Editorial | The Leader Seniors Deserve

November 28, 2012 

Glenn McConnell doesn’t sit on his hands. He doesn’t tread water. He doesn’t wait around for something to do. Given a role, he throws himself headfirst into doing it as well as he can. That’s what we’ve learned from watching his tenure thus far as lieutenant governor.

Thrust into a job he never wanted, McConnell turned his energy, intelligence and political clout to helping the state’s senior citizens, with passion and dedication.

“I was a very sad guy on March 13 when I took the oath of office,” he said Tuesday night.

McConnell was forced into the position by the resignation of Ken Ard, who left office in March after being convicted of ethics violations. It says much about McConnell’s sense of honor that he took the position at all. Many had urged him to resign as Senate president and run for his seat again rather than give up that powerful job for the largely ceremonial one of lieutenant governor. He repeated this week that he did not feel he could honorably fight for following the state’s constitution if he himself sidestepped it.

With such a beginning to his new job, it would have been understandable if McConnell were less than enthusiastic about his new duties. On the contrary, he said he now feels blessed to have been given the chance to lead the agency. It’s a credit to McConnell that he has become so personally involved in helping senior citizens. Until he took on his new role, McConnell said, “the Office of Aging was no more than a line item in the budget.” That’s certainly no longer the case.

Speaking Tuesday night, McConnell was obviously well acquainted with the realities of his new job. He spoke of his staff quizzing him and each other about Medicare and Medicaid rules during car trips, recounted numerous personal visits to elderly clients of aging services and discussed in detail the challenges that face the state and the agency in the years to come.

Nobody really expects the lieutenant governor to take such an active role. The job of overseeing the Office of Aging in many ways has seemed to be just busywork in the past, given to the lieutenant governor’s office about a decade ago to make the often superfluous lieutenant governor look as if he was doing something when he wasn’t waiting for the governor to become incapacitated. The Office on Aging has its own director, who oversees its day-to-day functioning, and it’s left to the lieutenant governor to decide how much energy to devote to his titular duties as head of the agency.

That makes McConnell’s leadership all the more laudable. When he started learning about the issues and problems that seniors face, he was appalled, he said the state has “no strategic plan, no vision, no framework” for dealing with the enormous problem that’s coming down the pike. As a result, he’s traveling the state to create just such a strategic plan.

He is aided by his considerable political capital and contacts, which he’s using to further his advocacy, asking for more money in the state budget to clear up a backlog of requests for aid and making sure somebody from the Office on Aging is at the table whenever legislation or regulations that affect seniors comes up.

McConnell, who will turn 65 in December, is working on short-term and long-term goals. He is clearly passionate about not only filling time until his term is up, but doing his job as well as possible.

In fact, he has said he’ll run for another term as lieutenant governor in 2014 if he doesn’t feel his work is finished. Seniors will be forgiven if they begin hoping that will be the case.

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