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Public Service Workers Deserve Our Respect

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Editor’s note: This column appeared originally in Governing magazine.

During this devastating hurricane season, with storm after storm battering the southern United States and Puerto Rico, some people have risen heroically to the occasion.

As Hurricane Harvey bore down on Texas in late August, corrections officers safely evacuated roughly 4,500 inmates from three prisons without a single incident. Cory Marshall, who works in maintenance for a water treatment plant in Houston, used a dump truck to rescue a pregnant woman, getting her to the hospital for the delivery of a healthy baby. Also in Houston, nurses at the county hospital worked for days in a row with minimal breaks. They didn't want to leave their patients even though they were worried about the safety of their own homes and families.

When Irma slammed into south Florida in September, a Miami 311 operator named Lorraine Brown fielded calls throughout the weekend, talking to anxious people and making sure their requests were routed appropriately. "I'm not leaving until maybe Monday at the earliest," Brown said. With access to showers and food, she and her colleagues didn't see the need to go home. "We can sleep later," she added.

Puerto Rico now must dig out from the damage of two storms that struck just two weeks apart, Irma and Hurricane Maria. But the island is lucky to have people like Joseph L. Cortes Lugo on the job. Cortes Lugo, who works for the territory's Department of the Family, spent his birthday rounding up families for evacuation and preparing an emergency shelter to receive people seeking refuge from Irma.

All of these dedicated women and men work for government. They do tough jobs, for modest compensation and little recognition, which call on them to excel under often-difficult circumstances. Despite the challenges, they never quit. When disaster strikes, when property is damaged and lives hang in the balance, we all lean on public-service workers – we lean on government – to help our communities recover.

And yet, back in Washington and in too many state capitols, politicians are tripping over themselves to declare government the bogeyman.

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