Holding Elected Office: A Great Responsibility
With so many states holding primaries I cannot help but think about the complexity and great responsibility involved in serving as a legislator. Competing policy issues each with passionate constituencies challenge policymakers to balance their votes and points of view. Each item on the docket is of great importance. Issues such as homelessness, hunger, health, war, foreign affairs, the environment, the economy, transportation, wall street, tax policies and education just to name a few may appear on a legislators desk each day. Choices have to be made, time has to be allocated and responsible decisions taken. A responsible legislator knows that each decision, vote and choice has the potential to impact thousands of children, youth, families and communities.
In 1989 after many years of active advocacy, on behalf of children, youth and families, I ran for political office at the city level. Upon reflection, I ran for a variety of reasons, but mainly because: people asked me to run; I was appalled about visible injustice; I wanted to make a difference working on the inside in order to impact positive change most directly. Above all, I wanted to be able to make the case for children, youth and families much more directly and effectively. Armed with knowledge, passion and a large group of supporters, I quickly realized that as a legislator one is faced with very complex, multiple issues, numerous constituencies and extremely challenging individual ideology. All of which can become barriers to affecting change.
Legislators must learn how best to manage ad balance individual interests to ensure policies, 'first do no harm'. Over a decade spent in elected and appointed public office, coupled with many years of working as a community activist and advocate, helped to deepen my knowledge in several important interconnected areas needed for effective policymaking. These areas include: understanding the political process, effective negotiation, engaging people with diverse passions, sharpening your listening skills, having empathy, clear communication, and the art of compromise. Those who run for political office, for the most part, do so because they are passionate about a particular issue and/or truly believe they can make a difference. And, many do make a difference. Public office offers a unique opportunity to impact change. Among many things, elected office allows you to:
1. Not only raise critical policy issues that impact communities every day but more importantly you can offer solutions
2. Further educate yourself and others about community needs, service gaps and possible resources
3. Work with others creating and/or supporting legislation that further improves the lives of children, youth, families, and communities
4. Engage necessary partners and resources to drive policy change building the resources to meet identified needs in an equitable manner.
5. Use the platform to create awareness of injustice and lead public dialogue that can lead to positive change and a more just society.
A legislator must stay focused on why he or she went into office, staying in touch with his or her passion. A servant leader understands the responsibility of the office, embraces the ability for collective power in order to make a difference for the community that laid its trust on him or her via their vote. Holding elected office must be accompanied with responsibility and moral imperative. As a legislator there are many unknowns, particularly when you are in your very first term. Certainly, how the system works becomes known very soon after inauguration, but how to sift through all of the priority critical issues facing constituents and more importantly constructing alliances and building solutions takes time in our democracy. Our children need responsible champions; legislators who will roll up their sleeves to work on their behalf. So, if you have decided to become an elected official: DON'T forget the children! DON'T forget to: ask questions, find allies, be truthful, remain positive, take risks, listen to your staff, engage in dialogue with constituents, research the issues, stay honest, stay on task, and don’t despair when things go wrong-there is always tomorrow. And, tomorrow brings new opportunities! Just look at what Nelson Mandela adviced: