In 2003, UA alumnus Tyler Mott started following coverage of Florida students who got a bill passed mandating the presence of the American flag in every public classroom. After a couple of years of work, Mott was able to get a similar bill passed here in Arizona; it was recently signed into law by Gov. Janet Napolitano. Now Mott is working on raising the funds to buy the flags. He plans to go to law school and get involved in public policy, which he believes is a noble calling in life. For more information, visit www.operationangel.com.

Why was this so important to you?

When I was growing up, there were flags in every classroom. ... The flag being there, that's the symbol of the U.S., the symbol of freedom around the world. So I think it really is a good thing to have it present. I kind of missed that when I got to the UA. I noticed that it wasn't in the classrooms, and it really surprised me. I remembered back to my senior year of high school; in our government civics class, we used to have big arguments about political philosophy, and I always loved that, because it was a fun forum to kind of go back and forth. ... The flag really represents freedom of speech, and the college classroom is supposed to maintain that open forum.

Do you think its presence will make a difference in the atmosphere of the college classroom?

I think that the presence really does make a difference, because I remember that seeing the flag made me remember that I was allowed to disagree, that they couldn't stop me from stating my opinions on things. I think a lot of students don't realize that they have the right to disagree with their professor or their classmates.

Did you face a lot of opposition?

I got the idea from reading about students at Florida school who had done this at their public school. ... I brought this idea to the UA College Republicans, and they said, "Oh, that's a great idea," but they didn't do anything about it. ... After talking with the dean of students and other administrators, we had a couple of lawyers check things over to make sure there wasn't anything in the law prohibiting it. ... So I went back from the dean and began e-mailing with (former) President (Peter) Likins, who pretty much flatly rejected my idea of putting privately donated flags in classrooms. His ending reason was that he didn't want to deal with the cost of maintaining the flags. So I moved on to the Legislature. I called almost every day. I was working behind the scenes constantly--we set up an organization called Operation Angel. We have a Web site that was specifically for getting the flags in the classrooms.

Did you think it would be more difficult than it was?

I didn't think it would be that difficult, especially after seeing how the Florida Legislature voted unanimously in both houses. ... I think a lot of people were afraid that if they voted against it, they would be called unpatriotic. That wasn't the point. The point is that the flag is not a bad thing; its presence is a good thing.

Are all the flags going to be privately donated?

That is the goal. I am starting to work toward that right now.

If that doesn't happen, how will they be paid for?

The idea is to get this done privately, of course, and if it looks like there are problems, they will write something into the law next year. I've spoken with the sponsor extensively on that. ... I'm definitely going to start working with the UA to get the flags together and get them in the classrooms. I've already got $400 in the bank that I got from donations, so I was actually going to go ... see what I could get with that.

Beyond flags, what do you have in mind for your next step politically?

I always want to fix things that are messed up. ... We have a lot of initiatives that we are working on. One of my favorites right now is to ban smoking in public places; I definitely am in favor of that. I think it's a public-health issue that needs to be dealt with. That's the thing with our government: If the Legislature isn't going to act on something, people can get together and get these things done. I really do believe in advocacy.

What would be your ultimate political goals?

Whatever I can do to help make changes, good changes. ... I'm for a smaller, more limited government. I'm also very much for humanitarian-type things, civil rights. ... We've been at it for 230 years--we're not quite there yet. It's taken 27 amendments to get to where we are today, and the Constitution could still be tweaked. But it would be nice to be on the Supreme Court.

Ellen ranta

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