Putting People Over Politics: Why It’s Now More Important Than Ever

July 16, 2019

Deke Copenhaver

Leadership Focus is written by Deke Copenhaver, Principal with Copenhaver Consulting LLC. The former mayor of Augusta, a triathlete, writer and runner, Deke is focused on transforming great ideas into great actions.
While watching the Democratic Presidential debate last month, I was struck with a few thoughts. First off, I somehow felt as though I had heard most of it before. Ever since I started paying attention to politics many years ago I’ve heard candidates from both parties expound on the brokenness of our nation’s capital and how they would go against the status quo with grandiose plans to fix it. Yet after hearing this so many times through the years the politics in Washington now seem to be as backbiting and intractable as it’s ever been.

The second thing that struck me was how often I’ve heard political candidates through the years invoke “the will of the people”. However, it seems to me as though many politicians from both parties are more focused on representing the will of their own chosen party as opposed to the collective will of their overall constituencies. Divining the will of the people requires making an effort to respectfully listen to individuals who may or may not share your own point of view. No district, and definitely not our nation as a whole, is comprised completely of Republicans or Democrats. One thing I always kept at the forefront of my mind during my time in office was that I served a very diverse city of 200,000 residents. Some voted for me, some voted against me, and some didn’t vote at all. Regardless, I tried to maintain a diligent focus on the fact that I needed to value all of their needs equally.

In a recent Gallup poll, 42% of respondents identified themselves as independents, a dozen points higher than Democrats and 16 points higher than Republicans. This poll would bear out my random sampling of your average man or woman on the street both nationally and internationally. It seems as though the vast majority of the people I talk to from all walks of life feel as though both parties have gone so far to the extremes that neither truly represents their views. In talking to my younger friends, most share this point of view while considering politics in general to be inauthentic and something they’re not particularly interested in. However, as bleak as the situation may look at times there’s definitely hope out there.

In a column earlier this year, I highlighted a trip I took to Atlanta for Augusta Day at the Capital with this year’s class of Leadership Augusta. I was invited to speak to the class on leadership as well as on my new book. At the end of my remarks I challenged the class, a wonderfully diverse group, to consider running for local elected office. As I’ve stressed so often in this column, it is my firm and unwavering belief that positive political change must start at the local level with more good people offering themselves for public service without a focus on a career in politics. As of today, multiple members of the class are considering runs for office here in Augusta which fills me full of great hope for our city’s future.

Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results.” It’s painfully obvious to me, and many people that I talk to on a regular basis, that elected officials putting their politics above the people they serve has continually led to the same result, an undermining of public trust in the institution of government and the political process as a whole.

As we consider the futures of our cities, our communities and our nation, it is my fervent hope and prayer that in my community, as well as yours, a new generation of leaders dedicated to service above self and a commitment to serving the public good above any one political party will rise up. In the end, fostering this scenario has become one of my life’s greatest passions as I believe identifying and mentoring a new generation of servant leaders is the best thing each of us can do to preserve the integrity of the places we are blessed to call home.

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