When I first arrived in Washington, D.C., I was no fan of the U.S. Congress. I had a jaundiced view of our federal legislature. That all changed when I had an opportunity to work as a legislative aide to my local representative, Jimmy Quillen, and later, Bill Jenkins, who was elected to the same congressional seat following Jimmy Quillen’s retirement.
Jimmy Quillen was an icon in Tennessee politics and is universally known throughout the state as the People’s Congressman. He still holds the distinction as the longest continuous serving member of the United States Congress from Tennessee. While he was never known for passing landmark legislation, Jimmy Quillen’s focus was instead on serving his constituents when they were in times of need.
When I was serving as his legislative aide, one of these constituents, Joyce Lawson, contacted Jimmy Quillen regarding our government’s failure to screen blood and blood products prior to conducting transfusions during the 1980s. The failure to do so resulted in thousands of hemophiliacs, like Mrs. Lawson’s husband, Ron, contracting HIV-AIDS and dying prematurely.
While the federal law that was eventually passed to compensate the families of these folks, the Ricky Ray Hemophilia Relief Act, P.L. 105-369, was named after a young hemophiliac, Ricky Ray, in Florida who had also been infected with tainted blood, Mrs. Lawson was instrumental in getting the legislation enacted. Among other things, I assisted her in developing testimony before the committee responsible for considering the legislation.
During Mrs. Lawson’s moving testimony, she used a phrase that I am sure Jimmy Quillen suggested, although I am just as sure that it was not original: if the federal government can provide needed assistance following natural disasters, she asked the committee, why can’t it do the same thing when there has been a disaster of the federal government? The Ricky Ray Hemophilia Relief Act was eventually signed into law after Jimmy Quillen retired, but to the best of my memory this was my first experience being a witness to, as Bill Jenkins would often later remark, public policy becoming crystalized in the form of law.
After Jimmy Quillen’s retirement, I was fortunate to serve as Bill Jenkins’ legislative aid until I went to work for the Tennessee Valley Authority in its government relations office and then attended law school at the University of Tennessee. While over the years I have continued to be involved in some aspect of government relations since enactment of the Ricky Ray Hemophilia Relief Act, it stands out in my mind as a reminder that good things can happen to good people even in the legislature, and it fundamentally changed my jaundiced view of that branch of our government.
More recently, I assisted in getting a law passed in our state legislature, the General Assembly, authorizing licenses for residential homes serving individuals suffering from traumatic brain injuries, the Traumatic Brain Injury Residential Home Act, P.C. 1086. Like the Ricky Ray Hemophilia Relief Act before it, this new law is an example of our legislature answering the call of good people in need.
I believe my experience with both federal and state legislatures over the years will be essential to achieving your goals if you have a government relations need. In addition to being a licensed attorney, I am also a registered lobbyist with the State of Tennessee.
If you have a government relations matter in Tennessee, I hope you will contact us.