I read recently in an article in Gentleman’s Journal that “the greatest occupational hazard of politics is vanity,” Edwina Currie explains. “It makes you forget what life was like before, and leaves you bereft when things suddenly disappear. What gets people into politics is a desire to change something. What makes people stay in politics is their ego.”
For the past few months, I have experienced the many milestones of exiting public life, and for my colleagues still serving the people, know that it is bittersweet, scary and exhilarating all at the same time.
The media portrayed the decision to pull my name from the ballot and to not seek re-election as “difficult” and there is no question the decision was hard. However, weighing options and making a choice keeps you so busy for a period that you don’t realize what is about to happen.
Then, you make a media announcement and there are a lot of things that go along with that. After a flurry of interviews and explaining to many people why you have made your decision, things calm down. You return to work ready to catch up, and you realize your calendar that previously filled months in advance has open spots from 1–4 p.m. most afternoons, and your invites to chicken dinners begin to slow, if not stall altogether.
For the first time in nearly a decade I realized I didn’t have cable. We cut the cord a long time ago, but just recently I learned shows like ER and Crossing Jordan went off television and TV is no longer dominated by 48-minute dramas containing 12 minutes of commercial interruption. I vaguely remember having hobbies but haven’t done any of them in my adult life.
I left politics to focus on family. I’m excited by that prospect and this past summer within days of announcing my retirement, I felt like I had spent infinitely more quality time with Becky, Pierce and Preston.
As a Republican, I guess I should also mention the “elephant in the room.” I left public life because I wasn’t the best version of myself. Stress had taken over my life and my only escape was alcohol. I wasn’t the best husband, father or legislator when I was drinking on the regular, and I knew I could do better. That is why I spent June at Recovery Centers of America, learning that rehab isn’t for quitters. I’ll struggle to some extent with addiction every day for the rest of my life. I didn’t lose a race, as many politicians fear they will, but I didn’t leave completely of my own accord.
My life before politics was filled with many career experiences. I started working selling cellular telephones at 12. At 16 I worked at a funeral home. My public service background included time as an intern and employee at the Fayette Chamber of Commerce. I tell my friends I spent two summers and a winter as an iron worker (I was actually in commercial construction). I’ve been spinning records at grad parties, weddings and bar mitzvahs since before I could drive. I’ve done marketing and public relations; co-authored a book; been an event planner; and rented tables, chairs and tents. I’ve never quit any job and dabble from time to time in all those industries. A positive is, with a resume like that, you have plenty of options. I’ve been outlining a new book and have been tooling a potential radio show.
One thing I know for sure is that I feel compelled to continue to live a life of service. That’s an important distinction. I could quietly ride off into the sunset and memories of my time in office will eventually fade from my constituents’ minds. But that won’t be enough.
I’m a social creature who feeds off the energy of others. I am someone concerned with my legacy, but I hope that isn’t just vanity. I long to be remembered for bringing about change while holding the line on our values and way of life. I’ve given that my best crack and was constantly honored to have the opportunity.
As I prepare to leave office at the end of the month and realize the importance of meeting with me will only further deteriorate after the outcome of the election, I would like to ask for a favor. Please continue to realize that many of those with the courage to put their name on the ballot to serve are great people (regardless of party). As a people we tend to buy into the theory that government is bad, and politicians are corrupt. In reality, it is amazing that government can be as good and productive as it is, and many politicians are just average Americans looking to leave their communities just a little better than we found them.
As I write I am faced with a kaleidoscope of emotions, but one that continues to surface vividly is gratitude. I am thankful every day for the fact that my friends and neighbors sent me, a kid from Uniontown, to Harrisburg to represent nearly 13 million of you. I could not have done it without an impeccable support system of friends, family and supporters. Rebecca, my boys, my parents and others have sacrificed a great deal to allow me to serve the community, and this is the time that I plan to reward them with the time and attention they deserve.
My friends and neighbors, know that on Dec. 1, while I may no longer be “Representative Matthew Dowling” I will continue to be the Matt that has lived across town or down the street for the past nearly 40 years. I will miss you. I have come to love you. I will pray for you. And I am still just a phone call away if I can ever be of assistance.
Until we meet again.
Matthew Dowling served the 51st Legislative district of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in Fayette and Somerset counties for three terms. He has worked in television, radio and as an author. A Fayette County native, Matt graduated from Uniontown High School. A husband and father of two, he is proud of his legislative record and exploring new opportunities. You can write him at info@MatthewDDowling.com.
Representative Matthew Dowling
51st Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
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