On this last day of my service as 4th District county supervisor, I thought I’d take a moment to explain why anyone would willingly step into this unforgiving world of politics. After a campaign season that could only be described as brutal, I would do it again in a moment. By explaining why, it is my sincere hope to inspire every reader to consider serving.
What’s so great about public service?
Ten years ago, I was at a dinner party and was approached by a public official who asked if I was interested in serving on the Arroyo Grande Planning Commission. My first question was, “What’s Planning Commission?” My second was, “Why me?”
I decided to try it. The worst that would happen is I would quit.
I fell in love at my first meeting. I had a real hand in shaping the town I grew up in — the look of buildings, the way traffic moves, the way neighborhoods feel.
I learned the ropes quickly and developed a deep appreciation of the public process. I was elected chairwoman 18 months later.
When I had the chance to expand my service at the city council level, I was ready. Iloved my council job. I had a much larger hand in policymaking, in land use, public safety and financial planning. Working alongside elected officials, staff and community members, we moved the town forward, while preserving its historic character. It was a careful balance that required finesse, vision and professionalism. The results were visible, tangible and quantifiable.
Then this adventure came. This time, as I weighed whether to step up to be supervisor, I knew much more about what the increased visibility would mean, not only for me, but also my family. I knew it would be unforgiving. I knew I would be attacked. I knew I would be stopped at the grocery store while in my sweats on a Sunday morning. I knew I would see my name in the paper constantly, and not always with the positive tone I would hope for. I knew all the risks.
So why do it? Why would anyone do this job, and suffer the inevitable negativity?
I’ll tell you why. I’ve never had such an opportunity to help people on this scale. Whether it’s helping individuals with homeowner issues, developing policies that will translate into well-designed communities where we raise future generations, or ensuring the fiscal strength of the organization, preserving open space, resources and quality of life, lobbying in Sacramento on behalf of our citizens, I’ve had the chance to make so many lives better, not only now, but for many years to come.
Even when most of the 250,000 citizens don’t know what we do, it’s enough to fall asleep at night knowing that I’ve done “good” every single day. The negativity is tiny in comparison.
What’s more, my service has given me the opportunity to be a better parent. My boys have grown up with an enhanced appreciation of their world. They have been in parades, attended events, worked charity booths and witnessed firsthand that great communities are the result of people doing what they can to make things better, in whatever way works for them. We have also had the opportunity to experience cyberbullying, narrow-mindedness and frustration. We learned that all of those are just externalities that we can put in their proper place with support and communication. It is easy to see how they will be better men because of this experience.
Public service is very much like parenting. Our kids will never know the lengths to which we will go for their well being. The same feeling of satisfaction is true of public service. Most citizens don’t know or understand, until they become public officials themselves. Like starting a family, public service is initially a leap of faith.
I sincerely hope that you will give my words careful thought. After all, every public official, whether local, state or federal level, started at the very same place you at home are starting right now. They listened, wondered if they really could, then threw caution to the wind and decided to step up. Everyone’s reasons are different. But we are all just regular people trying to make a difference.
There’s no X-Men school of public service. You just get up and try. That’s all. You’ll get the hang of it. I promise. You just might do something really, really great.