Ellie Stevens ’25 (She/Her), Staff Writer
Hunter Callaway ’22 (He/Him), Senior Political Correspondent
This past Friday, North Carolina State Senator (D) Jeff Jackson held a town hall in the Alvarez College Union. Students had the opportunity to ask questions about his campaign and hear about his experiences around the state. Senator Jackson currently represents District 37 in southeast Mecklenburg County. He was elected in 2014 as the second-youngest senator in the state and is now running for a seat in the United States Senate.
The town hall was well attended, and students came prepared with a variety of questions. Their two biggest concerns regarded his climate change and foreign policy plans. Jackson addressed the rollout of a comprehensive climate action plan, which he said will focus on decarbonizing sources of electricity. He also emphasized the importance of collaborating with the agricultural community for climate action. Quinn Dunlap ‘25, who attented the town hall, said, “Climate anxiety is real, and it is something that I think a lot of Davidson students are going through.” Students adamantly wanted specifics of this plan and what it would entail. Other attendees, like Leah Sarkisian ‘22, expressed relief over Jackson’s push for renewable tech while remaining skeptical of his promises. “I’m curious to see if he really does prioritize climate change mitigation or if it’s just a subject he knows he needs to talk about.”
The conversation turned to foreign policy. These questions centered around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and United States involvement in Afghanistan. Senator Jackson was deployed to Afghanistan for a year prior to attending law school at UNC Chapel Hill and still serves as a Captain in the Army National Guard. He provided first hand insight into the Afghanistan War, and he believes the United States was nowhere near succeeding after years of fighting. He also identified mistakes made by the United States, such as the shut down of the SIV refugee program for interpreters and withdrawing from the Bagram air field. In terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Senator Jackson supports a two-state solution. He acknowledged the complexity of the situation in the Middle East and said that Palestinians must acknowledge the Isralei right to exist, but that the Israeli government has gone too far right. Ultimately, he believes that the United States should create space for mediation when both parties are ready.
One student asked the senator what he believed to be his top legislative achievement. Jackson recalled sexual assault legislation that he helped pass. While working as a criminal prosecutor, a rape case of his was dismissed because the victim revoked consent after sex had begun. Jackson said that North Carolina was the only state with laws that allowed this. Jackson said “I made a mental note when I was in the DA’s office- ‘when I am in the State Legislature I am going to fix this.’” The first thing he did when elected was introduce this legislation. It did not even get a hearing. Jackson said, “I thought, alright maybe that’s my fault, maybe I am just new, I’ll file it when I come back next year.” He continued to file it year after year with the same results until he took his story to the press. The story went viral, and the bill finally passed after five years.
Senator Jackson’s visit to Davidson comes as part of his college tour. He plans to hold town halls at 20 colleges in North Carolina to excite young people about the 2022 midterm election. Prior to this tour, he ran a 100 county campaign with 100 town halls in 100 days. Jackson holds these meetings “for anyone to ask any question” because he considers the foundation of his campaign to be transparency and honesty. North Carolina State Senator (D) Natasha Marcus said of Senator Jackson, “I admire his ability to communicate effectively and to inspire.” The Davidson Center for Political Engagement organized this town hall and also had a booth for Wildcats to register to vote in North Carolina, preparing students to vote in the coming local elections on November 2nd at Davidson Town Hall.
Interview with Jeff Jackson
Hunter Callaway ‘22 (HC): Why do you want to run for US Senate?
Jeff Jackson (JJ): I want to raise everybody’s expectations for the US Senator. I think expectations are way too low, and I think it’s time for a real upgrade in what our state deserves. That involves some basic things like going everywhere and listening to everybody. And it seems obvious, and yet, it’s just never done. We should have an agenda that actually reflects the state and is not just imported from some national consultants. Which again, seems obvious, but it’s just never done.
HC: How have you organized your campaign while figuring out which consultants will help you and which just want to make money?
JJ: So what I did was I made all the big decisions for my campaign before I hired anybody, I had already made decisions, like, I’m going to do 100 counties, I’m going to do town halls in every single one of those, and I’m going to use that process to put together my agenda. Once you tell people [consultants] in the interview, like here’s what I’ve already decided, then all of a sudden, they’re all for that plan because they have to be.
HC: What does North Carolina need from its politicians, and how are you going to make that happen as a US Senator?
JJ: We need a new Voting Rights Act that has to end gerrymandering. In particular, for North Carolina, ending gerrymandering is really important. It’s not going to happen in Raleigh, so it needs to happen federally. We also need a senator who treats climate change as something that exists and deserves an urgent and adequate response. And we’re not getting that out of either of our current US senators.
HC: For the Voting Rights Act, and trying to address dark money and campaign financing generally, how do you think we should change the Federal Election Commission?
JJ: That’s actually a pretty good regulatory question. I mean, one of the things is don’t have it deadlocked, right, don’t have it set up so that every vote is a tie, and it is therefore toothless. That would be the low hanging fruit with respect to regulatory reform.
HC: How are you planning to meet the needs of young North Carolinians and convince them that you really mean it?
JJ: First step, incorporate them into the campaign at a much earlier stage than usual. Usually, what campaigns do is they come to college students in the last 60 days, and they say, “help me get out the votes.” We’re not doing that; we’re here more than a year out, not just to help get people excited about our campaign, but also to inform our agenda and our approach. I’m 39. If we win, it’s going to be part of a new generation of leadership going into our US Senate. I want to be able to do that well, and to represent everyone really well.
HC: How did your time as an ADA impact your views on criminal justice? How did that manifest in your work with the judiciary and criminal laws?
JJ: It gave me a sense of the downstream effects of too little investment in public education. Early Childhood Education being a really big piece of that, literacy being a really big piece of that, over 90% of our juvenile delinquents are illiterate. And that’s not a coincidence, right?
It’s given me a sense of some things that shouldn’t be in the Criminal Code, Cannabis being one. There was another change that I was able to do regarding magistrates’ warrants. In North Carolina, I can get you arrested without involving the police. I go to the magistrate, I say Hunter trespassed on my lawn, and they will take out a warrant for your arrest. And they will just go pick you up. This happens thousands and thousands of times all over the state. And I was able to reform that process because it was a really broken process that resulted in a ton of frivolous arrests. And no one knows, it didn’t make the news or anything like that, but I’m actually really, really happy about the reform we were able to do there.
Last, expunction reform too. We had the most draconian expunction laws in the Southeast, which is really saying something. We’ve reformed that in a very positive way.
HC: Do you have anything else you want to tell Davidson?
JJ: This turnout was like twice as many people as we expected. Fantastic. Davidson continues to deliver when it comes to political energy, and I think that’s wonderful.