There are dozens of ways that Trenton politicians work my nerves. I’ll give you four.
1. Show Up Late. If you’re naïve to Statehouse mores and show up on-time for a committee hearing, floor vote, or even a press conference, 93% of the time you’re left waiting for the legislators to arrive. Sometimes it’s “only” 15 minutes. Others, more like an hour. Either way bring a book, a phone charger, and a snack to endure that (sometimes) long wait for your elected officials to show up. Maybe they’re in caucus. Maybe they’re on the Turnpike. We civilians will never know for sure. But we DO know, we’re sitting patiently waiting and they’re somewhere else.
I’d ask the legislators — all amply compensated for their part-time gig — to consider those of us in Trenton who are “off-the-clock” so to speak. Imagine the class field trip from Cape May, up for a civics lesson who, after a two-hour bus ride, are cooling their heels in the Senate gallery waiting for pols to wrap up caucus-room antics. Or, imagine that reporter covering you whose schedule is predicated on yours who’s starting work as you’re gaveling out (and who also has a family to get home to.) Most importantly, think about that person in Trenton there to testify, who’s nervous as hell and anxious to have their say. In other words, think about the people you work for. You make your own schedule. Try keeping it.
2. Ignore Testimony of Citizens. One of the few opportunities citizens have to affect the outcome of a bill is to testify for/against something on one of the various Statehouse committees. Overwhelmingly, while citizens are testifying most legislators give off the distinctly detached impression. Sometimes they’re on their BlackBerry. Other times, they chat with their adjacent colleagues. Often, the politicians just get up and wander off. All while citizens are having their say.
Having endured my share of long-winded testimony from well-meaning citizens, I can sympathize with politicians’ frequent tendency to “check out” during these hearings. But that doesn’t make it right. First of all it’s rude and classless. And more importantly, COMMITTEE HEARINGS ARE NOT DESIGNED FOR THEIR ENTERTAINMENT! THIS IS THEIR JOB!
My message for legislators: “We all have boring jobs that sometimes feel beneath us. That’s why they call it work. When you’re at work, act like you care. Otherwise you look like a jerk.”
One notable exception to this unfortunate trend is Assemblywoman Donna Simon. I’ve watched her in action on committee several times and no matter how boring or long-winded the testimony before her usually is, she treats each speaker with the respect he/she deserves. Considering most votes are decided in advance (basically wasting everyone’s time) acting interested is the very least the politicians should do.
3. Thank Each Other for their “Service.” If you ever hear our leaders talking to each other publicly, you’ll quickly notice their penchant for mutual congratulations. It usually goes something like this, “I want to thank you for your service, Senator” and the inevitable reply, “I want to thank you for your service, Senator.”
It’s like they can’t resist the urge to remind each other how amazingly they’re doing their very, very, very important job. When I hear the term “service” invoked in this context, all I can do is roll my eyes. Service to whom? Party bosses? Donors? Self? Because as we’ve pointed out in example #2, it sure ain’t service to actual citizens.
Show me another profession where people self-congratulate so freely as a matter of course, and I’ll reconsider. Until then, I’ll just keep on being embarrassed by our leaders who always seem to forget that they’re ‘the help.’
4. American Flag lapel pins. So you’re a patriot, huh? WE GET IT! I mean, gosh, how could we not know you’re a patriot with that American flag lapel pin on your chest!
As a free-speech purist, I’ll defend any American’s right of self-expression, including wearing tacky accessories that scream out “I HAVE SOMETHING TO PROVE!” But that doesn’t mean I won’t judge you for it.
After all, there’s a lot more to good citizenship than feigning patriotism with symbols.