November 7th was Election Day. No, it wasn’t as big an election as last November. But for the candidates who pounded pavement, dialed phones, consumed excessive quantities of caffeine, and repeated stump speeches and talking points until friends and family members began to fear they had lost the real person they loved, it was as big as it gets.
So I offer here a few thoughts for first-time elected officials.
As an elected official, you now belong to the people. They’ll call you by title and assure you they voted for you. Many of them will be telling the truth, or you wouldn’t have won. But many is not all . . . and you can be confident that some of your most expressive new “friends” in the weeks ahead actually voted for and may even have worked for the other candidate.
You’ll become increasingly recognizable. In time, you won’t be able to shop, or dine, or worship, or stroll without someone calling you by title and expecting you to stop and chat.
You’ll probably enjoy it, especially at first. It is flattering to be the most important person in a small social orbit for a few minutes. Over time, you may weary of it (and your spouse and children may weary of it sooner than you do). But it comes with the territory.
You’ll also discover that people will blame you for a confounding array of problems, without any regard to the authority of the office you hold. It will do you little good to explain that the county controls the traffic light at that intersection, the state runs the foster care system and the prisons, and that you have nothing to do with income tax exemptions or the health insurance marketplace.
Rarely will you receive praise for what other governments do, by the way, but you might as well just smile and say ‘thank you’ if and when it happens. It’s small compensation.
The single best piece of advice I can give is this: Remember that you aren’t “all that.” Your election was not a revolution.
With very rare exceptions, elections in the U.S. do not produce mandates. Our system gives voters limited options from which to choose. Many voters use simple cues from very limited information to make their vote choices. It wasn’t that they thought you were fantastic, every one of your talking points brilliant and every promise or proposal you made exactly what is needed. A very few may have felt that way, but most chose you knowing little about you or your plans, and perhaps even knowing there were things they didn’t like about both. There just were fewer things they didn’t like about you than about that other candidate.
One more thing. Work hard for the people . . . all of the people. Whether they voted for you or not. Whether they voted or not. The office you hold belongs to them. You have been entrusted with it for a limited time. Don’t abuse that trust.
And maybe, just maybe, when you return to normal life, you will be able to look back on this time in office and know that you did, in fact, make a difference. That should be enough for anyone.