You’ve likely heard elected officials referenced with a number of alternative terms: public servants, lawmakers, officeholders, and so on. For most, though, the descriptive value of these words can be questionable. For this reason, journalists and communications specialists often rely on the catch-all “decision-maker.”
Sure, it’s general and vague. Still, the very nature of a career in politics is weighing real decisions that are both public and on the public record. Instead of choosing a car or deciding who to hire, elected officials can be put into a position of deciding how you can drive and which careers to incentivize.
Who or what a politician supports, how they behave, when they act, and how they vote are choices that determine far more than the course of a day or year; they have the potential to become etched in stone, defining a political future. When that future is critically important, we’re called to step in and provide guidance.
In this two-part blog, we’ll give an overview as to the basic factors influencing decision-makers. When faced with a choice, politicians regularly look forward to a bevy of competing consequences — some unknown to them, entirely — but their chosen direction ultimately tends to be weighed against a few predominant considerations.
Impact on Constituents
An elected official has to understand how a particular vote or stance will affect those he/she has taken an oath to serve. While this is a clear priority, the impact of any given bill isn’t always measurable. Even when it is, legislation can positively impact one portion a community over another. Everything has a cost, and benefits can’t be conferred in a vacuum. While many bills pass under the auspices of being “no-brainers,” this isn’t indicative of a universally beneficial measure, just one in which the probable pros largely outweigh potential cons.
Public servants operate at the will of the people, and it’s a promise most of them take very seriously. Answering the question of how best to serve their community is a constant back-and-forth of internal and external conversations to which all elected officials have to become accustomed in order to remain in office.
Impact on Re-Election
Tied closely, then, to how a decision will affect those a politician represents, the question of perception and political retaliation is a frustrating but inescapable reality. Every vote, sponsored bill or public comment occurs under the watchful gaze of the public and potential rivals.
The more controversial or public the issue, the bigger the gamble. Even with regular media contact and concentrated voter outreach, virtually any decision a politician makes can be fuel for campaigns of misinformation or lead to a challenge at the ballot.
It’s important to recognize that factoring in the impact of re-election is not often a matter of personal interest. Even positive changes take years to materialize, and public servants must factor in how smaller decisions affect their overall ability to serve their constituents in the future.
–Continued in Part 2
About the author: Steve Heikkinen serves as the Communications and Marketing Strategist for Grassroots Midwest, Michigan’s only bipartisan political advocacy firm.