By Fran Djoukeng
Utah Sen. John Valentine resigned from his term in office in order to become chair of the Utah State Tax Commission last fall. This vacancy prompted Alvin Bernard Jackson to spend two and a half grueling months through the state’s caucus system, competing against three other more prominent challengers. He won the open seat after winning the county convention by one vote.
“Based on my 16 years in Washington, D.C., doing government relations and lobbying and the last seven years teaching the Constitution from the viewpoint of the Founders, it was an easy decision for my family and I to get involved in politics and run for this office,” said Sen. Jackson, who a Republican who represents District 14 in northern Utah County
Jackson is one of a few senators who did not vote for the anti-discrimination bill SB296 that recently passed in March. The law modifies the Utah Anti-discrimination Act and the Utah Fair Housing Act to address discrimination and religious freedom. He said he is against having the government pass legislation “which forces people to be kind to one another.”
For Jackson, the LGBT movement cannot be compared to civil rights objectives, an argument often employed by LGBT supporters. “Utah has been a great place to live for the Jackson family, and we’ve felt no discrimination since we moved here in 2010,” Jackson said. “I will never equate the LGBT movement to the Civil Rights Era, of which my parents were a part, as I believe it diminishes the great persecution my forefathers experienced since the first slave ship arrived in America in 1619.”
Jackson said it is problematic for him to reconcile legislation that lists “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” next to race. “The creation of lists divide us, not brings us together. Creating special dispensation for a select group, in my opinion, is unconstitutional,” Jackson said. “This legislation will have unintended consequences, which will manifest itself in the coming months.”
His first term, Jackson said, allowed him to listen and observe. He said he noticed the inconsistency of voting patterns for varying issues throughout the session. “It became clear to me that there is a lack of understanding among legislators regarding the proper role of government. Hence, there is an education void prevalent, as it pertains to principles of liberty and a deep understanding of the Constitution,” Jackson said.
“Legislators were all over the place regarding their votes and were running legislation counter to principles of liberty. That probably was the most disheartening thing to witness during my first session,” Jackson said.
During his first term, Jackson, who chairs the Transportation, Public Utilities, and Technology Committee, worked to transform the state collection of gas tax (HB362), which he said is his biggest accomplishment. There had not been a change to the system since 1997.
Jackson helped draft SB297, a religious liberty bill that accompanied the anti-discrimination bill, SB296, which Jackson admitted “wasn’t perfect, but a step in the right direction.”
Moving forward, Jackson plans to solidify relationships with his colleagues at the Capitol. “I hope to capitalize on the goodwill I’ve created among my colleagues to move legislation that pertains to government’s primary purpose, and that is to protect the rights of the people,” he said.
Among those is Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, who began legislative service in July of 1996. Dayton understands Jackson’s experience, since she also began her service during a special election and was appointed to fill a vacancy after her representative moved away. She said she anticipated a mutual friendship, because she believes she and Jackson are “on the same political wavelength.”
Dayton also did not vote affirmatively for SB296. Under federal law, a protected class is a fundamental characteristic of an individual, which shields him or her from discrimination, including age, race, national origin and religion.
“I do not vote for special protected classes, because we are all a special protected class in America under the Constitution. We all already have those protections. If we start carving out separate identifiable groups the implication is that they don’t already have it, and so it is like a vote against the Constitution,” Dayton said. “I always vote against special protected classes.”
Dayton said the similar ideology she shares with Jackson made for a working friendship. “We are both very concerned about maintaining the Constitution, maintaining our constitutional liberties, supporting the family as the fundamental unit of the society. We have a focus looking out for the taxpayers more than the tax spenders,” Dayton said.
Dayton said Jackson was articulate in explaining and defending his decisions. “He didn’t come up there wondering whether he was going to fit in or flounder. He knew what he believed, he knew what he wanted to accomplish, and he knew how to align his votes up with his political compass. It just so happened all our votes fell in the same category.”
The Utah State legislature meets for 45 days during a session and convenes after for monthly meetings or “interims,” during which committees hold discussions on bills.
Jackson missed the interim meetings prior to the 2015 session due to his late appointment, but Dayton said he is an asset to the Utah Senate.
“You have to know what your political compass is. You need to come with an understanding of what your political principles are. You need to come with confidence to express them, and you need to come with the ability to articulate what matters to you,” Dayton said. “Jackson already had all those kinds of things in place, which are all essential for meaningful service.”
Among those lessons learned, Jackson says, is the great potential the state has to lead. “I learned the success of this state is not rooted in what the government is doing. This state is successful, because of the people, who are remarkable. We have important businesses that have roots in Utah, and companies are moving in from other states, because the people here are educated and live quality lives,” Jackson said.
“It is my hope going forward we can leverage the good things that are happening here to influence other states and Washington, D.C. to do better.”