Monday, January 10, 2011

The Perils of Public Service

"An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve." - U.S. House Speaker John Boehner

On the morning of January 8, 2011, an enthusiastic Gabrielle Giffords sent a tweet, inviting constituents to attend her Congress on Your Corner event at a mall in Tucson, AZ. Six hours later, she was just leaving surgery, fighting for her life after a lone gunman shot her in the head at point-blank range.

In Mississippi, if you assault an elected official, while they are performing their official duties, you will receive an automatic sentence of three years in jail. That law was passed for a reason. Public servants in the political arena are some of the most vulnerable people for attacks. Why? Because people, even in an apathetic, cynical culture, are passionate about their politics. For totally unstable people, political philosophy, or their concept of one, tips them over the edge.

Knowing this, elected officials go out in the public anyway, listening to the concerns and complaints of the citizens, most of the time without any type of security. I used to get stopped at grocery stores, gas stations, sporting events or even strolling through the park. People call your house with threats. People mail nasty letters. Now, in this day and age, salacious e-mails and blog postings have become the weapons of choice.

All I had to protect me was the hedge of protection God placed around me. No Secret Service, State Troopers, local police or security guards. But here I am, and I would not change a thing. Why? Because that was the peril of one of the greatest jobs in a democratic republic, political public service.

A true public servant will never be afraid to talk to the people that they represent. You must go out and communicate with the people who have given you their trust to handle the people's business. That is the spirit and heart of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Ever since 2007, she has had these type of events, informally talking with voters, explaining to the best of her ability what was going on Washington, DC. Now she is in critical condition in an Intensive Care Unit.

If she could though, I can guarantee she would have no regrets, only remorse for the six people that lost their lives in this bizarre and violent attack. As soon as she can, she will be reaching out to those families, offering condolences, even while she will be recovering from injuries. While fighting through the pain of rehabilitation, she will do her best to let the people of her district know that she is still on the case and that she appreciates all of the prayers and well-wishes.

Eventually, she will get back to work, addressing the concerns of her constituents, giving speeches, taking phone calls, reading e-mails, getting stopped at grocery stores...and well, you get the point.

I was never afraid to go where I needed to go, speak where I needed to speak, read what I needed to read. To me, talking with people was the greatest joy of being in public office, and when you are doing something you enjoy, the last thing to consider is the danger of what you are doing. You don't get paralyzed with fear when you are helping someone address a problem or answering a question that has puzzled them. You just do your job.

That is the mindset of a Gabby Giffords. That is why she will survive. That is why America will never fail. As long as public servants look the peril in the eye and stare it down, democracy will never yield to terror in any form and public service will still be the noblest endeavor of a free society.