A natural bent for helping people change their circumstances for the better could be leading John Paul Gairhan Jr. of Cabot into a career in politics. Gairhan is one of two American Legion Boys’ State participants chosen to continue that experience in government at the next level – Boys’ Nation at Washington, D.C.
"I have a love of the American political process … this is the greatest form of government the world has ever seen," Gairhan remarked in an interview.
The press release announcing Gairhan’s selection notes it is based on leadership skills, academic record and participation at Boys’ State.
American Legion Boys’ Nation introduces the "senators" to the structure and function of the federal government, and combines lectures and forums with visits to federal agencies, institutions, memorials and historic landmarks in and near the U.S. capital.
And a visit with President Barack Obama.
"The idea that I get to shake hands with a living president is almost overwhelming. This man is arguably the most powerful person on the planet, yet he takes time out of his hands to meet with a bunch of high school kids who interested in government. Only in America is that possible," Gairhan said about his upcoming visit.
Gairhan’s summer has not had many idle moments. After Boys’ State came Governor’s School at Hendrix University, then he leaves for Washington, D.C. to get a taste of the federal government.
The week at Boys’ State was "intensive," Gairhan said. "You get to set up a state government within a week."
He was elected mayor of their particular city, and then county judge. Among the lessons he learned is that perception is important, but there is much more. "Being good to people, taking an interest. It’s reaching out to people. People want to be heard. Everyone wants to be part of something," he said.
"We had these great leadership discussions. They were supposed to be 45 minutes… but they’d go into hours."
For me politics is the greatest avenue to help as many people as possible … It’s improving services, improving education, improving infrastructure, re-writing the tax code," he said.
"I have always had this desire to help people," Gairhan said. Be a doctor? Biology cured him of that idea. Be an engineer and build things? Mathematics proved that was not the solution. Then he realized politics would a natural outlet.
Politics is a search for "what if," "what could happen. What could we improve. What we could do better." Gairhan said. "If we could get a little more pragmatic, stop bickering so much, we could fix a lot of problems."
Too often compromise becomes weakness, which leads to polarization where each party weeds out those who are willing to compromise; an attitude that is not unique to either side, he remarked.
The concept of the minority voice always being heard becomes lost, "And I think both parties are at fault here," Gairhan said. It seems that when either party gains a majority in the House or Senate, they claim to have been given a mandate, "That the people have elected them to completely impose their will," Gairhan said.
The idea behind the two-party is compromise, Gairhan said. There will be differences, "But they would go into a room, figure it out, and come out with a solution. But that is not happening," he said.
With so much negativity in the political process, "I feel I could go in and make it better … each side needs to respect the other," Gairhan said.
While he sees himself deep in the political process, exactly how that will develop is flexible.
"I want to be able to establish a family first … but after that, whatever opens up," Gairhan said. "I want to know I helped out in whatever way I could."
"But if become county clerk, and that is what I do, then I am happy with that," he remarked.
But the post that most beckons him is governor, Gairhan said. "I love Arkansas politics."
Gairhan said that he has traveled to areas outside the state, has seen and experienced other viewpoints in exchange programs, but he loves his home state.
"There’s a sense of independence here in Arkansas," he said.
His own area of interest is the state’s education system, Gairhan said. The drain of educated young adults to other states concerns him, and he wants to explore ways to stop it.
If searching out solutions means reaching the governor’s office, "I think ‘Gairhan for governor’ has a nice ring to it," he said.
Besides Governor’s School, Boys’ State and the upcoming Boys’ Nation, Gairhan said he completed Lonoke County Leadership Training, which introduces leaders to economic development.
Other activities at school include acting as representative on the Student Council; president of the Cabot High School Young Democrats; vice president or the model U.N.; golf team, theater, school newspaper, and Quiz Bowl team. He was also a member of the National Junior Honor Society 2009-2012 and president 2011-2012; National Honor Society member 2012-2014; Quiz Bowl Captain 2014 and Principals List 2009- 2014;