BERLIN — Four term state Rep. Susan Ford (D-Easton) is running for the District 1 State Senate seat in an open race with no incumbent. Her Republican challenger, Erin Hennessey of Littleton, defeated Sen. David Starr of Franconia in the primary.
On a campaign tour of the Berlin-Gorham area last week, she stopped at The Berlin Sun for an interview.
Ford brings a wealth of legislative experience having served on the Children and Family Law Committee and currently serves as Chair of the Finance II Committee, which deals with the budgets for education, transportation and safety among others.
“But the big one this year was education,” Ford said. “We wanted to look at the education budget because we knew we were not giving enough to the school districts.”
Ford said the Legislature was able to increase funding for education $138 million over the year before and also established and funded a “real honest-to-goodness” commission to look at education funding and come up with a fair funding formula. She and Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier successfully advocated for retired Berlin Superintendent of Schools Corinne Cascadden to serve on the committee to represent North Country schools.
A retired school administrator, Ford said education funding is an issue in many states across the country. While not confident New Hampshire will ever arrive at a final solution, she said she is committed to making it fairer.
“One of the difficulties with the education budget is the property poor towns have to have higher taxes than the property rich towns and that’s just not right,” she said, noting that many North Country towns fall in the category of property poor.
Ford said she will not support an income or sales tax. Working with some colleagues, she said she believes they have identified some loopholes that could be closed to generate additional revenue for the state.
Ford said improving broadband access is also on her list of things to tackle. She said she knows there are places in the North Country that do not have cell phone or broadband access. She said the issue was exposed during the pandemic when schools had to find ways to provide access to students so they could work remotely. Ford said she has already talked to U.S. Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.) about broadband and will follow up with the state’s two U.S. senators to find federal funding to expand broadband to all parts of the state.
Ford said the state is currently using federal funding to finish the I-93 corridor which she said will allow tourists to get to the North Country quicker. She said the Legislature was able to add some money to fixing state roads but not enough. She advocates for a federal stimulus program focused on improving transportation and schools which, in turn, Ford said, would create jobs, provide better roads, and improve schools. She said such a stimulus package would help offset the huge impact COVID-19 has had on the economy and will continue to have into 2021.
“While COVID-19 is more scarce in our rural communities, our communities have been hit just as hard by the economic ramifications,” she said.
Ford said COVID-19 has also shown the importance of good health insurance coverage for all especially in a pandemic. She said coverage can come from an employer, Medicaid, or the Affordable Care Act but everyone should be able to go to a doctor when needed and not worry that a serious illness or accident will result in bankruptcy. She said pre-existing conditions should not prevent someone from getting health insurance.
Senate District 1 is the largest district geographically, covering all of Coos County and 15 towns in Grafton County.
Ford said she is up to the challenging of covering such a large area. She said she likes attending meetings and going to historical societies, libraries and dinners. She said it is a way for people to get to know her and for her to hear from her constituents. While the district may be spread out, Ford said she likes driving and noted it is shorter traveling from her house to Berlin than from her house to Concord.
“I’m good at returning phone calls and good about returning emails,” she added.
Ford noted that Grafton County has 27 state representatives — the same number as the city of Nashua alone. Coos County has 10 state representatives so she said they have to work together and talk louder to be heard in Concord.
Ford grew up in Connecticut but said her grandparents were from Whitefield. She said it was the mountains and her grandmother who brought her back to this area. Her brother and sister-in-law also moved to the North Country, retiring in Franconia.
Before retiring, Ford taught school for 13 years and then was a school administrator for 27 years. She said she worked in urban, suburban, and rural school districts and loved teaching and administration.
After retirement, she volunteered for CASA and continues to work as a volunteer advocate. Then someone suggested she get involved in politics and Ford said she discovered a second career. She describes the Legislature as fascinating and interesting as well as challenging.
“I had an absolutely wonderful career. I loved everything I did. If I had to do it all over again, I would be an educator … and it’s time for me to give back. And that’s what I’m doing,” she said.