I was sworn into office in January 2007. It’s another piece of my backstory.
I might have chosen a better line of work, but I didn’t. In retrospect, perhaps politics wasn’t the best career choice. Not that I disliked serving or wasn’t good at it, but it reinforced my conviction that people can’t be trusted. As if I needed more reasons to doubt.
I didn’t sign on for public service because I wanted to be loved, or because I liked politics or campaigning. I wanted to do good things. I liked the business of government, if not the baggage that comes with it.
In fact, when a political consultant asked me in 2006 why I wanted to run for county supervisor I naively told the truth: I find government and public service interesting. He immediately crossed me off his list.
I got a degree in Political Science, not to run for office, but because it was interesting. I had worked in local government and enjoyed it. I signed up for an agricultural leadership program because it sounded interesting. I signed up for a women’s leadership program for the same reason. I was naive about the purpose of those programs.
When I visited Washington, DC with the first program and Sacramento with the second, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that elected officials at both levels were normal people (or seemed like it at the time). When I saw the potential to do good things for people, to represent them with integrity, I began to think, hey, I could do that. What better line of work for someone interested in government than actually making decisions?
When a much-loved county supervisor became ill and passed away and my classmates encouraged me to approach Governor Schwarzenegger to seek an appointment to the seat, I did. So began the long process of vetting that dragged on for months.
I had advocates in the Governor’s Office and in my Assemblyman (at the time) Dave Cogdill. Dave was a true leader and friend, an elected representative who was known for his integrity and principles.
Unfortunately, a small-time local kingmaker had another candidate he preferred. “Teri,” he told me when he called to intimidate me into bowing out, “if you make us lose this appointment, you won’t have a future in politics.”
I didn’t bend and never spoke to him again, but he’s probably satisfied that I’m no longer in elected office. Whatever. That’s not his doing.
His political ally in Sacramento was working as hard as my advocates were and apparently the Governor couldn’t decide. So the man renowned for being an action hero blinked. He said he’d let the people decide. And then the sharp thrust of betrayal that can only come from within your own party, his spokesperson said there was no candidate worth appointing. Ouch.
But it was too late to back out. I’d had to file to run to be considered for the appointment. I had to run. I wasn’t about to quit after being threatened by a two-bit hood.
Blood-sport is not my cup of tea, but I won fair, square, and honorably. It was the best job I ever had. Even when it wasn’t.
There’s something that happens when you take responsibility for people as a leader and decision maker, or there should be. You care for them – their dreams, and their futures. You become protective of their interests. You want the best for them, you want the best for their children. I did. Many leaders do.
But even so, the job is to make decisions that are based on research and soul-searching, not getting votes. I like to say that everybody likes you when you aren’t doing anything. I was elected with 68% of the vote and almost everybody liked me. (Everyone but the kingmaker and his cronies.)
But when I started trying to advance policies that I believed would help my constituents and our local economy, I found that some folks who helped elect me no longer liked me. Some thought I was pushing too hard, others, not hard enough, and still others wished I’d just stop. Some turned their backs. Others were more direct. I didn’t love it, but I was ok with that. Doing the right thing is always the right thing to do.
Over time though, it wears on you, the backroom sniping, the betrayals, the flattery, and the sheer weight of the job. One day my daughter came home from school and told me about the kid who said to her, “My grandfather hates your mother.” I didn’t even know who his grandfather was.
I left the Board in 2010. I still know a few supervisors on it, but not all. The last time I attended a meeting in 2014, the county administrator called another female supervisor, Supervisor Murrison. That made me feel good, but she probably didn’t appreciate it.
So here’s my message this morning. From here on I’m addressing our current state of politics. I’m speaking as a voter who would be remiss not to wrap up with an admonition.
We are doing ourselves and our children a disservice by electing people with no spine, no conscience, and no ability to stand for what’s right. We require them to be true blue or radiant red and that’s about it.
We’ve got to stop marching to dog whistles. We’ve got to start expecting more from our leaders than that they agree with us invariably. We’ve got to let them lead.
As a nation, we have become incapable of discerning true leadership. We elect gladiators. There are people in the wings with character and potential, if we’ll only seek them out. Governing well takes adults. Politics has become childish blood-sport.
Sometimes I think if I hear one more candidate swearing to “fight for me”, I’ll just gag. Don’t fight for me, govern for me. Lead for me.
If you elect someone you believe in, stand by them. If you don’t like the way they vote, ask them why. Reason with them. Don’t just walk away muttering under your breath or worse.
Governing is an honorable profession. Stop making our leaders be politicians. Let them do their jobs. There are lots of good people in government – in and out of your party. Lighten up. For all of our sakes.