Left Foot Forward: Don’t be a jerk—a playbook for politicians and political hopefuls

Current and aspiring officeholders are now jockeying for myfavoriteplacemexicanfood.com position in the 2024 elections, as term-limited officials set their sights on new opportunities, and first-time candidates nervously gear up for the campaign cycle. In our hyper-polarized political climate, with so many gerrymandered districts, the real race is often the June primary, leaving candidates a short window of time to get their campaigns funded and launched by early next year.

The largest political affiliation in Nevada, nearly one-third of registered voters, is now nonpartisan, and those voters cannot participate in our closed primaries. If voters in 2024 approve ballot Question 3 to open up the primaries to everyone, we may see more moderate candidates emerge, but until then, expect to see progressives dominate the Democratic primaries, and to a much larger extent, hard-right Trump-loving candidates to prevail in the Republican races.

It’s important to pay attention to the track records of current public officials to see whom their votes really favor, since some proclaim themselves as progressives during election season, only to change their stripes once elected. For example, the Reno City Council is dominated by Democrats, although you’d hardly know it based on many of the majority votes in favor of business interests instead of our neighborhoods.

Nevertheless, here’s a little advice for candidates hoping to attract progressive votes in the June primary.

Don’t be a hypocrite: Don’t emulate ethics commissioner Stan Olsen, appointed by Gov. Joe Lombardo just before the hearing into unethical actions taken by Lombardo during the last campaign. Olsen voted against fining the governor for using his badge and uniform in campaign ads—and then, on the same day no less, voted to sanction Washoe County school board member Joe Rodriguez for the very same behavior. When a reporter questioned him about the inconsistency, Olsen said he didn’t recall casting a vote against Rodriguez: “The guy doesn’t ring a bell.”

Olsen couldn’t explain why he voted for Lombardo and against Rodriguez, but the rest of us surely can. Olsen refused to elaborate on his actions, saying, “I just don’t talk to reporters on the phone, or really, even in person,” apparently believing he serves in a protected bubble, accountable to no one.

Accept responsibility when you make a mistake, and speak for yourself: People, even elected officials, make mistakes. Be honest and forthright about them, and accept responsibility. Avoid hiding behind spokespeople, as Democratic Assemblywoman Michelle Gorelow did when questioned by reporters about taking a job leading a nonprofit after voting for a large direct appropriation to the organization. Nevada’s legislators should speak for themselves and refuse caucus directives to defer questions to leaders or spokespeople. We are your constituents; we expect you to answer media inquiries, embarrassing or not, and explain yourself.

Reno City Council members often blame Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus, who is known for her direct, brash manner, but fail to notice their own incredibly rude and aggressive remarks, dripping with disdain and disrespect.

Don’t be a jerk: It should go without saying that public officials should operate in a zone of civility and respect, but watch a Reno City Council meeting with a controversial agenda item, and you’ll be appalled at the behavior on full public display. Councilmembers often blame Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus, who is known for her direct, brash manner, but fail to notice their own incredibly rude and aggressive remarks, dripping with disdain and disrespect. These members sometimes treat the public in the same way when people express a contrary opinion. It’s more revealing—and obnoxious—than they realize.

Don’t be afraid to change your mind, but be prepared to explain why you did: We don’t have the time or inclination to watch every public meeting and certainly don’t receive the same amount of information as our legislators. But we do expect our representatives to help us understand their rationale for voting yes or no on a controversial item, or explain why they’ve changed their mind. Even if we disagree, our democracy is strengthened by civil discourse about the pros and cons of a particular argument.

Know when to walk away: Finally, there’s no shame in walking away from public office and declining to run again, should personal circumstances change, or you’ve understandably had enough of public scrutiny and criticism that sometimes morphs into personal attacks. One wishes people like U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Mitch McConnell would recognize their long years of public service are appreciated, but their obvious health issues should now be given priority. Walk away before we start to wonder about your capacity to serve.