BLOWING ROCK – For the second time in a month, Sen. Jeff Jackson, a two-term Democratic state senator from Mecklenburg County, made the trip up to the High Country Sept. 23 to stump for N.C. House candidate Ray Russell, a Democrat in his bid to unseat Republican Rep. Jonathan Jordan.
“On Nov. 6, at around 9:30-10 p.m., you’re going to see a little chyron at the bottom of the screen that says, ‘North Carolina super-majority broken,’ and you’ll know getting Ray elected made a decisive role in making that happen,” Jackson said.
“We must break the super-majority before they break North Carolina,” Russell, the owner of Ray’s Weather Center, said. “I forecast a bright future for Ashe and Watauga counties and our children and our teachers.”
The speeches were part of an education summit at Appalachian Ski Mtn. in which several local Democratic candidates spoke, including Jay Fenwick and Gary Childers of the Watauga County Board of Education current Watauga County Commissioners Billy Kennedy and Larry Turnbow and commissioner candidate Charlie Wallin.
Jackson had previously campaigned for Russell and Democratic state Senate challenger Wes Luther on Aug. 30 in Boone.
Former Gov. Jim Hunt will also be campaigning for Russell in place of current Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who had to cancel due to managing the hurricane recovery efforts, at an event on Friday, Oct. 5, in Blowing Rock.
Jackson predicted that in 2018, Democrats will flip four seats in the state House or six seats in the state Senate to break the Republican super-majority and “unlock” Cooper’s veto.
“That will reshape the political landscape in North Carolina,” Jackson said. “And Ray is one of those four. We’re 25 percent to breaking the super-majority just in this room.”
Jackson, who became the youngest state senator in North Carolina in 2014, gave a brief political history of North Carolina, saying that Democrats controlled the state legislature in North Carolina for 100 years until 2010, when the Republicans took control of the NCGA right as the census and redistricting was to occur.
“For the first time in the history of our state, Republicans got to be in control of the maps,” Jackson said.
As a result, Jackson said, North Carolina “has been in the news for stuff other than basketball.”
“That’s why we’ve had 15 of our bills struck down as unconstitutional — that’s not normal,” Jackson said. “And that explains what happened to public education.”
Jackson acknowledged that his party gerrymandered districts for years before N.C. Republicans were accused of doing so. Jackson said that Republicans filed bills to end partisan gerrymandering when they were in the minority and that the Democrats threw them all in the trash, so when the NCGA flipped in 2010, the Republicans decided on “epic payback,” as Jackson described it.
“In fact, (Republicans) got to use that ability to cheat to win. Which really bummed out my party, because that’s supposed to be our thing,” Jackson joked. “We’re supposed to be the ones to draw the maps to protect ourselves and cheat to win elections, like we did for decades.”
Jordan has filed bills for and been a public advocate for nonpartisan redistricting throughout his four terms, but the bills have not passed.
When reached for response to Jackson’s campaigning for Russell, Jordan said that Jackson doesn’t represent High Country values.
“Sen. Jackson is free to campaign wherever he wishes,” Jordan said. “But I would question why my opponent would bring a liberal Charlotte lawyer up here to the High Country to tell us what we should do in state government. I will continue to represent our conservative mountain values in Raleigh.”
Jackson said that the Republicans’ tax cuts have pulled disproportionately from public education, that teacher pay raises have not kept up with inflation and that fewer students are enrolling in education majors.
In his speech, Russell talked about his 37 years as a professor at Appalachian State University and how his wife Rhonda has worked in education for decades as well, saying he would relentlessly support teachers in the state House.
“We are all better as a community because we have the strong education system we have in Watauga and Ashe counties, we all benefit from it and it is so important to us,” Russell said. “We value children from all walks of life. Every child is important and the value of education is even written in the state constitution.”
Russell has been endorsed by the North Carolina Association of Educators, with county chapter presidents George Zeller of Ashe County and Jennifer Lacy of Watauga County speaking at the summit.
Asked to respond, Jordan said the endorsement was political.
“I am more focused on the support of our High Country teachers and parents because of our great work on school safety and teacher pay than begging for endorsement by the state’s teachers’ union,” Jordan said. “In fact, if you look at the NCAE endorsements statewide, the only thing they look for is party label. 100 percent Democratic party candidates. So they are a partisan political advocacy group trolling for lockstep liberals from my opponent’s party.”
Jackson said that new court-ordered maps have tripled the number of competitive districts in North Carolina and with Democrats fielding a candidate in every state House and Senate district, Republicans “can’t gang up on the Ray Russells of the world.”