Sen. Jeanie Forrester, a Republican candidate for governor, holds one of the most powerful seats in the State House: She’s chair of the influential Senate Finance Committee, with a big say in how every state dollar is raised and spent.
But you won’t hear Forrester talk too much on the campaign trail about her work in Concord. Rather, Forrester is pitching herself as more community leader than State House insider.
When Forrester talks about why she’s running for governor, the story doesn’t start with a young child dreaming of the big desk in the corner office.
It starts with a girl whose dream was to be the first in her working-class family to graduate from college. That was in Michigan, where her dad tested tractors for Ford and her mom worked as a waitress.
“It was a blue-collar family," Forrester recalled. "We didn’t have a lot, and my mom would make our clothes for us and mine didn’t always fit the best. And sometimes she would leave the pins in, which was uncomfortable."
Money was tight, so Forrester had to work her way through classes. When she lost that job, she had to withdraw from school and eventually moved to Texas for work. There she met her future husband, a New Hampshire native.
The couple then moved to New Hampshire, where Forrester finished her degree at UNH and earned an MBA.
She also built a career working to promote small town development, with stints as town administrator for Tuftonboro and New Durham, and head of the Main Street programs in Plymouth and Meredith. Her goal: to work with business owners to attract more customers and residents to town.
In these jobs she grew frustrated with what she perceived as the red tape from state regulators stifling economic development.
“You have small communities that don’t even have internet but the state requires or expects small communities to operate the small as a Nashua or Manchester,” Forrester said.
So she ran for state Senate in 2010. She won that race and was re-elected twice.
While in Concord, Forrester has been a member of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, which helps draft the state budget. This session she led the committee. As chair, she took more of a backseat approach, not dominating debate. But she would also speak against her Republican colleagues when it came to issues she thought would hurt her district, such as continuing the state’s expanded Medicaid program.
Forrester voted against the continued expansion, which was signed into law earlier this year. This was a reversal from two years ago, when she voted in favor of expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income state residents.
Recently, Forrester has also been active in the effort to address the state’s opioid crisis, sponsoring various bills and calling for more money both for treatment and law enforcement.
Forrester’s other priority is the economy. A month after she announced her candidacy, she released an 18-page economic plan outlining her goals if elected governor.
It calls for cutting business taxes, reducing energy costs and launching a new public and private team charged with promoting New Hampshire to out-of-states firms as a good place to do business.
On a tour of gun manufacturer Sig Sauer in Newington earlier this month, Forrester asked questions about workforce and the impact of state regulations. She also brought a personal interest to the tour: She owns five guns, her favorite a pink 9mm glock.
In this year's GOP Primary, Forrester is up against two other familiar State House faces: Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, and Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, who served several terms as a state senataor. There’s also freshman State Rep. Frank Edelblut.
Forrester is the only woman from either party in the race. But she doesn’t highlight that fact, and actually describes herself more as “one of the guys.”
“Fortunately, I had a dad that taught me how to change my oil, how to change a tire," she said. "And because I had an old car, the muffler hanging off, I had to learn to get under the car there and string up the muffler because it was dragging."
Rusty McLear said he’s seen that get-under-the-hood approach from Forrester. McLear, who lives four houses down from Forrester, works with her at the Greater Meredith Program, which aims to boost economic development on the town’s Main Street.
“Getting this job isn’t about her; being a senator wasn’t about her; running the Greater Meredith Program wasn’t about her," McLear said. "That’s the way she operates.”
With the legislative session wrapping up, Forrester said she'll have more time to spend on the campaign trail before GOP voters head to the polls on September 13.