I don’t usually have this much excitement in my life, but yesterday began with breakfast with the governor and ended up with a visit with a King. Both were very different events, to be sure.
For the past several months I have been one of the class members of Leadership St. Louis, a program that has been run by Focus St. Louis for many decades that brings together people from all walks of life in my city to try to foster regional understanding, creative thinking, and connecting with other leaders. I am one of the older members of the group, which meets for two days each month around a common theme. This week we went to our state capitol and met with leaders from all three branches of government, including our governor, a Democrat running for re-election this year in a very red state.
There are 60-some class members, whom I have grown to enjoy their company and appreciate their different perspectives on life, community, faith, business, and many other topics. This week was a chance to see some of the players first-hand, take a measure of their actions and ask questions about their policies and future plans. It was clear that our governor, Jay Nixon (no relation to the former president, he is the first to tell you), has a plan. We had breakfast in his state-owned mansion and were served by current convicts, a long-time program that helps inmates re-enter society after they have served their time.
Missouri is one of the few states that have an AAA bond rating, and Nixon seemed proud of that fact. He also pointed to recent victories with attracting Ford and GM to augment their auto plants here and add jobs. Interestingly, others that we met with spoke about how we need to attract more entrepreneurs to the region, something that I have been working towards with my various mentoring activities. We certainly need both efforts.
We also had a chance to meet with the Speaker of our House, Steven Tilley, who has been in the news this week with the selection of Rush Limbaugh as the next subject of a bust to be added to the hall of famous people who have lived here. Rush joins John Ashcroft, Bob Barker and Stan Musial as the only other people who are alive to be so honored, and include such notables as Walt Disney, Mark Twain, and Sacajawea. Tempers flared when one of our group challenged Tilley on his choice in light of recent events. Prior to this week, the Capitol building was most noted for another piece of artwork, an immense mural by Thomas Hart Benton that depicts the history of the state and was controversial in its time in the 1930s for including the outlaw Jesse James and political boss Tom Pendergast along with a slave being whipped. I was sitting on the floor next to this last panel while Tilley and other House leaders were talking to us, it was an interesting juxtaposition.
I ended my day with a book signing and hearing from King Peggy. Peggy is a woman from Ghana who works in their DC embassy as an ordinary secretary and was chosen to be the king of her small village in Ghana several years ago. She has written a book about her experiences and has been on tour over the past month. It was clear from her talk that she is a one-woman economic development force to be reckoned with: as a result of her activities, she has helped bring better water sources and other improvements to her village. Her talk was attended by several middle school students, one of whom repeatedly asked her some terrific questions, along with Ghanaian college students who clearly identified with her and applauded her success.
Both Nixon and Peggy spoke about how we live in a global world, where we compete with everyone and where we have to consider the consequences of our actions on a global stage. Nixon was proud that Missouri frozen pizzas and pork were being shipped to Asia; Peggy was proud that she could bring discarded school textbooks from Virginia to her village.