On public service, mental health challenges, and knowing when to STFU

By now, we who pay attention to Texas politics have all heard the story.

An elected official mysteriously disappears for weeks. Rumors abound. When the official re-surfaces, there are acknowledgements of terrible bouts with depression, attempts at treatment, and working to get better and return to the job.

And yet, nobody gets in the newspaper calling for that official’s resignation.

Wait – did you think I was talking about the situation surrounding Republican Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk?

Nope. I was talking about Democratic State Representative Garnet Coleman of Houston. Mr. Coleman suffered from his own debilitating condition, disappeared from view for a time, fought his way back, and has since for years been an absolutely essential voice in so many policy discussions that I’ve lost track. He is deeply-respected by members of both political parties.

I’m not spilling any state secrets here – he has been very open about his situation in his years-long efforts to advocate for progress on mental health issues.

By my memory, no high officials in the Texas Republican Party called for Representative Coleman to resign. Maybe they did and I just missed it. But if they had, and if he’d heeded those calls, the state of Texas would have missed out on Coleman’s hefty accomplishments, which include increasing access to health care for more than 600,000 children on Medicaid, securing an increase of more than $161 million dollars for at-risk child care services, and co-authoring the legislation that brought the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to Texas. Those are just the top-lines to Coleman’s public service. You can read more about Mr. Coleman and his accomplishments here.

On the issue of Dallas County D.A. Hawk, however, immediately following her disappearance from public view, and subsequent disclosure that she’s in treatment for her own mental health issues, Dallas County Democratic Chairwoman Carol Donovan wasted no time in calling for Hawk’s resignation. It was a classless move, and Donovan should be ashamed of herself.

Donovan couched her statement in terms of being concerned for Hawk’s well-being:

In view of the facts that have just recently been revealed, Susan owes it to herself, not to mention her nearly 500 employees and the taxpayers, to resign and to concentrate on getting well.

Donovan might  be practicing psychiatry without a license. Alternatively, she might be committing political malpractice with her own acute political tone-deafness condition. And, incidentally, unless Donovan can point us to where she was quoted calling on Representative Coleman to resign when he was in the midst of his own difficulties, she’s also being hypocritical. In any event, she seems to have accomplished nothing other than to increase the already-existing stigma associated with mental health issues.

For all I know, Susan Hawk might be the worst District Attorney in the history of the office. But it will be the State Bar of Texas which rightfully determines whether she is fit for the practice of law, and it is for Ms. Hawk and the medical professionals of her choice to determine the best course for her treatment.

Meanwhile, please let this be a reminder to politicos that, sometimes, the very best thing to say is nothing, and the best way to react is with kindness, not shrill political hackery clumsily worded to mimic concern.

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