• Tue. Dec 6th, 2022

NC’s Jeff Jackson, Wiley Nickel and Don Davis head to Congress

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State Senator Jeff Jackson greets Ruthie Murray, 8, after delivering his acceptance speech at Lenny Boy Brewing Co. in Charlotte on Tuesday, November 8, 2022. “We won.” Jackson announces victory in the 14th congressional district

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Newly elected Rep. Jeff Jackson said entering the US Capitol last week was like “walking into a wax museum come to life.”

Jackson spent most of the week in Washington orienting himself to the freshmen. He had only visited the Capitol once before – during his campaign.

“I’ve followed national politics for years, but most of the people I meet now are people I only knew as two-dimensional characters in our national political drama, and my image of them is based on television clips and quotes in the newspaper and in tweets and ads,” Jackson said. “Suddenly shaking their hands as they welcomed me into the building where we’ll be working together was pretty weird.”

He added that all of them are “extraordinarily nice.”

North Carolina voters promoted five of their state senators to represent them in the US House of Representatives: Jackson, Wiley Nickel, Don Davis, Valerie Foushee and Chuck Edwards. The latter two did not return phone calls requesting comment on this article.

All five have posted photos to social media from their week at the Capitol. The photos showed her smiling with the leaders of the nation. Nickel posted a photo of himself standing on it on House Speaker Nancy Pelosis’ office balcony overlooking the National Mall. A group photo on the steps of the building showed the five close together for the time official freshman class photo.

“Every time I see the Capitol, it gives me goosebumps and a strong sense of pride for our country,” Davis said. “Walking into the chamber, which we had the opportunity to do, has put my mind at ease about the voices of the American people and the importance of our history. It inspired me even more to appreciate the responsibilities given to me by the people of East North Carolina.”

For the Democrats, which includes all but Edwards, their week began with a dinner hosted by Rep. Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat.

But the real work began the next morning: the orientation.

Technology, security and coffee

Nickel, who will represent parts of the triangle, said he and his staff were immediately given encrypted cellphones, laptops and tablets.

Jackson, a tech genius, choked back a laugh when asked if he needed help with his.

“When they handed me my laptop for orientation, they looked me straight in the eye and asked with absolute sincerity if I needed help turning it on,” Jackson said. “I held up the laptop and said, ‘Laptop, turn it on.'”

Some moments were less than funny. Security in the Capitol was tight. More than usual.

Not only was the orientation beginning, but it was also the first week of Congress since a man broke into Pelosi’s San Francisco home looking for her but instead found her husband and hit him in the head with a hammer.

Davis said the level of security surprised him.

“Capitol police were everywhere,” he said. “Outside the hotel. Within the hotel wherever we moved to ensure they offered the appropriate level of security of course.”

Nickel said guards were posted outside their hotel rooms.

And one of the first meetings during orientation was about safety.

“When we arrived in DC we were given a briefing on the steps that are now being taken to protect ourselves and our family and honestly it was more than I expected,” Jackson said. “I’ve never been involved in talks like this before — certainly not in the legislature.”

Also, freshmen received thick binders with checklists of everything that needs to be done to set up a convention bureau before being sworn in in January.

Jackson said that a website also has the to-do lists, and each bullet point has a drop-down menu with its own to-do list.

When freshmen felt tired from all of this, officials made sure to offer a liquid solution.

“I’ve never been offered so much coffee in my life,” Jackson said for guidance. “Every meeting. The whole place seems to be running on it.”

Jackson tries to only drink one cup a day, so he quickly learned how to politely decline.

But donuts were a different story.

The US Capitol houses a Dunkin’ Donuts (if you know where to look), but Jackson said he couldn’t find it because there were donuts ready in every room he entered.

“My donut consumption has skyrocketed,” Jackson said. “To be fair, there were bagels too, but if there’s a plate of donuts and bagels, I won’t notice the bagels.”

life in DC

There was an optional series of orientation meetings for spouses. Jackson said his wife Marisa attended and made new friends who kept things non-partisan. She learned tips and tricks for spouses who may or may not be moving to Washington.

“I think there was a lot of pity about the difficulty of finding an apartment,” Jackson said.

He hasn’t decided where he will live yet, but he knows it will be “shockingly expensive”.

WTOP reported in May that the median price of a one-bedroom apartment in DC is $2,400.

Nickel said he “literally” doesn’t have time to look for a place and hired his mother to do that work for him.

Where congressmen hang out in Washington can be eclectic. Three-year Rep. Ted Budd, now elected Senator, slept on a Murphy bed in his office.

Davis said he doesn’t plan to do that but wants to stay somewhere close so he can be effective in Congress.

Jackson also agreed that he will not sleep in the office.

“I don’t want to ask my co-workers to go home when it’s time for me to go to bed,” Jackson said.

Jackson also decided against moving his family to Washington.

“Here’s her life,” Jackson said of his home near Charlotte. “I will not disturb her life any more than that will inevitably be.”

Jackson said he was concerned about being separated from his family while he is serving.

He learned from another member, who he did not name but said that he has served in Congress for a decade, that he writes a letter to his children every week about what he will be doing in Washington. The oldest child went to college and asked lawmakers to continue the tradition.

Jackson said he and his wife decided to take on this for their own family.

historic moment

The newcomer also witnessed a historic moment in the nation’s history. On Thursday, they were given 15 minutes to get into the chamber, where Pelosi was about to announce that while she wanted to stay in the House, she would not have a leadership role in the 118th Congress.

“It was something I didn’t expect to experience in person in my first week in DC,” Jackson said. “It was quite interesting. There were only about 25 Republicans there, and it was interesting to see how they did the internal calculation of when I gossip and when I don’t. It’s a bit like the stuff you see during the State of the Union address.”

Standing on the floor next to Rep. GK Butterfield, Davis said listening to Pelosi talk about passing the baton to the next group of Democratic leaders reminded him of the message Butterfield gave him when he decided to run. He said he realized both Pelosi and Butterfield had given their all and would now step aside to let someone else do the work.

Davis will succeed Butterfield upon his retirement next year, representing Northeast North Carolina’s 1st congressional district.

Nickel knows the Capitol better than his peers because of his work under California Representatives Dianne Feinstein and Dennis Cardoza, the latter now retired.

“I’m really looking forward to attending the swearing-in ceremony,” Nickel said. “We heard that my two children, seven and ten, are coming to live with me. My wife, she will be in the gallery. But Dennis Cardoza will stand next to me. He can be on the floor.”

Working there helps the new members with a lesson they need to learn: that the Capitol is a giant maze. Figuring out how to get from the House of Representatives chamber through Statuary Hall to the Rotunda and the Senate is fairly easy. But once they get to the other floors and into the underground tunnels that connect different buildings of the Capitol complex, it gets confusing.

Davis said he asked several tour guides and officers how to get around, and one finally advised him that you have to get lost until you find out.

“There are multiple ways to get from point A to point B,” Jackson said. “It’s never obvious, ‘Go straight, then turn left.’ There are all these ways to get anywhere and there are several occasions where I’ve had to stop and ask for directions.”

And Jackson also learned why the underground tunnels are helpful.

He bought his winter coat in college.

Twenty years ago.

And it was used.

But after experiencing his first week in Washington’s demise, Jackson decided it was time for an upgrade.

“It was bitterly cold,” Jackson said.

The freshmen must return home for Thanksgiving, but will return for another series of orientation briefings the week of November 28th.

Jackson said he feels good about the process, with his energy and focus at a high level, but knows he’s on the honeymoon phase. He says to check back with him in a week.

“If I still drink a cup of coffee a day, we call that a personal victory,” Jackson said.

For more North Carolina government and political news, subscribe to the Under the Dome Politics Newsletter from The News & Observer and NC Insider and follow our weekly Under the Dome podcast at camping.bio/underthedome or wherever you get your podcasts.

This story was originally published November 25, 2022 6:00 am.

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