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Democrat Enters Race For Newport-Area Seat

  • Jenn Alford-Teaster, is a Democratic candidate for N.H. Senate District 8. (Courtesy Photograph)

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 4/16/2018 11:43:49 PM
Modified: 4/16/2018 11:43:54 PM

Sutton, n.h. — Citing her rise from childhood poverty to a career at Dartmouth College, a 41-year-old Sutton resident says she wants to put her life experiences to work in the New Hampshire Senate, helping others go from “surviving to thriving.”

Jenn Alford-Teaster this week announced her intention to run as a Democrat for the Senate 8 District seat now held by first-term Sen. Ruth Ward, R-Stoddard. As of now, Alford-Teaster is the only Democrat seeking the nomination, and barring a primary, would likely face Ward in November.

The 24-town district stretches from Grantham and Croydon to the north, Newport and Unity to the west and south to Bennington, Francestown and Weare, the largest town in the district and a GOP stronghold. It also includes Sunapee and New London, home of Democrat John Garvey, who lost to Ward in 2016.

This is Alford-Teaster’s first run for public office. She has worked at Dartmouth College since 2006 and became a research project director at the Geisel School of Medicine in May 2015.

One key difference between Alford-Teaster and Ward that could emerge as a central issue in the campaign is gun control as it relates to school safety.

As a member of the Senate Education Committee, Ward recently voted against a bill sponsored by state Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, that would have given local school districts the authority to ban all guns at school, even for those legally allowed to carry them.

Ward said advertising “gun-free zones” would create a more dangerous atmosphere by inviting those intent on inflicting harm on students and others.

In an interview on Monday, Ward said that Hennessey’s legislation was added to a bill that had nothing to do with gun violence and reiterated her position that gun-free zones are not an effective way to stop school shootings.

Alford-Teaster, a gun owner, said she understands “both the cultural and safety reasons to own guns” but also believes in these decisions being made locally by community leaders.

“I support Sen. Hennessey’s legislation to respect the cultural preference for local communities to have control over what happens in their school districts and would vote in favor of this measure,” Alford-Teaster said in an email.

Ward, 80, said she was aware of Alford-Teaster’s candidacy but did not know her.

“I fully expected to be challenged and I look forward to it,” Ward said. “It (a contested race) is good for the voters.”

School choice is another area where the candidates differ, with Ward backing a bill that would allow the state to give parents a voucher of approximately $3,000 to be used for tuition at a private school of their choice.

“Everyone says we are taking money away from the public schools but no one talks of the benefit to the students that are not doing well in the public schools,” Ward said.

Alford-Teaster said public schools served her well. She sees the voucher program as helping a small percentage of students but also posing a great detriment to public education.

“Personally I would not vote for school vouchers. I support keeping the resources with the public schools,” Alford-Teaster said.

Alford-Teaster said she wants to focus her campaign primarily on creating more economic opportunity through job training and other resources in rural towns that cover much of the district.

She said her decision to run was spurred in large part by seeing a woman drop her son off at the day care center where she brings her daughter and then rush off to her job at a donut shop.

“It reminded me of my grandmother, who would get up at 4 a.m. to get everything ready for us, then go off to her fast-food job,” Alford-Teaster said. “I thought, ‘how can I help her?’ ”

Alford-Teaster said she grew up in the Seacoast in a single-parent household with three siblings and was helped tremendously by her grandmother, who the family moved in with after her father left.

After high school in the mid-1990s, Alford-Teaster moved to North Carolina and landed a job in a coffee shop, where the owners encouraged her to consider college.

“I never thought of going to college. That was for rich kids,” she remembers thinking.

But in 1997, Alford-Teaster enrolled at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and went on to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees while working part-time at different jobs, including as a mapping analyst with the Greensboro Fire Department. She met her future husband in college and they returned to New Hampshire in 2005, where they were married.

They lived in Concord for six years before moving to Sutton, where their daughter was born. Alford-Teaster earned a second master’s degree from UNH in 2011.

Her childhood experiences, and seeing her mother and grandmother struggle to raise their family, helped to shape the belief that many residents could break free from low wage jobs with the right opportunity.

“I personally know what it takes to survive as a child and to thrive,” Alford-Teaster said. “That road is not an easy one. So I want to create a context in the rural district where more can succeed.”

Improved child care, vocational training and apprenticeship opportunities are among the areas that Alford-Teaster said would help lift the economic circumstances for a lot of people.

“My focus will be providing economic opportunity for people in rural communities,” she said.

Also influencing her decision to run was state Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, who represents the capitol area. Alford-Teaster said Feltes, a family friend, knew of her background and personal history.

“He told me I could translate those skills to being an effective legislator,” she said.

Alford-Teaster strongly supports Medicaid expansion, saying it was a lifeline for her and her family growing up and remains so today for many New Hampshire families.

“Were it not for Medicaid, we would not have had health care,” Alford-Teaster said.

Ward said she also is in support of expansion, so long as it retains a work requirement for those receiving benefits.

Alford-Teaster said she began thinking about a run last fall and made up her mind just before the New Year, with enthusiastic support of her husband. With a long campaign ahead, Alford-Teaster said she will “work with the same fervor she used to pull herself out of poverty.”




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