Sen. Ed Jackson brings West TN values to State Capitol

BY KATE COIL
TML Communications Specialist

When State Sen. Ed Jackson, R-Jackson, made his New Year’s resolutions for 2020, his top goal was “to continue to represent West Tennessee values.”
He does this through his work on rural development, judicial reform, and support for veterans.
A Jackson native, he credits his involvement with the Boy Scouts of America as being one of the biggest influences on his life in his formative years. Jackson graduated from Jackson High School before attending Lambuth College and graduating from Memphis State University where he was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity. Jackson also served for seven years in the 30th Armored Division of the Army National Guard.
He began his career with the Southern Supply Company, founded by his grandfather in 1919, and then worked as a salesman for the Tennant Company for approximately 30 years. However, Jackson’s retirement from the corporate world didn’t mean he was ready to leave the world of business. With his wife, he co-owns three small businesses based in Jackson: Southern Comfort Coaches, Snappy Tomato Pizza, and Marilyn Jackson’s Gifts.
First elected to the Senate in 2014, Jackson’s District 27 encompasses Crockett, Dyer, Lake, Lauderdale, and Madison counties in West Tennessee. He serves the residents of 18 municipalities: Alamo, Bells, Dyersburg, Friendship, Gadsden, Gates, Halls, Henning, Humboldt, Jackson, Maury City, Medon, Newbern, Ridgely, Ripley, Three Way, Tiptonville, and Trimble.
During his tenure with the legislature, he has held a number of leadership positions in the Senate, including chair of the Calendar Committee and 1st Vice Chair of the Operations Committee. He is also a member of the Health and Welfare Committee, the State and Local Government Committee, and the Joint Government Operations Commerce, Labor, Transportation and Agriculture Subcommittee.
Jackson was appointed by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally as the only state senator on both the Police Officer Standards Training (POST) Commission and the Juvenile Justice Reform Commission.
Jackson and his wife Marilyn have been married for more than 47 years and have three children and four grandchildren.

TT&C: How did your upbringing in Jackson make you who you are today?
Ed Jackson: I have lived my whole life in Jackson. I was in the Boy Scouts and was an Eagle Scout, a church member, went to high school there and then to college at Lambuth. I then transferred on a track scholarship to what was then Memphis State and is now the University of Memphis. From there, I went into the military, in the Tennessee Army National Guard for eight years.

TT&C: Who were your biggest influences?
EJ: My parents, of course, but also my scout master. He was a great influence on me and my life. He helped me get my Eagle Scout ranking because I had the potential and desire to do that. I also worked at the Boy Scout Camp at Camp Mack Morris in West Tennessee for three summers after I got my Eagle Scout. I have also had a lot of influence from friends, teachers, and coaches. My high school football coach was a great influence.

TT&C: How would you describe your district to someone who had never been there before?
EJ: My district has five counties of which Madison County is more of a middle-sized county with Jackson being one of the larger towns in the state. The other counties and towns in my district are rural.
There are a lot of fun places to go to. Reelfoot Lake has the beautiful bald eagles that nest and raise their young. They feed off the fish in the lake. The Mississippi River streams across several of the counties. Dyersburg and Dyer County are always fun places to go to with a lot of great folks. They have some of the best mayors in the state.
The Safari Park in Crockett County is a hidden gem in West Tennessee. There are all types of wildlife you can interact with from your car in the park. Lauderdale County has the Alex Haley Museum and Fort Pillow State Park, which are beautiful places to go to. All of my counties and the entire area are great.

TT&C: What made you interested in pursuing a career in business?
EJ: My major in college was business and marketing. I always knew I would go into business of some type. My father was part of the family business my grandfather started in 1919. I went into that business and thought it was probably what I would do the rest of my life.
I worked there for seven years and decided to go to work for another larger international corporation based out of Minnesota, the Tennant Corporation. It was an international company that operated all over the world. It helped me widen my horizons.
I was in sales and sales management. I was happily with that company for 30 years. After I retired, I still had plenty of energy and wanted to do something different. I went to work for a friend for about three years to help him manage his business.
I always enjoyed working, and I’m a people person. I liked meeting and developing relationships with my customers and my coworkers. That’s what makes me work. I considered my customers and coworkers friends.

TT&C: How has your experience in the business world helped with your work as a public servant?
EJ: I had a lot of responsibilities working for a large, Fortune 500 corporation. I had to work my way up the ranks. I learned to work with people and how to work with people. When you work in sales, you are a problem solver. You have a person or a company that has a problem and you get them the product they need to solve that problem. I like being able to look back and see that I solved someone’s problem.
It’s a similar role in state government; you’re a problem solver. There are things that need to be fixed or adjusted, and we try our best to do that. There are a lot of different ways to solve problems, so we try to find the best way.
When I was working, I traveled four or five states and now I’m down to five counties. I know those counties very, very well and know a lot of the people there. I have been traveling this area for 30 years, and now I’m still traveling in this area to take care of my district. I know the people, and I know the issues, so it was sort of a natural fit for me. It wasn’t hard to transition from the job into politics because I know the area.

TT&C: What first interested you in politics? Was there a particular issue or cause that prompted you to run for office?
EJ: After I retired, I was asked to run for public office. My wife and I agreed to do that. I had always kept up with politics. I always kept up with local, state, national, and international issues. I had always been interested in how government operates and participated in government, but never as an elected official.
Once I got into office, I was put on three Senate committees: the State and Local Committee, the Health and Welfare, and Government Operations. In the State and Local Committee, Sen. [Ken] Yager, [R-Kingston], asked me which one of the subcommittees I would like to be on. I said corrections sounded interesting, and he said: ‘Good. You’re the chairman.’
I have done that for more than five years, and it has been very rewarding to make reforms on the corrections committee and to reduce the number of people in prison. It’s also important to know that 95% of the people in our state prisons will get out, and it is very important that when they get out they don’t want to go back.

TT&C: You have been very involved with the governor’s plans for corrections and justice reform, particularly juvenile justice. What are the biggest challenges Tennessee faces in this arena and how is the state working to address them?
EJ: It is very important that those getting out of prison can get a job, keep a job, get back with their family, and contribute as a citizen. One of our biggest challenges is the adult population and how to give them the skills they need so they can get a job when they get out. We want them to transition from what they experience in corrections back into public and private life again.
Probably the biggest challenge, though, is juvenile justice reform. There is not a good option in a lot of cases for juveniles. For some they are in single-parent families and that one parent is not the best option for the child. Foster care is not always the best option, and relatives are not always the best option. It can be a huge challenge to find a place for these kids can go. One of the things we realized when we finished up several months of working on juvenile justice reform was that we needed more data from the judges and the courts on what was going on with these kids and what their options are.
Many of the smaller counties have very few resources and only a few people working there. They don’t have the time to collect the data, correct it, and get it out to the state so we can look over it. We have addressed that by putting in people who can help with data in the rural counties and come up with intelligent solutions for these children.

TT&C: What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing rural development in Tennessee and what can we do to meet those challenges?
EJ: Rural development is one of the key things that Gov. Bill Lee wants to work on, and one of the things I want to also. Four of my five counties are rural and two of them are categorized as distressed. There are counties that surround my district that are at-risk. In West Tennessee, six of the 15 counties are distressed.
Healthcare, job growth, infrastructure, and education are the main things we have to address for rural development.
We have to have an educated workforce who can take the jobs when they come, and the jobs are coming. West Tennessee is much more economically healthy in recent years. We need to make sure that people graduate high school and that the TCATs and four-year universities train them to do the jobs that come along. Education is key.
Businesses don’t want to locate where there isn’t good healthcare. They want a community with hospitals and doctors. We are addressing some of that with telemedicine and rural health clinics. West Tennessee Healthcare is also doing a great job of keeping our hospitals open in rural counties to provide care.
We always need to have safe communities. Public safety and law enforcement are also important. We need to make sure that we don’t keep filling up our jails and having to build more and more jails. We need to work on recidivism and reducing our jail population.

TT&C: This year you are sponsoring one of TML’s bills, Senate Bill 1158, which looks to increase the share of state sales and use tax revenue given to municipalities back to pre-Great Recession levels. Why is this bill important and why is now the right time for its passage?
EJ: Many years ago, the state created this revenue stream for cities that gave the cities a certain percentage of the sales tax collected by the state. During the Recession, the state reduced the amount it shares with cities to help balance the state budget. Several years have passed since then, and the state is doing very well with collections. The state has collected more than anticipated for several years in a row. However, there are many cities who are struggling, particularly those in rural areas. It is time that those cities get that money back.

TT&C: What is your stance on pre-emption and local control?
EJ: I think the best government is the one that is closest to the people. I personally feel like there are certain things the state needs to do to help cities and counties. We need to be a resource to them to help cities and counties deal with their own local issues.

TT&C: How would you describe your relationship with the municipal officials in your district? What projects have you worked on with them?
EJ: I try to attend some of the county commission and city council meetings with different towns and cities in my district. It can be hard to do since they conflict with being here at the state, which I hate. But I do visit all my mayors on a regular basis. I also have a good relationship working with all of my city and county officials in the courts and the judicial system.
I think it its important to let them know who I am and that they are comfortable with calling me on my cell phone. I like to react to their needs as quickly as possible when they need help.

TT&C: Is there any particular piece of legislation you have worked on that has stood out or been special to you?
EJ: Every year it seems like something comes along that is important. This year I would say it is a bill I have been working on for two years dealing with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) in babies.
These children are born addicted to the same drug and with the same issues their parent has. If we can address that, catch these mothers, and get them help and counseling before the child is born, many times the child fares a lot better. A lot of these children have lifelong issues and problems if they are born addicted to drugs. I think that is why we are seeing some behavioral issues in our schools.
We are also having trouble in foster care because no one wants a child with those kinds of problems. We don’t want these to become lifelong problems that transfer into the courts and the prisons. I passed the bill on the Senate floor the other day.
The bill brought together the Department of Health, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, TennCare, and the Department of Children’s Services in a working group for several weeks. This is a problem we need to stop on the front end instead of waiting to address it after the child is born.