One thing sets the TALL program apart is the agenda that calls for trips out of state or country. Nearly every state with similar leadership programs has this as a high priority. But it is not without concern and criticism. Often the statement is made: “With so much going on at home, why spend the time and money away?” And the cost of travel and a foreign exposure alone may absorb over 40% of the total budget.
But without such an experience, many supporters had their doubts. Even in a state as broad and diverse as Texas, there is still an outside world. Exposure….that’s the name of the game throughout the TALL experience. And the U.S. and the world are changing rapidly. Few industries are likely to feel the impact more than agriculture. Gone are the staid and stable days of yesteryear, where our livelihoods were dictated by our own doings. An understanding of global agriculture, trade and politics are essential.
First, there was a look at the state itself, the politics and government that drives the system. The meeting in Austin with state government officials, legislators and agency heads was an ideal start. From this, the complexity of the decision-making process was apparent. Class I trip to Austin, and following one to Washington, D.C., was in the capable hands of Dr. Ken Denmark, ably assisted by TALL members in the vicinity. The reason: Dr. Pope was again in the hospital, this time in earnest — for open heart surgery to repair a mitral valve!
As in subsequent visits to Austin, TALL members were recognized in the Senate gallery, met with the Governor’s aides, dialogued with a member of the Supreme Court on legal issues and procedures, and listened to various agency heads. Charlie Scruggs and others joined them for an evening to ponder state government and the tentacles that spread out across Texas.
Then on to Washington, D.C., a new adventure for most. Again, with Dr. Denmark in charge, it was an experience of a lifetime. Dr. Ron Knutson, Extension Agricultural Economist, gave an invaluable assist in shaping the program, based on prior Washington experience. USDA officials briefed the group on current programs and future directions. A good review of the budget process and a White House perspective helped TALL members understand the mechanisms involved in decision-making.
And there was a special thrill in the opportunity to exchange views with Senator Lloyd Bentson and Phil Gramm, with Congressmen de la Garza, Larry Combest and Charlie Stenholm.
And, of course, the sights of Washington! From the perspective of a young adult who is able to appreciate its historical significance, there is nothing like it. Subsequent groups would also get at least a feel for the seamier side of Washington itself, of the homeless situation and low-income pockets in the city. It was fitting that two veterans of the armed forces could lay a wreath on the tombs of the Unknown Soldiers.
Spouses were invited to go along, paying their own way. In this day of “teamwork” where couples must work closely together, sharing ideas and responsibilities, it seemed prudent to bring the spouse up to speed on current developments. In Washington, D.C., they followed their own agenda, free to explore the capital city at will. Accommodations at the National 4-H Center, while somewhat Spartan, provided an economical way to obtain meals and lodging. Bus trips to downtown Washington and sights in the vicinity were economical and convenient.