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Opinion: 22 Tips for (Would-be) Public Servants

26 February 2018  

Political quagmires.

Over the years, I’ve observed a lot of politicians and bureaucrats. I’ve seen those that are brilliant, and those that frankly have no business getting in the race. Sometimes they win - but they’re usually miserable and make everyone around them miserable, too.

I’ve also seen some great politicians that burn brightly, then flame out over dumb comments or mistakes. And that also applies to those who are in government jobs.

Make no mistake. Being in the public spotlight is soul-searing hard work. Everyone’s a critic behind your back, but they’ll act like your best friend to your face. Temptations are all around. It’s easy to get cocky.

Yet, being able to make a difference is heady stuff. It’s all worth while then. Serving the public is a noble opportunity - but it sure helps to be prepared.

Check your motivation. Why are you running? Be clear in your own mind. If it’s for the wrong reasons, stop now. Rodney Glassman said recently, "90% of people run for political office because they’re mad about something, 10% because they’re crazy."

So, are you mad or crazy?

  • Cultivate a sense of humor - but the right kind. Skip the lewd and crass jokes. Any jokes with even a hint of sexual overtones in this day and age will be a gotcha. Nothing racist. Religious jokes are also a no-no. Lawyer jokes are probably ok.

  • You must be able to laugh at yourself. Your funniest subject is you. Embrace that.

  • Be real. Sincere. Don’t change faces for different groups. Always be you.

  • You must care - but not too much. You have to care about your core issues, and everyone expects that. However, once that issue is voted on and over with, move on to the next one. Because there will always be a next issue with fresh collaborators. No grudges.

  • You must be able to step back and realize it’s not all about you. Really. It’s about the taxpayers and the voters that put you into office.

  • Listen to your constituents. They probably have some great ideas. Pay attention. Work on the issues they care about. Remember, you’re spending taxpayer dollars.

  • Don’t take yourself so seriously. It’s not personal. 

  • Forgive and forget quickly. Move on to the next issue. However, don’t be surprised when the voter doesn’t forget. They can and will hold grudges for a long time.

  • You must remember that everything about you is likely to be a front-page headline - magnified. Everything you do, every word you say is likely to be tweeted about and put on YouTube. You now have no secrets. You are never "…just speaking to your base." There’s no such thing as a 'closed-door' meeting any more.

  • Learn to use social media effectively and wisely. Think before you tweet. Reflect before you facebook. Do not send photos of yourself without clothing to anyone. Never. Ever. Betrayal happens. 

  • Be smart about how you interact with members of the opposite sex. Leave doors open during one-on-one meetings. Use public locations. The Billy Graham/Pence rule may be old-fashioned, but it’s safe. Always speak respectfully. Do not make personal requests.

  • You’ll spend long hours at your desk, then you’ll go to events and lots of political gatherings. Being a politician takes a lot of your time. Plan to skip many of your kids soccer games, violin recitals and family dinners.

  • You can’t be a picky eater. You’ll have to eat rubber eggs at group breakfasts and then the rubber chicken at a social lunch. For dinner, it’s likely to be overdone roast with gelatin gravy. Smile anyway and compliment the chef.

  • Little things will become a big deal. Big things might be ignored. Can’t spell potatoes? That could be real trouble. That big budget item you’re proposing to your fellow board members? Maybe it flies under the radar.

  • Be thankful for mom - at least she’ll always love you.

  • Being germ-o-phobic might be an issue. You have to shake a lot of hands and kiss many, many babies on the campaign trail. Hand sanitizer will be your best friend. Put it on your Christmas list. Keep little bottles in your pockets and purses and briefcases and glove compartments.

  • Always admire someone’s kids. If a voter is with a baby, it’s automatically a cute baby.

  • Be kind to your staff. Remember, without them, you’re toast.

  • Never hire your relatives. But, if you do, and you get caught hiring your relatives, learn your lesson. Do not repeat.

  • Beware of the media. Record every interview yourself so you have a record of it. Be willing to say no to obnoxious reporters. Do not allow them to intimidate you. Never lie to a reporter, they’ll catch you. But be sure to smile when they’re taking your picture.

  • If you mess up, 'fess up. Attempting a coverup is usually much worse than the original mistake.

  • Follow the rules. Do your homework and do the right thing. No matter what. No matter who is mad at you. Don’t base your public service on poll data. Just. Do. The. Right. Thing.



Lynne LaMaster

Lynne LaMaster is the Founder and Editor of the eNewsAZ Network of websites. She asks a lot of questions! In her spare time, she loves photography, cooking and hanging out with her family.

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