Republican Dan Forest has been making up for lost time.
On his first full day as North Carolina’s lieutenant governor-elect Tuesday, he met with advisers and visited his new offices for a briefing with a top aide to the incumbent.
Still to come: Learning enough parliamentary procedure to preside over the state Senate starting Jan. 9.
“We’re working on a lot of things at one time,” he said.
While Gov.-elect Pat McCrory was making transition plans even before the Nov. 6 election, Forest got a late start. His campaign didn’t officially end until Monday, when Democrat Linda Coleman declined to call for a recount in an election decided by less than 7,000 votes out of more than 4.3 million cast.
Forest, 45, will take over the state’s No. 2 office with less political experience than any predecessor in four decades. His election also means that the state’s two highest offices will be held by Republicans with Charlotte ties.
McCrory was a seven-term Charlotte mayor. Forest is the son of one of McCrory’s predecessors, Sue Myrick, who went on to Congress and will have served nine terms by the time she retires in January. Though he now lives in Raleigh, Forest spent a good part of his life in Charlotte.
He attended public schools, including McClintock Middle School and East Mecklenburg High. As a teen, he moved to Columbia where his father, Jim Forest, was a longtime broadcaster. There he finished high school and started at the University of South Carolina, but returned to attend UNC Charlotte, where he graduated with a degree in architecture.
Forest went to work for the Charlotte architectural firm where he’d once been an intern. He stayed with the company, then known as Little & Associates, for several years before moving to the Triangle to help run its office there.
“Dan really transformed the Little Durham office into a design laboratory,” says Ken Lambla, dean of UNCC’s College of Arts + Architecture and Forest’s former professor. “He really brought together design criticism, material research and clients all in one operation. … He was doing thoughtful, courageous architecture.”
Lambla, who followed Forest’s 23-year career, says, “One of Dan’s great strengths is he saw architecture as community building.”
Forest, who left in 2011 as president of the firm’s Raleigh office, says he loves the “creative problem-solving” involved in tackling projects and pleasing clients.
He says if you can solve a problem in architecture, you can solve problems in politics.
“An architect can’t solve problems on his own,” he says. “… (They) have to bring people together from all walks of life ... and work together for a common goal. And I think that’s something that translates well into politics.”
Forest’s experience in politics mostly consists of working for his mother’s campaigns. Of the three Republicans he faced in the primary, he was the only one who’d never held office. Coleman, the Democratic candidate, has served in the state House.
“It’s gonna be a learning curve but not one that outside his circle of competence,” says Rep. Dale Folwell of Forsyth County, who lost to Forest in the GOP primary. “He has the ability to … do a good job.”
Forest’s campaign manager Hal Weatherman – Myrick’s former congressional chief of staff – says Forest tried to make his lack of political experience an asset.
“What we found very early on was that Dan’s experience was exactly what people wanted – real-world experience,” Weatherman says.
Without a political base of his own, Forest traveled to every county, found allies in the tea party and among religious conservatives and built a grass-roots organization. In the July GOP runoff, he carried 96 of 100 counties.
Most lieutenant governors have had prior political experience. One exception was the man elected in 1972, Democrat Jim Hunt, who would later be elected governor four times. He came to lieutenant governor’s job having held no elective office.
Hunt, like his predecessors and several successors in that position, not only presided over the Senate but had broad authority to name committees and direct bills. That ended in 1989 when Democratic leaders stripped such powers from Republican Lt. Gov. Jim Gardner.
“The big difference between Jim Hunt and Dan Forest is the role of the lieutenant governor today is much diminished,” says Ferrel Guillory, a political analyst at UNC Chapel Hill.
“It’s going to take some doing by Dan Forest to figure out where he fits … It isn’t just his inexperience in Raleigh. It’s the context and the shift in the power of the lieutenant governor within the legislature.”
Along with presiding in the Senate, Forest will be a member of the Council of State, the N.C. Board of Education and the community college board. He expects other duties assigned by McCrory. “We have a good relationship with Pat and the transition team,” he says.