Discovering his place in politics
JOHNSON CITY (May 2023) – Aiden Graybeal felt drawn to politics from an early age.
“I’ve always been a weird political kid,” he said, “and there aren’t a lot of opportunities to explore that in high school and elementary school. My parents don’t know anything about politics – they don’t care to – so I had to do this all on my own. When I came to college, a friend said, ‘Hey, I’m going to do this TISL thing. Have you heard of this?’ I discovered there’s this whole world I was missing out on – all these things I’d always looked at and heard about in which I’m now participating.”
TISL – rhymes with “whistle” – is the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature. It. It gives politically minded college and university students throughout Tennessee an education about state government and a channel to express their opinions on state issues. Each fall, hundreds of students from two- and four-year institutions converge on the state capitol in Nashville to play legislative, judicial, lobbying and media roles in a competitive, four-day mock legislative session modeled after the Tennessee General Assembly. The ETSU TISL team brought home “Best Delegation” honors in 2022, and several of its members were elected to serve in key roles in 2023.
One of those is Graybeal, who is gearing up to fill the role of speaker of the House of Representatives. In this leadership role, the Johnson City native teaches the art of writing quality legislation and the basics of parliamentary procedure not only to younger members of the ETSU team, but to TISL participants at other institutions, as well. And, he said, most of his job as speaker is knowing parliamentary procedure, or “parli-pro.”
“Luckily, I sleep with ‘Robert’s Rules of Order’ under my pillow,” he quipped. “I didn’t know it existed until I got involved in TISL. We have bill books that have all the different bills in them, and one of the pages is a guide to all the different motions you can make. I learned very quickly every basic motion in ‘Robert’s Rules of Order.’ From there, I just ran with it, and discovered all these little tricks. Being able to prepare for parli-pro is probably the number one thing.”
Graybeal believes TISL complements his classroom experiences as a junior political science major in a practical way.
“Especially with my degree, there’s a lot of stuff we talk about and read statistics about that you can only understand by having done them,” he said. “In TISL, we’re not identical to the General Assembly, but we come surprisingly close. We get it pretty spot-on, and that teaches you a lot about human nature. That’s something you can’t really teach – you just have to experience it. It teaches you things that they can’t teach you about because they just don’t have studies about it. It’s hard to study the best way to convince a group to switch to your side. It’s hard to study the best way to be a lobbyist. You just have to do that yourself. You can study through years of law school to be an attorney, but this experience will tell you pretty quickly whether or not you will do well at it. I started (in TISL) as an attorney, and we failed in the first round. And then I switched over to the House of Representatives and I won an award, so I feel pretty good about that. It just showed me that being an attorney wasn’t really for me, but I love this.”
In addition to gaining practical legislative experience, Graybeal appreciates another benefit of participating in TISL. Participants have opportunities to interact with state officeholders, including Tennessee Secretary of State (and TISL alumnus) Tre Hargett, whose office sponsors the annual competition, and learn about the responsibilities of various state offices.
Besides enjoying one-on-one time with Hargett, Graybeal and his fellow team members met with state Treasurer David H. Lillard Jr. and numerous Tennessee senators and representatives, including Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton.
“It teaches you how to be politically engaged with your community,” Graybeal continued. “It also gives a lot of confidence. Because of TISL, in part, I’ve taken to cold-calling people I have questions for. I’ve cold-called the U.S. Department of Agriculture just to ask whether boneless chicken wings were wings or nuggets. And they answer. They’re paid to; they have to. I’ve talked to the U.S. Senate parliamentarian for a good half hour, just about her job. I didn’t expect to hear back from her, but she called me back a day and a half later and said, ‘Hey, is this Aiden? Let’s chat.’”
In addition to a bachelor’s degree, Graybeal is concurrently pursuing an associate of science degree in agriculture at Northeast State Community College. He says that while he did not grow up on a farm, he lived next to farms in the Boones Creek community of Washington County, and his family often visited his great-uncle’s horse farm.
“I actually miss being out in the country now that I live in the city,” Graybeal said. “I’m definitely more rural. I’ve got a big interest in politics, obviously, and that’s a pretty hectic career, so I figure having something a lot less hectic like farming would be good, where all you’ve got to deal with is what you’ve got to do for that day, make sure nobody dies, and make sure the crop comes in on time.”
Graybeal would like to eventually earn a master’s degree in agricultural economics and pursue a career in agricultural policy with the USDA.