Pres­i­den­tial turnover; the jour­nal­ist’s dilemma

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - News -

One of the things I learned very early in my days in the po­lit­i­cal big leagues is that elected of­fi­cials who ex­pe­ri­ence con­stant staff turnover are in trou­ble.

This sit­u­a­tion is not ex­clu­sive to pol­i­tics.

My brother Mike’s first job out of San Jose State Col­lege was sell­ing punched cards at San Jose’s IBM op­er­a­tion.

Af­ter work­ing at IBM for a while, Mike was of­fered a job with the Repub­li­can Party that even­tu­ally led to his em­ploy­ment by a former ac­tor named Ron­ald Rea­gan.

When Mike in­formed his boss that he was leav­ing, the guy be­gan to tear up.

He begged Mike to stay, ex­plain­ing that he had been los­ing too many em­ploy­ees and that Mike’s depar­ture would end his IBM ca­reer.

We had a busi­ness in Mo­jave for sev­eral years whose prin­ci­pal man­aged to run-off just about ev­ery­one who worked for her, in­clud­ing its key em­ployee, which led to the en­ter­prise’s even­tual demise.

Fill­ing the Cab­i­net

I men­tion this be­cause our cur­rent pres­i­dent has earned the record for the most pres­i­den­tial staff turnover in the his­tory of our Repub­lic.

This is a big deal. A pres­i­dent’s Cab­i­net is made up of the folks who man­age his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Th­ese men and women ap­point peo­ple to help them carry out their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

Dur­ing the 1980s I served as a “Sched­ule C” pres­i­den­tial ap­pointeer for three cab­i­net sec­re­taries — at La­bor, Trans­porta­tion and Trea­sury.

Our job was to en­sure that the ca­reer civil ser­vice em­ploy­ees of th­ese de­part­ments, the so-called “un­elected bu­reau­crats,” ful­filled their du­ties in line with the pres­i­dent’s man­date.

Most of them, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, were pretty sharp folks with a wealth of valu­able in­sti­tu­tional ex­pe­ri­ence in how their agen­cies op­er­ated, which served to keep the trains run­ning on time while keep­ing us and ev­ery­one else up the line to the White House out of trou­ble.

One ex­am­ple was con­tribut­ing in­for­ma­tion to the pres­i­dent’s State of the Union and other ma­jor speeches and pre­par­ing cab­i­net sec­re­taries and key staff or the in­evitable grilling by Congress.

Tran­si­tion time

The most im­por­tant time in any pres­i­dent’s term in of­fice is the tran­si­tion from one pres­i­dent to an­other.

That process of se­lect­ing folks to fill an ad­min­is­tra­tion should be­gin on the day the can­di­date de­cides to run.

Ron­ald Rea­gan’s tran­si­tion was man­aged by a tal­ented gentle­man named James Baker, of Texas, a long­time friend of Rea­gan’s vice-pres­i­dent, Ge­orge H.W. Bush, who eight years later helped his friend cre­ate his own ad­min­is­tra­tion.

No one is per­fect and there were the usual glitches, but the ad­min­is­tra­tion was suc­cess­ful, es­pe­cially for a pres­i­dent of­ten dis­missed by his op­po­nents as a “washed-up ac­tor,” a char­ac­ter­i­za­tion many of them came to re­gret.

Trump’s staff prob­lems stem large part from his han­dling of this process.

Bad ac­tors

The big­gest prob­lem with hav­ing “act­ing sec­re­taries, etc.,” is one of morale among the Sched­ule C troops.

The “act­ing” des­ig­na­tion is ethe­real at best, and ev­ery time a new per­son at the top shows up, you can be out on the street. (That hap­pened to me once, but a quick phone call rec­ti­fied the sit­u­a­tion.) Which is one of the rea­sons that this ad­min­is­tra­tion has so many va­can­cies at a time when they are fac­ing so many chal­lenges, many of them self-im­posed.

So what do all th­ese ap­pointees do?

I worked hard to keep busy in my three ap­point­ments be­cause I like to keep busy. Some of my col­leagues didn’t and soon dis­ap­peared.

One of th­ese was a woman who was a friend of a friend who promptly hung her con­sid­er­able col­lec­tion of “grip and grin” pho­tos all over the walls of her of­fice while stu­diously ig­nor­ing the rest of us, ca­reer or po­lit­i­cal.

Which was fine be­cause she and her gallery soon dis­ap­peared.

My wife Bil­lye and I en­joyed our time in Wash­ing­ton and made some good friends among the ca­reer and po­lit­i­cal folks, some with whom we still ex­change Christ­mas cards.

It was a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity to learn how gov­ern­ment re­ally works.

Un­bi­ased me­dia

A re­cent let­ter to the ed­i­tor be­moan­ing peo­ple of the left al­legedly dom­i­nat­ing the news me­dia pro­posed that a news­pa­per be cre­ated that presents the news ob­jec­tively.

That will never hap­pen be­cause there is ab­so­lutely no way to re­port the news with­out up­set­ting some­one.

Be­lieve me, I’ve tried. I had a friend a few years ago, a school of­fi­cial, who used to drive ev­ery­one nuts when he spoke be­cause he tried so hard to avoid­ing up­set­ting any­one.

It sim­ply can­not be done.

Case in point: Julie Drake’s mag­nif­i­cent coverage of the cur­rent An­te­lope Val­ley High School board of trustees, the strangest one I have ever seen in decades of cov­er­ing ed­u­ca­tion at the lo­cal level.

In case you have been in Antarc­tica, three mem­bers of that board have gone out of their way to up­set folks. I don’t know why, but that’s just the way it is.

There is NO way to cover a story like that with­out up­set­ting some peo­ple, be­gin­ning with the three board mem­bers and their friends.

Deadly obit

My en­dur­ing mem­ory of this phenomenon is when I wrote what I thought was a de­tailed and com­pli­men­tary news obit about a friend who passed away way be­fore her time.

This lady had done a mag­nif­i­cent job help­ing or­ga­nize a new pub­lic agency here in East Kern and my obit gave her credit for that.

When I say “news obit,” I mean a news story about a per­son’s pass­ing as op­posed to a paid obit­u­ary writ­ten by the fam­ily.

A cou­ple mem­bers of her fam­ily thought oth­er­wise and gave me a right chew­ing out, a clas­sic ex­am­ple of the old say­ing about no good deed go­ing un­pun­ished.

I’m still friends with the fam­ily but con­tinue to scratch my thin­ning hair when I re­call this episode.

Ev­ery sen­tient be­ing on this planet sees things dif­fer­ently and there is sim­ply no way to keep them all happy.

Peo­ple be­lieve what they want to be­lieve, true or “fake.”

But we ink-stained wretches keep on try­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.