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Lydia Lenker, SMC `84
|Lydia Lenker (JOUR `84), press secretary to Gov.
Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, listens as the governor
responds to media inquiries.
Lydia Lenker, SMC `84
Press Secretary for the Governor of Tennessee
Who I Work For and What I Do:
I serve as press secretary for Governor Phil Bredesen of Tennessee. I serve as the governor's spokesman, communicating his message. I also manage all media requests, create media opportunities, participate in the planning of press events and troubleshoot when unexpected issues arise.
How I Came to Have This Role:
After nearly 20 years as a broadcast journalist – many of those years as a political reporter – I unexpectedly found myself needing a new challenge. I realized that during every election I covered, I found myself intrigued by the campaigns. I decided to call former Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen, who was reportedly mulling over a run for governor. Several months and rounds of interviews followed. My last interview was with Bredesen himself, who surprised me with the offer to join his campaign. I'll never forget that moment. Quite frankly, there were some around me who thought I was nuts to walk away from a successful career in TV news and take a job that may last only a year and included a pay cut. They had legitimate concerns, but I never doubted myself.
Campaigns demand everything of you. You must have a laser focus and you have to physically and emotionally stand up to the demands of endless days. It's a tough haul, but it was also liberating because I was doing things I had never done before. I was now on the other side of the fence working with the media – in many cases my former colleagues.
I was seeing every inch of Tennessee, and most importantly, I was working for a candidate who had a vision to move our state forward in a way like no other candidate I'd ever covered as a reporter. I knew I was part of something special.
In addition to our election victories, sitting around the conference table hashing out policy, meeting hundreds of terrific supporters working tirelessly for the candidate, and serving up endless bowls of chili are some of my cherished memories from the Bredesen For Governor campaign of 2002. During Gov. Bredesen's re-election campaign in 2006, I had a more limited role. Any work I did was as a volunteer, since there are strict rules regarding the political activities of state government employees.
We're an administration dedicated to a bipartisan spirit of cooperation, so for me, politics works best when we're making life better for our citizens. My job certainly provides many moments that remind me what a privilege it is to serve a governor. Earlier this year, after tornadoes devastated our state, we walked with President Bush through debris where houses once stood and just about a year ago, still early in the presidential campaign, Senator Barack Obama paid a visit to the State Capitol.
What impact my political involvement has had on me as a citizen and voter:
There's a perception that government is corrupt and the people who run it are inherently crooked and working the system. As a political reporter, part of my job was to search out just those types of things. Many told me I was "joining the dark side."
The reality is just the opposite. Thousands of state employees work tirelessly every day for our citizens. There are many unsung heroes. I work for a governor who doesn't accept a salary and believes giving back and leaving things better than you find them is the mission. Yes, we have to deal with bad actors now and again, but the good we do far outweighs the occasional bad headline.
What Else I've Been Doing In-Between Graduating From Temple and Now:
I worked for a short spell at Evening Magazine as a production assistant and then as a weekend assignment editor at KYW-TV. It was then on to Asbury Park, NJ as a reporter and anchor for local radio station WJLK. Nashville was next, where I worked for the Tennessee Radio Network as a reporter and anchor.
It was during these years that I began political reporting. Fate stepped in when TRN's regular political reporter moved on. I spent 13 terrific years as a reporter and anchor at WTVF, the CBS-TV affiliate in Nashville. During this incredible time, I was able to travel outside the U.S. and won several awards, including an Emmy for best weekend newscast, which I anchored and helped produce. I did political reporting when the legislature was in session and during election seasons.
Temple Memories and How Temple Helped Prepare Me For This Role:
Temple was key to making my career dreams come true. My instructors came from both print and broadcast media with invaluable real-life experience. The best of them challenged me to become the best communicator I could be.
I was able to intern at WHYY radio and WCAU-TV – impressive stuff for a reporter in training. Through Temple, I interned with NBC Nightly News at the 1984 vice presidential debate with Vice President George H.W. Bush and Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro. Tom Brokaw spent time with the interns talking about TV news – that was amazing! Through my TV internship, I also met Walter Mondale (I drove Larry Kane to his interview). Finally, I had a great time working at WRTI – pulling the Monday afternoon radio drive-time shift and enjoying the best jazz you could imagine.