Mr. Smith goes to Washington
By By Tray Smith
Over the course of the past few years, politics has become an integral part of my life. However, I have always viewed politics from the perspective of an outsider looking in. That perspective has drastically changed over the past two and a half weeks.
Meeting with elected officials such as state Treasurer Kay Ivey, engaging in conversation with members of the Governor's staff, and researching information for Governor Riley's communications office during my two and a half week internship in the State Capitol has provided me with an inside view of state government. But no single experience was more enlightening than when I traveled with Gov. Riley to Washington, D.C. That event was truly the highlight of my life.
At 8 a.m. on the morning of Thursday, June 22 I reported to the Governor's Press Office in anticipation of a 9 a.m. going away party for the Governor's interns, where we would be treated to Krispy Kreme donuts. After arriving at the party, I was informed by the Governor's Communications Director, Mr. Jeff Emerson, that Gov. Riley wanted to see me. Hypothesizing that the Governor wanted to give me a personal good-bye before he departed later that day, I ascended the stairs to his office in excitement about my upcoming conversation with Gov. Riley. Little did I know that the Governor himself would ask me to travel with him to Washington, D.C.!
When the Governor informed me of the trip and asked me to attend, I entered into a state of shock. I then informed the communications staff and via cell phone my mom where I would be and reported promptly back to the Governor's Office, from where we left for the Montgomery Airport less than twenty minutes from the time I was first notified about the day's adventure.
Once at the airport, Mr. Dave Steward, the Governor's Senior Policy advisor, Mr. Ken Wallis, the Governor's Legal Advisor, Mr. Hal Taylor, the head of the Governor's Security Detail, Brain Taylor, the Governor's Personal Aid, Commissioner of Agriculture Ron Sparks, Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture Ronnie Murphy, and I joined the Governor on a trip to our nation's capitol.
After we arrived in Washington at 1 p.m. eastern time, we traveled to the Hart Senate Office Building where Senator Richard Shelby's office is located. The Senator welcomed the Governor and all seven U.S. Congressmen who represent districts in the State of Alabama to his conference room (including Congressman Bonner.) There, Alabama's top leaders worked together to provide solutions to the challenges facing our state. They then recessed before the Governor lead a second meeting with representatives from the United States Department of Agriculture. That meeting, which I was able to attend, focused on ways to bring special assistance to Alabama farmers who are suffering from the current drought. Several members of Congress remained to participate in the discussion, which included detailed conversations about federal and state proposals intended to ease the pain our farmer's currently have to endure.
During the meeting, I can tell you that no member of Congress stood up for Alabama's interest as much as Congressman Bonner, who lobbied passionately for much needed federal assistance for Alabama. Governor Riley also made a strong case for our farmer's, and lead the meeting to a productive and successful end. We then departed from the Hart Office building, and boarded the plane for the trip back to Montgomery.
Throughout the day, I learned a lot just by observing Brian Taylor. For those of you who watched "The West Wing", Brian is ''Charley'. I hope to have his job one day. He is responsible for keeping the Governor informed about any news developments, retrieving the Governor's press clips, and compiling reading material for the Governor. If the Governor wants a Coke, Brian gets it. Brian also has to stay informed about issues so that he can answer any questions the Governor may have. His job is long and hard, the challenges before him are second only to those before the Governor.
Before my experience with Gov. Riley, I thought the main task facing the Governor was serving as the "face" of state government. I always felt that the Governor is responsible for shaking hands and giving speeches in order to promote his agenda, move the state forward, and get re-elected, while allowing his staff to handle the main day-to-day operations of the government.
However, I was very wrong. Some Governor's may just be the "face" of their state government, but that is not the case with Gov. Riley. While Gov. Riley clearly makes several public appearances (just about daily, in fact) I have never seen anyone become so involved in their job. The Governor works hard to stay informed on all of the challenges facing our state, never giving up an opportunity to place a phone call, sit in on a meeting, or make a high level administrative decisions that impact each and every Alabamian. Though his staff does play a major role in leading this state, the buck clearly stops at the Governor's desk. He devoted the entire flight to Washington, D.C. to a briefing on agriculture policy, and spent most of the ride back reading press clips and information about various issues. He spends a great deal of time working in his office in between meetings and events, and often stays out of town on trips for much longer than normal working hours. He is preparing to travel to China, South Korea, and England for almost an entire month in order to recruit jobs. He thoroughly enjoys working on behalf of the people of this state, and he is utterly committed to moving Alabama forward. I have always supported this Governor; after all, he is a Republican. But after witnessing his work first hand, I cannot imagine having a Governor who brings more devotion to the job or more integrity to the office than Gov. Bob Riley.
That is the bottom line.
Tray Smith is an intern in Governor Riley's Office. He writes a political column for the Atmore Advance. He can be reached for contact at email@example.com. His column appears weekly.