Forrester’s National Guard Plan to Combat Opioid Crisis Raises Some Concerns

The last time members of the New Hampshire National Guard were deployed was in February when about 90 soldiers from two battalions were sent to the Middle East to help fight ISIS.

But Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeanie Forrester says she would use the National Guard again to defend the borders of the Granite State — specifically New Hampshire’s borders with Canada and Massachusetts — in order to combat the ongoing opioid crisis.

In an interview with the Concord Monitor on Sunday, the state senator from Meredith said she’s concerned with New Hampshire police being able to effectively cover the significant amount of land in the North Country. She said she would also consider talking with state and local police about using the National Guard to help stop the flow of drugs, especially heroin and fentanyl, coming in from Massachusetts.

“I don’t think it would be a duplication,” Forrester said. “Whether it’s drugs or any other issue, at least on the northern border, I think it’s important for law enforcement to have that coverage.”

On Wednesday, in an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader, she further explained her comments, but did not specify on what it would look like to have the National Guard at the borders or how it would be paid for.

“It’s a concept, it’s an idea,” she said. “Sending the National Guard to the border within the powers that I have as governor and talking to other governors, whether it’s on the Texas border or our own borders, you certainly have to have those conversations. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t work, but to send a signal, to send a message that we are serious about this.”

On her campaign website, Forrester’s initial plan was to send the New Hampshire National Guard to the Texas/Mexico border since that is where most of the drugs that kill Granite Staters come in, she claims.

“Therefore, as governor I will draft a letter to Texas Governor Greg Abbott and seek the co-signature of the nation’s other governors to offer to conduct National Guard training on the Texas/Mexican border,” her plan states. “The principle being that the very presence of the National Guard will serve as a deterrent to the drug cartels. If the federal government refuses to defend our border, we will form a coalition of states willing to do so.”

But Erin Corcoran, a professor of law at the University of New Hampshire, said Forrester might have some problems deploying the National Guard without federal approval.

“It’s a hybrid of state and federal militia and while it is primarily controlled by the state, the federal government is allowed to use it since they are the one’s who essentially fund it,” she said in an interview with NH Journal.

If Forrester’s plan were to happen, Corcoran said it could raise constitutional concerns.

“I think there would be litigation on this,” she said. “Under the Constitution, it’s clear what states are able to do and what the federal government is able to do. Governor’s wouldn’t be able to just send their National Guard to protect the Texas/Mexico border. The federal government would need to declare an emergency and request to use the state’s National Guard.”

Michael Dennehy, Forrester’s campaign senior advisor, said the candidate understands they would need federal approval to send troops to the Texas/Mexico border.

“As Governor, she will work to secure that approval because our people are dying and the federal government has neglected its responsibility to secure our southern border,” he said in a statement to NH Journal.“The bottom line is that Jeanie takes this issue very seriously. The drug issue in New Hampshire is a crisis and needs to be treated like a crisis. And she will be the Governor who begins the rollback and end to our present drug crisis.”

Even to protect the New Hampshire/Massachusetts border, that would also raise some civil rights issues, Corcoran said.

“We are a union. It’s not a sovereign line, they are jurisdictional lines,” she said. “You can’t restrict people’s access to and from the states.”

But Dennehy made it clear that Forrester would talk to state and local law enforcement before any plan is enacted.

“With respect to the drugs that are already here or are coming in every day from neighboring states, she has said that she will not hesitate to use the National Guard to support state and local law enforcement in their efforts to stop the drug trade and save lives,” he said.

Forrester’s drug plan also includes increasing the maximum sentence for high-level drug dealers convicted in New Hampshire to a lifetime in prison without parole and fully funding the New Hampshire Alcohol Fund – a fund depleted over the years that was meant to go toward substance abuse treatment and prevention.

Civil liberties groups in New Hampshire also raised their concerns over the policy idea.

“This proposal is a wasteful, ineffective, military response to a public health crisis,” said Devon Chaffee, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of NH, in a statement to NH Journal. “It would replicate the disastrously expensive militarization of our southwest border, which has had the primary result of systemic rights violations inflicted on border residents.”

Paul Best, chair of the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance — a nonpartisan coalition working to increase individual freedom in the Granite State — said Forrester’s comments are not a plan, just a get tough on drugs mentality.

“The war on drugs has already significantly eroded civil liberties in this country, and this state, opening the door to warrantless searches, dangerous no knock raids…,” he said. “It’s strange that after decades of failed wars on various substances, and 90 years after alcohol prohibition led to the rise of violent gangsters like Al Capone, some, like Sen. Forrester, still haven’t managed to learn that passing laws, busting down doors, and throwing people in jail doesn’t solve substance abuse.”

Some of Forrester’s Republican opponents in the September primary were quick to respond, calling it a “misguided policy.”

“It shows disrespect for our Guard members,” said Frank Edelblut in an interview with NH Journal. “If we do this, we got to pay for that. How are we going to pay for it? I think it’s irresponsible to politicize them.”

Nate Lamb, campaign manager for Ted Gatsas, said his gubernatorial candidate would focus on finding “serious solutions” for the opioid crisis.

“Mayor Ted Gatsas’ detailed plan to fight this epidemic includes expanding successful initiatives like Manchester’s Safe Station Program, improving prevention education, expanding access to treatment and recovery services, and making the penalties for drug dealers more severe,” he said in a statement to NH Journal. “Deploying the New Hampshire National Guard to the Canadian and Massachusetts border is not a serious solution and makes absolutely no sense.”

Author: Kyle Plantz

Kyle Plantz is a reporter with NH Journal.

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