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Ethan: This week hundreds of newly elected public servants will be sworn in, from the Legislature to city councils to select boards. Any insight?
Phil: Realize that on day one, as you raise your right hand, you will feel like a rooster. And then, on day two, you will quickly feel like you are nothing more than a feather duster.
Ethan: From sworn in to sworn at.
Phil: My second piece of advice is to ignore all of that. The noise will get loud and the most successful legislators don’t read their daily clips, they learn to stay calm in the storm. You were elected for a reason. Have confidence in those results and act as you see fit.
Ethan: So, in the great debate of our representative democracy, it sounds like you stand more on the side of doing what your conscience says, even if that goes against what your constituents say.
Phil: Hopefully those two are in the same place most of the time. But yes. You will never be able to poll everyone in your district, and even if you could, I wouldn’t trust those polls. You will know if you were far out of line long before the next election.
Ethan: I tend to agree, although I do worry about the influence of lobbyists and campaign contributions. Those powerful forces can pull you from what your constituents want and need, and then help you get reelected if the people notice. Which is why my advice is always: Question everything you hear from those paid to tell you what they are saying (both public officials and private advocates) and stay close to your constituents.
Phil: Easier said than done, but sound advice. I found that the best lobbyists were those who would tell you what you need to know, are honest with you about the pros and cons of any issue, and were candid about who will or won’t like whichever vote you cast.
Ethan: I always made it a point to ask lobbyists, “Who disagrees with you and why?” If they were less than forthcoming or still trying to spin me, I knew to look elsewhere for honesty. This was true for both lobbyists on the right and lobbyists on the left.
Phil: And what was your method for staying in touch with your constituents? For me, it was always returning calls within 24 hours and attending any and every event I possibly could. You never knew what appearance might elicit some important piece of information or create a connection that was meaningful to someone. Whether an innocuous ribbon cutting or an organized town hall by an angry constituency, your job is to show up and listen.
Ethan: Hear, hear. As mayor I actually went a step further and did something we called “Strim on the Street” where I would literally sit behind a table on any random sidewalk and just take questions and concerns. It was so humbling to hear the everyday struggles people needed help with, and how much, in general, they appreciated public service.
Phil: “Strim on the Street?” Sounds like an animal that didn’t make it to the other side of the road.
Ethan: There were certainly some who wanted to turn me into roadkill.
Phil: Being seen with and engaged with your constituents really matters. That is more challenging to do in rural districts with less density, but I would encourage others to find a similar way to stay in touch. Perhaps it is the only way to keep from going from rooster to feather duster to the dust bin of history.