Way back in 2002 as a health care advocate I wrote a letter to Senator Jim Forrester praising his moderate positions and bipartisan efforts in the NC General Assembly. Two of my colleagues and I wrote Forrester that we wanted:
…to thank you on behalf of the Justice Center for your efforts this year on behalf of low-income North Carolinians, especially with regards to health issues…. Even in a tight budget year, you have focused on important topics like prescription drug assistance and the Medicaid program in ways that have contributed to the debate…. It is great to have someone who understands health issues so well and is so willing to work with both sides of the aisle to get important things accomplished.
As I reflect on Senator Forrester’s death, that part of his work should be remembered along with his recent leadership to make discrimination part of our state constitution with the proposed amendment to ban gay marriage. Not to mention his naming of a town like Chapel Hill or Asheville as the “worst place” in the state because of Chapel Hill’s “liberal people” or the “homosexuals that live in the Asheville area…”
I think it says as much about the disappearance of GOP moderates as it does about the personal evolution of Forrester that someone who played a leader’s role in improving health care, passing protections for people in HMOs, and working to improve the state’s Medicaid program ended his career with actions and statements revealing such intolerance and hatred.
After all, just to take one example, Forrester’s district and state clearly benefited greatly from his successful effort to stop “drive-through” mastectomies and deliveries where big insurance companies were literally pushing women out to door of hospitals during some of the most traumatic times of their lives. Those are the sort of benefits that endure for Forrester’s constituents. His unfortunate later advocacy on issues like gay marriage may stoke feelings and incite some voters, but really has no positive impact on people and enormous negative consequences for many families.
In the end, we can’t turn our eyes away from the increasingly strident and hateful role Forrester played in social politics in our state over the last few years. But a reflection of his whole life should include as well the positive contributions he made that affected many people as well.