Some Who Left Politics Before They Had To Could Do Us a Favor by Returning

Thursday, November 29, 2012

People put up with a lot to get and keep public offices:  nasty elections, sneering reporters, cynical voters, too much time away from their spouses and kids, and a demeaning, never-ending quest for campaign donations.
Most folks put up with that for the fleeting honor of putting mayor, representative, senator, congressman or governor before their names.  The question is why.
Two explanations come to mind:
First, winning a public office is one of the best ways in the world to scratch the itch of ambition -- to be someone.
Second, holding a public office provides opportunities to put your stamp on issues and events that truly matter – to put yourself at the center of the action.
Let’s face it, most occupations are not terribly consequential.  (Mine is Exhibit A.)
But you’d never say a vote on the state budget, a health care reform bill, or a public safety program was inconsequential. 
When you win an election, you get a key to the room where the most salient matters of public life are fought over and decided. 
Nothing else really compares to the thrill and importance of being in that room. 
Years after leaving office, when they are deep into successful and lucrative careers in other fields, men and women will speak yearningly of the days when they were there.
I had a friend who served as a young man in the Massachusetts Senate.  He is a graduate of an Ivy League university, an attorney of notable skill, and an avid student of U.S. history and government.  He loved being a legislator and was good at it.  But the day came when he realized that his family would continue to struggle economically, that his kids would not reach their full potential, education-wise, if he remained in the legislature.
So my friend took a high-paying job as a government relations specialist with a big utility. 
Although he’s changed jobs several times, he’s still in that industry.   He’s earning a healthy six-figure income and his children attend top-notch colleges, where the price of admission easily tops $50,000 a year.
In the early years of his new career, my friend often talked with me and others about getting back into politics one day.  He missed the action at the State House and was nagged by the feeling that he left office before accomplishing as much as he could have, and going as far as his political talents could have taken him.  (Those thoughts were grounded in fact.)
“Are there things I should or could be doing now that would help set me up for a re-entry into politics if the right opportunity came along?” he once asked me.  “How can I keep my name before the public in the right way?”
On the spot, the best answer I could come up with was, “You should get on the board of a high-profile non-profit, an organization that everyone admires, and do an outstanding job. Or maybe you could start a foundation devoted to an important cause, some aspect of child welfare, say.  You could raise a lot of money for it, and serve as its unpaid, part-time chairman while someone else did the day-to-day work.”
Weak, uh? 
Perhaps because of the quality of that advice, we never discussed his possible return to elective office again.  Or maybe my friend just stopped thinking about it.
In any event, there’s no sign that he’s moving toward chucking his remunerative career and returning to the political arena, although he still has a few years ahead of him when he might be able to do that.  Maybe he’s banked enough dough to finance such a move.
Because I believe that our political system could benefit from the return of many of the quality people who voluntarily chose to abandon it, I hope my friend has acquired the means that would allow him to come home to Massachusetts in the not-too-distant future and run again for the Senate.
His time away from office, and the experience he gained in the interim, would only make him a better public servant…and he was no slouch before.
This is a concept I’d like to promote: bringing the good ones back, a la Michael Barrett, to Massachusetts politics. 
So if you have a favorite ex-politician, someone with a lot left in the tank, ask him or her today to please consider making another run.  Remind them how good it was to be in that place where the most salient matters are fought over and decided.

NEXT: Republicans should be looking to this overlooked man of stature.



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