Politics is a contact sport. A bloody and brutal one. But it doesn’t always have to happen that way and two recent examples remind us of why politics can still be a noble profession.
Redistricting is the bane of any legislator’s dreams because whenever you move the lines of a district you are playing with their ability to get re-elected. Survive it and you can have a new lease on public life. But if the lines go the wrong way, you have a tough choice to make.
Twice within recent months, we have witnessed the personal ambitions of two elected officials – Reps. Brad Drake, R-DeFuniak Springs, and Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando – be set aside because they didn’t want to run against their colleagues, Reps. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, and Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, respectively.
This is a rare event in politics and one of the consequences of the once-a-decade redistricting process. Brad Drake is an astute, affable young businessman who was growing in seniority in the House while representing Washington County, one of the state’s most rural districts. But the new lines for the House meant Brad and his next door neighbor, Marti Coley, would have to run against each other. Marti took her husband David’s seat after his shocking and untimely death.
Coincidentally, both Brad and David worked together as legislative aides; Brad for Don Brown and David for Jamie Westbrook, before becoming elected in their own right. In an eloquent farewell speech on the floor of the House, Brad spoke about the love and affection he had for David and Marti and knowing that she wanted to finish her commitment of eight years, he voluntarily stepped aside. It was a class act by a statesman who put his respect for public service and the common good before his own political desires.
In Orlando, Rep. Eric Eisnaugle recently came to the same conclusion and made the announcement in a simple letter to the editor. Not a press conference. Not even a press release. I got the opportunity to work with him over this past session and found him to be tenacious with a determined spirit. Eric was a major player with a bright future in House leadership, yet he, too, cut his career short to forgo a contest with his cross-town friend, Steve Precourt.
And he did it by talking about the seat belonging to the people, not him. Rarely do you hear a politician talk with distinction like that. Washington are you listening?
This is what should be taught in Civics 101. This is why many of us got involved in public service back in the 60’s and 70’s, to be a part of something bigger, to try and solve our problems for the betterment of all mankind. Stuff that hardly anyone talks about anymore.
Brad and Eric could have just as easily filed to run, and since they are incumbents they would have raised a lot of money and had a chance to win. But neither took that route and their unselfishness is to be admired and praised.
For this, we will miss their dedication to wanting to “do what was right, rather than what it took to get re-elected” as Eric recently wrote in his announcement to the hometown newspaper. Far too often that is not the case in the legislative arena and we are all poorer for it.
That’s why we should continue to cherish the right to vigorous political contests. But once elected, we have the right to expect the legislature to do the people’s work by setting aside petty differences for a higher cause – the good of us all.
Even if Washington is doomed, there is at least a glimmer of hope in Tallahassee where two legislators transcended their own will, for the will of the people. You just can’t get any better than that.
Barney Bishop III, former head of Associated Industries of Florida, is the founder of Barney Bishop Consulting. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.