Training Tennessee's Future Lobbyists

On Thursday, Nov. 18, the Tennessee General Assembly will convene on Capitol Hill in Nashville for its 41st session. No, not that General Assembly. The old geezers don't come back to Nashville until January. I'm talking about the baby legislators, or the future legislators of Tennessee. The group that convenes in Nashville in November

is the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature (TISL), a mock legislature comprised of students from more than 40 colleges and universities throughout the state of Tennessee.

It's sort of like Boys' State or Girls' State for college men and women.

For four days, the best and brightest from the Volunteer State's colleges and universities will be on The Hill, role-playing state government and legislative procedure. There will be a TISL governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, secretary of state, baby attorney general, and even a baby Supreme Court.

And of course there will be baby legislators. Baby senators and baby house members.

Over the years, TISL has been a real training ground for future Tennessee lawmakers. Judge Frank Clement Jr., Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, Tennessee Treasurer David Lillard and State Sen. Roy Herron all served in their college days as TISL governor.

And this year, for the very first time in the 41-year history of the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature, there will also be ... Are you ready for this? ... Baby lobbyists! You read that right, Ron Ramsey-breath! This year, for the very first time, college students at the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature will not only play the usual roles of elected and appointed oficials; they will also play the roles of the real power brokers of Tennessee: lobbyists.

There will be five baby lobbying associations at TISL, each comprised of college students who will work behind the scenes on behalf of their "clients" to, shall we say, persuade baby legislators to vote "the right way."

These baby lobbyists will not be allowed on the floor of the House or Senate during session. They will probably conduct most of their business in Nashville downtown bars, just like real lobbyists! (Better get those fake I.D.s ready!) Baby lobbyists will not be allowed to buy food or drink for TISL legislators and may not provide them with any gifts. In other words, they will be just like real lobbyists! They will have to figure out creative ways to ...um ... persuade TISL legislators to vote the right way. And how will they do this? Well, just like real lobbyists, they will spend many hours providing useful information to baby legislators and educate them regarding appropriate policy for the State of Tennessee. And they'll make lots of contributions in play money to Baby PACs.

I never served in the Tennessee Baby State Legislature. I wanted to back in the days when I was pursuing my bachelor of conservative arts degree at the Big Orange University in Knoxville. But I was defeated in my election bid for TISL because I supported a baby state income tax.

I did attend American Legion Boys' State in Cookeville in 1969 where I was appointed Boys' State commissioner of insurance and banking. I served for 15 minutes before I was indicted for boys' bank fraud. I was a 16-year-old Jake Butcher.

While I never served in the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature and consequently I do not now draw a baby state pension, I am a big supporter of TISL and its efforts to train the future law makers of Tennessee. That's why I think having baby lobbyists at TISL is a great idea. After all, lobbyists are the real lawmakers of Tennessee.

I just have one suggestion. If they really want to replicate a real-world experience at TISL, at least some of the baby lobbyists should not actually be lobbyists at all, they should just be pretending to be lobbyists. I realize that every college kid at TISL is actually pretending to be something, but in the case of the lobbyists, I believe some of them should actually be pretending pretenders. That is to say that while pretending to be lobbyists, they should actually simply be pretending to be pretending to be lobbyists. In reality they should be baby undercover agents for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

These pretending pretending baby lobbyists would covertly set up sting operations for the baby legislators, secretly videotaping meetings with them at Nashville hotels and bars late at night.

And then, on the final day of the 41st Tennessee Intercollegiate General Assembly, the baby attorney general could announce that indictments are being returned against several baby legislators.

They could call it "Operation Tennessee Baby Waltz."

And then, in the closing hours of the session, the Tennessee baby governor could start issuing pardons to the indicted baby legislators. He might even try to sell the pardons, just like a real Tennessee governor once did!

In short, the upcoming Tennessee Intercollegiate General Assembly will have all the thrill, excitement, drama and corruption of a real Tennessee legislative session! And who knows? With the baby lobbyists working behind the scenes, the baby speaker may surprise everyone and get elected by one vote!


Bill Haltom BILL HALTOM is a partner with the Memphis firm of Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson & Mitchell. He is past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is a past president of the Memphis Bar Association.