Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Personal Statement"

Now that the deadline for submission has passed, I think it is safe to publish portions of my application to the California Capitol Fellows Programs. There are four different fellowships, each accepting 18 applicants every year. I applied for the state assembly, the senate and the executive programs, leaving the judicial fellowship for those whose aspirations are of a more legal nature.

The following is my "Personal Statement" prepared exclusively for the senate program.

Personal Statement
Ever since my very first job as a paperboy for the now defunct Palo Alto Times, I have been captivated by news and politics. It wasn’t my intention, but as I was folding papers for delivery in my neighborhood, I often found myself reading the news. On occasion, my papers would be delivered a little bit late because I would get caught up in the news of the day. Although my passion for news and politics has been more or less apparent over the ensuing 30 plus years, the fire has always remained lit. Now 45, it burns brighter than ever.

The media, it seems, has a penchant for reporting “bad” news. When it comes to politics, scandal and corruption are always prominently splashed above the fold across page one. Of course the bean counters will tell us that bad news sells and that is what the public wants… and the watchdog role of the press is indeed a sacred one. And although all of that is true to an extent, isn’t it also the responsibility of the press to report on the real work that goes on in our government? Until I entered the field of journalism and saw for myself, I, too, was caught up in the perception that our government was full of self-seeking, power-hungry and, at worst, corrupt politicians who didn’t care at all about the people who put them in power.

After many years trying to live a life in pursuit of happiness, I found that perhaps my perception was misguided. Not that I had some miraculous change of heart about our elected and appointed officials, but rather about myself. I found that in my pursuit of happiness, I was missing something and it wasn’t until my life literally came to a grinding halt on October 17, 2000 that I was able take the time to figure out what it was. I was involved in a violent head-on collision with a logging truck near Squaw Valley, Calif. I woke up in a Reno hospital sometime in November. I was lucky to be alive, but I had massive injuries that would not heal overnight. I remember the 2000 presidential election was still being contested and my disgust with myself, with politics and the great unfairness of the world in general was palpable.

After a long hospitalization and an even longer rehabilitation, my perspective started to change. In my pursuit of the “good life,” I was only thinking of my own comfort and myself. Although I never set out to do any harm, I wasn’t particularly trying to do any good either. I started to see public life and public service in a different light. Finally, in late 2003, I decide to go back to school to pursue a career that would mean more than just a job. It was many years since my last attempt at higher education; the application process included some assessment tests to gauge my knowledge. Even though I have always known that I could write well, I was still shocked when I qualified to take an honors section for freshman composition.

The rest, as they say, is history. I transferred from American River College to Sacramento State in the fall of 2005 and changed my major from journalism to government-journalism, a major unique to Sacramento State that takes the disciplines of political science and journalism and combines them into one rigorous major. Although my cynicism for government had tempered significantly, it was not until I actually had personal and regular contact with public officials on different levels that I began to see a different side of public service - and public servants. By mid-2006 I was writing professionally for a small paper in Colfax, Calif., covering, among other things, the Colfax City Council.

Although I was not particularly surprised to see residents of a small town volunteer their time to be unappreciated in the name of public service, my education did not end in Colfax. I was also fortunate to be writing news during the 2006 mid-term election and covered much more prominent - and coveted - offices. My path also put me in touch with staff members of state and national officials and I found that the ideal of public service extends well beyond the elected official. Finally, on a class trip to the State Capitol, Assemblyman Mark Leno’s then Legislative Director, Kathryn Dresslar confirmed what I was already beginning to believe: The vast majority of our elected and appointed officials are there primarily to serve their community. It is a statement that embodies a perception I have carried ever since.

Although I was already on the hunt for “good” news by this time, I redoubled my efforts to not only find it, but to get it into the paper. Good journalism isn’t limited to digging up dirt and finding controversy, it should help to build communities. It is the glue that holds the fabric of the community together. If our public officials can be faulted, it is in their inability to convey what really goes on in government to their constituents. Communication is an art, if not managed and practiced, it can be misconstrued or silenced altogether. There are complex, important issues in local and state government and it takes someone who not only understands the issues, but can also break them down so that everyone can understand them. I have done that in Colfax, I have done it in Rocklin and if given the chance, I am quite sure I can do it as a Fellow in the California Senate.

4 comments:

kenju said...

Mike, I certainly h ope you get the opportunity to do just that! Good luck!

gautami tripathy said...

I wish you all the best. Hope that you get it.

Michele sends her wishes too.

sister AE said...

Michele sent me to read this cool piece. I, too, hope you land this "gig."

~Easy said...

Thanks for stopping by the Brokedown Palace. My return visit here has been a nice read, and I'm adding you to my list of reads.

It was interesting to see how your views evolved after seeing politics on the lower levels. Robert Heinlein said:

"I believe that almost all politicians are honest. For every bribed alderman there are hundreds of politicians, low paid or not paid at all, doing their level best without thanks or glory to make our system work. If this were not true, we would never have gotten past the thirteen colonies."

It's so true, but also so hard to see because it's not "news".