`Never make it personal'

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Freshmen legislators aren’t the only ones who should hear what their leadership believes are important rules of conduct.

In a day of orientation Tuesday for the 12 Representatives-elect and four Senators-elect, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed urged the incoming legislators to never forget they serve for their constituents, but cautioned them not to let their political lives overshadow their families. With that as a foundation, Mattiello talked about the importance of researching the issues and keeping one’s word once arriving at a position.

“Your word is your bond. Talk to people, and once you are comfortable give your word,” he said.

Mattiello told the freshmen legislators to “engage when you feel it is appropriate, but never make it personal. A strong debate is great,” he said, noting that other than resolutions of congratulations or sympathy, there are few issues on which all will agree. Debate is healthy, bringing in fresh ideas. He urged the incoming legislators to become engaged, telling them, “You didn’t get elected to bake cookies.”

Paiva Weed advised the new legislators to treat staff with respect and to attend committee meetings “where the real work goes on…attendance is critical.” On the matter of one’s word, she recommended the legislators “take time to learn…and don’t be afraid to say you want to learn more.”

There was a bit of a pep talk, too. “Collectively and collaboratively” Mattieollo said, “we’re going to do great things.”

The speaker spoke about the rewards of the job. “I always find service to the community naturally fulfilling,” he said.

The event was a feel good moment before the hard work they will surely face after the legislators-elect are sworn into office on Jan. 3 and the session begins. Summarizing, Mattiello narrowed his advice to listen, engage and never make it personal.

What neither he nor Paiva Weed talked about, however, are the inner workings of the legislative body or, for that matter, the leadership protocol and expectations. Opposing points of view and alternatives can strengthen proposed legislation. We have heard those debates. When it comes down to a vote, however, we have also seen there are consequences to those who are not in alignment with the leadership.

Those harder lessons will come. In the meantime, Mattiello’s suggestion “to never make it personal” is good advice to both veteran and newly minted elected officials.

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