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The pastor with a Harvard law degree says he is compelled to tell the truth.
Associated Press | File May
E.W. Jackson said that if Ken Cuccinelli could have more than one term as governor, he’d back ending the tax as well.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
When E.W. Jackson, a Chesapeake minister and lawyer who has never held public office, took the GOP state convention by storm in May and secured the party’s nomination for lieutenant governor, he sent shockwaves through the Republican establishment.
More than three months later, many in the party’s moderate wing are still grappling with the fact that the nominee may be one of the most controversial and polarizing political candidates in Virginia’s recent history.
Jackson’s running mates — gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli and state Sen. Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg, the candidate for attorney general — have distanced themselves from the nominee, who has drawn national attention for his remarks on gays and black history and for calling the Democratic Party the “anti-God party.”
The candidate, who believes he has been unfairly targeted by the media, said some of the scrutiny he has been facing has been hurtful.
“I am not comfortable being depicted as a person who hates people or a person who wants to hurt people or be mean and nasty to people. Everyone who knows me knows that that’s not my personality,” Jackson, 61, said in a recent interview.
“You look at the stories sometimes and you think, ‘Who is this person?’ ” he said.
Turning to the economy
Jackson has tried to redefine himself as a candidate who is focused on improving the economy, not on enforcing a conservative social agenda.
“The biggest single policy concern where I think I can have direct impact on improving the lives of Virginians is small-business advocacy,” Jackson said.
But this latest effort to appeal to a broader electorate outside of tea party constitutionalists and the religious right, where Jackson is hailed as a popular candidate, may not help him defeat his opponent, state Sen. Ralph Northam of Norfolk, a moderate Democrat, political experts say.
“He was slow to transition from a red-meat-loving convention to a moderate general electorate, and it has cost him. Of course, his trail of controversial statements is long and would have been harmful anyway,” said Larry Sabato, head of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
Jackson first entered the political stage in 2012, when he ran in the GOP U.S. Senate primary but lost to former Gov. George Allen, receiving 5 percent of the vote.
But on May 18, after building a strong grass-roots movement in just six months, Jackson pulled off a stunning upset at the statewide GOP convention, topping six rivals for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor. His victory capped an epic four-ballot battle at the Richmond Coliseum that lasted nearly 10 hours.
The election of Virginia’s next lieutenant governor is important to both parties because he presides over the state Senate, which is split with 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans. If Jackson loses the contest, the balance of power in the chamber will swing to the Democrats.
Big target for media
Within 24 hours of Jackson’s nomination, media outlets from Virginia and beyond reported that he had linked homosexuality to pedophilia, called gays and lesbians “sick” and “perverted,” ridiculed President Barack Obama’s Christian faith and accused the Democratic Party of being “anti-God,” urging black Virginians to “not betray God” and to join Republicans.
In a video message last September, Jackson said Planned Parenthood “has been far, far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was,” adding that “the Democrat Party and Planned Parenthood are partners in this genocide.”
Days after his May nomination, Jackson added fuel to the fire when he stated that he had made the remarks in his role as a minister, not as a political candidate, but that he stood by them.
“People in ministry, pastors all over this commonwealth, who hold very similar views to my own, they hold those views as part of what they see as their religious obligation to teach those views,” Jackson said in a recent interview.
“I was making a point about the impact on the lives of black people … not the torture, the murder or the sort of things that the Ku Klux Klan did. But they conflated all of that, and tried to make me look crazy, insensitive, you name it. Nobody wants to see themselves depicted in a way they feel is not consistent with the way they are. It’s painful, it hurts. But I’m going to continue to tell the truth to the best of my ability.”
A modest upbringing
His modest upbringing may be a factor in Jackson’s drive to speak his mind.
Born in Chester, Pa., Earl Walker Jackson spent most of his childhood in a foster home after his parents separated. His family history dates back to Virginia at the time of the Revolutionary War, according to a biography published on Jackson’s campaign website.
According to the 1880 census, his great-grandparents Gabriel and Eliza were a sharecropper family in Orange County. His grandfather, Frank Jackson, moved to Richmond and later to Pennsylvania, where Jackson was born.
Between 1970 and 1973, Jackson served three years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was honorably discharged as a corporal without having to go to Vietnam.
After leaving the military, Jackson entered the University of Massachusetts in Boston and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in three years. In 1978 he earned a law degree from Harvard Law School and then practiced law in the Boston area for 15 years.
While at Harvard, Jackson studied at the institution’s divinity school and became a preacher with the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Boston.
A ‘crisis of conscience’
At one point he was a Democrat, Jackson said, but he decided to join the Republican Party in the early 1980s because the GOP’s platform was more in line with his religious beliefs.
“I had a crisis of conscience,” Jackson said. “Can I be in a party that holds these views that are antithetical to my world view? In my personal opinion, it is difficult if you are a Bible-believing Christian to reconcile that to some of the positions that the Democrat Party has taken.”
Jackson has repeatedly expressed these views on the campaign stump — but not voluntarily, he said.
“I have been forced to clarify those views because they went back and picked out ministry settings where I talked about these things and brought them into my campaign. Then I feel like I have no choice but to clarify,” he said. “I never said that if you are a Democrat, you can’t be a Christian.”
The party elites, Jackson said, are driving an agenda to rid the party, and the country, of God.
“I think I am closer to the viewpoint of the average Democrat in Virginia, the average black Christian in Virginia, than the Democrat Party, because they have been moving into a secular direction in order to accommodate these views that are simply inconsistent with traditional church teachings,” Jackson said.
His religious convictions prompted Jackson and Theodora, his wife of 42 years, to eventually move to Chesapeake, where he retired from his private law practice in 1997 to devote all his time to ministry.
Exodus Faith Ministries
Exodus Faith Ministries, the nondenominational church that Jackson founded in 1999, emerged from weekly Bible meetings. The congregation of about 50 gathers every Sunday at a Chesapeake hotel, where the church rents a room.
“We have a fine group of people who are committed to the vision of the ministry,” Jackson said. “The vision is to push people out of their comfort zones and get them fully engaged in life in the broader context of our civilization.”
Jackson and his wife also founded the Chesapeake Dr. Martin Luther King Breakfast, which is now in its 14th year.
While he said he wasn’t “terribly active” in the civil rights movement due to his young age in the 1960s, King is “someone who I deeply admire,” Jackson said.
He has a different view of other civil rights leaders like the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton, whom he has recently accused of racial division, calling them “idiots.”
“I think Dr. King, he’d be leading us in a very different direction,” Jackson said. “I kind of model myself after that; I want to bring people together as one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
His comments on race have not earned him much love from the black community, which overwhelmingly votes Democratic. Jackson isn’t sure why he fails to connect with black voters.
“I wonder if the resentment is that here is someone who challenges the status quo, here’s someone who says, ‘Take a look at what the Democrat Party has done for you — where is the progress?’ ” he said.
But getting his message out requires a lot of money — and Jackson’s war chest isn’t stacking up with campaign donations.
Sabato said the main difference between Jackson and Northam is that Northam is understated in his rhetoric. “Jackson, with his preacher’s training, is precisely the opposite. On the whole, Virginia is a state that prefers cool to hot,” he said.
Jackson’s lack of appeal to moderates and independents may be another hurdle, Sabato said.
“How many Democrats do you know who are going to vote for Jackson? Very few. How many Republicans do you know who are either going to abstain or vote for Northam? Lots. And so far, independents are clearly tilting to Northam,” Sabato said.
Jackson, however, remains confident that he will beat the odds — and his Democratic opponent.
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