Terzakis meets me on a dreary New England morning in the lobby of my hotel in Manchester. She is wearing a dress made of gray suit material, maroon patent leather pumps and a smile that can erase stress instantly.
I’d found Terzakis through a women’s business networking organization, and she introduced me to her “liberal friend,” Hayes. Though they’d both grown up in Democratic households, their outlooks diverged somewhere along their life journeys.
Terzakis asks about my dinner the night before with Hayes, who’d spoken openly about how she overcame a long and destructive battle with bipolar disorder and alcohol.
“She didn’t allow her circumstances to define her,” Terzakis says of her friend. “She stuck it out. She’s not a quitter. I think that dynamic is incredible in women.”
Her remarks set the tone for our conversation.
She makes herself comfortable in an armchair and says that Washington could learn a lesson or two from her relationship with Hayes. All that partisan bickering and allergy to compromise is ruining America.
Though she disagrees with Obama — she’d like to tell him to do an all-systems halt and think about why Americans are screaming — she says he “can’t catch a break on golden wings.”
In her childhood, she recalls, politics was honorable. As a young woman, she idolized Tip O’Neill, the outspoken liberal speaker of the House from Massachusetts.
“He was a master in the art of the deal. He sat down and respectfully listened to you, she says. “I’ve never defined a person by one note.”
That’s why Terzakis, who considers herself a moderate, can support more socially conservative politicians like Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire’s other senator for whom Terzakis worked briefly. Or congressional candidate Marilinda Garcia, a “rising star in the Republican Party” and a staunch foe of same-sex marriage and government funding for abortions.
Those positions bother many Republican women in New Hampshire, who think like Terzakis. She describes herself as a Ronald Reagan-inspired fiscal conservative who believes in American exceptionalism. But the tea party, she says, is out of step with the nation.
“I am clearly pro-choice.” And gay marriage?
“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that we are even having that conversation in 2014. It is a basic human right. You may disagree on religious grounds but that does not trump rights under the Constitution.
“Look, you can’t have everything all at once,” she says. “I genuinely admire Senator Ayotte as a strong, tenable leader. I mean, the girl is getting it done!”
That’s the way Terzakis operates.
She wakes up before sunrise at her house in Bedford, a conservative town just west of Manchester teeming with suburban mansions and coiffed lawns. From her offices there and in Nashua, 20 minutes south on Route 3, Terzakis operates her own financial coaching firm, advising clients on small business strategies.
She likes nothing more than to help a woman stand up her own company.
“All boats are lifted,” she says, when a woman-owned business succeeds. Women, she believes, are more inclined to hire locally and give back to their own communities. “It’s an amazing dynamic.”
Terzakis carries a tomato-red Dooney Bourke shoulder bag stocked with a matching wallet, business cards, Ray Bans and a 2.2 ounce can of L’Oreal Elnett Satin hairspray to tame her blond tresses. She makes it a point to leave her cell phone in the car when she’s in a business meeting. Her clients’ time is too valuable for her to interrupt it with calls.
“This pretty much sums Susan up,” she says of herself, spilling the contents of her bag on a table. “I can take on any meeting with this.”
She recognizes aerosol hairspray is not in vogue and without prompting says, “Come on. I’m a chick from the ‘80s.”
It’s Terzakis’ libertarianism that repels her from Democrats. She acknowledges the role of the state in helping those in true need but too often, she says, social programs become economic crutches for people who could be working harder.
“I’m a huge advocate of personal responsibility,” she says. “You gotta get in the fight. It’s tough to see women around you use abortion as a method of birth control.
“Sometimes life gets ahead of you. That’s when government is at its best. But I think we really lose when we say, ‘Don’t try. We got you.’ You stifle that burning desire to achieve.”
She actually liked the intent of Obama’s Affordable Care Act, but when I mention Obamacare to her now, her head begins shaking before I’ve finished the question.
“Look, the system was broken, but I don’t like how it was rammed down our throats,” she says. “Obama did a top-down implementation on a policy not truly embraced by the American people. It was contrary to the Granite State way of doing things.”
She heard one of Shaheen’s town hall meetings on Obamacare and got even more turned off to her candidacy.
Terzakis learned about hard work from her mother, Maureen, who ran the family-owned Ye Olde Sandwich Shop across from the historic Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, Massachusetts. Maureen was tapped by her Irish Catholic family to become a nun. She told her family to keep looking.
From a tender age, Terzakis interacted with tourists from all over the world who visited the town that gained infamy for its witch trials. She waitressed, ran the cash register, bused tables at the restaurant.
“It was all hands on deck. It was a laboratory to see how stick-to-itness materialized,” she says.
At the dinner table, she was made to take responsibility for her opinions and actions.
“What my mom found most abhorrent was to be an accidental tourist in your own life. She was always questioning why.”
After college, Terzakis married Andrew, an Air Force officer. “He was my first and only blind date. I still get butterflies when I see him.”
She looks back at her life through the lens of a military spouse – through all the places her husband’s job took them. Hawaii, Arizona, Nebraska, New Mexico, Illinois, Virginia, Washington D.C.
When she lived on Route 123 in Lorton, Virginia, she took her daughters – then in middle school – to a memorial honoring suffragettes at the local prison. In 1917, more than 70 women were jailed there, beaten and force-fed. It became a turning point in the struggle for women to gain the right to vote.
She wanted Jessica, now 26, and Rachael, 24, to see the price women paid to give them the rights they have today. She thinks too many young women lose sight of the struggle.
“Our vote is less than a hundred years old,” Terzakis says. “I don’t believe they understand my mom didn’t have everything they do.”
Despite the gains made by women, Terzakis worries about what kind of future awaits her daughters.
“We had so many options,” she says about her generation. “It seems like our kids don’t have that.”
So, who are the role models of today? Which women inspire her?
Terzakis points to the cleaning woman vacuuming a rug in the hotel lobby.
“There’s a lot of honor here in these women who show up every day and get it done.”