The Three P’s of Local Politics: Persona, Perception and Popularity

I overheard an interesting conversation yesterday. Yes, I realize eavesdropping is an unladylike behavior.  So is beer drinking, eating with your fingers, and stuffing your purse full of pilfered Sweet-n-Low.  Since I already have those strikes against me, I figured I’ve done shot my ladyhoodness all to hell.   I may as well hear what’s going on.

The mouth movers were discussing Sheriff Roger Christian, and the identity of one mouth-mover (a former Christian supporter) had me inching closer.  I was forced to feign a coughing fit when I heard this dismissive statement:  “Eh, we need to figure out who’s running next because Roger’s already “jackassed” himself out of a second term.”

Now, I will admit that I am not a big fan of Roger Christian.  My first encounter with him as a media person was rather off-putting and unpleasant.  Questions are though: 1) Can “jackass” be used as verb and (2) does Roger Christian’s declining popularity influence his ability to be a strong and effective leader?

I say yes to both, and here is why:

Christian’s department productivity is on an even keel.  The budgetary belt has been tightened.  The Great and Powerful Rog has not only brought the budget in unmarred by red ink but also secured new equipment and grant funding for his department.   And as far as I know, he hasn’t been dating a porn star, ripping off Wal-Mart, forging documents, using drugs, abusing women nor is he pushing a resolution to bring back firing squads, public hangings or school segregation.  By local standards, the guy is doing slightly better than fair-to-middlin’.

Nevertheless, officers are still leaving the department in a mass exodus and former supporters defecting at record-breaking speed and shooting him the evil eye on the street.  Why?   It’s simple. They don’t like him.

No matter how competent he is, folks don’t cotton to demanding, stern, aloof and unyielding leadership. Despite their claims to the contrary: they don’t want the all Great and Powerful Rog.  They want the man behind the curtain: the approachable, courteous, and fair man.  They want a reflection of their good-hearted and down-to-earth selves: and Christian simply does not portray himself as such.

Christian also lost a great deal of support due to his treatment of Ronnie Lawson, the former chief deputy and 2006 GOP opponent.  Immediately after taking office, Christian eliminated the Chief Deputy position (Lawson’s) to free up funding for road officers.  Months later, in a far less publicized move, Christian booted senior detective and long-time officer Lawson back to patrol.  Christian was acting well within his rights as an elected sheriff, however, in absence of allegations of misconduct, dereliction of duty or or poor job performance, the move struck a sour note with many voters, who had crossed party lines to vote for him because they wanted a Sheriff who wouldn’t grant too many favors or grind too many axes.

Christian also lacks any real finesse in dealing with the media. Unlike the former office holders, Christian comes across as succinct, humorless and uncharismatic. He doles out facts and tends to claim the credit on behalf of his department – without publicly acknowledging individual efforts.   His failure to recognize the achievements of his department as separate from himself has helped flush his popularity ratings amongst  law enforcement families down the toilet.  His media persona, however,  has alienated the people who previously didn’t know him well enough to dislike him.

The truth is Roger Christian has the potential to be an outstanding 2 term Sheriff – but he won’t be because he’s jackassed himself out of (Re)public(an) favor.  So, he’ll spend this term struggling to manage a staff/public who dislikes him… then he’ll retire.

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