Friday, June 27, 2014
How elected officials lose touch
Recently I had occasion to write to one of my elected representatives. I won't reveal which one, as the representative may read this blog (extremely unlikely) and take offense. One thing I don't want to do is offend my state or national representatives and senators. It's hard enough to get them to pay attention or even to read any letter or e-mail I send. Their representative districts are huge and they just don't have the time, even if they go without sleeping and eating, to read and respond to all the mail and phone calls they get.
Instead, elected representatives have staff people who handle the mail and phone calls. For example, if I were awakened every morning by a noisy peacock at the break of day (about 4:30 AM in mid-summer) and wanted to bring the matter to the attention of my City Councilman, my phone call or letter would be referred to his staff member in charge of dealing with early morning noise problems. This representative might refer my complaint to the bureau of animal regulation for action on the noisy bird. My Council member might never hear of my complaint, especially if the peacock ended up in ragout.
Now, here's the rub. Suppose this staff member happens to fancy peacocks. He might then advise me that there is a peacock admiration society that I might be interested in. I would learn a lot about peacocks if I attended meetings of the society. The result? I would be frustrated and angry that the staff member would treat me with such arrogance. If I tried to let the Council member know what his staff person had done, my complaint, containing the word "peacock," would simply be referred to the same staff member and the Council member would never learn about my frustration. I would also not get any help regarding early morning sleep. I probably would not vote for that Council member again. I might procure a small bore hunting rifle and take lessons on how to shoot the thing and solve my peacock problem by direct action.
This peacock story is just a story and I remain on good terms with Bob Blumenfield, my representative on the Los Angeles City Council. The point of this post is that elected officials should be very careful about their choices of staff members. It's important that the staff members not have any prejudices or preconcieved views about the area of expertise they are expected to handle. The elected official's reputation depends on the quality of the staff. Any prejudice in a staff member is seen, rightly or wrongly, as prejudice in the official himself or herself.