Jackson is an attorney with an office near downtown Athens, but she’s also the executive director of the Northeast Georgia Community Care Services Program—a state and federally funded program that gets older and disabled people the help they need to live at home.
Here—I thought—is somebody who could start educating me a little more about local politics, and particularly about politics within the African American community in Athens. So I emailed her some questions…
Q. In your 2008 race, you outpolled Cowsert in Clarke Co. but lost by wide margins in Oconee and Walton counties. What did you learn about the 46th Senate District? Can a Democrat win in it now? What about an African American?
A. The 46th district is made up of a more progressive Clarke Co. along with a bit more conservative Walton and Oconee Counties. The district was redrawn a few years back to capture a more Republican populace. In order to achieve this goal, Clarke Co. was divided, with the western half going into the 46th district and the eastern part falling into the 47th district. Additionally, Walton Co. has enjoyed growth from the urban flight from the Atlanta area. Like Walton Co., Oconee Co. has also experienced generous growth. However, the difference is that Oconee Co. has maintained an active Democratic community. It is unfortunate that the county with the largest population (Clarke Co.) is not represented by the party with whom they most identify and which shares their core values. With that said, I believe that it is possible for a Democrat, African American or otherwise, to win the 46th district, but the sun, stars and moon would have to line up perfectly.
Q. From your perspective, what are the most important local issues for African Americans in Athens-Clarke Co.?
A. The most important local issues for African Americans in Athens-Clarke Co. are jobs, job maintenance and career opportunities. If there are ample employment opportunities, all of Athens will prosper. Athens-Clarke county needs to attract hefty employers to this area while at the same time offer a labor-ready pool of employees. Thus, we need to make sure our young folks are properly educated, trained and prepared for the workforce. We have the infrastructure in place with our secondary schools, Athens Tech, UGA and other local institutions of higher learning.
Q. Is it fair to say there’s a leadership vacuum within the African American community here in Athens at least in terms of local and state issues?
A. We have representation at the local level and a state representative serving from Athens. It would be great if we could have representation at certain other levels who are equally sensitive to the needs of constituents on both sides of the Arches.
Q. But do you think the leadership within African American community--and this is not just a question about elected officials--is effective in advocating for the community on important issues?
A. Since I believe that the "important issues" stem from the lack of employment opportunities, and since that spreads throughout the African American community as well as the community at large, I think that the leadership is now more apt to listen to viable options (i.e., bio-research facilities) advocated by African American leadership.
Q. Describe the political relationship between local African Americans and local white progressives. Is there much of a sense of partnership or alliance?
A. I appreciated very much the support I received from progressive folks in Clarke and Oconee Counties. There appears to be a good relationship amongst those of us who share the same core values.
Q. Putting your campaign to the side for a moment, do you think progressives and the African American community do a good job of not taking each other’s support for granted? Is there enough work being done on each side to keep alliances strong?
A. Politics being what it is, I would venture to say that if the politician wants to be re-elected, they would have to have some accountability to the constituency in order to get re-elected. Most of the local elected officials recognize whom they serve and seek input on how to best serve.
Q. Here’s a non-political question. Let’s say an African American professional—a lawyer or a professor—has a job offer from an employer in Athens. She wants to know what living and working in Athens is like. What do you tell her? What advice? Any cautions?
A. Athens is a great place to live, work, and raise a family. We have a small town flavor with a progressive and diverse population. You can witness a great hometown rivalry on Friday nights under the lights or take in a classical ballet or musical concert. Athens is perfectly situated close enough to Atlanta to enjoy a visit there, but far enough away so that we don’t have to deal with big city issues. One of our biggest assets is the University of Georgia, which offers cultural activities as well as a large pool of potential clients, and perhaps a friend or two.
Q. Do you have any plans to run for office again? For the state senate seat or something else?
A. Although I still have the political bug in me, I don't have any plans to run for senate or any other office. I'll just have to satisfy my interests by working on the campaigns of others.
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This interview was conducted via email. The text published here is an ever so slightly edited version of the actual exchange.Image credit: from the Sherry Jackson 2008 State Senate campaign web site