Since this column will come out just before the municipal elections and I am not on the ballot this cycle, I thought I might offer some perspective on serving in public office from my own experience.
Serving as our State Representative has been one of the highlights in my life. It’s a tremendous honor to be chosen as the voice for our community and the person entrusted to make the right decisions – not just when it’s easy, but also in times like these when it’s much more difficult.
Having served since 2011, I have experienced the whole spectrum of issues and the complications that go with them. I’ve been through four budget cycles, with “fix it” budget cycles in each of the intervening years. I have been on the forefront, and unfortunately the losing side, of many significant debates, including the repeal of the death penalty, the battle over the implementation of Obamacare in Connecticut, and the decision to give drivers licenses to people in the country illegally.
I was also there for the fallout after the terrible tragedy in Sandy Hook, which remains the most difficult period I’ve spent in the legislature. As if the horrific and painful nature of the event itself were not enough, the cravenly political and ineffectual response has only derailed real efforts to make our community safer. In one sense, these debates were not difficult: I always knew where I stood and how I would vote. I have strong convictions, and the considerable good fortune to represent a district where the vast majority of residents see the world much as I do.
The hard part, when it’s been hard, has been facing facts and circumstances that are so different from what the public is told by the press—and doing it at a time politicians are so widely distrusted. Politics has largely become a dueling set of talking points, mixed with accusations and conflicts made worse by the news media who dutifully regurgitate them. That’s nothing new: some of the most laudable of our founding fathers made brutal accusations against one another.
What’s different today is that the news media, in large part, has lost the shred of objectivity that made it worthy of its role in our democracy. Even worse, a seeming majority of people have lost the ability to disagree with respect and courtesy. If anything has made this job more difficult since I began my service, that is most definitely it.
I am a pretty outspoken person at the Capitol and in my personal interactions, never inclined to shy away from a spirited debate. However, I have always felt that a significant part of the greatness of America comes from our ability not only to blast our opinions from the rooftops but also to live and let live when others do the same, whether we are in agreement or not. I have made it a mini-mission of mine to restore respect for free expression, even when the disagreement is profound.
I think politicians should attack each other at campaign time – but only about the issues they stand for and against. To me, that is the purpose of campaigns: to let voters know clearly where the candidates stand. It is the attacks on character, misleading charges based on convoluted votes, and willful distortion of an opponent’s record that we could all do without. I have done my best to make my positions clear, and that approach has served me well.
I have also tried to do my part to restore public faith in elected officials. The vast majority of people who serve in elected office do it for good reasons and with some level of sacrifice–certainly of their time, and frequently financially – not to mention their sanity. I am confident that virtually everyone who runs does so from a desire to make the world a better place and a conviction that they have something to contribute.
Let me end by thanking everyone who has served, and those who are running for office in my community this year. No matter what the outcome or office, I am sure it will come with rewards and challenges as well as good and bad days. I wish them all the best of luck.