My dearest friends in office (and those who are hoping to join the club),
I’d like to have a word with you as we’re moving into the last leg of this election season. This is about the time that things start to get really ugly, and I wondered if you could take a second to think about what you and your supporters really want to put out there. What kind of representative do you want to be? I would like for you to pause to remember one thing before you decide what position and actions you’ll take: You have the same responsibility to provide for the well being of each and every one of your constituents equitably. And believe it or not, that includes your opponents and their supporters after they’ve lost the election.
That is what you signed up for. For many of you, that is what you’ve campaigned on–representation of the people by a member of their community. You are supposed to be the one who gets us, who lives among us and believes in what we can do together as residents of our neighborhood, city, county, state, and nation. You are meant to be a force for unity, encouraging collaboration to help our communities support themselves and one another. I know it can be easy to lose sight of that given the competitive system we’ve set up, where you have to fight your way into this role, but I hope you haven’t forgotten it. Your campaign will be over soon, and you’ll have won your seat. Congratulations! Well done! You now represent everyone in your jurisdiction, not just those who voted for you and paid for your yard signs and TV spots.
Why then do you often act like that isn’t really true? That this does not apply to your LGBTQ constituents? To your black or brown constituents? To your constituents who disagree with you? To your constituents who could not afford hefty campaign contributions? If you do not intend to represent each of these individuals as equal members of our community, then what exactly are you doing here? Why not run for country club president instead? It would have been a lot cheaper and faster, and at least then you could be honest about who you’re really interested in representing: the privileged, the powerful, and the like-minded.
But that is not the role of a public official. You are meant to be an equalizer, a person we have trusted to thoughtfully and carefully protect us from injustice and move us toward a better quality of life for everyone. We want to be safe, educated, well-fed, taken care of when we’re sick, and able to contribute to our communities. And we want you to give us laws that support those basic goals.
Many of you do this exceptionally well already. Many of you have done it for years without much recognition, and to you I just want to say thank you. Thank you for getting into the ring and fighting for us, for all of us. Thank you for sticking with it when it looks hopeless. Thank you for being unpopular when you have to, and risking your job to really do your job. Thank you for representing us and making us proud.
In short, thank you for listening to us. We elected you to represent the values of this community, and you can only do that by listening to members of this community. Keep your eyes on your constituents and what serves them and the larger community. Make space for individuals in your calendar. Pay attention when one of your own takes the time to call, email, or visit your office. We know you’ve got a lot going on, but so do we. If we’ve taken the time to reach out to you, you (or one of your staffers) can take the time to listen.
And remember, there are also tons of national, statewide, and local nonprofit groups and direct service providers who know us and the systems we operate in, and they’re are eager to talk with you about what works and what doesn’t. As our elected officials, we expect you to listen to them with the same amount of respect and openness you offer to wealthy special interest groups and business leaders. We expect you to make informed decisions that benefit all of us, not just those of us who helped you get elected.
This may seem like a lot to ask, but we believe in you and your ability to do this. If you have what it takes to get elected, we believe you have what it takes to do the job. And make no mistake, this is the job.