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.”
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 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.
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.”
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.