Colorado Common Cause honors democracy champions

Colorado Common Cause held its Champions for Democracy lunch today in Denver, attracting members and others interested in Colorado civics. From left to right, attorney Scott Martinez, Amber McReynolds, executive director of National Vote at Home Institute and Coalition, Roy Wardell, who joined the national Common Cause organization when it was founded in 1970, and Amanda Gonzalez, the executive director of Colorado Common Cause. (SOS photo)

A 77-year-old man who was a charter member of Common Cause when it formed in 1970 became emotional today when he was honored by the Colorado chapter of the grassroots organization.

Roy Wardell, who now lives in Platteville, was a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin in 1970 when he saw an ad in the Capital Times about being a “member of the people’s lobby.” And so he signed up.

Since then, Wardell has served on the board of Common Cause in Minnesota and in Colorado, starting in 2009 through the beginning of this year.

“I am so proud of what Common Cause does,” Wardell said, when he gained his composure. “Don’t miss a chance to support the kind of work Common Cause does.”

Joe Zimlich, one of three chairs of Fair Maps Colorado, accepts an award for the group from Colorado Common Cause. (SOS photo)

He addressed Colordo Common Cause at Dazzle restaurant in downtown Denver, where the organization held its its third  annual Champions for Democracy awards.

One award was presented to Fair Maps Colorado, the coalition that helped put two measures on the Nov. 6 ballot aimed at bringing fairness and transparency to the job of redrawing legislative and congressional boundaries every 10 years.

Accepting the Champions of Democracy award for Fair Maps Colorado was one of its three chairs, Democrat Joe Zimlich. The other chairs are Republican Heidi Ganal and Kent Thiry, who is unaffiliated.

“This is really an award that should be shared with Common Cause because you were integral in bringing together groups with competing initiatives, forging the compromise that became the Yes on Y and Z campaigns, putting the interests of Coloradans ahead of the interests of politicians and partisans,” he said.

The Denver Post and The Colorado Sun have written about the extraordinary efforts to bring diverse groups together to find a fairer and better way to redraw the maps.

The other Champion of Democracy award was presented posthumously to Gary Fornander, who served on the board for nearly a quarter of a century and died in February at the age of 71.

Chris Fornander, the daughter of the late Gary Fornander, who served on the board of Colorado Common Cause for 23 years, talks about how much the organization meant to him. From left to right, Amanda Gonzalez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, former board chairwoman Nan Morehead, Fornander, her brother John and their sibling Nancy. (SOS photo)

It was presented to his three children by former Common Cause board chairman Nan Moorehead. She said for 23 years their father drove from Colorado Springs to Denver while serving in various roles on the board. Fornander was, Morehead said, the “Common Cause axiom of one person really making a difference.”

Chris Fornander said the organization meant so much to her father.

“He talked about it all the time,” she said, “and he impressed upon us many of these principles.”

Jeff Hart, the chairman of the board of Colorado Common Cause, and the group’s former executive director, Elena Nunez, who now is with the national organization. (SOS photo)

Attorney Martha Tierney, chair of the national governing board of Common Cause and a member of Colorado Common Cause’s board for nearly 20 years, presented two service awards.

One went to Wardell, whom Tierney described as a “committed, generous and wonderful friend of Common Cause for almost 50 years.” The other went to Elena Nunez, the former executive director of the state’s Common Cause, who now works for the national organization.

“I’ve been in the trenches with Elena,” Tierney said, “and I wouldn’t want to be there with anyone else.”

Karen Hobert-Flynn, the president of the national Common Cause, singled out Colorado and its “tremendous record of reform” during her keynote address, saying its efforts helped make votes and meetings more transparent.

Colorado Common Cause in 1972 successfully pushed the Sunshine Law, requiring that all meetings of two or more members of any state public body where any public business is discussed must be open to the public.

Amanda Gonzalez, the executive director of the state group, talked about its achievements this year, including the passage of two legislative measures backed by Secretary of State Wayne Williams that deal with elections and voting. The bills were designed to make Colorado’s elections even more accurate, accessible and transparent.

Various Colorado Secretary of State staffers, members of Colorado Common Cause, and others look on earlier this year while elections measures they championed are signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper. (SOS photo)

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