Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 29, 2014

Richmond takes teen tone as students hold Model General Assembly


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — If you like this column, you can thank Nathan Hatfield, the assistant clerk of the Senate of Virginia. If not blame yours truly. In this swirling mass of more than 500 members of the 2014 Model General Assembly, it seems that in the great Capitol designed by Thomas Jefferson, not all computers link to the Internet on days when the barometer is pointing heavily toward rain. Mr. Hatfield came to the rescue, just moments after the Commonwealth House was opened by a prayer from Tazewell’s Ashlyn Muncy. With a deadline looming, believe me that Ashlyn was not the only one asking for a blessing.

Started in 1948, the MGA is one of the finest organizations of its kind in the country. It is sponsored by the Virginia YMCA and encompasses schools from as far in the West as Castlewood to Tangier Combined School on the Atlantic.

Grades 9-12 are involved in every capacity in both the House and Senate — they are divided into the Commonwealth and Old Dominion branches because of the sheer numbers of students. These boys and girls write bills, have them printed into a bill book, and then debate this legislation in committee and on the respective floors of both this grand old building as well as the nearby General Assembly Building.

All three Tazewell County high schools, Richlands, Graham and Tazewell, are well represented. This year’s youth governor is Connor Wilson of Graham and GHS also has William McGuire as House Speaker. Richlands and Graham have both had governors elected in the past. Graham, in fact, has had four youth governors including Gov. Wilson. Tazewell has its own candidate, Christopher Johnson, in the running as the three-day (and night) session moves into day two.

Sharon Davies is the YMCA executive director and along with program director Dennis Gilbar, has done a wonderful job of coordinating Capitol Square into a true prep legislative masterpiece.

Dennis came to Tazewell County recently and directed a spring workshop at the Tazewell County Courthouse with all three local high school members. Judge Jack S. Hurley, Jr. and Circuit Court Clerk James E. Blevins, Jr. were very gracious in allowing the students to use the General District Courtroom and the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Department provided security coordinated through both Major Harold Heatley and court security man Russell Stowers.

They were so kind as to have deputies stay over after regular hours to assist the students. Dennis had each school present and discussed the legislation that they are now reviewing in the halls of this very building.

Sharon and her staff have an MGA office right down the hall which is the nerve center of this entire organization. It is wonderful to have a major investment from our local students in such a state-wide effort. For example, here in the Old Dominion House, Trent Davis from Richlands is busy as the clerk, while in the Senate Ben Carlisle of Graham is working in the same capacity. Katie Ray from Tazewell is front and center as the Commonwealth House Floor Leader.

Last night after the members were sworn in as official members in historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church just across the square, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring reviewed his own political journey with them and talked about the importance of one individual, noting how significant that one person can be in the legislative process at every level. Awards were presented and the members quickly moved to their respective duty posts.

I started in the GAB with Danielle Meadows of Tazewell, committee chair of the Counties, Cities, and Towns group. Soon after, I went down to watch Colby Hill of Graham chair the Courts of Justice gathering. Later, after the session, as we prepared to walk back to the hotel, Colby shared a message from G-Men Coach Glynn Carlock that he (Colby) had been named to the Virginia All-State basketball squad.

Even in the heat of politics, it is difficult if not impossible to get a separation from sports. Many of us are keeping close tabs on the NCAA basketball tournament and there is a great deal of excitement about the University of Virginia in the city. We passed through Charlottesville on the way up here and those Cavaliers are No. 1 in the hearts of many Virginians.

Yet, it is the MGA that dominates our lives right now. I would love to talk longer with all of you but I can see that a meeting of the Conference on National Affairs (CONA) is slated to begin in just 11 minutes in House Room 1. I am on that committee and the chairman insists that we all be on time. Thanks to Nathan and the wonderful staff of the Senate Clerk’s Office, we got the column done just in time.

Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.