Political science professor takes human look at politics in new book, ‘First Person Political’
Political science professor takes human look at politics in new book, ‘First Person Political’February 28, 2006Carol K. Masiclatclkim@syr.edu
Grant Reeher, associate professor of political science in the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, looks at politics from a different perspective in his new book, “First Person Political: Legislative Life and the Meaning of Public Service” (NYU Press, 2006).
In the book, Reeher challenges the public’s alienation from and distrust of politicians by putting a personal face on everyday political life. Through comprehensive personal interviews, he allows legislators to tell their own stories about how and why they came to politics, the experience of serving in their state legislature, their decisions to stay or leave, and the many trials they face in the name of public service.
“It is strange that for all the attention legislators have attracted in the academic political science literature, so little of it has focused on them as people,” Reeher writes. “There are few direct inquiries into why they do what they do; what attracts them to run and serve; what prompts them to make the transition from active political observer or participant to candidate; and what drives them away from office.”
Reeher argues that these politicians care about the public good and often suffer great personal losses for their chance to represent the people and fight for what they think is right. Through more than 75 interviews, Reeher shares with readers the thrill of campaigning, the joy of victory and the bitterness of defeat, the sacrifices, and the eventual professional burnout many politicians face over the course of their careers. The book brings to light the experiences of a diversegroup of candidates: inexperienced community members, women, minority voices and born politicians.
To collect these stories, Reeher interviewed legislators from the lower houses of Connecticut, New York and Vermont during the mid-1990s, and again in 2004 and 2005. The 1990s were a period, according to Reeher “when public respect for and trust in politicians and the political institutions they inhabit reached all-time lows.” He also surveyed 233 legislators in the same three states and collected data from official records on the characteristics, behavior and activities of legislators, both inside and outside the legislative chamber.
In this age of perceived scandal, distrust and suspicion surrounding politicians, Reeher argues against public cynicism about elected officials. The excerpts from his interviews provide a rarely afforded intimate look at these politicians. What emerges from these stories is a humane and believable portrait of public servants acting on behalf of the public good, a portrait that should provide some comfort, perhaps even inspiration, for citizens concerned about the state of American democracy.