Now, the real work begins--or at least this is what the calendar tells us.
Actually, my public service work for House District 17 has been taking place for the last three months, as I have been scurrying across the three-county district learning even more about the people I now serve.
This week marks one year since my political journey began, as I solicited your vote and confidence to serve as your new state representative. I have been blessed by your support and am honored to replace a personal friend who served in this capacity for the past 28 years. Allow me to say this public thank you to Mike Millican for his time in office.
From the beginning, I invested the time and energy required to learn more about this district--and I do mean the District 17 in its entirety. I promised countless residents I would serve everyone in the district and not just a select community or two or even a select group. The bills are paid by the people who live and work here, whether in Marion, Lamar or Winston County. And I have attempted to fulfill this promise thus far.
Exactly as I did on the lengthy campaign trail, I have continued to attend school board, city council and county commission meetings across the district. I am learning directly from elected officials and community leaders in each city and town about their specific needs. I am learning that while we share so many similarities, each community has its own unique needs.
Listening to mayors and superintendents of education has proven important, as have many sit-down conversations with senior adults and local veterans. Within the past 12 months, I have come to more fully understand that people simply want to be heard. They want to share ideas, dreams and visions for Northwest Alabama. And I have come to appreciate the fact the common man or woman on the street has just as much, if not more, to contribute to the direction Alabama will take over the next decade as those who have been chosen to serve in Montgomery.
There is not some magic spell cast over lawmakers to suddenly empower them with answers to each and every problem facing our state. Legislators do not suddenly become experts on every subject simply because they were elected to office. Lawmakers are only as intelligent as their life experiences and personal willingness to listen and learn from those who “are’’ experts in their various chosen fields.
I assured those along the trail, if elected, I would seek guidance and information from those “in the know.’’ If I have questions about education, I will be reaching out to classroom teachers, principals, superintendents and parents, not law enforcement. But if I have questions about those issues which impact our officers, I will likewise not be calling the local school for input. A lawmaker should have the courage to admit he or she does not have all of the answers. Admitting one still has much to learn should be interpreted as a strength, not a weakness.
Winning the Republican Party nomination in July, I was asked the following morning to pen letters of support for project funding being sought by the City of Haleyville and Bevill State Community College in Hamilton. The letters were written promptly and forwarded to the appropriate party.
But immediately thereafter, I chose to step back temporarily out of respect for Mike Millican. I was not scheduled to officially take office until Nov. 7 following the general election. But following a two-week period of avoiding the spotlight, I realized mayors, commissioners, superintendents of education and others were seeking me out for assistance.
In return, I realized the general public cares little about official starting dates and when one takes office. The mindset of many would be: “You have been elected, now get to work.’’ And work is what we have done.
Despite having no Democratic opposition in the general election, I have continued to raise money from donors across the state. In each instance, I have made it clear to potential contributors that I would not be using their assistance for political purposes, but to assist as many in House District 17 as possible.
The funds raised have been used to assist with projects in our local schools, American Legions and municipalities. I have rarely slowed down in this continual effort to make certain I have the funds needed to assist across the district. And while the contributions forwarded to our schools and others have been nominal in some cases, they have each been heartfelt.
My goal is to honor my word and serve the folks who call House District 17 home.
We have been blessed to assist with efforts to create a new show choir program for students attending Double Springs Middle School and with a new intercom system at Phillips High School in Bear Creek. Contributions have been made to numerous sports programs across District 17 as well as efforts to renovate existing space at Marion County High School and Brilliant School. An outdoor classroom was on the wish list for Winfield Elementary School while assistance was needed with the new STEM program being implemented at Haleyville High School. Students at Vernon Intermediate School were assisted with funds to host a fall festival, just to name a few projects.
I was fortunate to arrange a tour of the state capitol and the Alabama State House for a group of students from Phillips High and even had the good fortune of traveling with them to Montgomery for the occasion. I must admit, I had not ridden a school bus in quite some time.
But our assistance has not been limited to schools, as we have covered the cost of the Thanksgiving meal for veterans in Hackleburg and a program to aid young mothers in need in Winfield with the purchase of diapers and formula. New equipment was needed with the Hackleburg Water Authority and while we could not cover the entire cost of this purchase, we wanted to participate.
Our efforts have not been limited to finances, though. Instead, we have rolled up our sleeves to serve meals at a few senior citizen centers in the area while also volunteering time to box food and serve as a counselor at the Main Street Ministries program in Double Springs. This has proven to be so rewarding.
As most of us know, when we serve to bless others, we are more often the one being blessed. This has been so true working with this segment of our communities. So many simply want to be heard. They want to share a meal and warm conversation.
Government was designed to be for, of and by the people. What better way to provide such a government than to spend time with those being governed and who actually are the government in question? Who said politics cannot be personal? Maybe the legislative session in Montgomery will prove impersonal, but I am finding my new job to be very personal when the proper time is spent out in the field of service among those who are to be served.
While much of our work has been conducted within the district, I have also been working to build new relationships beyond our immediate borders--relationships which could prove helpful in the future. Meetings in Montgomery and other locations have been held, as was a three-hour meeting in Cullman last week with lawmakers from across the district. My new colleagues are working together to build bonds well before the next legislative session begins in March. Now is the time to be learning more about others who will be serving in the next Legislature.
I have stressed how House District 17 so often feels left behind in economic development and other improvements being enjoyed in other parts of our state. I have promised to be a team player to improve all parts of Alabama, but want to do so with the understanding Marion, Lamar and Winston counties will have a seat at the table as well.
But even before we transitioned into this new position, I have been working to keep our residents informed about my efforts to assist. Almost daily, I have posted our workings on Facebook where we now have more than 2,200 following our reports. I want our residents to know the effort being made to be your voice. We want everyone to know with whom we are meeting and what we are discussing. The feedback to our reports has been extremely positive. We will also be using these periodic newspaper reports to do the same--inform the electorate as to how they are being served.
But again, I remind everyone: I am doing my best to serve the ENTIRE district. I am spending time almost weekly, and more often in many cases, in each community. We have visited every school in the district and have met with all but one of our mayors. And I assure you, that appointment will be held soon.
In the end, democratic government functions best when those elected to serve are accessible to those being served.
I assured you on the campaign trail I would not ask for your vote only to run and hide. Any who have asked for my cell phone number have been given the information. Whenever we are approached at the grocery store or a high school football game to discuss a topic, we do it. I assure you I do not have all of the answers, but every effort is being made to learn.
(Tracy Estes represents the Alabama State House District 17, which covers Marion County and portions of Winston and Lamar counties.)
See complete story in the Journal Record.