I grew up a political junkie in a time before 24 hour news cycles and where Crossfire was the only news program where bipartisan debate took place. I remember being taught the words public servant, statesman but definitely not politician, it was a derogatory term as I understood it. I asked my dad questions about communism at the dinner table, I argued (respectfully) with my critically thinking history and civics teacher in high school and I felt genuinely upset when I was still 17 in my first semester of college and I couldn’t cast a ballot in the 1992 Presidential campaign between Clinton and Bush like the rest of my friends were lining up to do. My dad was a six term member of the California State Assembly from the time I was seven until I was 19 and after that served as California Secretary of State for eight years so my memory is full of trips to Sacramento where my sister and I would navigate (and get lost) in the State Capitol building. When that happened, we would approach the nicest elevator operators and tell them that we were lost so they could steer us back in the right direction. So, when I heard the news of Governor George Deukmejian’s passing yesterday, I felt a genuine sadness for the good man that we lost and the breed of public servant that seems to be very difficult to find these days.
One of my most vivid and earliest political memories was my sister and I getting dressed up one school night in 1983 and going to the Hacienda Hotel in Fresno to meet the Governor. I was in third grade and my sister was in kindergarten. It was my dad’s first term and I was never a fan of anything where I had to wave or speak. We wore our nicest dresses and shook his hand and, aside from nice to meet you (or less than that knowing me), we didn’t say much or stay too long. When the news broke of the Governor’s passing yesterday, that night was front and center in my mind in an instant.
Fast forward 35 years (oh my gosh, I can’t believe my memory goes back that far!) and the TV’s in my house are silent and I catch my news in snippets from the Wall Street Journal mostly. The personalities in politics today, 24 hour media frenzy and heightened sensitivities that prevent too many of us from listening and learning from one another have crushed my interest in current events. The personalities have become bigger than the policies, and the grandstanding more prevalent than the consistent work it takes to build workable compromise. It seems that the hard working, well intentioned statesman on either side of the aisle are unelectable today and truthfully we have no one to blame but ourselves. I wish I had a solution to offer, but tonight all I can do is honor a man who was in stark contrast to the politicians of today.
Although it may seem strange, for many years I have had the ideal guest list for a dinner party in my head. It includes, authors, athletes, songwriters and world leaders and the guest list changes as I learn and grow. When my dad and I talk, I tell him this President would not make the cut for that list by a long shot, but Governor George Deukmejian certainly would. So tonight I tip my baseball cap for a man who climbed the ranks honestly, left the places he went better off than he found them, without a lot of fanfare, and let the policy be greater than the man.