Two dozen Lake Martin area 11th-graders gathered at Reeltown High School Friday to listen to a slate of elected leaders, who answered questions about their jobs and shared leadership wisdom.
Rep. Ed Oliver (R-Dadeville) and public educators' union Alabama Education Association (AEA) hosted the State Government Day event, with Junior Leadership Lake Martin members from Benjamin Russell, Horseshoe Bend, Dadeville and Reeltown high schools in attendance. Normally held in Montgomery, legislators came to Tallapoosa County this time due to COVID-19 restrictions in the capitol.
Legislature chief of staff Mark Tuggle and Rep. Joe Lovvorn (R-Auburn) joined Oliver in explaining what happens in the statehouse, from a how a bill becomes a law to how political alliances are made.
Lovvorn made his point by handing out business cards to each high school junior.
"It's not just so you'll know who I am when I passed it out," he said. "If you're applying to go to schools and colleges, you're applying to go to the Air Force Academy, you're applying for internships, you've got Chief Tuggle that's in your district, you've got Ed Oliver that's in your district, you got a guy in the neighboring district that you can email and call."
Tuggle, an Alexander City resident who used to occupy Oliver's 81st district seat, said being chief of staff means "Tallapoosa County has a vote and a half in Montgomery," to which Oliver gave a thumbs-up. Tuggle served two terms as Republican representative from 2010 to 2018, at which point he did not seek reelection.
Lovvorn said working with fellow legislators is not unlike what he just did with the business cards.
"I'm offering my assistance," he said. "That's how you build a relationship — start off with a gesture."
Tuggle, meanwhile, emphasized decency both among legislators and from the public, even when in disagreement.
"Don't yell at them with a bullhorn," he said. "Don't be a jackass."
The three also spoke of a few hot-button issues making their ways through the legislature, including gambling and medical marijuana.
Dadeville High School junior Cameron Brooks asked the representatives for their stances on the medical marijuana bill. While Lovvorn said he opposed the current bill, adding marijuana is a "gateway drug," Oliver is a proponent.
"When I ran initially I had a bunch of nice little old ladies that asked me if I could help them with medical marijuana as an issue," he said.
A former air ambulance pilot, Oliver said he's opposed to narcotics having seen the effects of opiate addiction. However, he said he's in favor of the medical marijuana bill "because what we do know is we have not killed anyone with marijuana overdoses in 5,000 years."
However, the medical marijuana and gambling bills are exceptions to most of what gets done in a legislative session, Lovvorn said.
"Most bills we pass out of 105 (representatives) are 93 to 7 or 8," he said. "The education budget was 103 or 104 to zero. It's just a few key issues that are push points."
Agriculture commissioner Rick Pate, Alabama Court of Appeals presiding judge Mary Windom (who's running for Alabama Supreme Court in 2022) office of attorney general communications director Mike Lewis and Tallapoosa County commissioner and AEA representative T.C. Coley all also spoke at the event. State senator Tom Whatley (R-AL), originally scheduled to speak, did not attend.