Clinton Jenkins: Compelled to serve

Published 10:09 pm Friday, October 25, 2019

Clinton Jenkins jokes that, as many times as he sees oversized versions of himself every day on billboards all over Suffolk, he doesn’t need any more reminders of what he looks like.

“For me, it’s no different than looking at my face in the mirror in the morning,” Jenkins said, laughing. “You get to critique it a little bit more because they enlarge it and see all the flaws in your skin.”

Jenkins, who has twice run for city offices — clerk of court in 2003 and City Council in 2014 — hopes the third time will be the charm, running on a bigger stage in a redrawn House District 76 against incumbent Chris Jones. More than 96 percent of the district is made up of Suffolk residents, with just under 4 percent coming from Chesapeake.

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“I’m excited that the citizens in the 76th District and across the state of Virginia have offered tremendous support in giving me a chance to run,” Jenkins said. “I was asked to run by a host of persons in the city of Suffolk — churches, pastors, community leaders and political persons — and run to give the citizens a choice, to choose a candidate that represents their values. … I accepted the challenge, and here I am. I’m out here.”

Jenkins, who manages a local real estate company with his daughter Ashlin, was raised in the district and graduated from John F. Kennedy High School before enlisting in the U.S. Army, returning from duty to earn a bachelor’s degree from Saint Leo University, continuing graduate studies at Southeastern Baptist Theology Seminary.

As he has campaigned, Jenkins said the issues he hears about most are health care, public transportation and education. He might hear more about the latter one, as he is married to School Board member Karen Jenkins.

But on health care, Clinton Jenkins draws a distinction with his opponent, as he cites votes Jones made against Medicaid expansion before finally voting in favor of it last year. Jenkins said Jones voted against it until Republicans started losing their seats in the General Assembly. Jones, however, has cited the lack of a work component and the cost as the reasons he did not support it previously.

“I want to make sure that I defend health care against Republican attacks, and my opponent is a Republican,” Jenkins said. “You can camouflage it anyway you want to. He’s a Republican, and he voted against it four times. That’s a priority.”

Jenkins opposes the work requirement, saying it is something that impacts whether or not people have health care.

“I can’t understand why we would make it harder for the people in the commonwealth to get Medicaid expansion when right now, it doesn’t cost the state anything, so why penalize people?” Jenkins said. “And that’s what that work requirement does. It puts a strain on people.”

He said he has a keen understanding of people’s struggles with health care.

“My mother was one of those who didn’t have health care, so I can relate to that,” Jenkins said. “My daughter struggled with getting health care because of a pre-existing condition, so I can relate to that.”

On education, Jenkins said that, if elected, he would work closely with elected representatives on issues of concern, especially funding for teachers, support staff, new school construction and Head Start. He said education is important to him, as it helped him overcome barriers in his own life.

“My wife serves on the School Board, and when I’m elected, I think that working very closely with elected representatives would be a plus for the school system,” he said.

Jenkins said that as Election Day approaches, he will continue to knock on doors, fundraise and make himself available to talk about the issues.

“I didn’t have to make any adjustments or figure out how to do that, because I’ve been doing that for years,” Jenkins said, “working with civic leagues, and working with churches, and working with Boy Scouts and building playgrounds and parks. I’ve been doing it for years.”

He said the campaign has reminded him that he is a servant that would represent the district and work with other elected officials.

While not as flush with cash as Jones, Jenkins has been getting significant contributions, having raised $362,921 this year, including $167,500 from the House Democratic Caucus, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

Jenkins cited his work with the crisis hotline, suicide prevention and helping people find jobs, along with his upbringing, as fuel to relate well to the concerns of residents in the 76th District.

“For about seven years of my life, I grew up in a single-parent household, and my father, my biological father, left home one day and left me on the side of the road,” Jenkins said. “I’ve seen struggle, I’ve seen hard times. I watched my mother with the challenges of trying to raise four kids by herself. I understand what it is to go to school to depend on that school lunch or breakfast. I understand that. I went through that. I understand what it is to come home to a cold house. But because of good neighbors and good friends, we got through that.

“I’ve made some mistakes in my life, but I’ve learned from those mistakes, and because I’ve learned from those mistakes, and people were willing to give me an opportunity, take a chance on me, my life has improved, and based on my experience and my struggle, when I see people out there, I can relate to it, and I can understand, and it compels me to get involved to try to help out.”