You can’t paint all elected officials with the same brush

This year’s presidential primaries have highlighted the fact that many people are not happy with government officials. It seems that anyone who is seen as an “outsider” has an instant advantage, and “insiders” are not in favor.

Experience is not an asset this year, and is even a detrimental quality for a candidate to have. It is not just a gentle uneasiness with government, but actually a strong distaste on the part of many people. It makes me really wonder how this presidential election will play out in the fall, and what the consequences will be for our country.

As a government official myself, maybe I’m not the one who should be talking too much, but some aspects of the current situation bother me. I have known too many dedicated and honest people who have served as elected officials to stand by quietly while the entire group gets painted with a broad brush of condemnation. I would stand by most of the elected people I have known, especially in comparison to the “outsider” who currently seems so popular.

My first exposure to government officials was when my dad served as Oronoko Township supervisor for 20 years. He found the time to give to the township in addition to his farm work and the time he devoted to his family and his church. He really loved and took pride in the job at the township, with all its conflicts and challenges. He loved working with people and solving problems.

At about the same time, my future father-in-law, Lad Stacey, was carrying out his career in public service, including terms on the school board, the County Board of Commissioners, and as State Representative. He also took great pride in being of honest service to his community.

At the same time, in St. Joe, Harry Gast was carrying out a very distinguished career in the legislature.

I was elected to the school board in 1993, along with several other new board members who were elected following a board recall and a couple of resignations. I found it a great privilege to work with my fellow board members and our school staff, and developed many friendships in the process. We came from different backgrounds, but were all motivated to do the best we could for the students of Berrien Springs.

I also served four years as an elected Berrien County Commissioner. Many of those I served with are still on that board, and continue to serve honorably. We were a very diverse group and had our disagreements, but again I would sincerely vouch for the fact that each board member acted with integrity and honor.

I am very grateful for the friendship I developed with Don Ryman, from Buchanan, who is one of the most civic-minded men you will ever meet.

Now I have had the great honor to serve in the Michigan House of Representatives. One of the pleasant surprises of the job has been the camaraderie that exists among the legislators and staff.

I cannot vouch for the motives of all 110 representatives and 38 senators, and a couple of them have run into some moral difficulties. On the whole, however, I am impressed with the fact that there are a lot of good people in state government, and I have made some great friends in both political parties.

As you can tell, I am sticking up for elected government officials everywhere in response to the prevailing national trends. It could be that most of the problems are related to Washington D.C., but I doubt that.

It is true that the federal government is the only place where you don’t seem to need to balance your own budget, and that leads to trouble. There is also a lot more money and power involved as you go higher in the levels of government.

I know that there are scoundrels in government, and I have known a few. I did want, however, to provide a little balance to the picture by telling about my experiences with elected officials, which have been positive.

Maybe we all need to judge each individual elected official before we paint with too broad a brush. Sometimes we will find that the person of experience is someone we need to keep supporting.

Sometimes the “outsider” may not turn out to be the answer we are seeking after all.

 

Dave Pagel is the state representative for the 78th district. Call him at (517) 373-1796, or email him at davepagel@house.mi.gov

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