When Reggie Love signed up for an internship on Capitol Hill in 2006, he had no idea how quickly the opportunity would turn into a role in a historical presidential campaign that ended with him serving as right-hand man to the leader of the free world.
From his 2008 campaign until December 2011, Love served as President Obama's "body man." In charge of Obama's news, music and other media, Love was expected to know the President's needs before even he did.
Love visited his hometown of Charlotte — he attended high school at Providence Day School before going on to become a football and basketball player at Duke University — on Oct. 5 to speak with students at Johnson C. Smith University about the importance of voting. It was one of multiple trips he'll make to colleges around the state throughout October.
Creative Loafing caught up with Love on campus that morning to chat about how life has changed for him since leaving the White House to complete his Executive MBA, his personal relationship with Hillary Clinton and his thoughts on watching the Charlotte Uprising take part in his home city while he watched from his home in Washington D.C.
Creative Loafing: What do you miss most from your time in the White House?
Reggie Love: I miss the people. There's nothing better than working with people who you're on the same team with who are just good people who you show up everyday to go fight with. But to work on such interesting topics and such interesting issues that had a significant impact on the lives of people, I think that's what I miss the most.
I also miss information. You always know what's going on and you get to learn about a lot of different things — high-level information — from very, very smart people.
What do you miss the least?
I do like weekends. It's like they're this amazing thing. Saturday, it's like there's this whole day that's really mine. I didn't realize it was something that's important to me until ... basically I didn't realize what it was like to have a free Saturday until I graduated business school.
What are your thoughts on this year's election?
I think it's one of the most important elections that we probably will face in the next two decades, because I think Secretary Clinton and the Democratic Party have a chance to really build upon a lot of the great work that this president has already started to begin. That's everything from social justice issues to equal wage pay and the execution of the Lily Ledbetter Act, to the passing of the Affordable Care Act.
And I think continuing to work on income inequality as a whole [is important]. During this president's administration you've seen wages increase. Income inequality is one of those things that I am so dumbfounded how people think that Donald Trump is someone that even understands the idea of what income inequality is. Like a guy who has basically never paid taxes has no idea what it's like to struggle. I think people like the President and Hillary, they've sort of come from a world where they know what it's like to be on the other side of it, where you've had to work and scrap and it's difficult and challenging, they know what it's like.
You've said of your personal relationship with Clinton that you were taken aback by how kind she was. Why does she deal with a reputation for being cold?
I think the way people report women is different than how they report men, so there's a bias that we have. I think there are times when a woman can say something and people will be like, "Oh well, she's a bitch." A guy can say the exact same thing and they'll be like, "Oh, he's tough."
What made you want to participate in this tour of local universities?
You see all the crazy stuff that our state legislature has done to try to prevent people from being able to register or to prevent them from being able to vote, so I want to be a part of the conversation to let people know that their voice matters and taking part in the political process is important. If we really want to see our country continue to make the strides and the growth that we've made over the last few years in righting a lot of things that were kind of jacked up, people need to vote. They need to go out and need to show their support.
What are your thoughts on the recent unrest in Charlotte? How does that tie in to your talks on the political process?
I think we do have biases, and the bias isn't trained, they're not things that academies are teaching. You turn on the TV, you read the newspaper, you do any social activity, everything that we do innately has biases embedded in them. What is very important is to understand that we have those biases and to understand that, for one, we may not even be able to change them. Even if we have these in-depth conversations about them, people still may have biases. And to be totally honest, I'm sure that Keith Lamont Scott had biases against white people and other people as well.
But the thing is that the bias should never be so strong that police officers feel like they need to use lethal force. My hope is that by being a part of this conversation we can come up with structures in which we can have communities that are working and living with law enforcement officers that don't feel that the only way to solve an issue or to subdue someone is by using lethal force.
Can we expect you to run for office in the near future?
When I was in school, I had my own biases about the political process. I was like, "Well, the only way to do anything is if you're rich." And I've seen firsthand that that's not the case. There's a real opportunity if you are vocal, if you're active and if you're engaged and involved to make a huge difference and to make a huge impact — to change lives and to change outcomes for the lives of people. So I hope that whatever capacity I'm able to be a part of, whether that's as a candidate, staff level, surrogate, fundraiser, whatever, I always plan on having an active voice and an active role.
Another Charlottean whose arrival in the political realm was perhaps even less expected than Love's is N.C. Sen. Jeff Jackson.
Jackson, a Chapel Hill native, says he remembers leaving work as a criminal prosecutor in Gaston County on March 26, 2014 and being told in passing that Charlotte's mayor, Patrick Cannon, had been arrested by the FBI.
As a Charlotte resident himself, Jackson was interested in the news, but never thought it would affect him. Soon, N.C. Sen. Dan Clodfelter was appointed to take Cannon's spot and friends were suggesting that Jackson — a National Guard veteran who had served in Afghanistan but never involved himself in politics before — throw his hat in the ring to replace Clodfelter.
"If it had been a normal election, I would've lost. There would have been someone with more name recognition and more money," Jackson says. "But because these three doors opened up, some unknown, basically reasonable and basically decent person got to enter the system. It was a fluke."
Creative Loafing spoke with Jackson in his Uptown office recently about the upcoming local elections, youth skepticism with the political process and how we can make more "flukes" happen.
Creative Loafing: Which one campaign this election season do you see as most important to the average Charlottean?
Jeff Jackson: No question, Roy Cooper [who is running for Governor against incumbent Pat McCrory]. I'm all for Hillary, I'm all for Deborah [Ross, who is running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Richard Burr], but if Roy Cooper doesn't win, then we are in the swamp for at least another 4 years.
Because of gerrymandering, it is impossible to take back the majority in either the [North Carolina] House or Senate. The only way to get a seat at the table is to be able to sustain a governor's veto. If Roy doesn't win [long sigh] and here's the thing, if Roy wins but we don't pick up four seats in the House or five seats in the Senate, then his victory is largely symbolic, because all of his vetoes get overridden. That's why it's so important that we both elect Roy and break the supermajority in one of two chambers.
Are you optimistic of that?
I fully expect that we will break the supermajority in one of two chambers, and that's not political BS, I'm telling you it really looks probable at this point.
How much of the time in which you're campaigning for your own re-election do you also spend campaigning for Cooper and others?
Every stop. I tell people, "If y'all don't vote for Roy Cooper, I just don't know what to tell you." I need a friend in the governor's office. North Carolina needs a friend in the governor's office. I tell them what an amazing race Deborah Ross has run, really the most remarkable story, certainly in the state, this year. To come from 15 points down to basically tied is remarkable. Then I always try to put Josh Stein on their radar, who's running for attorney general. That race doesn't get a whole lot of coverage but it will be crucial, and to me, the choice is clear.
You've been one of the more vocal opponents of the infamous House Bill 2. In your opinion, are we any closer to getting it repealed?
I think we’re closer than we were but I still don’t think we’re even on the 50-yard line to getting this repealed. I think we’ve moved from the one-yard line to the 20-yard line. There is a group of moderate Republicans that strongly favor repeal, but they don’t have the majority of their caucus yet.
What do you say to people who are on the fence about the value of becoming politically active? For example, members of the Charlotte Uprising who have long felt left behind by both parties?
I get the frustration with the lack of progress. I get the cynicism about the political system, but there is no path to sustainable change that doesn't go through our political system. There is no choice but to be committed to political solutions to these problems. As elusive as those solutions appear, it is the only way to create true change. I am deeply sympathetic to the frustrations of those who have seen very little action from politicians on these issues for decades. But I would caution those individuals to make sure that their skepticism doesn't become cynicism. It's one thing to be deeply skeptical, but at the point where that crosses into outright cynicism, it's difficult to work together with other people to create change.
What about folks who feel skeptical about both presidential candidates and don't want to vote for either?
I would say to people who have a preference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, please express that preference by voting for one or the other. If you truly don't have a preference between the two and you think they're equally bad, that's a separate conversation we need to have, but if you have a preference please pick one or the other, because if you don't, you are delegating that responsibility to the rest of us.
I truly feel my conscience could not bear the weight of not doing everything in my power to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president. That is clearly the overriding moral imperative in this election. I wish this election were a high-minded debate between two political forces offering genuine policy ideas, but it's just not. There is a deeply ignorant madman who is dangerously close to the nuclear arsenal and that must be prevented. We don't get to talk about Jill Stein under these circumstances, I'm sorry.
Do you sometimes feel frustration with the system yourself?
Deep frustration. I truly get it when it comes to how infuriating the lack of progress can be. I see up close our political leaders take huge steps backward on behalf of the state and it's alarming and discouraging, but I don't quit. I don't resign my seat out of frustration. The idea is to stick around until there's a moment when you can actually make real progress. I fully expect it to take years. I get it.
I talk to people about gerrymandering and I explain to them that 90 percent of their legislators are invulnerable in a general election. I see the look on their face and I feel for them. They say, "What can we do? How can we fix this?" And I don't have a great answer other than to stick with it.
On that note, are you optimistic about the court-ordered redrawing of district lines?
That can only benefit, because the current maps are so terrible, so politically one-sided, that virtually any change brings the pendulum closer to the center. They're still going to comply with the court order as minimally as possible, but we expect a significant number of seats that are now safe to become competitive.
You've said it was a "fluke" that put you in your seat without having to run an expensive campaign. How do we get more flukes?
That's a great question. You have to end gerrymandering, number one. You need to publicly finance the campaigns, number two. And then we have to look at making the General Assembly a true citizen legislature, and probably fix the lengths of the terms so that people who own small businesses or work for small businesses or are raising families can make it work for their lives.