It’s one thing to read about a senator – and it’s another when he’s talking about House Bill 2 with your mom and 14 friends in your living room. That’s how I spent one recent afternoon.
N.C. Senator Jeff Jackson, who’s running for re-election in the 37th District against Republican Bob Diamond, stopped by my house on his Carolina Conversations tour, a personalized forum he hosts in Charlotte homes to talk about current issues in North Carolina.
Jackson is ready for your appetizers and to talk to your Great Aunt Ethel about education reform. Consider this Q&A a primer for your Carolina Conversation – and learn how to get on his dance card before the November election.
What’s it really like to work in the General Assembly?
It moves very slow, and then it moves very fast. There’s a lot of work that happens in the hallway as you bump into people and talk about bills that other people are working on. Most of the bills are very practical and not controversial. There’s a lot of bipartisanship on the small and mid-level legislation. Things don’t really become contentious until you start talking about the big bills, and then a different atmosphere settles and things get tense.
What was that day like when House Bill 2 was introduced?
It was my most depressing day in the legislature. It was a combination of multiple worst case scenarios. It was the worst possible process coupled with a terrible piece of legislation that you could just tell was going to have enormous negative consequences for the state that these folks couldn’t see.
What’s the latest on the Equality for All Act, which was introduced to counter HB2?
Absolutely nothing. The Republicans will never allow a bill like that to come to a vote. They control not only which bills pass and which bills fail, but which bills are permitted to even be heard in committee. And a bill like that will never be permitted to be heard in committee, let alone voted upon by the entire house. It is fully their responsibility to repeal HB2 and they will not let a Democratic measure to accomplish that even be heard.
Have Republicans and supporters of HB2 changed their mind since the Pulse nightclub massacre?
We hear rumors that certain Republicans are wavering on this issue, but then we read public statements in the press from Republicans and leadership doubling down. We can infer some division within the Republican caucus, but it’s really difficult to tell how deep.
Whatever Republicans choose to do about HB2, they are going to do it with or without the Democrats. They don’t need our support for any legislation and they’re almost certainly not going to ask for it. They have the numbers to do whatever they want on this issue, and they won’t bring something to the floor unless they know they have near unanimous support within their party for it.
There’s still a chance that in the next two weeks (before this session ends) there will be major reform of HB2 and it absolutely needs to happen. If we leave town and HB2 is intact, Charlotte will feel enormous economic damage as a result.
What does major reform look like to you?
At a minimum, it involves restoring protection for our LGBT friends.
So that doesn’t include the minimum wage or being fired for age discrimination?
Right. All of that needs to occur. (But) none of those issues will end the business freeze that we are experiencing. The only thing that ends the business freeze is restoring protections to our LGBT friends.
What’s new on the campaign trail?
We are busy campaigning when I’m home on the weekends. I’m in Raleigh from Monday through Thursday, so I only have three days home in the district to campaign. I’ve had at least two or three events every single weekend for the last 10 weeks.
What gave you the idea to do Carolina Conversations?
Someone invited me to their home and I spoke to their friends and neighbors and it was just a wonderful and informal conversation about our state. And I thought if I can do this every week, that would be a lot of fun and it would be a great way to inform and educate people about what’s happening in our state.
And it’s fed on itself. Usually what happens is someone at the conversation will volunteer to host another conversation and that’s how we’ve been able to keep the ball rolling. And you meet real people. A lot of these political events are attended by the usual suspects. This is a great way to actually meet real people who don’t normally go to fundraisers or political rallies.
What’s a question that caught you by surprise?
(A guest) made a joke about our salary and implied that we made like 10 times more than we actually make. It was something like, “How can you folks in Raleigh justify earning so much money when you’re doing such a bad job?” (I answered) “Well, sir, if it’s any consolation, our salary is $13,900.” And he said, “Well I guess we’re getting what we pay for.”
Is there food at these events?
It’s whatever the host wants to provide. It’s usually some light hors d’oeuvres, usually some cookies and soda. One person went all out and got a bunch of different items from within the district. They researched the shape of my district and found different popular restaurants and got hors d’oeuvres from three or four different restaurants in the district, which was amazing. Like barbecue and cupcakes. It was pretty cool.
I saved you that caramel salted brownie at my Carolina Conversation.
That’s right! I’ve got Amelie’s in my district.
What kind of food do you want to see at future Carolina Conversations?
I’ve got about a dozen craft breweries and I’d love to see a sampler of craft breweries within the district. That would be outstanding.
Photos: Cat Williams