At a Floyd County High School basketball game Friday night, I ran into a public official I’d written about recently. I said hello. He said nothing and turned around and walked away.
After four decades in this business, I’m used to cold shoulders but I’ve found over the years that most national and state politicians have much thicker hides than those on the local levels. In the 1970s, while working for a paper in Illinois, I wrote about the misdeeds of then-governor Dan Walker. At a press conference, he blew up and caled me a “low-life son-of-a-bitch.” The next day he called and invited me to breakfast.
In 1971, I asked Vice President Spiro Agnew a question at a press conference in St. Louis that caused him to lose his temper on national TV. A week later, Victor Gold, his press secretary, called and invited me to sit down with the VP for a one-on-one interview.
Local politicians, however, are often a different breed. A story about a supervisor who voted in what appeared to be a conflict of interest resulted in six months of silence from that supervisor. A story on another county official sent him running to the editor of The Floyd Press with a complaint that I was “out to get him.” I wasn’t, but the voters were. He lost badly in the next election.
Some local officials aren’t so skittish. When Circuit Clerk Wendell Peters has a problem with something I write, he gets in my face and tells me so. So does Sheriff Shannon Zeman or Comonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Shortt. I respect them for standing up. But too many others prefer to sulk away in silence or bitch privately to others.
Our elected officials need to remember that they work for us, the people who vote and who pay taxes. Some of them made promises they failed to keep. Others make decisions that seem to go against the wishes of the people they represent. When that happens, they should be man or woman enough to stand up and take the heat.
Floyd Countians tend to get rid of those they feel don’t deliver. In the last local elections, voters sent three incumbents packing. With new elections coming up this fall, those who think they no longer have to listen to the voice of the people should remember that lesson.