Once again, an Indiana politician has made national news.
And — once again — not in a good way.
U.S. Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Indiana, drew the spotlight this time. She has earned the dubious distinction of being named the worst boss in Congress. She won the honor by having the worst staff turnover of any member of the U.S. House of Representatives or U.S. Senate.
Politico — a news website — decided to dig a little deeper. It talked to former Spartz staffers and Republican leaders in Congress, who apparently tried to intervene a couple of times to keep the Indiana congresswoman from abusing the people who work for her.
Well, actually they work for the people of the state of Indiana — as does Spartz.
More on that in a moment.
What Politico turned up resembled something out of a situation comedy. Former Spartz staffers and GOP officials reported that the congresswoman routinely screams at subordinates and calls them “idiots” and “morons.” She also so often changes her mind without telling anyone and then berates staffers for not anticipating her wavering thoughts that they have taken to making audio recordings of her instructions as proof that they followed them.
After Politico published its story, others followed suit. Our congresswoman even made People magazine.
Spartz’s response to the reports was self-justifying blather that evaded the issue.
"I'm grateful to my current and former staff. I work extremely hard at a pace that is not for everyone. I remain focused on working hard for the people of Indiana,” she said in a prepared statement.
Ah, yes, the “I’m-working-so-hard-that-I-don’t-have-time-to-be-a-decent-human-being” defense.
Sadly, Spartz is not the first Indiana elected official to think that holding office in a democratic republic entitled one to treat subordinates like serfs in a feudal society.
Some years ago, before he was a relentlessly grasping and ambitious Indiana attorney general, Todd Rokita was a relentlessly grasping and ambitious member of Indiana’s congressional delegation. He pulled together a memo then for staff conduct that resembled something Robespierre might have drafted at the height of the reign of terror.
Among its milder instructions was an admonition that staff members were not to make eye contact with his holiness—er, then-Rep. Rokita.
I don’t know where we find these people.
Well, that’s a lie.
I do know where we find them.
Indiana is one of the most heavily gerrymandered states in the union. Republicans have drafted maps that favor their candidates with such surgical precision that the real races in most legislative districts are in the primaries. The contest in those primaries is often between one candidate who is extreme and maladjusted and another who is even more extreme and maladjusted.
This has resulted in an Indiana General Assembly and a Hoosier congressional delegation heavily populated with cranks and ne’er-do-wells who tend to think of consulting the people whom they are supposed to represent as a massive inconvenience.
Because aspiring politicians know that an initial victory is a ticket to a perpetual seat dining at the public trough — so long as one doesn’t make the mistake of seeming reasonable and respectful, that is — every boob and incompetent around sees elected office as a fine way to express irrational resentments or seek succor for unresolved issues of self-esteem.
It is an absurd system — not least because it gives us folks such as Victoria Spartz and Todd Rokita.
Spartz was a successful businesswoman. Like so many people in the business world, she apparently thought success in one thing made her an expert in all things — and thus gave her the right to abuse anyone who did not demonstrate obeisance to her incredible intelligence and acumen.
Rokita has demonstrated little more in his public career than a desperate hunger to gain whatever office might be available to him. (He once launched three different campaigns in one year.) It’s as if he thinks winning a popular vote somehow validates him and his conduct.
The common denominator here is that we have elected officials who think people exist to serve them rather than the other way around.
In theory, the congresswoman, the attorney general and their staffers all have the same boss.
The people of Indiana and the United States.
The license we give to our elected officials is one designed to allow them to serve.
Not to bully.
But to serve.
John Krull is director of Franklin College's Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.