“… this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
— Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 19, 1863
Like you, I first read the Gettysburg Address in grade school. Over the years, I have so often associated it with optimism and determination because of the strength and power of its final phrase. Its brevity leads us to examine each and every word. And what richness of meaning these words provide. I wish I had memorized it like my father did; to this day, he can still recite its entire text.
So it’s sometimes hard to fathom that this immortal speech was given at what was most certainly a very solemn affair: the dedication of a cemetery. It was given, too, at a time when the future of the United States of America was very much in doubt. The souls interred to their resting places had endured awful carnage at the hands of their fellow Americans. No one knew how the Civil War might end. But I believe this last phrase of the speech stands today as a stark reminder of what defines our country’s very special place in this world.
Given that we live in a country that is governed “by the people, for the people,” I thought I would introduce you to just a few of your fellow Tennesseans who have just begun their first days at the Capitol in Nashville. There are 23 of these newly elected state senators and representatives, many of whom will significantly impact your life and the future of rural and suburban Tennessee.
Senator Paul Bailey — While Sen. Bailey may not be new to the legislature (he was a one-year appointed member of the House while he completed the term of longtime co-op friend Charles Curtiss), he is new to the Senate. The owner of small trucking company based in Sparta, Sen. Bailey has already brought attention and new ideas to the problem of how to pay for highway projects during a time of declining federal funding for road work. He frequently speaks on issues important to rural Tennessee.
Senator Ed Jackson — Living in the town that shares his last name, Sen. Jackson will quickly become a key player in the politics of rural West Tennessee. His district stretches from the crossroads of Jackson all the way to the Missouri border in Lake County.
Senator Kerry Roberts — Members of Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation were previously represented by Sen. Roberts, a certified public accountant and farmer, but after the effects of the 2010 census altered the district, he was elected again and now makes his return to Nashville. His new district now includes the northern portions of Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative’s service area.
Senator Jeff Yarbro — The phrase “big shoes to fill” certainly applies in this case. Senator Yarbro is replacing Douglas Henry, who first served in the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1954 and was known as a consummate gentleman and legislative powerhouse during his many years of service. Senator Yarbro is an attorney from Nashville. His abilities to advocate will quickly be put to the test, as he is already the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate; however, Democrats hold only five of 33 total seats, a historic low.
Representative David “Coach” Byrd — A well-known basketball coach and high school principal from Wayne County, Coach Byrd will ensure the House of Representatives continues to have a Republican member with the moniker of “Coach” (Dennis “Coach” Roach was defeated in a close primary last fall). Perhaps he will retain his whistle and detention roster when he arrives to the sometimes unruly goings-on of the Legislature?
Representative Kevin Dunlap — Representative Dunlap will quickly become a go-to member of the Legislature on education issues because, in addition to being a fifth-generation farmer, he will be the only member of the General Assembly who is a current and active school teacher.
Representative Dan Howell — Known by many in the Chattanooga area because of his former career as a television broadcaster, Rep. Howell had more recently served as deputy to the Bradley County mayor.
Representative Sabi (Doc) Kumar — Over the past several years, the ranks of the state Senate have swelled to include as many doctors and pharmacists as lawyers. Not to be outdone, Dr. Kumar (a surgeon from Springfield) joins the House representing a district that is largely rural. His experience as a practicing physician, inventor, business owner and staple (and sometimes stapler!) of the community should be unique among his peers.
Representative Leigh Wilburn — At 31, Rep. Wilburn may be the youngest member of the General Assembly, but the same drive that pushed her to earn two graduate degrees and start her own real estate law practice makes her one to watch. Her southwest Tennessee district grows cotton and is home to the best named town in America — Finger.