make sure it fits New Hampshire’s community culture and the demographics of New Hampshire.

You were one of two Republican candidates to sign a pledge with Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group. One of the pledges you made is to oppose any Affordable Care Act-related programs, including Medicaid expansion. Two of your opponents – Chris Sununu and Ted Gatsas – didn’t sign the pledge, saying they didn’t want to tie their hands on this issue. Do they have a point?

I don’t see their point and I’ll tell you why. What they will say in forums and debates that I’ve been at is that they won’t support a sales or an income tax or any new increases in taxes or fees. The way this program is headed right now, I have great concerns about what it’s going to lead to in the state of New Hampshire. And by not committing to signing this pledge, they have left the door open for increased sales or income tax, or new taxes and fees.

Let’s talk about the state’s economy. One of the issues facing the state is a shortage of skilled workers.  You’ve talked about your plan for a Career Partnership Program. Can you explain how that would work?

I would take that idea to the state level. When I was the Main Street director in Meredith, we were experiencing a problem with the local businesses, hotels, and restaurants getting the help they needed. And of course, we had young people in high school who were out for the summer who couldn’t get jobs because they didn’t have the skills they needed. So we worked with the business community to identify what those gaps were, whether it was communication skills or how to count or how to communicate, or how to show up on time for work. That’s what we did with the career partnership program. It’s been working very successfully. I would take that program on a statewide level and elevate it in terms of to say, the company down the street who needs CNC machinists. That we get into the schools early, we talk to the young people about potential careers that doesn’t mean you have to go to a four-year college to be a successful person, that there are other opportunities available to them and that being a CNC machinist can be a good paying job for you. It’s expanding their awareness of what’s out there beyond a four-year college education.

State Sen. Jeanie Forrester
Credit Michael Brindley

Over the past two decades, Republicans have only held the corner office for two years. Why are you the leader that will put a Republican back in the governor’s office?

The last nine out of ten elections, Republicans have lost the corner office and I believe it’s because we keep putting up the same type of traditional candidate. And that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the type of folks we’ve put up before, but the traditional candidate is establishment. It’s somebody who’s part of that good old boy network. We need somebody that we can put up who can win in a general election. We need somebody different. When you look at my background, compared to the other folks in this race, certainly I have the most experience on the budget process, being chair of the Senate Finance Committee. I come from community. I’ve worked and fought for community for the last six years in the Senate. We need somebody who comes from community, who understands Main Street, who understands local government and will fight for the people, and not be part of the establishment and not be afraid to buck the establishment.

Some other questions from the full interview:

On her proposal to deploy the New Hampshire National Guard to the Massachusetts and Canadian borders to help combat the state’s substance abuse and whether that’s still a possibility:

Yes, but I might have just been a little in artful in the way that I explained that. Since 1989, we have been using National Guard for our counter-drug program. It’s a program that all 50 governors of our states execute. We’re doing it now. The latest analysis that I saw, called the High Intensity Drug Traffic Area, identifies the Massachusetts border as where we’re seeing the most drugs happening. We’re using National Guard during Bike Week in Laconia when there are high incidences of drugs, so it’s being done now. It’s actually being done in Manchester. So what I was talking about was using all the tools in our toolbox and having that support if we need it, talking to law enforcement, the Commissioner of Safety and others, about how they would see that helping them address this issue.

On her priorities when it comes to education:

I have said that I don’t support Common Core. As I go around and talk with parents and hear their concerns about Common Core, it seems that Common Core is actually pulling parents away from their children. We need to have them be closer to helping and working with their children. I believe parents need to have choice. I’m a founding member of a charter school in Franklin, Compass Classical Academy. I believe parents, whether it’s a private school, public school, home school, charter school, parents need to have that choice, and I support that idea.

On abortion and whether there are changes to current state law she would support:

I am a pro-life candidate. If there’s legislation to leads to (banning) late-term abortion or fetal homicide, I’ve been in support of those kinds of legislation in the past and would be in the future.

On her opposition to marijuana decriminalization:

I sat on the drug task force this past year. In this budget, we have spent 75 percent more than in the last budget. All told, $101.5 million on this issue in this budget. When were on the drug task force, we heard from law enforcement, we heard from medical professionals, and we heard from recovering addicts that marijuana is a gateway drug. Why in the middle of a crisis we would think about decriminalizing marijuana makes no sense to me and it really calls into question for me the common sense and good judgment of two candidates on the Republican side who believe that’s OK to do. In the last session, we heard this was causing young people to have a black mark on their record, and certainly people make mistakes and you want to forgive that and you don’t want that to follow them the rest of their lives. So I heard that and I saw down with the county attorney and law enforcement and we worked on legislation, two companion bills that addressed those issues. We dealt with it, we took care of it, and this governor signed it into law.