On a day when icy roads and a curtailed schedule kept most state lawmakers at home, Democratic Sen. Jeff Jackson showed up for work, declared himself a quorum and unanimously changed the politics of North Carolina – in his own mind.
The first-term lawmaker expanded Medicaid, restored university funding, approved nonpartisan redistricting, made investments in wind and solar energy, outlawed puppy mills and enacted broad-based economic development – and tracked his imaginary progress on Facebook and Twitter at #JustOneLegislator.
His exploits lit up the Twitterverse – and delighted Democrats who had little clout since Republicans gained control of the legislature in 2010. In the current Senate, Republicans rule 34-16. As the day wore on, Jackson’s escapades were retweeted, Storified and posted on the gossipy national website BuzzFeed.
“I thought I would fix the state,” he said in a phone interview after he’d posted: “Just came back from the Senate chamber. All votes were unanimous. This is going to be like ‘Night at the Museum’ except at the end we’ll have a stronger middle class.”
Jackson, 32, only wishes it could be that easy.
“Or even half this easy,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be nice if both sides had a voice in legislation instead of just ramming everything through.”
Jackson’s junta began with an innocent enough tweet: “Due to inclement weather, I appear to be the only non-security person in the General Assembly this morning. I feel like I should hurry up and approve Medicaid expansion. Anything else while I’ve got the place to myself?”
Then he went through a checklist of Democratic causes, at one point adding: “I just defeated a filibuster because I needed a drink of water.” At another point: “Am now receiving lots of calls from actual lobbyists. Even the false impression of power gets their attention.”
Jackson assured one tweeter that yes, he had also expanded faster Internet connections throughout rural North Carolina.
The amused and bemused weighed in:
seems to be mounting some sort of snow coup.”
• “@JeffJacksonNC Can you please get snowed in on Capitol Hill next week?”
And there were those who weren’t amused. “Is #justonelegislator making a big play for a promotion to DC or merely demonstrating typical left-wing disdain for the legislative process” asked one tweet.
Tuesday was not the first time Jackson, a former prosecutor from Charlotte, has garnered national attention. Last summer, shortly after he was appointed to fill an unexpired seat, he made a 6-minute speech – caught on video – admonishing Republicans for not giving Democrats a chance to weigh in on or read the budget before scheduling a vote. More than 2.65 million have watched the video and Jackson received comments on it from as far away as South Africa.
The only real business the Senate did Tuesday was when a skeletal turnout gaveled in and out of session, as required by law, to hold things over until Wednesday. Jackson was there to second that motion, prompting Sen. Tom Apodaca to call him “the hardest-working senator.”
In a phone interview at the end of the day, Jackson said he didn’t anticipate the response, but he was glad he did it. He said people contacted him all day with ideas, and not just the usual issues: the electric grid and the nutritional content of school lunches were also on the growing wish list.
“It really opened the floodgates for my constituents who have ideas about how to improve government in our daily lives,” Jackson said. “It was wonderful. I think there’s a misconception that people are unengaged. The truth is people see what’s happening and a lot are discouraged. They want their voice back. This gave them the opportunity.”