Institutionalized Office Holders, Candidates - ‘Why You Became a Cop’ and Who is Your Rollo Tomasi

October 11, 2017 |  

In a recent email exchange with a colleague, the topic of how politicians change from the time they become politically engaged, to the time they start campaigning, and if they are fortunate, get elected was discussed.

Anybody who has watched politics, especially if you have been involved in a local campaign, has seen this metamorphosis. The scenario goes something like this. 

A candidate becomes engaged politically for any variety of reasons. Maybe it is has been their lifelong ambition, or more typically, some action or potential action by a governing body or person that could profoundly affect their life pushes them into the arena.

Now if that person follows through, runs and is fortunate enough to get elected things change quickly. Once they become an elected official, and in some case even before they win the election, the realities of holding onto that office take hold and more base political instincts grip their every action.  

Those ideals may influence the elected official for a short time, but once they realize that they are unlikely to change the institution, they to change to conform to the institution. Much like lifers in San Quentin, they become institutionalized.

And like institutionalized individuals, they lose whatever hopes or ideals they had when entering office and quickly conform to their environment for survival. For the politician who came with noble intentions, this means shedding the ideals and doing whatever you can to stay because you now define your entire life by remaining in the institution.

Just like the tragic Brooks Hatlen character in the Shawshank Redemption knew all too well, once you leave the institution, your life outside the confines of those walls is turned upside down. Inside Shawshank, Hatlen was a respected man, but outside he was just another face in the crowd. 

The same is true for politicians. 

People in Elk Grove do not have to look far for an example of a former elected official who just can’t help by trying to insert themselves back into local politics by a self-bestowed emeritus title or other desperate attention grabbing antics. While other former Elk Grove officeholders faded from the public light after their release from the institution, voluntarily or not, some just have no such grace.

This brings us to another movie, or at least a segment of a movie that we urge politicians to view. That movie is LA Confidential.

In one scene towards the end of the movie, among the numerous morally compromised characters is Lt. Edmund Exley who asks Det. Sgt. Jack Vincennes a question in the hopes of enlisting his help. The Exley character, who is seeking moral redemption, asks the flawed Spacey, who is questioning his actions that resulted in the death of young man, a poignant question – “Do you remember why you became a cop?”  

In a display of brilliant acting by Kevin Spacey, who played Vincennes, goes silent, lets out a breath, and sadly says “No.”

Likewise, we urge every politician and fresh office seekers on a daily basis to ponder the poignant question – do you remember why you sought office? 

Who, or what is your Rollo Tomasi?

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