I once heard former Governor Brendan Byrne tell a room that he knew his life was about to change as his two terms as Governor came to an end. He could see his power dissipating. He used a very tangible example, when he got into the back seat of a car, it wouldn’t move any more (we can debate another time what being driven in passenger seat or back seat says about a politician). Once out of power he wouldn’t have the privilege of being driven around by state troopers or aides. Point taken. Let me add that Governor Byrne was one of the nicest individuals that I ever met; his down-home approach and authentic self-deprecating humor should serve as a model for us all.
One of the hardest lessons to learn in politics is the handling of the inevitable transition from public office to the private sector. It is a challenge for some. At one moment you’re in “power” as an elected or appointed official having everyone report to you and jump to attention when you call or walk into a room. In the next moment, you find yourself having left office and essentially stripped of those so-called benefits or privileges. Suddenly you’re no longer that sought after person, your calls aren’t immediately answered or promptly returned.
It is with much love and respect for my former colleagues that I say State Senators have the most difficulty making this transition from public office to private citizen. Having been a member of both houses of the Legislature, I do not know why this phenomenon occurs more forcefully to the upper house members. Perhaps it is because in the Senate, each Senator believes he or she should be the next Governor and they act as if each of their votes matter — maybe because it does (sometimes).
With that constant need for the magical 21st vote, the preening over and coddling of Senators becomes a necessary and daily occurrence, which can play tricks on even the most level headed of people. After watching literally hundreds of elected and appointed officials come and go, I have come to the following conclusion about life during politics and after. Those individuals who are centered and grounded BEFORE entering the gladiators’ ring will have an easier time containing conflicting emotions and reactions as they leave the “Golden Thunder Dome.” Those individuals who are naturally kind and considerate while in office will find life after very pleasant and giving. Those individuals who were high strung and difficult before holding public office will be in line for Xanax.
Those of us who don’t make decisions on the will of a party boss, polling, or interest group adoration, shape our political views and beliefs on personal experience and values. Those who of us who grew up blue collar, worked two jobs, and took student loans bring a different view to governance than those who “earned it the old-fashioned way” – through a birth right. Equally important, some of us worked up the ladder of politics, starting as a volunteer and working our way up. Those who have had to sweat while slowly working up the very long and mighty path to elected office are usually more likely to be immune from the internal conflict that comes after the departure of holding of office.
Another point, it is my experience, that those who magically receive (without incremental exposure) an appointed post or back into an elected office without the requisite roll-up-your-sleeves sweat equity are more subject to “The Political Bends.”
Click HERE for The O’Toole Chronicles: The Political Bends (Part 2)