Looking at the national news, there’s no shortage of talk about how the midterm elections are going to be difficult for incumbents. But that hasn’t dampened the spirits of Lester Jackson. With more than a decade in the state legislature, first as a State Representative and most recently as a Senator, Jackson sees his successes as proof positive that he’s the man for the job.
We caught up with Dr. Jackson at his dental practice last week to talk about the campaign and his record.
What are the most important issues for the district?
Lester Jackson: The first is jobs, creating an economic environment where we can bring industry to our area and promote not only more jobs, but better jobs — jobs that provide a livable wage versus a minimum wage.
Number two, I think we need to invest in education. We need more emphasis on technical education — not just for those who are out of high school, but those that are currently in high school and middle school to encourage them to find meaningful employment.
Number three is healthcare. It should be a right for the citizens of this great state and not just for the privileged few who can afford health care insurance.
There’s a fourth entity we need to be concerned with and that’s crime. We need to put more emphasis toward crime prevention. We need to be better neighbors. I talked with Chief Lovett and we’re working on putting surveillance cameras in neighborhoods as a crime prevention method.
How do you propose to deal with a plate of issues that big with budgets clearly shrinking for the foreseeable future?
Lester Jackson: I think the way we’re going to tackle our economic recovery is to go after some federal money, some stimulus money, and use that for our community. I’ve been working with the federal agency to fund the harbor deepening. I worked to have Obama come to Savannah. I brought the majority whip to Savannah this summer, James Clyburn. My seniority in the senate gives me opportunities to put certain projects into the budget. Having good friends on both sides of aisle puts me in a position to bring jobs.
We’re looking at bringing a cruise ship terminal to Savannah. We’re planning our own economic recovery. I’m working with the investors in the water park along the I–95/204 corridor to give them some tax breaks to make sure their project kicks off in June rather than September. Opening up earlier brings in tourist dollars because when people drive down I-95, it gives them an opportunity to stop in Savannah and spend money. I’m working with a lot of people and I think we’re going to successful in most, if not all, of these ventures.
When the annexation of Southbridge came up some folks weren’t too happy with you. Where do you stand on it now?
Lester Jackson: I have some fundamental beliefs and one of them is that government should not be the decision-maker on issues which the citizens can decide for themselves. I’d like the people to exhaust every opportunity for themselves before big brother gets involved. I think government is big brother.
The people of Southbridge can decide for themselves if they want annexation and that’s by petition. You can put stuff on the ballot, but everybody doesn’t participate in that process. When people petition everybody participates. If it’s on the ballot only 20 or 25 percent of the people actually take an active, participatory role. I think something of this magnitude, every citizen should have a right to make a choice whether they want to be annexed or not. If they decide that they can’t decide for themselves, then it’s the government’s role to get involved. I will continue to look at the issue after a petition is signed.
I’ve heard some rumors of personal attacks against your opponent by people in your campaign. Is there any truth to that?
Lester Jackson: I think Gaster is a fine guy. I don’t want a campaign based on attacks. He has called me and said there have been some attacks against him, but none by me or my staff. My staff only consists of three people — my brother, my sister and my wife. I just talk about my record, where I want this community headed and how we can work together. I had a town hall meeting and there was somebody yelling — and I heard it too — somebody yelling something toward my opponent. It’s been rumored, but it wasn’t anybody from my staff. There was a meeting in an inner city neighborhood and he rubbed somebody the wrong way. I don’t even know how it happened. We were talking about Bay Street and you know how contentious that is.
With the Bay Street widening, will people be displaced one way or the other? Is that the price of progress? Are there things in the works that could change that situation?
Lester Jackson: The widening of Bay Street is a five–year process, and in the five years before they break ground, there are a number of changes that can be done and a number of recommendations that can be made. Some residents want safety issues addressed on that street, that’s the number one reason we’re widening Bay Street. There’ve been three deaths on that corridor. There have been more accidents in that one mile stretch than any section in Savannah.
We’re gonna have community involvement and say what works for the community. If we can keep historic structures up, we will. If we can keep businesses thriving, we will. But we must address these safety issues. It’s a delicate balance between progress and safety and business. I’m almost sure we can have a structure where both groups will agree.
On Nov. 2, why should people vote for you and not your opponent?
Lester Jackson: In the past 12 years serving in the General Assembly I have done a lot of positive things for this community. We’re moving this community forward. There are my efforts with the dropout deterrent program; my efforts in the state projects that have been brought to Savannah — the Truman Parkway Extension, the money for the cruise ship study. I think that’s one of the reasons I should be re–elected. I have a history of getting our shared piece of necessary funding even in hard times. Even with Republican leadership I bring funding back. I have formed relationships, not only with my party, but with the opposing party. I bring with me working relationships with other legislators at the state level, locally and nationally. My term in Atlanta as a state senator has brought a lot of good things to the table. We’re gonna continue to do that.
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