Dan Forest admits that his name in and of itself doesn’t exactly stir up people’s emotions or strike a chord in other ways.
But that changed when Forest decided to be a candidate for North Carolina lieutenant governor and the phrase “Run Forest Run” became an obvious tie-in with the launching of his campaign.
His last name has been elevated to a new level — or at least eye level — especially when someone reads one of his bumper stickers containing the line popularized by the movie “Forrest Gump.”
When an earlier batch of bumper stickers simply read “Dan Forest for lieutenant governor,” Forest said he and campaign workers “couldn’t give them away.” Since “Run Forest Run” was added, about 20,000 have been distributed, the candidate said Friday while making a campaign swing through Surry County.
“People use that all the time,” he said of the catch-phrase.
And this could be just the beginning for Forest, who is highly optimistic about his candidacy to become the state’s next lieutenant governor. “When I get elected, you can call me Lt. Dan,” he joked in reference to another character from the movie.
Yet, while Forest and his backers have “had a lot of fun” with the Gump associations, the Republican candidate is serious about making a difference in state government in such areas as economic development/job creation, illegal immigration and education.
Though he has never held public office before, politics runs in Forest’s family, with his mother, Sue Myrick, having served two terms as mayor of Charlotte and now as a member of Congress since 1994. Forest, 44, a senior partner of a large architectural firm, lives with his wife and four children, ages 6 to 19, in Raleigh.
“Architects are problem-solvers by nature — that’s what we do for a living,” said the candidate, whose visit to Surry County was part of a 10-day “official announcement tour” covering about 35 counties.
“I think we need more problem-solvers in government — more creative problem-solvers.”
The candidates’ filing period doesn’t officially begin until next month, but Forest is among two Republicans who’ve already declared their bids for lieutenant governor, the state’s second-highest elected office. The other is Tony Gurley, a member of the Wake County Board of Commissioners.
Walter Dalton, a Democrat in his first term, now occupies that position, which covers a wide spectrum of both legislative and administrative functions. Forest said the lieutenant governor can play a unique role in effecting change as the only elected official with powers in both the executive and law-making branches of state government
These include presiding over the N.C. Senate and casting any tie-breaking votes. The lieutenant governor also has a hand in education, including the state community college system, business growth and crime prevention.
One of the issues Forest is focusing on is undocumented aliens, which he said is a concern financially and in other ways.
“My position is that politicians in our country for decades now have been sticking their heads in the sand and just ignoring it,” he said of illegal immigration.
Meanwhile, the problem is costing North Carolina taxpayers $1.3 billion per year, and “that’s at an minimum,” Forest said in reference to some estimates exceeding $2 billion. This includes the expense of health care, incarceration of illegals in state prisons, educating them and other services.
One of Forest’s positions is that undocumented immigrants should not be allowed to attend North Carolina’s community colleges, which now operate under a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on the matter, he said.
While acknowledging that immigration law is a national issue, “there’s things that states can do regardless of the federal government,” the candidate said.
He advocates greater use of the E-Verify program, which confirms immigrants’ eligibility to work in the United States, and the 287(g) provision of U.S. law allowing the federal government to enter into agreements with state and local police agencies. The latter permits designated officers to perform immigration law enforcement functions.
North Carolina is among states facing the largest immigration challenges, due to its significant population of undocumented people. “We have hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in our state right now and we’re just ignoring this issue,” Forest said.
Their numbers have been put at between 250,000 and 1.2 million, “but there’s no way to quantify it,” Forest said of the inherent difficulty of accounting for the undocumented.
Aside from the fiscal considerations is the security threat associated with the problem, he added. “We know there are people who want to harm America that are coming across our southern border daily.”
Among the ways in which Forest would seek to enhance economic development and job creation is trying to make North Carolina a place where companies can thrive by relieving tax and other burdens.
“Geographically, we’ve got a beautiful state, but we’re losing out on the business end,” he said.
North Carolina has the 38th-worst business tax climate among the 50 states, according to the candidate. High corporate income tax and gasoline taxes included in that equation are undermining its ability to compete with other states for jobs, he added.
And about the only tool available to North Carolina communities in recruiting industries is the offering of incentives, Forest said.
“We have to get to a place where we create a strong business foundation in our state.”
Though Forest agrees that public education should be meeting the needs of the state’s young people and preparing them for the future, it is not doing so at present, he believes.
In the meantime, Forest wants parents to have greater options for the schooling of their children. While the emergence of charter schools has offered an alternative, Forest considers them a stopgap solution that does not provide a full scope of choices.
Forest also criticized the fact that if enough seats aren’t available in a public charter school for all the students wishing to enroll there, they are accepted by lottery.
He backs measures that would allow more private schools to open, thereby extending that option to a greater segment of the state’s population other than just those in larger cities.
“Only 12 percent of our kids in North Carolina have a choice of where they go to school,” Forest said.
The candidate added Friday that he doesn’t really consider his goals for state government as conservative or some other label — including any related to Forrest Gump.
“They’re just American ideas.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.