North Carolina House Democrats selected a new minority leader on Monday. Darren Jackson was just re-elected to his fifth term, serving eastern Wake County. He’ll be the first Democratic leader who has spent most of his political career in the minority party.
Jackson also brings experience that might resonate with the North Carolina voters that Democrats need to reach. He lives in the same community where he grew up like a lot of the state’s rural residents. He attended public schools and when he returned to Knightdale after college, he became deeply involved in civic affairs. He brings a work ethic and commitment to his community to the job.
Jackson worked his way through college. He first went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill right after high school. Instead of completing his degree in four years, though, he dropped out and returned home. Shortly afterward, he married and they started a family.
To support his young family, Jackson went to work in retail at the Baby Superstore. A year or so later, he returned to UNC, driving to Chapel Hill for classes while working full-time in the store’s warehouse. Jackson finished his degree and continued his education at Duke University School of Law while keeping his job at the Baby Superstore. Since finishing law school, he’s been a small-town lawyer serving people across eastern Wake County, including many folks he’s known his whole life.
Jackson brings experience to the job that Democrats need. He understands that his party has a long way to go before it can become the majority party again and his vocal opposition to Republican measures, especially HB2, made him a leader among his peers. After so many years as a majority party, Democrats have, at time, had difficulty finding their way as an effective minority party.
In addition, he’s got blue-collar roots with an impressive professional pedigree. Jackson grew up in eastern Wake County when places like Knightdale and Garner had as much in common with small towns in eastern North Carolina as they do with the suburban areas they’ve become today. He still speaks with a distinct Southern accent that’s heard less frequently now than a decade or so ago.
Jackson’s leadership skills will be tested quickly this year. Not only does the legislature hold its long session, North Carolina has court-ordered legislative elections. Jackson will need to show that he can play the inside game in Raleigh while leading his caucus to connect with voters across the state. Those conversations are often, if not usually, quite different.
Jackson comes with a lot of assets. He’s been in the legislature long enough to understand how it works and he’s shown that he can work with members of both parties. His history indicates the type of work ethic necessary for a legislative leader and one respected by voters in a state like North Carolina. Finally, his small-town background in a rapidly growing county might help him bridge the rural-urban/suburban divide that has frustrated Democrats in recent years.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >