Back in my glory days as a lobbyist I was always struck by the fundamental decency, and humanity, of Wisconsin state elected officials. I (and I think people in general) have a natural tendency to categorize, and even demonize elected officials bases on their stances, party affiliations, or second-hand accounts of their underlying motivations. In my experience, Wisconsin’s state representatives and senators are, almost universally, kind people who care a great deal about their communities. Frankly, nobody would expose themselves and their families the way politicians must if they did not feel they had something important to contribute to those they represent.
While it is ok and even important at times to be skeptical of politicians, it is also important to celebrate their willingness to serve. Without politicians this whole self-governing thing does not work. These thoughts are on my mind after having two great experiences presenting research to members of the Wisconsin League of Municipalities, and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards. Both events were full of local elected officials going above and beyond to try to learn from one another, and the research presented by academics like me. Nobody in the audience needed to give up their time to travel halfway across the state to talk about governance, yet so many did. Nobody had to share their personal experiences of serving on a board, yet they did. Nobody has to fill out the surveys I am always sending, yet they do. All of this demonstrates a true commitment to being a good public servant, and I admit I am in awe of it. And thankful.
It serves as a reminder to me that the data we crunch and conclusions we make are derived from, and impact, real people who were willing to serve. Exploring theories, building quantitative models, publishing in journals, etc…it is all important, but it is those willing to serve that make what we do as governance scholars relevant. It really is great to be reminded of that from time to time.