University of Tennessee junior Nicholas Bishop had a unique summer.
“I shook hands and gave out pieces of gum for 13 hours straight,” Bishop said. That was just on election day. The junior spent his summer campaigning for a seat on the Morgan County Commission.
Bishop was the top vote-getter among the five candidates running for the three seats in his district.
On Election Day, Bishop’s family and friends stood outside the polls wearing T-shirts with his name on it.
“Most candidates give out cards at the polls. I never liked that; I thought gum would make more sense,” Bishop said. “It was good gum and it was miserably hot that day, so it kind of kept your mouth wet. Maybe the gum helped me get votes, you never know.”
Bishop said he ran for election because he loves Morgan County and his hometown of Sunbright. The county, which lies an hour northwest of Knoxville, has a population of about 20,132, and Sunbright has a population of about 600.
“Sunbright is your typical small-town America,” Bishop said. “I see a lot of problems in my community that a affect everyone, especially my generation, and I felt I could make some type of positive difference.”
Nancy Morgan, Bishop’s high school history and economics teacher, said that Bishop’s youthful energy and life choices will bring a different perspective to the commission.
“Nick has a vested interest in the community. He has a desire to make Morgan County a places where people want to stay and raise a family,” she said. “Most don’t believe that’s possible. He thinks, ‘I am going make it possible.’ He has taken that stand and is going to do all he can to make that change. I like that.”
Bishop said it saddens him to know how hard it is to make a living and raise a family in his home county.
“I know one person can’t change the world, but I hope I can somehow contribute to the process of making Morgan County a place where people can live, work and raise a family without leaving the area,” he said.
Bishop is the son of Freddy and Cheryl Bishop of Sunbright and a graduate of Sunbright High School. He said politics have been a life-long interest.
“I remember my kindergarten class wrote a letter to President Bush Sr. He wrote us back, and we posted his letter on the wall. That really stuck with me.”
“Early on, I told myself that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right and give it everything I had,” he said. “I didn’t make any crazy promises that I couldn’t keep. The only promise I made was that I would work as hard as I could, and I wouldn’t let anyone down.”
Bishop said education is one of his biggest concerns. “I’ve been to three other colleges before I transferred to UT last year and I feel our education system in Morgan County doesn’t properly prepare kids in comparison to other counties,” he said. “The biggest reason is lack of funding. I know they’re doing the best they can. I hope I can help.”
Despite Bishop’s young age, he is not the youngest county resident elected to the commission. Morgan said she believes Tommy Kelby, a current state senator, was a senior in high school when he was elected to the county commission.