- Meet Ted
- Media Galleries
- Contact Me
- Sign up for my newsletter
LONG BEACH PRESS-TELEGRAM: ROLL WITH PUNCHES - Face it: Politicians always need thick skin
April 16, 2012
IN many ways, Sen. Ted Lieu is your average state lawmaker. He's a Democrat, an active author of legislation - and the frequent recipient of hate mail.
Usually, it's legislation that sets people off, many from outside of his district. In a meeting with the editorial board last week, Lieu said his current legislation to ban the use of dogs to hunt bears or cougars (once they are treed, it's like shooting animals in the zoo, he explains) generated a notable batch of nastygrams. In December, it was his threat to boycott Lowe's home improvement stores after the retailer pulled ads from the reality show "All-American Muslim" that got the mean missives moving.
The representative of coastal L.A. from Pacific Palisades to Torrance shrugged it off, as if it's just part of the deal of being an elected official.
Indeed, it is. And other elected officials around Southern California would be wise to follow that example and not let it get to them.
This is particularly important timing, as Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz was provoked into an astonishing reaction just days before. On Tuesday, the normally mild-mannered elected official was so upset by a mock Nazi salute from a speaker obviously trying to get a reaction that he threatened violence.
"I'm very tempted to go over there and clock him," Koretz said. The archaic language aside, Koretz played into the hands of speaker Michael Carreon, who said "Heil Hitler" precisely to get a rise from the council.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest politics has always been a rough and tumble game, in which feuding lawmakers used to duel - and die - defending their positions. But it's just as evident that, thanks to technology and improvements of public access, it has never been easier for angry people to reach out to - and rage at - their elected officials.
This isn't likely to change anytime soon. The Brown Act doesn't allow public officials to exclude the public, and email makes it cheap and easy to assault anyone at anytime, with grammatically challenged rants from the unwashed and possibly unhinged.
For that reason, we offer two suggestions for current and potential elected officials: Let it go, and don't overreact.
For the most part, verbal and email attacks aren't really personal - even if they seem that way. The public's deep but inchoate frustration with government means that they will attack the representatives of government, unfairly or not. Elected officials must learn to not let the nastiness get to them, to do what they must to tune out the mean. Otherwise, the ranks of decent people seeking office will shrink.
Don't react, and certainly don't overreact.
Koretz's reaction played right into the hands of Carreon. The only reason people resort to outlandish and offensive behavior and swearing is because it gets a rise out of others.
Periodically, government bodies get so fed up with the antics of a group of gadflies that they overreact with repressive rules that restrict legitimate public comment as well as the gadflies. The Los Angeles City Council has tried - to no avail, evidently - to enforce civility on speakers. Most recently, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in January proposed new rules that would allow any one person only five minutes of public speaking time for each open meeting.
Politics never has been, and never will be, a career for the thin-skinned. But times certainly have made it harder for representatives to avoid the meanness. They must learn to roll with the punches, and never threaten to deliver them.