From Asking the Tough Questions to Answering Them
When Lonnie Reed was on the other side of the interview mic, she was the one asking the tough questions.
As a former television journalist and documentarian, Reed used to think to herself, “I’d hate to be on the other side of this question. I don’t ever want to sit in that other chair.”
Becoming involved in government had never even crossed her mind. That is, until she became involved in issues near and dear to her heart. In January, she’ll start her third term as a Connecticut state representative.
Reed lives along the shoreline in Connecticut and got involved in environmental issues as a private citizen. She worked to build a coalition of people both in New York and Connecticut and created an organization that found common ground on both sides of the Long Island Sound.
After her neighbors saw the success she had with the issue, they asked her to run for town council. Then they asked her to run for the state House of Representatives.
“It is indeed different to be on this side of the equation, to actually be in the room with your colleagues where decisions are being made, where you’re trying to pull consensus together or trying to come up with a majority position on an issue,” she said.
One thing she learned that wasn’t so obvious when she was a reporter—the interplay between people’s personal perspectives and public perspectives.
“People have very, very passionate reasons why they believe the way they do,” she said. “Issue by issue, not just big picture stuff. Not just ideological stuff. That’s been very instructive.”
Most people, she said, want to work for the good of the people they serve.
“I find that there is a layer of people who are doing the party thing, no matter what party they’re in, but then they are desperately reaching out at a different level to find some common ground.”
She said it’s then important to share the accolades for success.
“The more you do that, I find you can be successful because people begin to trust you, that you’re not grandstanding or that you’re not just on some narcissistic ego trip,” she said, “that you’re really trying to do some effective public policy.
“That brings in a whole new level of cooperation from people who are also there just to do a good job, no matter what perspective they’re coming from.”
She takes that lesson from watching a member of her community, Eunice Lasala—one of those people who is involved in so much in the community but always makes sure others get the credit.
Her father, Paul Reed, also left an indelible mark on Lonnie Reed’s character. Not only did he stress rewarding people for what they’ve accomplished, but he also supported meritocracy—giving the job to the best people no matter their skin color, background, influence or connections.
Plus, he had a good sense of humor.
“I find I rely on that in the most stressful times,” she said. “I can hear my dad’s voice and I take a deep breath and I look around, get a sense of perspective, understand the big picture and I see the humor in every situation—I know that comes from my dad.”
Reed came to politics later in life and had a sense of who she was as well as a sense of perspective about government. She sees younger people coming into the legislature—some in their 20s—and she tells them to make sure they don’t neglect themselves.
“I always tell them to make sure they take care of their private lives as well,” she said. “Do not neglect the parts of your life that really help humanize you. Don’t become such a workaholic that you lose perspective.”
She tells them to take care of their family, friends and their lives, “not get so vacuumed into the vertigo that is politics that you lose a sense of it all.”
And, she said, they should rely on their knowledge base of what they truly care about, not live for two-second sound bites.
“If you know what you’re talking about and your big goal is to be on television, you’ll get your shot,” she said. “Don’t jump ahead of your knowledge base just to get some publicity. Really know what it is you care about in a real way.”