Speaking tonight from a forward position in the national-consequential U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia, the Reverend Bishop Reginald Jackson considered America in the aftermath of President Donald J. Trump’s Nov. 3rd loss – cautiously optimistic but alert to the implications of bigotry and hate – and spoke favorably about the prospect of Senate-power tilting Democratic Party wins.
Incumbent Republican Senate candidates Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue face Democratic rivals Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. Democrats need to win both seats to force a 50-50 Senate and gain control with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris poised to cast tie-breaking votes.
Now overseeing 500 AME churches in Georgia, the Atlanta-based Jackson, who became a bishop in 2012 while stationed in New Jersey and immersed himself in the politics of the Garden State while living and working in Orange, backs Warnock and Ossoff. “They’ve been working me pretty hard,” he told InsiderNJ with a laugh as the vote totals poured in Tuesday.
Vitally focused on political outreach, Jackson said, “We have to make sure this election does right by the folks in Georgia., and I think right now, based on what we’re seeing, the early returns look very good. There are a few reasons why. From 2016 to 2020, 800k new voters have joined the rolls in Georgia and a lot of them are African Americans. [Former Gubernatorial candidate] Stacy Abrams has done a herculean job getting unregistered voters registered. I think Georgia is competitive, and will be heading into the future.
“I’m enjoying it,” he said of his political work and his close ties both to Abrams and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
Also the former executive director of The Black Ministers Council of New Jersey, the Rev. Bishop Jackson is the 132nd elected bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest black religious denomination in America. A native of Delaware, he became truly politically galvanized as a seminary student in Atlanta when he experienced up close the traditions and examples of Dr. Martin Luther King, the Rev. Andrew Young and other civil rights and political leaders.
“When I was a little boy my two grandmothers said I would be a preacher, and I fought them all the time on that point because I wanted to be a lawyer, but then I came to Atlanta and the seminary, and it really shaped how I do ministry,” he said. “Atlanta taught me the influence of black ministers. I saw the power of the black church.”
Working in New Jersey exposed him to a more insidious order of segregation and racial inequality, not too different from the horrors Young experienced and described after visiting Chicago with Dr. King.
He loves the state, but “I was astounded, frankly, with the way some things in New Jersey were, and th situation there did show me that we have to do better than this, in terms of social action and social justice,” Bishop Jackson said. “Black preachers need to speak to more people. And yes, it’s true, Martin Luther King found the struggle so much more difficult and the people generally more bitter in the north than in the south, especially in Chicago.”
He said that while he misses New Jersey, he adores Atlanta, the college own that gave up close the example of his heroes.
“The city is so diverse and the interaction is so much better,” he said. “People are very honest with you here.”
As for the immediate political job at hand, the bishop said the senate elections are tight.
“I think it’s going to be a close election, but as I said, what I’ve been looking at early are several red areas where turnout is lower than it was in November, and that’s problematic for Republicans,” Jackson said. “We did a very good job of getting the black vote out. I honestly could not go anywhere where blacks were not energized.”
President Donald Trump’s bullying – and maybe illegal – phone call to the Georgia Secretary of State in which he urged him to find him 11K-plus votes did not help the opposition party, the bishop argued.
“I think that’s some of what may have kept some Republicans home,” he said.
Is he optimistic for the country ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s swearing-in on Jan. 20th?
“I think if Warnock and Ossoff win these senate seats, it will be an absolute blessing for Biden and for the country,” the bishop said. “To be frank, Mitch McConnell as a majority leader of the senate has been just as problematic as Don Trump as president. With Democrats chairing committees, including the judiciary committee where Lindsay Graham has been a disaster, we will see a marked improvement.
“I think a Democratically controlled senate will help Biden to not only deal with the virus, but to help heal the country,” Jackson added. “I am very concerned what tomorrow holds, not just in Washington but in the country. A number of AME churches received bomb threats. Now, thank God, they turned out to be true.”
But this is the world now, he said.
“I’m afraid you’re going to have possibilities of violence and the really troubling thing is we don’t realize the full threat our democracy is facing,” the bishop said. “Donald Trump wants to have an authoritarian government and I am very much disappointed that the Republicans have gone on with this. I’ve supported some Republicans over the years, in part because I think it’s good for the country to have two party government. But I don’t even refer to them as Republicans anymore. They’re Trumplicans. They are the supporters of a president who has no integrity, no morals, and no character.”