Elected officials have a very narrow range of political options

By Ken Gordon

Editor's Note: The following column was written by former Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon on Nov. 10, 2009.

The other day I got a ticket for speeding near a school. I’m not complaining. I deserved it. I hadn’t gotten a ticket for many years and I hadn’t noticed that the speed limit had dropped on that section of the road. The amount of the fine though was surprising — $230. The Denver police officer even apologized. “The reason it is so high is because this is a school zone.”

As I was driving away I realized that I was the one who sponsored the legislation that doubled the fines near schools.

Democracy doesn’t just happen. Too many Americans feel that working for policies that are wise and just is someone else’s job. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The lack of participation of ordinary Americans in our political system creates a vacuum that is filled by special interests who selfishly seek only their own advantage.

Because the primary method of financing political campaigns is by contributions from these interests, reforming health care, protecting the environment, or regulating Wall Street face almost insurmountable difficulties. Since they do not want to alienate their contributors, elected officials have a very narrow range of political options.

Frequently doing the right thing does not fall within that narrow range.

Because I cared about protecting Colorado’s beautiful but threatened environment, educating our children, and providing a health care safety net, I spent a large amount of my time in the legislature working on process issues, such as reducing the influence of money and increasing the participation of citizens. My one consistent ally in this fight was Colorado Common Cause. After I left the legislature I joined the board.

There is no other organization in Colorado which is as determined to protect your rights as a citizen, rights that millions have sacrificed for.

Below is a quote from a recent Wall Street Journal column discussing the importance of funding groups like Common Cause.

“A related problem is the shortage of funds for advocacy and watchdog organizations that monitor and assess government policies, public agencies, nonprofits, business and other major institutions. Among such watchdogs:... Common Cause... if we want a healthy and vibrant democracy, one that honors fair play and accountability, we must establish and support more watchdog groups to patrol our vast number of public and private-sector organizations.” (Wall Street Journal, “What’s Wrong With Charitable Giving...” November 9, 2009).