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What I learned as an elected official

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By Robert Kelly-Goss
Guest Columnist

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

I learned a lot about serving the public good when I was elected to a town council seat in Colorado. The most important thing I learned was simply that we have to find a middle ground.

The day after this most recent election, we woke up to find that some candidates won, and some lost. It’s the nature of elections, of course, and while I may not see my favorite candidate on the roster of winners, I can still be hopeful that the common good will be served.

But serving the common good can be a tricky thing these days. The question arises, whose good are we talking about, and is it really what I want for my America, my North Carolina, my Albemarle region?

The thing is, it’s never been about what I want, but rather what we can accomplish together. Of course, these days that notion is difficult to grasp amidst all of the polarization, the rhetoric, the name-calling, the divisiveness. It seems the art of the democratic compromise has been taking its last breath for a while now.

So what does it mean to serve as an elected official? I don’t know what it means to the many officials elected this round, but to me it meant participating in the life of my community, and giving back to a place I called home.

Man was I naïve.

Serving people through public office is thankless, frustrating, infuriating, and sometimes downright hopeless. It means that at times you’re gonna be at odds — and even at the throat — of a person you call neighbor.

It means that you will be the target of hateful rhetoric, and anonymous calls in the middle of the night complaining of something you did, didn’t do, or could help stop from happening. It means your private life is not so private because you have chosen to be of service to others.

And that’s OK. That’s the price you pay for being a public servant. You accept that as the price of service, plain and simple.

But what being a public servant in a democratic republic does not mean is, you have a right to a bully pulpit. It does not mean that you have a right to threaten those who do not agree with your ideology, philosophy, or position on any given issue — yes, it happens all the time, locally and nationally.

Being a public servant should be an honor, not an opportunity to ram your ideology down the throats of others, regardless of what side of the political spectrum appears to define you. You must acknowledge that we all have a right to our vision of America, and it is your responsibility to uphold that right, even at the cost of your personal political position.

It’s called compromise and it is what this nation was built upon, and one important reason we have survived so far.

Although I do not agree with the personal politics of some of the folks that won this round, it is my hope that they will find it in themselves to serve everyone, without qualification. I hope that they will look past the party labels and serve the public good, even at the cost of his or her own personal beliefs.

The art of compromise in this system of government is the middle way, a path of productivity that has proven repeatedly that we have the ability to live together, to look past differences and rise above jingoistic rhetoric and fear-mongering. The art of compromise, of moderate politics, has always been the American way.

Robert Kelly-Goss is a former lifestyles editor for The Daily Advance.

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