Jaime Harrison on young voters and his plan to beat Trump ally Lindsey Graham

Key Points
  • Jaime Harrison, a former aide to Rep. James Clyburn, is running against Republican incumbent Lindsey Graham for a U.S. Senate seat in South Carolina.
  • From remote learning to coronavirus relief and marijuana, the 44-year-old Democrat says his state needs a senator in touch with the 21st century.
44-year-old South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison wants to take Lindsey Graham's U.S. Senate seat "blue" and says his home state needs leaders in Washington who "understand the challenges of the 21st century."
Saul Loeb | AFP via Getty Images

CNBC.com is interviewing candidates for federal office this summer to gain insight into their political vision for the U.S. and how it can impact the economic outlook for the 37% of the 2020 electorate that is from the millennial and Gen Z generations. Set to be the first American generations to be worse off than their parents, facing the threat of climate change and struggling with student debt, money matters matter to young voters in this election.

Vital stats 

Name: Jaime Harrison

Running for: Senate, South Carolina, Democrat

Opponent: Republican Lindsey Graham

Age: 44

Experience: Former aide to Rep. James Clyburn, executive director of the House Democratic Caucus, first Black chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party

Education: Yale University (BA), Georgetown University (JD)

Family: Married to University of South Carolina law professor Marie Boyd, two young sons

CNBC: You recently tweeted "You can't attend remote class if you don't have internet." What needs to be done in South Carolina to ensure that access to education is provided to all students during the pandemic?

What Congressman Clyburn [South Carolina Democratic congressman and House Majority Whip James Clyburn] has led in the House just recently, the provision in the Heroes Act, puts hundreds of billions of dollars in for infrastructure development. There was a study just recently here in South Carolina that it's probably going to take about $800 million to build out the infrastructure in the state, but it's so desperate and we desperately need it.

You know, we have about 38% of our rural communities in the state that have no access to Wi-Fi. How in the world do you expect our kids to compete with the rest of the world when they can't even connect with the rest of world?

This is 2020 not 1920 and when we are now sheltering at home, asking our folks to work from home and our children to be educated from home, there are kids in South Carolina for the past few months who have not been able to get their schooling because the community that they live in has no access to WI-Fi or has no broadband. It's just criminal and a lack of visionary leadership that we have found in the state and the nation.

Now Lindsey Graham is talking about this issue, but I've been talking about since I've gotten into this race and he's been a senator for well over 20 plus years. It's about time that we have people who understand the challenges of the 21st century representing us in Washington. 

CNBC: According to Pew Research, Gen Z reports to being the hardest hit by the coronavirus with over half those polled saying they know someone who lost a job or had to take a pay cut due to the pandemic. How will you, in the Senate, not just try and bring back jobs, but protect them for vulnerable young Americans entering the workforce?

Well, even before that, we need to make sure that those folks who are on unemployment right now get the benefits that they so desperately need just to make ends meet.

We just had Lindsey Graham here in South Carolina say that "over his dead body" will he allow the extension of the federal benefits to those who are unemployed. We have over 600,000 people in the state of South Carolina that have filed for unemployment. People are desperate for assistance because their rent hasn't stopped, mortgages haven't stopped, the commodities that they pay for — eggs, bread, milk, etc. — all have increased in terms of the prices, and student loans are still there. And so, we see a fundamental disconnect between the needs of the people in this country and the leadership, and the bill that they've been proposing to address that.

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So what we want to do, and what I want to do when I'm in the United States Senate, is fight for the people. They are our greatest assets that we have as a nation, not our companies, but the people. We have got to do all that we can to make them deal with the short-term pain that they're experiencing while at the same time shoring up some of the long-term things to make sure that there are jobs available for them and that they can still go on to get a college education.

CNBC: According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment Report, the sector of our economy that will be most negatively impacted by climate change is the health care sector, with weather-related health conditions predicted to increase in severity and unanticipated health threats likely to emerge. What changes are needed to prepare our health-care system to deal with the impending crisis?

When I think about my legacy, I think about the world that we leave behind for our children. The climate change issue is real and we are seeing its effects right here in South Carolina. Growing up here, I remember when thousand-year storms happened once in a lifetime, not just every year as they are now. As a result, we're starting to see sea levels rising and we're seeing massive flooding in South Carolina.

In Williamsburg County, we have one hospital right now, and this is the direct result of how climate change impacts health care. Williamsburg County was a place where we had one of those thousand-year floods, because of all of this massive rain, there was so much rain that it forced the closure of their hospital. To this day, the question remains whether or not that hospital will reopen. They're still working with FEMA right now to try to get everything, but it's in a low-lying area and so therefore they don't know if it's worth the investment to rebuild that hospital where it is.

That will have a huge impact on the health care of the folks that live in that county, because this is the only hospital within miles. We're going to see more of these things happen because of climate change across this country.

The racial disparities in marijuana enforcement — black men and white men smoke marijuana the same rates, but black men are much more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession — is just unacceptable.

CNBC: In South Carolina, marijuana is fully illegal; it's not legal for medicinal use and it is not decriminalized. However, young Americans disagree. According to Gallup, 81% of young Americans aged 18 to 29 believe marijuana should be legalized. Do you agree and what would you want to see in a Senate bill concerning marijuana?

I think we should legalize, regulate and tax marijuana like we do alcohol and tobacco. There is simply no medical reason to lock people up over this issue. In essence, this is about common sense. However, it's also about criminal justice. We know that marijuana arrests, including those for simple possession, account for a large number of drug arrests. The racial disparities in marijuana enforcement — black men and white men smoke marijuana the same rates, but black men are much more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession — is just unacceptable.

Across the country, we are finding that states are legalizing marijuana and medical marijuana, and it's just time for South Carolina to lead on this issue.

CNBC: A 2018 TD Ameritrade study showed that LGBTQ millennials, on average, made $59,400 a year while their straight counterparts earned $67,800. Further only 29% of LGBTQ respondents reported to feeling economically secure, as opposed to 41% of straight respondents. What do you think the Senate should do to take up this issue?

The recent court ruling on the LGBTQ workplace treatment decision was long overdue. It was past due for hard working South Carolinians and people across this country. Until this ruling, folks could legally be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation. One of the proudest accomplishments of my life was helping to pass the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crime Bill. We also worked on, in depth, the Employee Nondiscrimination Act, which again, tackled this particular issue of folks being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity.

We as a nation really need to make sure that Thomas Jefferson's words, that "all people are created equal" – well he said all men, but I'm saying all people are created equal -- actually means something. That means equal treatment under the law, that nobody should be treated differently under the law, and that we should all be protected.

We should all be able to exercise who we are and to do it with a freedom that we're not going to be persecuted or fired from our jobs. So as a senator, I'm going to fight with the same passion and fervor that I did with the Employee Nondiscrimination Act and the Matthew Shepard James Byrd Hate Crimes bill to combat LGBTQ economic inequality and discrimination particularly in all forms, but especially in the workplace.

Netflix or Hulu: Normally Hulu, but right now, Netflix. I'm a cartoon junkie. Love 'Avatar: The Last Airbender.'

Apple Music or Spotify: Spotify

Who is on your music playlist: I listen to a lot of oldies stuff. Some Motown, Michael Jackson, jazz, etc. I have young kids, so, "Wheels on the bus." It will not get out of my head.

What was your first job? Bingo caller

What was your college major? Political Science, focused on American government. I also did teacher prep.

Favorite Marvel Movie: "Endgame" and "Black Panther." I cannot wait for the second "Black Panther." Well, "Guardians of the Galaxy," too. 

What is the best financial advice you have ever gotten from your parents? Not from my parents, but the advice I give is to join the Congressional Federal Credit Union, if you are eligible. It's so much more personal and easier to get lines of credit.

Is a hot dog a sandwich? A hot dog is a hot dog…