Remembering The Legacy
By SHELBY WHITE
I first met Gov. Ned Ray McWherter when I was in the third grade. He was touring our new elementary school in Lewisburg and I had the opportunity to hand the Governor a box of Nilla Wafers. As we were sitting on the freshly polished floor of the auditorium, I remember him talking about the importance of doing well in school and encouraging us to dream big. As a 9-year old, I did not understand the philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans – all I knew was that the Governor of Tennessee cared about us.
Gov. McWherter truly cared about the people of Tennessee and took bold steps to improve all 95 counties. He recognized the importance of connecting rural areas to our interstate system that created economic development opportunities for places like Lewisburg. He helped to create 21st Century Classrooms that put more computers and technology in schools, increased teachers’ salaries, reduced class sizes and gave more control to local school boards. He also sought to provide better health care to our state’s most vulnerable citizens.
A governor of the people, McWherter never forgot where he was from. He was the son of a sharecropper, born on the outskirts of Palmersville in rural northwest Tennessee. A product of the Great Depression, McWherter bore witness to the challenges many of our communities face again today. He took it upon his shoulders to become a voice for those who were struggling and to make sure our rural areas were not left behind by the state legislature.
I was in high school when Gov. McWherter left office and was not surprised to see “I Miss Ned” bumper stickers appearing all over the state. He left Tennessee in better shape than he found it. We had modern classrooms with smaller teacher/student ratios, a highway network that was the envy of other states and we cared for those who needed help. Tennessee was recognized nationally as the best managed state government, a testament to Gov. McWherter’s fiscal responsibility.
Times have certainly changed since Gov. McWherter swung the mighty gavel and today Tennessee faces a new set of challenges. My home county has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state; our teachers have been targeted by extreme ideologues and our state has stripped victims rights couching it as a jobs plan.
While our state grapples with the ebbs and flows of the political landscape, we should be reminded of who we are and where we are from. We live in a state where the son of a sharecropper can become governor. Where children in rural and urban school districts can access a better education. A place where we care for the rights and well being of our neighbors. While we miss Ned, it is now our responsibility to continue his legacy for the betterment of Tennessee.
Shelby White is a native of Marshall County and is a strategic communications consultant in Nashville. White previously served as a communications director for Mike McWherter for Governor and as a director of client services for Seigenthaler Public Relations.
Tennessee has the second-lowest turnout for voting in the nation only behind Texas. LINK
Just 37.7 percent of Tennessee citizens over 18 voted. Only Texas, with 36.4 percent, had a lower rate.
Last year’s state rate is also the lowest in a congressional election since 1998. More than 45 percent of Tennesseans voted in 2006 and 2002.
Steve Ross writes about the different challenges regarding poverty in Memphis. LINK
Education is another issue that must be addressed to decrease poverty. As the child of educators, I’ve seen the transformative impact that education can have on people. Were it not for the educational opportunities afforded my mother, who grew up in a household that was anything but financially secure, she most likely would have never been able to attend college, which means the chances of my parents ever meeting would have been virtually nil. Needless to say, without these educational opportunities, I might have never been born. So yeah, this means a lot to me.
Sen. Jim Kyle, in a press release, calls for spending HOPE lottery reserves. Did you know there is a Senate Lottery Stabilization Task Force which met in August. Just some FYI. LINK
Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle wrote this week to state lawmakers urging that they take a jobs-centered approach to discussions regarding lottery reserves and their impact on college scholarships for Tennesseans.
“Our talks so far have been all about money, when they should be about putting Tennesseans back to work,” Kyle said. “The lottery fund was designed to give more Tennesseans the opportunity at a good education and an even better job. That should be our top priority now more than ever.”
Nashville writer Mike Byrd reports that Occupy Wall Street may be getting some steam in Tennessee. LINK
Occupy groups have sprung up in cities across the country, including a rag-tag group in Chicago hanging on against at the Federal Reserve. Both Memphis and Nashville now have Occupy groups. We will see how long and how effectively these protests are coordinated, but leaders pledge to continue into October.
Postal workers protested yesterday in Nashville, Knoxville and Murfreesboro about looming cuts. WLPN has the middle Tennessee story. LINK
The Knoxville News Sentinel has the details from the east side. LINK