To all who ran for office:
Thank you. Few of us have the emotional strength to stand for election, the energy to campaign, and the self-esteem to face the certainty that for every victor, there is a loser, sometimes several losers.
So thanks for your candidacy.
To the winners: congratulations. You hold a position of public trust.
To the losers: more elections lie ahead. When people used to ask my advice on running for office, I offered two suggestions: if you can’t stand the thought of losing, don’t run; and be ready to run twice. Your chances improve as your name recognition increases.
The rest of this essay is for the winners.
The office you now hold, as I said, is a public trust. It is loaned to you by the electorate. You do not own government; if anything, it owns you.
The same people who elected you also elected your predecessor, and eventually they will elect your replacement. If that is an humbling thought, good; there is not enough humility in public office.
Don’t start running your mouth about how lucky the people are that you were elected, because if your predecessor had been in office another three nanoseconds, government would have come crashing down. It wouldn’t have.
Similarly, don’t blame your predecessor for all the problems you face. Nobody held a gun to your head to make you run. You wanted the job, and represented that you could do it. This even applies to the president.
Do not start thinking that you are smarter than the people who elected you. It is easy to become an insider and get the idea that you now know it all.
It is easy to say that, “The people have to understand ... ” that they should pay higher taxes, or obey more government regulations.
They don’t have to understand any such thing.
If you didn’t explain to them before you were elected that this was your intent, don’t expect them to understand it now that you are in office.
If you ran on a pledge of no new taxes, keep it.
Everything that I said about politicians in general applies double to judges.
They are unique in our political system. People will confront a city or county commissioner, a school board member or a state legislator, even a member of Congress or the president, and insult their actions, judgment, or lineage.
Judges get a free ride. Nobody will confront a judge — not even another judge, and I fault the judiciary for that — and say, “Hey, Your Judgeness, it’s time to get down off your high horse and remember that you are a servant of the people, not a know-it-all with a black robe and a gavel.”
It’s called “robeitis,” and any lawyer will tell you it is a common malady.
But few lawyers will confront a judge before whom they are likely to try cases and tell him (or her) that it’s time for a reality check.
I have discussed this with many candidates for election to the bench, and most of them have asked me to call their hand if I find them getting an attitude of superiority. I have done so several times.
Respectfully, to be sure, and privately. Some have appreciated it, some have not. One told me, “Thanks. You’re the first person who ever told me that.” And I think he was sincere.
A personal peeve, holders of the public trust:
Do not whine about how the press gives all politicians a bad name.
If you watched the campaigns, especially at the federal and state levels, you will understand when I say that nothing the press could print could possibly hold politicians up for the degree of scorn they heaped on each other.
I close with the observation of Frank B. Smith, Jr., known to his numerous friends as Bubba. He was a Bartow city commissioner and mayor, a Polk County commissioner, and a county manager.
When it comes to elections, he declared, “The people are never wrong.”
Sometimes that is hard to accept, but that is the definition of the democratic process.
The voters have spoken, and in the democratic process, theirs is the final word.
Good luck, and make us proud.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. He has often said his advice is always available and always free — indeed, it is usually unsolicited — and would be a bargain at half the price.)