Editor’s Note: The following is an ongoing column series that takes a look into Leadership Wilson’s class of 2014, the best class ever, as it tours Wilson County and learns about all it has to offer.
“We live under a government of men and morning newspapers.”
— Wendell Phillips
Let’s face it; government is quite stuffy for some and even a bit boring for most.
But on an overcast, chilly Wednesday afternoon, for a couple of brief moments, a Lebanon High School junior actually made government fun.
This year’s Leadership Wilson class joined forces with the Youth Leadership Wilson group for a train ride to Nashville this week for a tour of the state Capitol. The two groups came together thick as thieves, no pun intended.
Of course, there was a lot of, “Hey, I know your dad,” as we all became acquainted with one another.
The tour afforded us the opportunity to rub elbows with many of the state’s top policymakers and gain insight into how those simple ideas are put on paper, discussed, debated and eventually become the law of the land.
It was exciting to see democracy in action, but I am speaking for myself. A fellow classmate, Ray Hubner, said, “It’s like organized chaos.” And it was in many respects. To say there’s a lot going on in that 100-year-old building each day is an understatement.
The day started with greetings from the “third most powerful person in the state” and the “second most powerful person in the state.” House speaker Beth Harwell gave us a brief visit just before Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey did the same.
Ramsey, with his apparent confidence, shared a little-known fact I was unaware of as a newcomer to the state. It appears he’s the only Senate speaker of all the 50 states and actually has “to work for a living.” His words.
I mean no disrespect to the lieutenant governor, who was elected by his fellow senators. He’s actually the second longest serving lieutenant governor in state history, which means he must be doing something right.
He also paid a visit to Wilson County on Friday night, which indicates to me his list of good deeds just got that much longer.
We were escorted to a committee room, where we heard from our local legislative delegation about the inner workings of the General Assembly.
We were introduced to state Comptroller Justin Wilson, also known as “the Money Cop,” and state Treasurer David Lillard Jr., who affectionately gave Wilson his nickname.
Some of us got to sit in on a subcommittee meeting chaired by Rep. Susan Lynn with Rep. Mark Pody serving as a member, while others took a guided tour of the Capitol building and still others visited nearby museums.
After a brisk walk to the Farmers Market and back, we were further introduced to representatives from the departments of education, corrections and transportation.
But the highlight of the day came that afternoon when, as we stood on the Capitol steps, Gov. Bill Haslam came out for a planned photo session.
Now let me just say, I’ve met the governor before. In fact, he’s probably about the fifth or so governor I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in two states combined.
But I’ve got to hand it to Haslam. Of those handful of governors I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, he’s probably the most accommodating.
Taking a page from Ellen DeGeneres’ playbook as host of the Oscars from a few nights prior, Lebanon High School junior Dalton Teel was not to be outdone. And that’s a tall order after DeGeneres crashed Twitter with her selfie.
Nevertheless, Teel was determined. He waited patiently for just the right moment to ask Haslam for the opportunity. And Haslam graciously consented as Teel’s classmates photobombed the selfie of he and the governor.
And for that brief moment, government was fun. Well then and the attempt at getting March 5 designated “Gregg Clarke Day” in the state of Tennessee in honor of Clarke’s birthday.
For Teel, it was mission accomplished. For some reason, however, Gregg Clarke Day was a no-go. I think Gregg has a question, though.
So our trip to the Capitol was a success despite a few pairs of sore feet and generally near-exhaustion all around.
Who knew running a state could be so challenging and fun all at the same time? At least Teel has the selfie to prove it.
Jared Felkins is The Democrat’s director of content. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @paperboyfelkins.