Remembering Politicians As People

This is my column from today’s Courier Herald. Our thoughts remain with the family, friends, and constituents of former Senate Minority Leader Robert Brown. As is usually our custom here, comments will remain closed on this post given the suddenness and lingering shock from yesterday’s news.

Politics has a desensitizing nature about it. The longer you are involved in it, cover it, participate in it, or are otherwise exposed to it, it becomes highly likely that you will become somewhat jaded, cynical, and lose some attachment of the activities undertaken and the individuals participating in them from the day to day realities of real life. In many ways, politics is for most of us a spectator’s sport, with most of us acting in the role of armchair quarterback, treating those involved as if they’re players on our TV screens.

Then, occasionally, there is something that breaks through the routine that shocks us back into awareness that those we elect to public service are a lot more like us than we think. They have real world problems, face the same pains, and endure the same struggles as the rest of us.

Thursday was another of those days. Senator Robert Brown, who left his seat this past summer to make a bid to be Macon’s mayor, was found dead in his home of an apparent self inflicted gunshot wound. I had only met Brown once briefly, and will not pretend to have known him nor will presume to begin to understand the events leading up to his decision. I do know many of his friends – and he had many, on both sides of the aisle – and their loss is real, their hurt palpable.

The word I’ve heard most often to describe him, even before the reaction to this news was “gentleman”. Another was “statesman”. He will leave a void both in Atlanta and among the Macon community he has served in elected and community roles since the 60’s, rising to the position of the Senate’s Minority Leader.

This is the third time in roughly two years that we’ve had similarly incomprehensible stories coming out of the capitol community. Former State Senator Nancy Schaefer was killed in her home in a murder-suicide. Former Speaker Glen Richardson announced a suicide attempt when he disclosed he was battling depression amidst ongoing family issues.

Behind those stories, there have been many more involving marital difficulty, financial hardship, medical issues, and myriads of other problems that we face in our every days lives. Yet when one of these struggles is discovered in a politician’s life, it is more often greeted by a feeding frenzy than any attempt at compassion or understanding. Weakness for a politician, in any form, often spells opportunity for others. And much like with the rest of Georgians, current circumstances offer a lot of such “opportunity”.

Legislators have not been immune to the downturn in the economy. Most are small businessmen, trying to keep their primary income stream intact during the worst economic downturn in 70 years. All the while, trying to keep the needs of their constituents in the forefront, working year round for what is considered a “part time” job which pays roughly $17,000 per year. Sure, there are those who do well under this system and some who abuse it, just like those of us observe in the real world. But for most, they have the same stress, same issues of trying to make marriage and family work, the same incidents of health concerns and unexpected issues, and all the other troubles you and I face that we call life.

But they must endure this while in the public eye, held up by many of us to standards that are impossible to meet or keep. For each one of us has different ideals which we expect them to uphold and exceed, and they attempt to meet every one of them. To say the least, it can be a stressful existence.
The hearts of those in Georgia’s government are heavy today. For among the problems they have that are like ours, grief does not exempt them either. It’s hard to say some good can come out of such an action that we will never fully understand. If there can be some, perhaps it will be to help us remember to humanize those we elect to serve.