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Surprise 'guest' speaks during Lincoln Dinner

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Abraham Lincoln (portrayed by T.J. Sneddon) recites the Gettysburg Address during the 2009 Lincoln Day Dinner honoring the 200th birthday of the 16th President of the United States at the Center Point United Methodist Church Saturday. Looking on during the event, hosted by the Clay County Republican Central Committee, are District 37 State Senator Richard Bray (left), Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and Central Committee Chairperson Sharon Koehler. Ivy Jackson Photo. [Order this photo]
The 200th birthday of one of the most highly regarded presidents was celebrated Saturday night at the Center Point United Methodist Church.

The Clay County Republican Central Committee hosted the 2009 Clay County Lincoln Day Dinner which featured a special guest, Abraham Lincoln himself.

Lincoln (portrayed by T.J. Sneddon) made jokes and recited his memorable Gettysburg Address, originally made Nov. 19, 1863 during the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery, Gettysburg, Penn.

Admitting he had a hard act to follow, Keynote Speaker and Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller provided information about his job and why it was important Lincoln was a lawyer.

"I had a lot of support in Clay County so I do have a special fondness for the area," Zoeller said. "I love the job, and although it is demanding, I was drawn to the profession because of a personal sense to protect others and, in this position, there is definitely a responsibility to the public."

He outlined his background in the profession, which included being a Chief Deputy to former Attorney General Steve Carter.

"Carter was a perfect example as to what an Attorney General should be," he said. "Out of the 42 attorney generals elected over time, I believe I am the first to have previously worked as a part of the office."

Zoeller was particularly glad of all the work done in recent years to increase consumer protection and tighten the criminal justice system.

"One of the main functions of the office is consumer protection and looking at recent figures, 71 percent of all Clay County phone lines are on the 'Do Not Call' list," he said. "The list all but eliminates the opportunity to scam over the phone, which is one of the easiest ways to do so."

Zoeller also praised the criminal justice system because it has improved in recent years and said Clay County had a strong history with its former judges and having a former sheriff move on to be a part of the state's Department of Natural Resources. He added in recent years, the state has improved its success rate of upholding local rulings in appeal cases from 80 to 93 percent.

"Part of my job is to keep the criminals in jail," Zoeller said. "I want to keep elevating the work of the criminal justice department, and Clay County also has strong leadership with its current sheriff and prosecutor."

Zoeller also explained how he felt Lincoln's background as a lawyer aided his role as president.

"When Lincoln became President, he had a great knowledge of property law, which was very important at the time, and was strongly against slavery. But he also had a deep respect for the law and knew he did not have the authority to abolish the right of slavery on property rights when he first took office," he said. "However, the Civil War allowed Lincoln the additional authority to seize property of slaves and plantation owners. His understanding and respect for the law truly makes him one of the smartest and greatest Presidents of the Unites States."

Zoeller explained the federal government has the ability to serve the people, cannot and should not be a problem solver on all issues.

"Government has a role to play in maintaining individual liberties, but not to solve all our problems," Zoeller said. "A lot of the problems are things we have to face as individuals, and not always rely on the government."

He added there is the need, as an elected official, to go above and beyond doing strictly what the office requires.

"Times are hard, but the opportunity is there to look around and, like Lincoln, find something to do more than what is just required of you," he said. "I personally challenged each member of the Bar Association to step us and help the cause of feeding Indiana's Hungry."

Small paper bags were located on each of the tables for those in attendance to donate non-perishable foods to Zoeller's "The General's March Against Hunger" campaign.

Clay County Republican Central Committee Chairperson Sharon Koehler said since it is a non-election year, it is time to think and reflect about how to better serve the people.

"We have heard so much lately about grassroots campaigns because people are frustrated with what they are seeing on the national level," she said. "They are energized to make a difference and hopefully that focus will move to the city and county levels to find ways to improve."

Koehler told The Brazil Times the turnout of the event was greater than she expected and discussed her perspective on the Attorney General's Office.

"A lot of the Attorney General's role, since it is not a constitutional office, is not political, but one of common sense," Koehler said. "More and more, people want to hold their elected officials accountable, which is the way it should be."

The next meeting of the Clay County Republican Central Committee will be 7 p.m., Monday, May 18, at the Clay County Senior Center. District 37 State Senator Richard Bray will be the guest speaker.

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