July 24, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C.–Politicians are people, too. Unfortunately, in today’s highly partisan environment that can be hard to remember. Cable news fosters the idea that officeholders, especially those in the other party, are worthy of our derision, rather than our respect or empathy.

Two incidents of the last week have reminded me of the fragility of the human experience. These tragedies have impacted human beings, human beings who happen to be involved in politics.

John Lewis was a colleague of mine in the U.S. House. He was a civil rights legend and, along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of the “Big Six” leaders who guided the peaceful civil rights movement of the 1960s. John and I often disagreed on policy, but I greatly respected his rejection of both violence and toxic political rhetoric.

Late last year John was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. He battled for more than six months. During that time, his trips to the House floor grew less common, but when he was present he was beset by questions and well-wishes from colleagues on both sides of the aisle – men and women who had grown to care for John, regardless of their political differences.

Closer to home, Billie and Kelsea Sutton have been involved in their community and in statewide politics. They have an adorable son Liam. Earlier this month they welcomed daughter Lenore Antonia into the world. A week later, Lenore passed.

I got to know Billie in Pierre when we both served in state government. When I read the news about his daughter, my heart ached. It still aches. I can’t imagine the pain he and Kelsea must be feeling.

The scope of their tragedy isn’t changed because of how Billie might have voted on a bill five years ago. Their mourning is real regardless of what bumper stickers they have on their cars.

Modern politics has plenty of hate and anger. This week I’m trying to remember that John Lewis’s family and Billie, Kelsea and Liam Sutton are real people, worthy of our condolences and empathy.

Politicians are people, too.