GREENBRIER — Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe visited the first grade class at Wooster Elementary School as a part of their government and social studies. As he entered the modern building and walked to their gymnasium, there was a long line of welcoming children from all the classes lining the halls. Many little fists were extended as he happily fist-butted as many as he could and greeted them all along the way. Cameras flashed as television, press, and parents followed with his secret service escorts.
Beebe sat on the edge of the stage in their new building in front of about 100 little 6-year-olds and chatted amiably with them about being good citizens and what government in our state should mean for them. He introduced Senate candidates Linda Tyler and Johnny Hoyt who accompanied him. The children sang the state song, "Arkansas, You Run Deep in Me." Beebe told them that was his favorite song.
Beebe talked about the Governor as the Boss for the state of Arkansas and the President as the Boss for our country; but when he asked the children, "Who is my Boss?" they were stumped for a moment. When he told them, "All y’all are", one youngster squealed with surprise, "Me?!" That opened the door for understanding by all those little ones about how government works. Beebe took the concept of parents being bosses back to the three million people in Arkansas who are the real bosses of our state government. He explained voting as being the way people keep him on the job (or not) if they like what he does in office. He said, "Everybody is everybody else’s Boss." That prompted one small child to pipe up, "I’m my little sister’s Boss." They got the concept of individual importance that counts in good government
Teacher/parent representative Amber Wood suggested the idea of inviting the governor to the four first grade classes taught by Lynzie Brewer, Megan Girdler, Ashley Hammett, and Denny Hartwick. A few children stated their dads were military and Beebe said to be sure to give them a special thank you from him.
Four designated children from each of the first grade classes at Wooster, Chanley Wood, Brylee Hannett, Bailey Hattenhauer, and Laney Simpson, asked questions of Beebe and then the chatty children opened up, pelting Beebe with all kinds of subjects. They wondered if he had met President Obama, to which Beebe replied he not only had breakfast with the President every year as his invited guest, but had also met former Presidents Bush and Clinton and was friends with them for many, many years.
There was no lack of questions as the children wanted to know everything from his age, to what his wife was doing that day, to what did he want to be when he was a first grader (He replied, "A second grader."), and what did he do in his office. Other questions were: Did he like his job? What is the favorite part of his job? Did he like guns?
Beebe pointed out he enjoyed seeing how well our kids are doing in Arkansas schools. He also talked about laws that affect their lives, such as one to require more exercise and eating healthy so kids can stay slim and trim. Of special concern is making sure kids are not hungry and helping kids to get into foster homes or adopted and keeping kids safe and educated.
He pointed out never to use a gun except when a parent is in charge ... and only for hunting. A final question was, "What does it take to be a good citizen?" He replied, "Obey the law, vote when you are old enough, and volunteer in your community. Always try to help your community and your neighbors so they can have a better life."
Beebe then drove on to Greenbrier Junior High School to meet Rebekah Bilderback’s ninth grade Civics class. He, again, opened up for informal questions from the class about the workings of government, education, and the economy. This was a tougher audience; but Beebe’s good nature and straight-forward answers, often with good humor, endeared him to them. Gabe Bray asked, "Did you want to be Governor growing up?" Beebe replied he knew in seventh grade that he wanted to be in politics; but had his eye on the US Senate." He quickly explained, though, that he liked the Governor’s job more because you do not have to work with 99 others and can do more, faster. He went on to say his biggest fear in Arkansas is that our legislature would become stale-mated like the Federal one. He said, "Arkansas has always been able to bring people together in our government and I hope that continues."
When asked what he was most proud of, Beebe pointed to Arkansas’ education system that rose to number 10 in the nation. He also listed Arkansas is only one of four states who did not have a budget shortfall during this past difficult economic time and created 27,000 more jobs than were lost during this past recession. "We also cut the state grocery tax from 6 percent to 1.5 percent," he said.
When asked, "What do you love about politics?", Beebe replied, "I love politics and the interaction with people. When you’ve put your head on your pillow at night and you know you did a good job, it feels good. You get a greater sense of satisfaction." He went on to say he will retire in 2015 and "do nothing—oh, maybe teach a college course or two, part-time."