Of the people, for the people | AspenTimes.com

Of the people, for the people

Ken Gordon
Aspen, CO Colorado

As we start a new legislative session we can expect elected leaders and special interests to face intense scrutiny. Yet there is an indispensable group rarely noticed and whose actions almost never receive any critical examination: the people of Colorado.

It is understandable that politicians are reluctant to criticize voters. Imagine the following, not completely apocryphal, conversation.

Candidate: “Someone criticizes every position I take. The people want small classes, affordable in-state college tuition, a robust health care safety net and well-maintained roads and bridges. They vote for these costly services every time they get a chance, and then they vote for lower taxes every time they get a chance. They are inconsistent. Only half of them vote on a good day. And then they elect candidates who tell them they can have something for nothing. I’m going to tell the people that the reason this country is in such a mess is because of them.”

Campaign Manager: “Mr. Candidate … uh … that would be a good idea if … you were crazy.”

Let’s strike a bargain and consider dividing responsibilities.

Elected officials: will listen to input from the public and experts. They will read the studies, examine the facts and negotiate in good faith with people who disagree. They will be honest, and not hesitate to point out when something is not possible. They will not avoid wrestling with unpleasant facts and tough choices by finding an “enemy” that everyone can blame. They will not sell their souls to special interests for campaign contributions.

The people: will keep up with public events to a sufficient degree to make intelligent choices when they vote. They will not be persuaded by special-interest financed, mindless television ads, where a candidate stands in front of a mountain and says, “I care about Colorado.” They will be logical, and not reward politicians who promise them inconsistent outcomes. They will not support the candidate backed by their own special interest for selfish reasons. They will think about the general welfare as well.

Here is an example that highlights the problem:

Prior to Columbine, buyers at a federally-licensed gun store had background checks to determine if they were felons or had been adjudicated as dangerous to themselves or others. Most people, including many in the NRA, found this reasonable. However, guns were sold at gun shows without background checks. Harris and Klebold bought at a gun show because they were too young to buy at a store, and the 18-year-old woman who accompanied them didn’t want to subject herself to a background check.

After Columbine, I sponsored the bill to require background checks at gun shows.

At a social event a woman came up to me and said, “Are you carrying that background check bill?”


“Is it going to pass?”


She got upset. “How is that possible? Everyone knows that the guns used at Columbine came from a gun show. Why isn’t it going to pass?” She was angry and, because I was there, she was angry at me.

“Do you know who your state representative is?”


“That’s why the bill won’t pass.”

We have a government that doesn’t function like the one you learned about in high school. Leaders rarely take courageous stands against special interests, and the people don’t reward the occasional acts of courage because they aren’t aware of them.

Our leaders need to be more principled ” that is true ” but the people need to recognize and reward principled behavior.

In a democracy the people will not find their leaders to be intelligent, honest and courageous, if they have not first found those qualities in themselves.

“You can’t count on people voting,” veteran Sen. Joe Payne (Claude Rains) explains to rookie Sen. Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart) on why politicians have to play ball with corrupt interests, in the movie “Mr. Smith goes to Washington.”

“They don’t vote half the time, anyway.”

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