I just took a job with a returning legislator as a legislative director. The job is a good one, and my new boss is a decent guy. But I just got a call from an incoming freshman who said he wants me to be his chief of staff. What should I do?
–Conflicted in Carmichael
Before I address this issue, let me first just thank everyone who took time out from their jobs, their bookies, and their bar stools to get out and take part in our democracy on Tuesday. To those of you who couldn’t be bothered, even during the break to clean the lanes and change the PBR kegs a Kings County Bowl, I hope you aren’t writing in and expecting any pearls of wisdom from Big Daddy.
Now, as for you, “Conflicted”: Son, I’ve got to hand it to you. It’s barely two days after the election and already you’ve got a case of buyer’s remorse and potentially have screwed up your future employment. Strong work. Were you an adviser on the Bustamante for insurance commissioner campaign?
No matter. You’re in the situation you’re in. Now, what do we do about it?
To state the obvious, you’ve got two choices: staying or going. What you want to know is will you be grinding your teeth, chaffing at your decision if you decide to stay put, or is there a way to leave without, frankly, pissing off the member and the chief of staff who hired you?
By accepting the job with the returning lawmaker, you’ve bought the Ford Taurus, put on the old tennis shoes, and decided to turn a long-time friendship with a woman into one that covers dinner, breakfast, and everything in between. None of it may be new, exciting, challenging, or, well,
particularly hot, but it’s easy, reliable, safe, and comfortable.
Now, the red Ferrari has zipped by, complete with a driver in six-inch heels and a skirt that would barely qualify as a handkerchief in Big Daddy’s day.
As ear-shatteringly, back-scratchingly exciting as the opportunity to be a chief of staff for an untested, unproven freshman Assemblyman might be, making the move carries the huge potential downside that can best be summed up by asking yourself, “What if the person is a lunatic?”
Over the past decade-and-a-half, ever since the advent of term limits, there’s a dance that happens every two years that goes something like this:
Freshman lawmaker is elected, ready to think deep thoughts but has no idea what being an Assemblyperson really entails. Freshman lawmaker, having no idea what their job is, interviews potential staff members even though they have no idea what staff members do or what separates a good one from the paper-hat-wearing clerk at the drive-thru. Freshman lawmaker, afraid of missing out on good staff, and staff fearful of not landing a job, marries after one date. Freshman lawmaker or staff, after spending three months of living together, realizes they just can’t handle having the other one squeezing the toothpaste out of the middle of the tube, so they divorce.
That “devil you don’t know” scenario is all too common in the halls of the Capitol, which argues for sticking with the Ford Taurus and keeping the cruise control
Now, what if you’ve checked out the incoming freshman who has offered you a job and are truly convinced they use utensils to eat with, don’t need to drop campaign cash to find their way back from the men’s room, and are smart enough to avoid indictment?
Well, that puts you in a bit of a pickle, since you would effectively have to break your word to the person you just accepted a job with in order to take this new, loftier, and potentially higher-paying position. If this new job were in Hartford, it would be an easy decision to make, since you’d never cross paths with your former boss. However, as you know, the Capitol is a small space, both physically and socially, and it gets even smaller when you’re trying to avoid running into one particular person.
In Big Daddy’s day, a man’s word was his bond. I realize things have changed under the dome since then. Now, sadly, it seems that far too often, a man’s word is only good until the next time he runs into a lobbyist in the can.
Son, I know what you ought to do and if you reach down inside yourself, you’ll know what you ought to do, too. The question is, are you man enough to do it?
Your chance to be a chief of staff will come soon enough. Right now, the Capitol is crying out for more people to actually step up and have their word actually mean something. Are you ready to be one of them? Let’s hope so.