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Editor's column: Don’t cry for politicians, just appreciate them

August 28, 2010
By Per Peterson

Politicians aren't exactly the most beloved people around. They've been known to get under people's skin, to lie, cheat, spend taxpayers' money foolishly, attempt to, I dunno, sell A vacant seat on the U.S. Senate that was once held by the current president. That sort of thing.

And while there are plenty of scuzzy national-level, career politicians who seem to always have a spot reserved under the media's bright spotlight where they are forced to sweat out answers to tough questions or dodge TV cameras, let's remember this election year that our local elected officials, agree with them or not, are pretty good people.

Let's toss aside for now what their political views are. Let's step back and look at politicians without red- or blue-colored glasses, a feat politicians themselves preach but seldom practice. We should, at least for a short time, be able to separate the colors that polarize candidates and focus more on character for now.

On Election Day, you'll vote for numerous candidates and, for the most part, you'll base that vote on party lines. You might not know anything about a candidate's life away from politics, which I suppose would mean all the ballot would have to say is "Democrat" or "Republican." Circle one.

You might not know or even care if this candidate has children. You might not know or care what they do for a hobby, or how they spend their political offseason, or how much volunteer work they do. But, as I was reminded in interviewing outgoing House member Marty Seifert earlier this week, politicians, believe it or not, are people, too. They're not robots programmed to make your life difficult; they're committed servants who make sacrifices for what has to feel like a thankless job.

Earlier this year as I was working on story after story about candidates eager to join the state's political field, I repeatedly found myself asking political newcomers why they would want to get into politics or run in this race or that race. The state is in deep financial trouble, cities and counties don't have much money lying around, Local Government Aid is vanishing before our eyes, the voters are fed up. Is this a game you would want to play? No wonder candidates were hard to come by this year for either party. There wasn't a terrible amount of competition for some seats this year; candidates were shifted from a house race to a senate race, primaries were, for the most part, pretty quiet.

The state is crying for new leadership at all levels, but in some areas of the state, including areas around here, there were few holding a tissue.

But some people have stood up to take on that challenge and we should, at the very least, appreciate them for it.

This goes for elected officials on county boards, too, whose job it is to come up with ways to save money in rough economic times while trying to minimize the pain for people down the gravel road. Some counties are discussing levy increases knowing that even with them they will still face revenue problems because of a lack of LGA. Plus, local elected officials don't have the shield of living in or around St. Paul for a few months out of the year; they have to look the people who are affected by their decisions in the eye every day.

As an editor of a daily newspaper, I empathize with politicians. No matter how good of a job we think we're doing, we're usually gonna tick someone off - it seems we're always one decision away from doing it. The big difference, of course, is no one voted for me to become editor. But in a way, candidates, like editors or managers, are hired employees, too. They just have more bosses. And that makes their job even more stressful.

I don't feel sorry for politicians - it's their choice to run this race. But I'm careful not to paint them with one, broad stroke. There are sleazy ones out there who haven't exactly made their mothers proud - the Rod Blagojevichs and Larry Craigs of the world - but those worm-infested apples are outnumbered by the locals - the ones who maybe grew up on a farm, the ones who are in touch with small business owners, or the families who are on the brink of losing their home, or the seniors struggling to maintain a good quality of life. These mom-and-pop candidates, if you will, have a bond with constituents, at least they should, and that's an important connection. It's only when that intimate connection disappears and St. Paul slowly loses touch with rural Minnesota that we get into serious trouble.

We all need to look at politicians with some cynicism - don't worry, they're used to it - but we can't be blinded by it.

 
 

 

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