The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

Representative Nickel

US Congressman Wiley Nickel visits America Adrift
Photo credit: Nick Saracino
Seniors Benjamin Kagan and Sam Forst discuss the current state of American Politics with Parker Alumn and Member of Congress, Wiley Nickel ’94.

Wake up. Go to the gym at 6:30 a.m. for a bipartisan crossfit class. Attend meetings, committee hearings, and votes on the floor. Participate in press conferences and receptions. This is an average day in the life of US Congressman Wiley Nickel ‘94, who recently visited the America Adrift class taught by Upper School history teacher, Dan Greenstone, via Zoom. 

Nickel is a Parker alum and since 2023 has served as the U.S. representative for North Carolina’s 13th congressional district where he’s fought to lower the cost of living, expand access to affordable health care, and protect voting and women’s reproductive health rights.

According to the Upper School Program of Studies, “America Adrift: US History since the Cold War” is a first semester elective offered to seniors. This class uses America’s recent history, such as three presidential impeachments, the attacks of September 11, 2001, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Great Recession, the insurrection of January 6, the opioid epidemic, widening economic inequality, and the pandemic, to answer the two essential questions of the class: how did our country become so polarized and divided? And why does the United States seem to be adrift? 

“I’ve noticed over the last couple decades that the country has gotten angrier and angrier. If there’s one thing that people from both sides of the political divide agree on, it’s that the country is not going in the right direction. They don’t agree about the causes, but they agree that things are not going well,” Greenstone said. “I wanted to teach this class to do a deep dive into the root issues of our unhappiness as a country. I thought doing a history of contemporary America would allow both me and my students to learn a lot.”

Prior to being in Congress, Nickel was a member of the North Carolina Senate representing the 16th district from 2019 to 2023, an attorney, and a small business owner, and he worked for two White House administrations. Nickel earned a BA degree in Political Science from Tulane University and later graduated from the Pepperdine University School of Law. He now lives in Cary with his wife Caroline and their two kids. 

Nickel’s Parker education was crucial in developing who he is today. “During his meeting with our class, he talked to us about how his Parker education shaped the way in which he governs and thinks about the problems he encounters every day in Congress,” Benjamin Kagan, a senior in America Adrift said. 

“I got a great education that taught me to seriously consider questions about who you are, what you want to do with your life, and how you want to serve your community,” Nickel said. “I got so much of that at Parker, service to your community, and I stuck with it by working in politics.”

Grant Koh, a senior in America Adrift, enjoyed hearing from Congressman Nickel. “It was cool to hear from a congressperson about some of the day-to-day, especially because we were hearing from him at a time when the House of Representatives is going through a lot of craziness,” Koh said. “It was interesting to see a moderate’s perspective on everything that was going on.”

Both Koh and Kagan were interested in taking the America Adrift class because of its focus on current events. “Since this is a newer, less shaped class, it really presented the opportunity for us to get into things that are currently happening today, and then see how they affect our history and how they interact with the way in which things used to happen in America,” Kagan said.

Nickel, as demonstrated by his daily routine, is on many of the House’s committees. He currently serves on the House Committee on Financial Services and the Subcommittee on Capital Markets, the Subcommittee on National Security, Illicit Finance, and International Financial Institutions, and the Subcommittee on Digital Assets, Financial Technology, and Inclusion. 

Nickel is also active in various task forces and caucuses as a way to advocate for his beliefs and his emphasis on bipartisanship. He is a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group dedicated to changing the partisan political culture of D.C. by working together, Democrats and Republicans alike, to solve our country’s most pressing challenges. 

His other involvements include the New Democrat Coalition as the Vice Chair of the Affordable Housing Task Force and a member of the Immigration & Border Security Task Force, the Sustainable Energy & Environment Coalition, and the Pro-Choice Caucus

Kagan was the one who connected Nickel to the America Adrift class. He worked in Washington D.C. as a Senate Page over the summer and had the opportunity to meet with Nickel, which is how he made the connection that ultimately led to the meeting between Nickel and America Adrift. 

“Benjamin suggested that we do a visit with him, and I thought that was a tremendous idea for lots of reasons, one of them is that Congressman Nickel is actively trying to bridge the partisan divide,” Greenstone said. “One of our units in the class is on political polarization, and Congressman Nickel is very aware of this problem and has tried hard to solve it.”

During Nickel’s Zoom meeting with the students in America Adrift, he spoke about his focus on bipartisan politics. “I’m hopeful that we will get to a point where we will have Democrats and Republicans in the middle working together on the things we have to do for this country,” he said. “We need solutions from the center.”

“In America Adrift, through our study of political polarization, the class has come to realize that the current political incentive structure does not reward compromise and bipartisanship,” Greenstone said. “Instead, it awards ideologues who move further to the left or right with reelection, campaign contributions, social media currency, and media appearances,” Greenstone added.“There is no motivation for folks to work together towards the center when all one cares about is their primary election,” Nickel said. 

Nickel also discussed with America Adrift about the concept of gerrymandering, which is when the boundaries of an electoral constituency are manipulated to favor one party or class, as a main cause of political polarization. “Partisan gerrymandering is ruining our country,” Nickel said. “Of the 445 members of Congress, only 10% of the seats aren’t foregone conclusions, meaning that we already know which party is going to win 90% of the seats.” 

Nickel’s district is greatly affected by gerrymandering, especially with the drawing of a new congressional map passed by Republican-led North Carolina legislature that heavily favors the Republican party. According to an analysis published by redistricting expert, Jonathan Mattingly, a mathematics professor at Duke University, this new map would allow Republicans to win as many as 11 of the 14 seats. This effectively robs Nickels district’s voters of having a real voice at the ballot box and makes it almost impossible for him to win reelection to his seat in the next election cycle. 

In fact, the following day after Nickel’s meeting with America Adrift, he found out that his district had been gerrymandered away. “He will undoubtedly be replaced by somebody more partisan and more ideological than he is, which is one of the major problems our country faces,” Greenstone said. “It’s very sad in some ways to me. I wish we had more Congress people like him. I’m afraid we’re going to have fewer.”

On social media, Nickel has called to sue over the new gerrymandered maps drawn, however, it has not yet been confirmed whether he is actually suing or not. Four years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a North Carolina case that it would not rule on partisan gerrymandering, instead leaving it up to the states. Since the Republican Party has a 5-2 advantage on the North Carolina Supreme Court, Democrats like Nickel are at a disadvantage. The only available option for Nickel to sue is by arguing under the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting, that the map is disenfranchising Black voters. In fact, the Supreme Court has ruled just that in the past, in the case of an Alabama congressional map that gave Republicans six of seven seats.

Nickel emphasized the fact that Democrats should not try to gerrymander to sway outcomes. “We need nationwide independent districting reform if we want to have our elections truly be a competition for the best ideas. I’ve authored a bill to do this. The only way forward is to do this on a federal level so that everyone is playing on a level field,” Nickel said. “If we are able to do that, we will have more cooperation and Congress will work much differently.”

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About the Contributor
Saroya Ornelas Pagnucci, Online Editor
Saroya Ornelas Pagnucci is a senior and one of the Online Editors for “The Weekly.” When she is not managing the Weekly's website or writing informative articles for the Parker community, she is likely practicing cello, reading, playing volleyball, or at dance practice. Outside of "The Weekly," she is one of the heads of the Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS), the Director of Cross-Grade Communication for Student Government, a Berkowitz Committee Head, and also loves Model U.N, Debate Club, and FWPMUN!