Have you noticed how news programs use the phrase “Breaking News?” I’ve always believed that label should mean a significant, unexpected event is underway and the reporters involved are relaying information in real time. But these days every cable news channel story is seemingly labeled as late-breaking and treated as urgent. Because of this, it is often hard to see the big picture through this dense fog of arguing pundits and so-called breaking news.

With the priority being to report on the immediate and instantaneous, we often miss out on stories of significance that take place over a longer period of time. One such story took place this year, and while it is rooted in partisan politics, I urge you to look past the party labels and focus on the incredible accomplishment.

On April 22, the Tennessee General Assembly completed its work for the year and adjourned. Standing at the front of the Senate to bring down the final gavel was Ron Ramsey. As a state senator, speaker of the Senate and lieutenant governor, his presence was no surprise. However, this stroke of the gavel may have been his favorite.

The story began almost a quarter-century ago when Ramsey was first elected to the State House of Representatives. As a member of the legislature in his first term, he was pretty well assured of one thing: His first day as a legislator would neither result in any accomplishments nor change the course of the state’s history. In 1992, Ramsey’s political party held very little clout in the General Assembly. And by very little, I really mean none. Republicans had not held a majority in the legislature since just after the Civil War. No Republican had served as lieutenant governor since 1869.

The five-hour drive from Blountville to Nashville must have seemed a lot longer in those first years, even after being elected to the State Senate in 1996. For many in the political world at that time, the perpetual minority status of Republicans was perceived to be permanent. But little in this world is truly permanent, and Ramsey spent the next 10 years working toward an accomplishment that very few ever thought possible.

In January 2007, the political winds had shifted, and Ron Ramsey was elected speaker of the Senate and lieutenant governor. The story of how this was accomplished could take up several pages of this publication, but that’s not the accomplishment I want to share with you. Ramsey then led a virtual revolution in the political makeup of the General Assembly, resulting in Republicans holding supermajorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. But that is not the accomplishment I find remarkable.

What I find so refreshing about this story is how it ends. It does not end the way all too many do — with a scandal or an electoral defeat. When Ron Ramsey gaveled the Senate to a close at the end of April, he was at the peak of his political career with near-unlimited ability to wield his influence. Very few politicians will ever achieve the level of power that Ron Ramsey enjoyed at that moment. And like so many politicians, he desired a new position with a new title.

For Ramsey, though, that new title is “Papaw.” While his position in Tennessee history is timeless, his position as a grandfather is not. So he did what few powerful politicians do, stepping aside on his own and relinquishing the leadership position he’d earned.

Thank you, Ron, for demonstrating to me that no matter what our professional passions might be, our priorities should always start with the people closest to our hearts. That is an accomplishment with lasting meaning.

So, the postgame conversation with my 8-year-old son went something like this:

Me: Why are you crying?
Son: The Panthers lost the Super Bowl. (sobbing)
Me: I’m sorry. But it’s just a game, you know.
Son: But the Panthers lost the Super Bowl. (sobbing louder)
Me: You’re not even a fan of either team. Wasn’t it fun to watch the game?
Son: No!
Me: When you play sports, do you win every game?
Son: How come every team I cheer for always loses? (crestfallen, his head falls into hands)

I live a lot of my life through the eyes of my four young sons. In this instance, a one-day infatuation with a football team ended up in sheer devastation for this sweet young boy. But this lesson is one of the many reasons we encourage our sons to play sports. The idea that “you don’t win them all” is much better taught on the baseball diamond or the basketball court than in a court of law.

In the world of politics, where I spend most of my professional life, that can be a tough pill to swallow. For instance, our nation is engaged in the process of selecting the next president of the United States. With more than 100 primary elections involving a dozen candidates and then the general election pitting one candidate from each party against each other, it is safe to say that we will be inundated with voices telling us who should be our next president. And yet, at the end of all the elections, there will only be one person to hold the highest office in the land.

Closer to home, one of your electric cooperative’s most dedicated champions in Congress, Stephen Fincher, has announced that he will not seek re-election. He is coming home to Frog Jump to run the family farm. While I am personally sad to see him leave public service, I’m heartened to know that his priorities are sound and he has truly put his family first. He will be missed in Congress, but he was just one man. And of the many people who will seek to assume the office he holds, only one will prevail.

But the founders of our nation didn’t rest power with just one man, did they? We are not a monarchy, where one person “wins” and everyone else loses. The real genius of our system of government is that your local, state and federal governments are made up of many individuals whose responsibility is to represent the many more people in their towns, districts or states. Further, our representative republic relies on the willingness of public servants to recognize that they won’t win every battle they undertake and, therefore, need to prioritize their efforts and work with others to get anything at all accomplished.

As someone whose job is to guide people through the complicated process of lawmaking, these are great reminders. Your local co-op has to take all these things into consideration as it works with elected officials in Nashville and Washington, D.C., to promote public policy goals. When we disagree with a particular stance taken by a particular lawmaker, it is important to remember that another decision will come very soon. And we sure hope that lawmaker will agree with us the next time.

The Super Bowl gave me a great teaching moment with my son. But, like much we do as parents, it was just as much a lesson for me. Thanks, William. I love you, buddy.

What is the single purpose we have in running an electric cooperative? Serving our members by keeping the lights on and the rates low. You’ve heard us repeat that refrain for years. It doesn’t seem long enough for a mission statement, and it isn’t really a motto. It seems so simple and direct.

And, it is absolutely true. Just ask our members.

A number of years ago, an electric cooperative (not in Tennessee) hired a new general manager who promised to change the status quo. He did. His initial contact with the cooperative was as an outside consultant hired to review the organization and suggest changes that would revitalize and “improve” the business. Once hired, the manager immediately began to reorganize departments, change titles and revamp the entire cooperative. The changes he enacted were innovative and quite a bit different.

The changes — and the manager — didn’t last long. I remember that when he left, he made a statement to the effect that he was “good at tearing down walls and not so good at building and maintaining them.” There were a number of failures, but the core failure was that the changes became the focus. Instead of focusing on the one purpose of the cooperative, the focus was placed on the cleverness of the changes.

That doesn’t mean that change is a bad thing. But change for change itself isn’t necessarily good. Change that loses sight of our reason for existence is doomed to fail. It will fail the cooperative, the employees and the members.

The current political environment is one of the more intriguing in recent history. The U.S. Senate is on a different page than the House of Representatives, and both are on different pages than the administration. As I write this, the House itself is a house in disarray — facing significant difficulty in selecting a speaker. The nation’s foreign policy is in a transitional period in which it is difficult to differentiate between our traditional friends and enemies.

As if contending with those issues weren’t enough, we have one of the most, shall we say, “interesting” presidential primaries ever. It’s a banner year for the news media and political pundits and a ratings bonanza for talk shows.

For the rest of us — for most of us — it’s more than enough to cause concern about the future. We prefer our government to govern, not entertain.

I’ve attended a number of electric cooperative annual meetings this year where the members celebrated the co-op’s 75th year of existence. Over those seven and a half decades, these member-owned corporations have weathered ups and downs — from economic recessions to multiple natural disasters. Over their existence, these cooperatives have seen hundreds of directors and thousands of employees come and go, each contributing to the leadership and productivity of the utility.

Through the years and all the challenges, one thing has remained constant: the focus on keeping the lights on and rates low.

As long as we do that one thing correctly, other avenues open up for us to continue to improve and invest in the communities we serve. Countless other things are vitally important to our members: economic development, great customer service, effective communications and many other needs. But if we fail in our single purpose, it’s time to refocus on the one thing.

Here’s to 75 years of maintaining a singleness of purpose that has transformed a nation.

David Callis
Executive Vice President and General Manager

“Safe, reliable and affordable.” That’s a phrase you hear from us quite a bit. It accurately describes the commitment we make to you every day. We make every effort to ensure that the power you need is safely and reliably delivered to your homes and businesses. And we do so as cost-effectively as possible.

Here’s another term you don’t hear as much but that’s just as important — if not more so:

Resiliency.

Ten years ago, a large hurricane hit the Gulf Coast. By most measures, it was the most devastating storm to strike the United States. Hurricane Katrina killed nearly 2,000 people. With the widespread damage from the storm and subsequent flooding, it impacted some 90,000 square miles along the Gulf of Mexico.

More than 75 percent of New Orleans was underwater at one point in time. Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated. Homes and businesses were submerged, and the areas that weren’t flooded had no electricity.

Entergy, an investor-owned utility, serves the city of New Orleans. Much of the surrounding area along the coast is served by electric cooperatives. For several weeks, linemen from utilities across the nation left their homes to help restore and rebuild the critical infrastructure.

The massive coordination effort to rebuild thousands of miles of wire and replace tens of thousands of poles required Herculean efforts by electric utilities. You can’t plan for a disaster of that magnitude. We can, and do, prepare for emergencies, but we can’t outguess Mother Nature. Even with the best forecasting, hurricanes, tornadoes and ice storms often make unpredictable, last-minute variations that defy the best-laid plans for disaster response. In fact, you might not recall that Hurricane Rita hit the Gulf Coast about a month after Katrina, causing damage to some of the same areas that were still recovering.

I was in New Orleans a few weeks before Katrina and later helped coordinate some of the relief efforts that Tennessee’s cooperatives mounted. I’ve returned to the Gulf several times over the past few years, including earlier this year. A full decade later, the impact is still apparent in many areas. Parts of New Orleans and other areas of the Gulf Coast are, unbelievably, still recovering from the devastation.

For someone who has worked for decades in the electric utility industry, two things stand out. First and foremost is the resiliency of the residents. Despite losing their homes and nearly losing their lives, they refuse to abandon their neighborhoods.

This type of courage is similar to a prizefighter who is battered by a bigger opponent but stubbornly refuses to go down. The men and women who survived Katrina continue to thrive and continue with their lives. They refuse to be defeated.

The same resiliency can be said about the electric grid and those who maintain it. Imagine building a structure that costs millions of dollars and takes years to complete. Then, in a matter of hours, you see it crumble to the ground under the force of a powerful storm.

How do you handle that type of challenge? If you’re a lineman, you pack a bag, say goodbye to your family and get to work rebuilding. It might take several days or even weeks, but you stay with it until the job is done.

The event could be a Hurricane Katrina, an EF-4 tornado or a midwinter ice storm. No matter what the challenge, the resiliency of the electric grid is as strong as the character of the men and women who build and maintain it.

It’s what we’ve done for the past 80 years and will continue to do well into the future.

NASHVILLE, Aug. 3, 2015 – The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, an organization representing Tennessee’s not-for-profit, member-owned electric cooperatives and the more than 1.1 million homes, farms and businesses they serve, made the following statement about the Environmental Protection Agency’s final Clean Power Plan rule.

“We are disappointed that the EPA continues to ignore the burden these regulations will have on Tennessee families and businesses,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We will continue to advocate for a solution that strikes a balance between a healthy environment and a healthy economy.”

“The EPA rule fails to consider the impact to electric rates and reliability. That’s a risky move,” says Callis. “Affordable and reliable energy is critical to Tennessee’s economy, and any regulation that overlooks that fact is incomplete and ill–advised.”

“The modifications to the Clean Power Plan accelerate the pace of emissions reductions and discounts the efforts that have already been made,” says Callis.

In 2014 Tennessee’s electric cooperatives coordinated a grassroots campaign calling on the EPA to ensure that affordable and reliable energy was protected. More than 14,000 electric consumers in Tennessee responded during the EPA’s comment period on the Clean Power Plan.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association provides legislative and communication support for Tennessee’s 23 electric cooperatives and publishes The Tennessee Magazine, the state’s most widely circulated periodical. Visit tnelectric.org or tnmagazine.org to learn more.

UPDATE – TECA has learned that the EPA will allow TVA to count new generation from Watts Bar nuclear plant toward state CO2 emission reduction requirements. TECA and NRECA will continue to monitor the plan and evaluate the impact it will have on Tennessee co-op members.

 

#   #   #

Contact:
Trent Scott | Director of Corporate Strategy | tscott@tnelectric.org | 731.608.1519

Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

Thinking back to high school, there were two words that every student always dreaded to hear. These two words struck fear into hearts, exposed students who failed to complete their overnight studies and often lowered grade point averages of the unprepared: Pop quiz.

Well, I have a pop quiz of my own for you: What are the two most powerful words in the English language?

Usually your first thought is the best. I’d love to read your answers, so please email them to thetennmag@tnelectric.org. I’ll include some of the best responses in a future column.

I think I am going to ask my four young sons this same question soon, and I sure hope they’ve been taught enough respect and good manners to answer with the words “thank you.” There is no doubt in my mind that a polite and respectful attitude toward others is a huge advantage in this world. And simply saying “thank you” is a great start toward that kind of attitude. As the old adage goes, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”

More seriously, I’m reminded of one of my pastor’s favorite teachings. He will often ask, rhetorically, “How many people do you know who came to faith because someone else scolded them about their shortcomings?” Something about glass houses almost always comes to mind when I hear that question.

Yes, I’d like to instill kind spirits and grateful hearts in my boys. But let’s be honest. At this stage of their lives, I know what their answers will be. Their answers will be about the one thing that gets them up in the morning, keeps them up late at night and occupies most of their dreams and aspirations. It is why they know every word to a John Fogerty song. So, I’m pretty certain that when I ask them the two-most-powerful-words question, each, without hesitation, will answer, “Play ball!”

While I know that many of you are already preparing for football season, just know that you don’t have to wait for a weekend in the fall to enjoy a beautiful Tennessee experience outside with your family and friends. There are nine professional baseball teams across the state, and their fun-filled games don’t require a second mortgage to pay for field-level seats and a great hot dog. A love for the game is all that’s needed to ensure a great experience.

Northeast Tennessee offers four teams, all within an hour’s drive of each other and all competing in the Appalachian League of Professional Baseball Clubs. As one of the first stops for players who sign contracts after the major league draft in June, you never know which of tomorrow’s big-league All-Stars you may catch suiting up for their first professional baseball games. The Kingsport Mets, Johnson City Cardinals, Greeneville Astros and Elizabethon Twins make up four of the five teams in the Western Division, and each is affiliated with the major league counterpart that shares its mascot. It is exciting to see the vigor and enthusiasm of the players as they begin their journey.

There is great fun to be had, too, at either end of the state as Tennessee has three Double-A minor league teams competing in the Southern League. The Jackson Generals, part of the Seattle Mariners family, play in Pringles Park, conveniently located just off Interstate 40. As Chattanooga’s downtown has blossomed over the past few years, the Lookouts, a Minnesota Twins affiliate, have a built great home just up the hill from the Tennessee Aquarium. And on your next trip to Gatlinburg, don’t forget that the Tennessee Smokies (who play in Kodak, near Sevierville) currently are farming players for the Chicago Cubs.

While Tennessee may not boast a major league franchise just yet, two of the best places to watch a baseball game anywhere in America are right here in the Volunteer State. The Triple-A Memphis Redbirds are not just an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, one of the perennial powerhouses of Major League Baseball. The Memphis team is actually owned by the St. Louis franchise. Each play has a big-league feel because each player is only one phone call away from “The Show.” The Redbirds play home games right off historic Beale Street in downtown Memphis at AutoZone Park — quite possibly one of the finest minor league baseball stadiums ever built.

And the newest minor league ballpark in the country is in one of the hottest neighborhoods of one of America’s best boomtowns. First Tennessee Park is the home of the Nashville Sounds, and I’d be willing to bet that many of the players for Nashville’s big-league counterpart, the Oakland A’s, wish they could lace ’em up at a field as inviting as Nashville’s. With the iconic guitar-shaped scoreboard and a perfect view of the city skyline, there’s no doubt that Music City is a great place for baseball.

While my boys’ choice may not change the world, they are words that can change your outlook on what a great night in Tennessee could be. So when the umpire shouts, “Play ball!” I hope you experience America’s pastime and leave with your spirit just a bit more grateful for this great place we call home.

Photo courtesy of First Tennessee Park.

by Mike Knotts
Director of Government Affairs
Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

A few weeks ago, when I stopped at the gas station on my way to work to fill up, the math was pretty easy. Ten gallons of gas went in the tank, and the price was $2.50 per gallon. After handing the clerk $25, I drove away and didn’t give it another thought. Several days later, I stopped after midnight to get enough fuel to make it home at the end of a long trip. Once again, 10 gallons of regular unleaded went in, and $25 dollars came out of my wallet. Simple.

When you get gas, you are essentially prepaying for energy your car will use at some point in the future. And it’s easy to visualize what you are paying for because you can see, smell and touch it. A gallon is a familiar unit of measurement. How many gallon jugs of milk have you carried into your home over the years?

For most of us, we don’t put much more thought into paying our electric bill than I did filling up the truck. An envelope arrives in the mail, we open it, write a check and send it in. Or it could be even easier because you have agreed to allow a draft directly from your bank account. Some folks may take a quick look at more of the details that are printed on the bill, but how many fully understand what they’re paying for?

For many years, your co-op has worked very hard to make paying your bill as easy and painless as your trip to the pump. This is despite the fact that purchasing electricity is very different than buying gasoline. Here are three reasons why:

First, electricity is a bit of a mystery. We know it is there, despite being unable to touch, smell or even see it, because we can see the result of its existence. But, as the old adage goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Second, do you know how much energy you are consuming at any given time? In your car, there is a gauge that shows how much fuel is in the tank and probably a display showing your current miles per gallon. But where is the same gauge in your house to show you how much electricity you have consumed? Most of us have very little idea of how much energy our refrigerators, air conditioners, water heaters, ovens, heaters and other major appliances use. So how do we know what it costs when we turn them on? When you open the envelope from your co-op and the bill says you used 1,652 kilowatt-hours of electricity last month, how many milk jugs does that even equate to?

Those are hard questions to answer — but not because there is no equipment that will help you monitor your use. Rather, the question is difficult because our society by and large doesn’t want to know the answer. We have become accustomed to having electric energy available on demand, without exception, at low cost. It’s testament to the hard work of tens of thousands of people whose mission never takes a day off. The luxury that universal electrification affords us as Tennesseans and Americans is not to be taken lightly and has changed the world in so many positive ways over the past 100 years. For that, we should be grateful.

Lastly, there is no practical way for you to purchase and store electricity to be used later (although this could change in the future — see the June 2015 column “Is the future here now?” at tnmagazine.org). When you flip the switch, the electricity you consume is being generated and transmitted to you at that exact same instant. Other common energy sources like wood, gasoline, diesel and even natural gas can be stored in large tanks in preparation for future needs. But to run your air conditioner on a hot July afternoon, you are relying on your electric utility to provide a seamless connection across hundreds of miles of wires to deliver that energy to you at the exact moment you need it — since electricity moves at the speed of light, 671 million miles per hour. This means the cost to generate this energy can be different depending upon the hour of the day, the time of year or even the activities of your neighbors or the factory down the street.

However, technology is advancing at such a rapid pace that the complexity of the electric grid is quickly becoming less of an impediment to the average person’s understanding of his or her own energy consumption. And it is also helping your co-op have a better understanding of how and when entire communities will require their energy — even though the members will continue to demand electricity in real time. With this new information will come better and more transparent methods of paying for our consumption, which I look forward to discussing in a future article.

by Mike Knotts
Director of Government Affairs
Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

A few weeks ago, when I stopped at the gas station on my way to work to fill up, the math was pretty easy. Ten gallons of gas went in the tank, and the price was $2.50 per gallon. After handing the clerk $25, I drove away and didn’t give it another thought. Several days later, I stopped after midnight to get enough fuel to make it home at the end of a long trip. Once again, 10 gallons of regular unleaded went in, and $25 dollars came out of my wallet. Simple.

When you get gas, you are essentially prepaying for energy your car will use at some point in the future. And it’s easy to visualize what you are paying for because you can see, smell and touch it. A gallon is a familiar unit of measurement. How many gallon jugs of milk have you carried into your home over the years?

For most of us, we don’t put much more thought into paying our electric bill than I did filling up the truck. An envelope arrives in the mail, we open it, write a check and send it in. Or it could be even easier because you have agreed to allow a draft directly from your bank account. Some folks may take a quick look at more of the details that are printed on the bill, but how many fully understand what they’re paying for?

For many years, your co-op has worked very hard to make paying your bill as easy and painless as your trip to the pump. This is despite the fact that purchasing electricity is very different than buying gasoline. Here are three reasons why:

First, electricity is a bit of a mystery. We know it is there, despite being unable to touch, smell or even see it, because we can see the result of its existence. But, as the old adage goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Second, do you know how much energy you are consuming at any given time? In your car, there is a gauge that shows how much fuel is in the tank and probably a display showing your current miles per gallon. But where is the same gauge in your house to show you how much electricity you have consumed? Most of us have very little idea of how much energy our refrigerators, air conditioners, water heaters, ovens, heaters and other major appliances use. So how do we know what it costs when we turn them on? When you open the envelope from your co-op and the bill says you used 1,652 kilowatt-hours of electricity last month, how many milk jugs does that even equate to?

Those are hard questions to answer — but not because there is no equipment that will help you monitor your use. Rather, the question is difficult because our society by and large doesn’t want to know the answer. We have become accustomed to having electric energy available on demand, without exception, at low cost. It’s testament to the hard work of tens of thousands of people whose mission never takes a day off. The luxury that universal electrification affords us as Tennesseans and Americans is not to be taken lightly and has changed the world in so many positive ways over the past 100 years. For that, we should be grateful.

Lastly, there is no practical way for you to purchase and store electricity to be used later (although this could change in the future — see the June 2015 column “Is the future here now?” at tnmagazine.org). When you flip the switch, the electricity you consume is being generated and transmitted to you at that exact same instant. Other common energy sources like wood, gasoline, diesel and even natural gas can be stored in large tanks in preparation for future needs. But to run your air conditioner on a hot July afternoon, you are relying on your electric utility to provide a seamless connection across hundreds of miles of wires to deliver that energy to you at the exact moment you need it — since electricity moves at the speed of light, 671 million miles per hour. This means the cost to generate this energy can be different depending upon the hour of the day, the time of year or even the activities of your neighbors or the factory down the street.

However, technology is advancing at such a rapid pace that the complexity of the electric grid is quickly becoming less of an impediment to the average person’s understanding of his or her own energy consumption. And it is also helping your co-op have a better understanding of how and when entire communities will require their energy — even though the members will continue to demand electricity in real time. With this new information will come better and more transparent methods of paying for our consumption, which I look forward to discussing in a future article.

By Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

I spend most of my days in contact with our elected officials in both Washington, D.C., and Nashville, so when the topic of the integrity of our government comes up for discussion, you might expect that I would want to tell you horror stories. That I would tell you the world is full of Frank Underwood-types (the lead character in Netflix’s “House of Cards”) who will stop at nothing to achieve their own selfish ambitions. That no politician really cares about serving as a steward of our great nation, only about serving himself or herself.

After all, it does seem to be the popular thing to express doubt and believe the worst when it comes to politics these days. How else can you explain the popularity of “The Daily Show,” a satirical television program fashioned as a fake news broadcast? It has grown from a late-1990s upstart aired on a cable channel most people had never heard of to one of the most prevalent sources of news information for those in the 18-to-34-year-old demographic.

The show bases its comedy on the real-life events that make up the news — mostly the current events surrounding politics and government — and generates laughter by assuming a cynical and skeptical tone about whomever is involved in the story. Common themes seem to involve a general lack of faith in the true intentions of just about anyone and everyone who is involved in public service, and, therefore, those same people and the decisions they make are deserving of ridicule. And this ridicule is deeply personal, typically targeted at a particular politician or public figure.

One would think that to enjoy this type of comedy, a person would have to understand the underlying events that the jokes are based on. In other words, if someone is not familiar with the topics the show lampoons, then he or she probably would not find it funny. But an interesting thing has happened. Many of the show’s biggest fans have skipped the first part, allowing the joke to become the vehicle by which they receive the information upon which the joke is based.

Mark Twain once said, “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.” In the case of “The Daily Show” audience, it seems to me as though the distortion (made for the purpose of eliciting humor) has become the most pleasing way to first get your facts — the joke is the news. One of my good friends, educated and opinionated, admitted to me recently that she had stopped watching any television news but rarely missed “The Daily Show.”

I offer these thoughts not as a critique of one particular television show but as an observation about our society in general. You can make your own judgments about whether the rise in popularity of satirical “news” is a good or bad thing. You can make your own judgments about our society’s desire to point the finger at someone else. But the popularity of this type of comedy today does have an effect upon the real-world actions of our political leaders. Many of them are eager to appear on these programs themselves, understanding the reality that so many people view this programming as “news.”

But let me offer some words of encouragement from my own first-hand experience. Frank Underwood is a wildly fictional character and is nowhere close to reality. The bitterness and divisive assumptions about politicians that cause us to laugh at Jon Stewart’s jokes, well, that attitude is not reflective of the reality I am a part of almost every day. I find myself surrounded by decent, hardworking people who face difficult decisions on a daily basis. They make those decisions based on a number of factors, guided by their own faith, morals and convictions.

Sometimes they get it right; sometimes they don’t. But whether they do or don’t, does it do you any good to deride and ridicule the person who made the decision? By all means, I encourage you to participate in the political process and support or oppose those who reflect your desires for public policy. But the deeply personal way in which our society criticizes politicians only seems to keep good people from choosing to serve. The void in leadership that is then left behind is filled by people whose misdeeds make it very easy to criticize. So what did the personal criticism really get us?

I try hard, often unsuccessfully, to fight off my own cynicism about the manner in which our country chooses to govern itself. Staying focused on affirming that which is good about our politics seems to be a more productive use of our time. It is true that nothing in this world will ever be perfect. And it is also true that our system of government really is the worst … except for every other one that’s ever been tried.

“… 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.