Nineteen-year-old Jack King had settled into his aisle seat aboard the 9:19 a.m. flight to Washington, D.C., Monday morning when he saw a man who looked a lot like U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander sit down across the aisle a row ahead of him.
He wasn’t 100 percent certain that it really was Tennessee’s senior senator, so he started Googling pictures of Alexander to confirm his suspicion. Then the man pulled out a laptop and Jack could see that his email address was @Senate.gov. At that moment he decided that he had something to say to his senator.
So, he wrote him a letter – in cursive, with a ballpoint pen, on a sheet of paper. Very 20th century.
“I wrote him the letter thinking if he didn’t have time right now, maybe he would read it later. I knew he is more open-minded (than other Republicans), and that he may be willing to follow where the evidence leads.”
If it had been Marsha Blackburn sitting in that other aisle seat, Jack says he wouldn’t have bothered.
“A letter wouldn’t have gotten through to her. I might have asked her to her face, ‘Why are you defending misconduct?’ She has been very closed-minded to the process.”
So, Jack started writing. He was very tense.
“My hand got so sweaty that it was gross. It was wet. I was so nervous.”
He finished up the note, added his cell phone number and email address at the bottom, then approached Alexander’s seat and spoke to him.
“Sen. Alexander, could I give this to you?”
“He said sure – folded it up and put it in his pocket. I didn’t know whether he would actually read it.”
But a few minutes later, Alexander took the letter out of his pocket, unfolded it and commenced to read. Jack snapped a picture with his cell phone and tweeted it out along with a picture of the letter. State Rep. Gloria Johnson retweeted it and the whole thing probably went viral before the plane was in the air.
The encounter gave Jack a lot to think about on the flight back to D.C. A sophomore at George Washington University, he’d taken an extended Thanksgiving break after the death of his grandmother, Frances Tankersley, and had shared Thanksgiving dinner with parents Mike and Amy King and his younger brother, Sam, at NHC Place in Farragut, where his three remaining grandparents, Frank Tankersley and Don and Fran King, live. It had been a lovely, if bittersweet holiday.
But now the outside world was smacking him in the face.
Jack’s been active in politics for a long time for someone his age. He was a fellow at the Tennessee Democratic Party during his senior year at Webb School, was a field organizer for Johnson in 2018 and interned in U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen’s office last year. He’s passionate about a lot of issues, and impeachment has risen to the top of his list.
He said that the response to his letter has been overwhelmingly positive, and that most criticism has been of his handwriting.
“One of the critiques is that it looks like chicken scratch. And that is valid – horrid,” he admitted. “But somebody said this morning that this 19-year-old has no idea what he’s talking about. If he wants to know what’s really going on, he should go fight in the Middle East …”
As of Tuesday evening, Jack hadn’t heard back from Senator Alexander, and he doesn’t really expect to. But he still thinks what he did was worth doing.
“One thing I know about the process is that not everything gets through to the representatives. I had him right there in front of me, and this was going directly from my hand to his with no middleman. That’s why I seized on the opportunity. … I think Sen. Alexander is a decent man who does not condone allowing misconduct to go unchecked. I don’t really think it will work, but you have to have a little bit of hope that it will. I’m glad Senator Alexander has said he’s keeping an open mind. There are many issues I care about, but in this moment, with the crises we face, our president is trying to extort a foreign ally for his own personal gain.”
Jack King’s letter, transcribed
My name is Jack King and I’m a 19-year-old college sophomore at George Washington University from Knoxville, Tennessee. We don’t agree on much – I’m a progressive Democrat who has worked for Gloria Johnson’s state house campaign and volunteered on Indya Kincannon campaign for mayor. I am supporting Elizabeth Warren, your progressive colleague, for president.
You and I don’t agree on much, you voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act – a vote I vehemently and passionately disagree with. That said, I do believe you are a fundamentally decent and kind man. Your work with Senator Murray on health care is commendable.
When I saw you were on my flight, I knew I had to write to you. Unlike some of your colleagues, I do believe you care about constituent feedback and have an open mind. Today our country faces a crisis. Our president, by the accounts of an anonymous whistleblower, multiple ambassadors, diplomats and military officials, held up congressionally approved security assistance to Ukraine – our ally who is perpetually threatened by Russia – in exchange for investigations against his political enemies.
Whatever your personal thoughts on Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden or anyone else, I hope you can see how the president’s actions are, at the very least, problematic. If the president is not held accountable, we set a precedent that presidents of any party can extract foreign interference in our elections via investigations (or maybe [slander?], disguised as investigations), against their political rivals and dissidents.
All I ask you today is to keep an open mind when the trial reaches the Senate. I, your state and your country depend on you.
Thanks so much for your time, Jack King.
Betty Bean is a veteran reporter for Knox and Sevier counties. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.