Whew!! The election is over and we finally have a reprieve from the nasty and baseless direct mail, 30-second sound bytes and automated phone calls.
The people have spoken; Congress, the state legislature, and the executive branch all have a new complexion.
The spotlight should shift from campaigning to governing; but will the media and residents give the same amount of attention and scrutiny to the quality of governing that they gave to the campaign? Will there be scores of advertisements reminding us and our leaders to make thoughtful decisions and lead in a big-partisan, civil fashion?
Unfortunately, we all know the answer to that question is “no.”
During the past several years, there has been a chorus of current and former public servants bemoaning the decline of civility in political discourse and the negative repercussions this had on our democratic process. There is no doubt in my mind that the lack of civility has resulted in many Americans doubting the leadership, and even disliking their elected officials.
According to a poll by the Pew Charitable Trust, “The public is dubious that the election will lead to increased bipartisanship on Capitol Hill. Just 29 percent think that relations between Republicans and Democrats will get better in the year ahead.”
Yes, there is blame to be placed on our elected officials for their poor behavior, but I have often wondered why residents don’t hold elected officials to a certain standard of decorum.
Residents should expect me and my colleagues to interact in a civil manner when dealing with each other, staff and the public. Just as schoolyard bullying results in a timeout, suspension or a potential expulsion, depending on the severity of the action, public servants who act in an uncivil manner that demeans the office should be clearly told by their employers, the voters, that this behavior is unacceptable.
I was recently asked to speak to a group of individuals who are all interested in public office and public policy. As I prepared my remarks and reflected on my 30 years of service to the public. I decided that there are several things that any would-be public servant should remember:
n Be hard on the issues, not on people. Elected officials should examine the issue thoroughly and critically. Ask tough questions about the policy and its implications. However, there is no need to attack the individual, even when you disagree with the policy.
n Use informed instinct in order to make decisions. When making a decision, gather as much data and information as you can. Be well informed and make sure you understand both, not just one side of the issue. However, I do believe that there is something called a gut instinct. If you have adequately informed yourself and still your gut is telling you to go in a certain direction, go with your instincts.
n Listen, listen, listen.
n Reconciliation. After a hard-fought campaign, it’s hard to reconcile with your opponents and their supporters. However, you now represent them, and their issues and concerns have a place on the table.
n Ask for advice. There is a scene in the Robert Redford movie, “The Candidate,” that after an exhausting campaign, the winning senatorial candidate steals a moment with his campaign manager before being besieged by the press and supporters, and asks him, “What do I do now?” It’s hard to admit that you don’t know it all, but no one does. Find a mentor, whether it be a former elected official or a community leader. You will be glad you did.
n Flexibility. Be flexible. Policy is iterative, and there is not always a direct line between the problem and the solution. Compromise should be expected and necessary.
Lastly, have fun and enjoy yourself, but do not forget that public service is an honor and a privilege.
Marcy Morrison is mayor of the City of Manitou Springs. She served as a state representative for House District 22 from 1992-2000 and was an El Paso County commissioner from 1984-1992.