Dear Big Daddy,
I've only been here a few months, and I have come up against a social
problem. How do I deal with lame ducks? It's embarrassing dealing with
people who are going to be gone pretty soon. I see them in the halls and I
don't know whether to say "hi" or "goodbye." Is there a special lame-duck
First, a tip of the hat to you for being concerned about protocol.
Big Daddy was never one to stand on a lot of ceremony, but back in the day,
the list of unwritten rules was a short but important one that everyone paid
attention to if they wanted to survive. These days as I sit here and watch
the (delete expletive from family newspaper) fights on Monkey Island, all I
can do is wonder why the hell we never wrote those rules down and tattooed
them to the forehead of every newly-elected incoming assemblyperson.
I hate to admit it, but being a lame duck is possibly one of the worst
feelings in the world. I'd rather sit through a mind-numbing Assembly floor
debate on the merits of licensing horse massagers than have to go through
You're dealing with three sets of lame ducks right now:
First is the Big Daddy-esque class, those who aren't returning to their
current seats but who have won their primary race for statewide office or
for another legislative seat. These folks are optimistic about their future
and, while their hopes may be dashed, they won't be out of the Capitol until
November when you'll be walking precincts in Merced and re-living your
college days at a Super 8 Motel. These are the folks you should treat as
well as possible, since they are potential future employers.
Second is the class of folks who are termed out of office with nowhere to
go, at least not until a particular Assembly, Senate, city council, or board
of supervisors seat opens up in a year or two. Now, they've known for some
time they won't be returning, so chances are they're still pretty focused on
their jobs and the fact that they'll have to find something else to do next
year probably won't hit them until someone stops by their house to pick up
their leased car and until the per diem payments stop flowing. I don't think
you have to treat them any differently than you do now.
Your biggest challenge comes with the lamest of the lame ducks, those poor
souls who thought they were moving onto bigger and better things, only to be
pink-slipped by the voters in the June primary. Those are the people who
probably have tongue-tied you the most. Here's a tip: Don't feel the need
to offer up some comment to lift their spirits, like, "I wish you'd won" or
"I voted for you" or "Too bad about what happened" or "What are you going to
do now?" That's not helpful. Just because there's an elephant in the room
doesn't mean you have to be the first one to point it out.
Best advice I can give you is to take the "When in Rome" approach and never
make the first move. If they're sour and depressed, then you're sour and
depressed. If they're upbeat and wanting to talk about the woman they met,
the craps game they're hosting or the color they're painting their dining
room, then you're broad, crap or paint focused.
Attention to protocol. It's a lost art and someday you'll be rewarded for
your attention to this dying tradition.