Tanner Glenn was a student in Rich Nixon’s history class at Corinth Holders High School just three years ago.
Now Nixon is running for a seat in the North Carolina General Assembly, where he hopes to push for a renewed investment in public education. And Glenn, a 20-year-old sophomore at the UNC-Chapel Hill, is running his campaign.
It’s a rare alliance that both hope will lead to a victory in November. They know each other well, in the way that only teachers and students do. And though neither has much direct experience with building a political campaign, each believes deeply in the other.
“I can’t ask for anyone who’s more enthusiastic or energetic than Tanner,” said Nixon, 60, a North Carolina native who has taught for 37 years. “He thinks well; he’s got keen perception, and once he sets his mind on something, he does it.”
Glenn, an activist with the local Democratic Party and a volunteer for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, said that when he heard Nixon had filed for office, he knew immediately that he wanted to help. It was Nixon’s Advanced Placement U.S. History class that inspired him to become politically active, Glenn said.
“Because of this profound impact he had on my life, I could only imagine the kind of impact he could have as a legislator in Raleigh,” said Glenn, who plans to take a break from college in the fall so he can focus on the campaign full time.
The pair don’t yet know who their opponent will be. They are seeking the District 26 House seat, which is being vacated by a Republican. Two Republican candidates are campaigning for their party’s nomination.
Nixon – who is aware that he will have some name recognition at the polls, though not necessarily the positive kind – said that he was moved to run for office because of what he described as an assault on public education by the Republican-dominated legislature.
“We’ve lost a lot of funding, and it’s gotten to the point where the public school system is really challenged,” Nixon said.
Nixon, who has served in leadership positions with local and state affiliates of the National Education Association, also opposes efforts to strip teachers of their job protections and changes to the state’s teacher salary schedule that raised compensation for new teachers without comparable increases for veterans.
Glenn said he believes that Nixon’s focus on public education will resonate with voters across the political spectrum. “I think that people care less about party if they know they have a candidate who will listen to them and who knows the needs of the district. Rich is that candidate,” Glenn said.
Glenn grew up in a Republican family and considered himself a Republican for most of his life; he interned for the North Carolina GOP when he was 16.
Then he took Nixon’s class, he said, and though Glenn never knew his teacher’s political leanings, the experience pushed him to think more deeply about his own political beliefs.