Michael Leppert has power — and so does his new book: Contrary to Popular Belief: A Chronicle of a Progressive in Indiana. NUVO caught up with the governmental affairs and communications consultant to chat politics and being offensive.
Editor's note: Leppert has written for NUVO in the past.
Nuvo: Where does your talent of delivering an impassioned opinion that may provoke just a sense of crabbiness instead of blind rage come from?
My wife and I were just discussing this not so long ago. I've always been interested in debate and disagreement as well as discussion. Early in my career, I was a counselor at the Indiana Boys School — long before I was a lobbyist. I'd help my charges tackle daily life stressors, and I became good at helping, at seeing multiple angles of issues. Also, I decided at some point not to be the one to end the conversation. The stomp off the stage and mic drop moments are actually rare and they're usually unproductive. I like provoking conversation and making people think, and so I like to keep it going. When there's a mic drop, the conversation ends. And if you become offensive, really offensive, that is, you get tuned out so much faster. I'm always respectful and there's no name calling. Especially with elected officials. These are the people who were elected by some of our citizens and so they deserve respect, even if they do dumb things. And I won't lie — I can be hot-tempered. It doesn't come easy, always keeping things even when engaged in a heated discussion.
Nuvo: Do you feel citizens require too much or too little of their lawmakers? Expectations too high or too low?
I don't think they expect nearly enough of our elected officials. The bar needs to be raised because we can do more. People should expect more. However, I think too much is expected of our politicians as people. Way too much, in fact. The expectations of purity and mistake-free living is just off-the-chart silly.
We can do more as public servants. The public needs to get over mistakes people made years ago, or personal mistakes, say a divorce or an addiction. Great people can do good and great things even if they have personal flaws — the same type of flaws citizens and voters have. Raise the bar for the level of performance and lower it for personal baggage.
Nuvo: You write about the "perception of harm" in your book — in the last two years, is there anything you once thought harmless but now understand to be harmful?
Yes. There are tiny, undisciplined wrongs in political systems. And they may be isolated incidents but they erode at the purity of process and public trust. When I was younger, I was very cavalier about it all and followed the rules to the letter and thought they were there for the right reasons. There were no worries I would cross a line, morally, ethically, or criminally; I knew my heart was in the right place. I had to pay attention to detail because it's not just about me, but it's also about the next guy.
Nuvo: After reading your column "A Bad Day for Women (and Men)" — I was struck by its power. Do you have words of wisdom in follow-up to this piece for those of us who feel the same way about the news of Brock Turner's early release?
I worry that not everyone in the American public understands what a heinous crime rape is. When I mentioned I was a counselor, at the Boys School, then later I became an administrator, often many of my students were sex offenders. I learned a lot at that time, and I learned that there is no more heinous a crime than rape. There is no one more dangerous to our culture than someone who commits rape. Everyone is entitled to a defense, but I have a hard time believing those who defend him saying this was a one-time thing, that there were mitigating circumstances. I have a hard time with that response.
I could not care less about Turner's position. The fact is he's a rapist. I've seen harsher sentencing for drug abuse and addiction — so as I see it, we need to quit sentencing people because we're mad at them. We have anger at problems and sometimes that anger is taken out in sentencing. Other people are spending life behind bars who are not dangerous and Brock Turner only gets three months? That's not even a hockey season. What he did is a dangerous crime and it needs to be treated like it is.