EA sophomore, Advance columnist Tray Smith follows political dreams

Published 3:01 am Tuesday, May 30, 2006

By By Janet Little Cooper
Anyone who follows politics is certain to know 15-year-old political columnist for The Atmore Advance, Tray Smith.
Whether they read his political views and opinions in each Sunday edition of the Advance, or see him talking politics with people of office such as Kay Ivey, Lucy Baxley, Joe Scarborough or Gov. Bob Riley himself when they pass through Atmore, they know that he eat, sleeps and breathes politics.
Smith, a sophomore at Escambia Academy, has been writing a politic column for The Advance for more than a year now. He has spent countless hours researching the structure of government and government policies, but has never seen the day-to-day operation in action.
That will change as of June 8 when Tray reports to the capital in Montgomery for his first day of work as an intern in the communications department of the Governor's office.
Smith's intern comes as a result of a conversation he shared with the Gov. at the 60th annual Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce banquet held in early February.
"The question I initially asked Gov. Riley was concerning Newt Gingrich's 1994 contract with America, which spurred a national campaign to elect Republican candidates to the United States Congress," Smith said. "The result was the first Republican majority in the House in 40 years, and the first Republican majority in the Senate in eight years. I was curious to know the Governor's thoughts on why we do not have a similar contract with Alabama that would help us elect Republican majorities to our legislature and maintain control of the governorship."
Smith returned to the Advance's staff table at the banquet following his chat with Gov. Riley and announced that he was offered an opportunity to be a summer intern at the state capitol in Montgomery.
Much to Smith's surprise, the governor made mention of their conversation in his opening remarks to everyone in attendance at the chamber banquet.
"I want to introduce to you a young man that will one day and I don't know when, but it probably want be long will be the next president of the United States, Tray Smith," Riley said midway through his opening statement. "When I was in the ninth grade I had two things on my mind, blonde headed girls and hubcaps for my car. Tray gave me one of the most insightful orientation into politics and local government that I have ever seen given. I told him that I wanted him to come work for us this summer. "
Riley asked Smith to stand up and he received a round of applause from the more than 300 people on hand.
"The Gov. said that was a good idea and told me he would like for me to come be an intern this summer," Smith said. "After the banquet the Governor requested to see me and gave me an Alabama pin and directed me to his assistant to get information about the intern program."
Last Friday, Smith had a rare opportunity to join 25 other interns for an ice cream social at the governor's mansion. Smith was one of only three high school students present. The remainder of the interns are all either college junior or seniors.
The governor's chief of staff, Toby Roth, gave the interns a tour of the mansion that concluded with ice cream on the back porch with the governor and the first lady.
"The governor and the first lady came out to the porch," Smith said. "Toby Roth, the Chief of Staff introduced the governor to me and told the governor that he had met me in Atmore and that I wrote a column about him. The governor said, 'I know, I read it.' I told him that I was proud he had actually read it. He told me that I should be proud."
The governor went on to ask Smith when he would be arriving for his internship and told Smith that he might be able to travel with him some during his stay. The governor then introduced Smith to the first lady, his wife, Patsy.
"The governor started telling his wife how involved I am in politics and that it is like a hobby to me," Smith said. "At first I didn't know if he would remember me. But he did. It was a great experience. The mansion blew my expectations. I had seen the outside but had never been inside. I thought it would be nice, but not that nice. I started thinking about how I could rearrange the furniture and where my bedroom would be one day! One of the really neat things about the outside is the swimming pool shaped like the state of Alabama. There were tennis courts, basketball courts and several gardens on the grounds also."
Smith will leave Atmore June 7, just one day after the primary, enroute for his two week and two day stay at the capital.
He is not sure what is assignment will be other than working in the communications department. Smith was chosen to work in that area based on his political columns that appear weekly in The Atmore Advance. The governor's staff felt that he would be best suited for that department after reading several of his columns.
"I hope to learn a lot about seeing the government in action," Smith said. "I want to know how everything works day to day. It will be really good since this is an election year and I will get to see the political process. I just hope he wins the primary. Which I think he will. I don't think you could go any better time of the year than an election year."

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