BOONE — The 2022 North Carolina U.S. Senate primary is heating up as Boone starts to see visits from Senate contenders.
State Sen. Jeff Jackson (D — 37th District) stopped at Brookshire Park in Boone on June 26 as part of his 100 town halls in 100 counties in 100 days campaign.
“Is this beautiful or what?” Jackson asked the crowd of around 150 people to start his town hall. “There’s the U.S. Senate race in about a year and a half and I’m very interested in pursuing that. I thought, since we’re all here, we would talk about the prospect of running for U.S. Senate.”
Jackson is part of a crowded Democratic field of U.S. Senate contenders all vying to replace Sen. Richard Burr (R) who announced in 2016 that he would not seek reelection in 2022. Along with Jackson, eight other people are vying for the Democratic nomination, according to BallotPedia — a digital encyclopedia of American politics and elections.
Running for the Democratic nomination alongside Jackson include Cheri Beasley, Keith Davenport, Ava Edwards, Jenna Hamrick, Tobias LaGrone, Everett Newton, Erica Smith and Richard Watkins.
On the Republican side, the 11 people who are running for the nomination are Jennifer Banwart, Rene Borghese, Lee Brian, Ted Budd, Marty Cooke, Carlton Ellerby, James Gaghan, Benjamin Giffiths, Kenneth Harper, Pat McCrory and Mark Walker. Three independent candidates — Hayden Boyette, Kimrey Rhinehardt and Brenda Rodriguez — are also running.
Jackson — one of the first Democrat Senate candidates to visit Boone and Watauga County — became one of the youngest senators in the state Senate in 2014, according to his bio. Jackson has also served in the military and was deployed to Afghanistan for a year-long deployment.
Jackson went to law school at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and then served as the assistant district attorney in Gaston County.
Before taking questions, Jackson spoke for about 30 minutes to the gathered crowd.
“We’re making it a true 100 county campaign,” Jackson said. “Can you win by focusing on just a handful of counties? Yes, you can, but it’s not the right thing to do. We want to make this not just a gigantic marketing effort, but preparation for the job itself.”
By going to different counties across North Carolina, Jackson said he has learned a lot about the needs of various counties. One of the counties he spoke about was nearby Yadkin County, which he visited on June 13. He spoke about how Yadkin County had a hospital that closed down five years ago.
“We spoke to a doctor who had worked there,” Jackson said. “We got a sense of what it means when you have a hospital and then it closes, what that means to the community, both in terms of public health and their local economy. A big piece of this conversation, by the way, ends up being about Medicaid expansion.”
After speaking about what he learned in other counties, Jackson took questions from those in attendance. One of the first questions was related to the standoff that took place April 28 in Watauga where two sheriff’s deputies and three civilians were killed.
Jackson talked about what steps had been considered in the legislature and what bills had been filed.
“The majority party in the state legislature is simply a wholly owned subsidiary of the (National Rifle Association),” Jackson said. “I consider the NRA to be a morally and financially bankrupt organization.”
Jackson told the crowd that he thought it was time for North Carolina to have a U.S. Senator who did not care what the NRA thought.
Jackson also mentioned how cuts to mental health care were not helping to decrease gun violence. Jackson said that his hope is that coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the conversation around mental health will change and funding for the field will be prioritized.
Jackson said specifics that he thought would help were more counselors, psychologists and nurses in schools.
Another community member also asked how Jackson planned to address drug addiction, which Jackson said he has learned is a multivariable problem. Jackson said one of the ways he has seen help with that, especially as a former assistant district attorney, is offering more drug courts.
“There are a minority of counties that have decided to invest in the assets that you guys have invested in, which is fantastic,” Jackson said. “It helps people every single day. You have real leverage to help people get clean when the leverage is if you don’t, you get convicted of this crime. That is a great intervention point. And it really works. Not every time, but it has a good success ratio.”
The last question Jackson took at the hour-long town hall was related to climate change and how he would combat it. Part of the question related to the political gridlock surrounding climate change.
“That’s key, because the big problem with climate isn’t a lack of technological solutions,” Jackson said. “It’s not a lack of good ideas. It’s the political gridlock. I think this gets back to misinformation.”
Jackson said he wanted to give people a specific and local climate action plan. He said his plan would be a North Carolina-based action plan that would be released by his campaign in the future.
Part of the plan is working with agriculture in the state. In general, Jackson said there are a few key assets the state could scale up to help. Those include wind energy, the potential to use hydro as a renewable source and working on some of the policies that will help more businesses move to more renewable energy.
The 2022 General Election takes place Nov. 8.