Sunday, July 25, 2010

Issues Belong to the People Not the Parties!

When I have been on face book lately I have noticed an opportunity to add my support for "Emily's List". According to their website their mission is "dedicated to electing Democratic pro-choice women to office". I had the great fortune of attending one of their trainings when I was running for office in 2006, it was invaluable. Although the organization gave me no monetary support, (they do not give money to anyone lower than in state races) I was thoroughly energized and I know it contributed an edge to my win. I was working for Planned Parenthood at the time and it seemed like a natural fit. Now that I have been an elected official for almost four years their mission has me questioning a few things.

Why not support any candidate that is pro-choice, why only Democrats and why only women? I do agree that we need more women in public office, but tying these two things together is a limiting alliance.

Should I choose to run for office again, I would no longer qualify for help from Emily's List, monetarily or otherwise---I haven't lost any of my passion for choice, and last time I checked I was still a female, but I have lost my passion for being partisan. I see this as a perfect example of how the parties hold the issue hostage and box the electorate into corners.

This "false ownership" is one of the very reasons I am working for political reform via changing our current two-party system. To put it simply: Democrats do not own choice, the people do. This important issue as well as many other "wedge" issues belong to the people---whether they are black, white, male, female, Republican, Libertarian or otherwise and the parties manipulate that fact to the hilt--and we allow them to continue to do so.

If we as a people are really serious about the issues and what they mean to us, we should take them back from the parties.

It makes me crazy to think that the major political parties use choice to further their own power and leave the issue to be fought over like some scrap of meat thrown to starving animals who are already in somewhat of a frenzy. It is used to spark many petty partisan spats as well as force many voters to choose one side or another, often at the sacrifice of other important issues--that's a wedge, to oversimplify.

A famous tack of the Democrats is to target pro-choice Republican candidates, not an easy position to take on their part, in light of the stereotypical and conflicted Republican stance on this issue. What happens is that the Democrats turn this issue around and actually sponsor media sent to registered Republicans in an effort to turn them on their own candidate. Yes, that's right the party of "choice" actually uses it against anyone with the courage to cross a line--and join them in support of this important issue, but once they cross that line, it is tantamount to a slap in the face and a swift kick back to the other side, all the while saying "thanks, but no thanks" for being pro-choice.

Its a sad day in our democracy when we allow political parties to operate like this and allow the issues to be pulled back and forth in a tug of war between two sides that will never ultimately win the game. It penalizes candidates that don't fit into the nice "party box" and ironically, this out of the box type-leader is what we need more of.

We must take the issues back, evolve in our candidate selection and the leaders we choose. We need to call-out these shameful acts of perverse power that in the end may serve only to further the position of one party or another and damage the progress we could ultimately make on the issues. Until we do this, we will continue to struggle in the same way, playing the same worn-out games that in the end leave us all on the loosing side of the equation in an ever increasing frustration.

Emily's List has raised over $78,595,737 since 1985 and we have made some amazing strides in the arena of choice, but we are always teetering on the edge according to which party is in power. I just wonder how much further we would have gotten on this issue and many others if we didn't choose to limit the champions by their sex and most importantly their political party?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

oh, I have a blog and an independent organization!

Wow! I can hardly believe five months have passed since my last post, I don't even know where to begin, so much has happened. Where to start?

First off, State Representative Kathleen Curry joined the lawsuit, mentioned in my last post. Judge Krieger made a decision and it wasn't in our favor---or really your's, if you are a champion of true democracy. We waited until June 28th to get word that she had decided to uphold the partisan privilege of them being able to set their own rules regarding candidate affiliation or disaffiliation---the only group that is held to the law, you guessed it: independents!

It was pretty disappointing to see that the judge had little understanding of what it means to look at a process openly, equitably and impartially. Being a part of the party system is how virtually everything happens in our country and the judiciary is apparently no different. It couldn't have been more telling to see the words she used to describe how "sham" candidates and "bleeding off votes" added to "voter confusion" and that was, in her opinion the offering of an independent candidate to the democratic process.

In the meantime, I made the decision to not seek another term as a La Plata County Commissioner, thus rendering my argument moot in the case. Representative Curry is continuing on and appealing the court's decision. Jackie Salit and I filed an amicus brief in support of Curry's appeal. Here is the press release. I have also decided to form an organization, Independent Voters for Colorado "IVC" and will shortly announce a new website and our organizing goals. I am thrilled to be working for the independent movement in this way and know that now is the time to channel new ideas and throw the party status quo a curve ball, that will hopefully give our democracy some much needed game.

So, that's where things are for now, its an ever-changing and exciting road---can't wait to see where it turns next!

Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Myriad of Options to Gain Access to the Ballot---Excluding One.

It appears that not many people fully understand the options that were afforded to me to gain access to the ballot once I had disaffilated from the Democratic Party.

As stated in the federal lawsuit that has been filed, I had a myriad of options to gain access to the ballot.  Let me reiterate that in a different way:  If I was soley concerned with my own re-election bid I would have chosen a different path, I would have joined a party and become their candidate. 

The only problem (or solution as I prefer) is, I don't want to be a member of any party.  I want to be able to utilize as many ideas and varieties of options as possible, from various sources---including, but not limited to one party or another.  It's that issue "ownership, absolute thing" that parties assert that makes me a little crazy and frankly is harming our process.  In my opinion it would have been more of the same had I joined a party, not to mention highly hypocritical and yes, self-serving.  I want to be a different kind of politician and that requires doing things differently.

I could have gone back to the Democratic Party, joined the Republican, Libertarian, Constitution, or Green Party all within their alloted time frames as prescribed by their party bylaws.  And, I could have formed my own party.  It's again worth mentioning that they have the ability to change those bylaws to accomodate candidates whom they wish to run.  That was decided in the 1988 Court Case.  Apparently there was no one that voiced the inequity that was being decided upon at the time for independent or unaffiliated candidates (and voters of all affiliation)---that is, until now.

County Didn't Need to Spend Money Defending Lawsuit.

Here are a couple of great Letters to the Editor in response to this one in the Durango Herald.  Both of those pasted below appeared subsequently in the paper as well. 


Riddle's lawsuit need not cost county

by Bill Zimsky

I am Joelle Riddle's attorney and am writing to respond to the letter to the editor (Herald, Feb. 28) criticizing Commissioner Riddle's decision to mount a constitutional challenge to the state statutory scheme that allows political parties to set their own affiliation deadlines for their candidates, but imposes the most restrictive deadline in the country - 17 months before the general election - on unaffiliated candidates.

The letter writers suggest that Riddle is hypocritical when she advocates fiscal responsibility while causing the county to spend thousands of dollars to defend against her lawsuit. These charges are vacuous because the county is under no obligation to spend one dime of the taxpayers' money to defend the lawsuit. If the county chose not to defend the lawsuit, the federal judge nonetheless would undertake a thorough and vigorous legal analysis of Riddle's arguments and come to a reasoned determination on the merits of Riddle's case. (If you think a federal judge is not going to closely examine a constitutional challenge to a state statute even if the defendant does not participate in the case, then I have a bridge to nowhere to sell you.) A great example of this course of action occurred in 1988 when the Democratic Party sued the secretary of state challenging a statute that imposed an affiliation deadline on political party candidates. The secretary of state chose not to defend the lawsuit. The judge nonetheless carefully considered the merits of the lawsuit and ruled that the state of Colorado cannot impose any type of affiliation restriction on political parties.

Obviously, the letter writers disagree with Riddle's political positions. The proper way to voice their displeasure is through the ballot box, not by making false accusations cloaked in manufactured outrage. The answer, as epitomized by Riddle's lawsuit, is more democracy, not less. America would not be the greatest country ever if its citizens followed the advice of the letter writers and docilely allowed the government to enforce laws that violate the Constitution.

Bill Zimsky, Durango


County chose to spend money on lawsuit

by Andrew Dougherty

A small faction of La Plata County Democrats decided to use the Herald's Opinion section (Feb. 28) as a platform for their petty partisan battle with Commissioner Joelle Riddle, who left the Democratic Party last year and now is unaffiliated.

They are angry Riddle thinks for herself, studies issues and votes in the best interest of all residents of La Plata County, instead of kowtowing to party leadership. They call her current lawsuit to overturn inequity in election law as “self-serving" and ask us to be outraged that the county is spending thousands of dollars to defend the lawsuit.

The county chose to defend the lawsuit. Let me repeat: That money did not have to be expended. Perhaps voters should ask commissioners Wally White and Kellie Hotter and County Clerk Linda Daly why they decided to pursue the lawsuit. What does La Plata County have to gain in not having a more equitable system for independents to gain ballot access?

An editorial in The Denver Post recently stated: “Restrictions should be the same for all groups, whether they be major players or the growing number of people who feel disenfranchised and are choosing to eschew political parties altogether."

More than 40 percent of Americans are unaffiliated voters because they feel disenfranchised from the two major political parties and are sick and tired of partisan politics. The crafters of the letter against Riddle in the Feb. 28 paper provide a perfect example of how the parties are failing us - by ignoring real issues and instead confusing and inciting the electorate with personal grudges.

Andrew Dougherty, Durango

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Beating the party drum for years...factually, no.

A letter to the editor appeared in today's Durango Herald, among other things it talks about my years of fidelity to the Democratic Party. To set the record straight, I first registered as an unaffiliated or indpendent voter in 2000. Yep, that's right 2000---just 10 years ago. I changed my affiliation to Democrat in 2004 and was immediately taken into the fold and christened as the "Young Democrat" on the La Plata County Democratic Executive Committee for a few months prior to becoming Party Chair that same year. It turned out to be a big election year for Democrats and I worked hard with my new-found passion for the democratic process---that's democratic with a small "d".

Interestingly enough, no one asked me how long I had been registered as a Democrat prior to offering me these leadership positions---in other words, there was no "waiting period"or "affiliation period" that I needed to comply with in order to serve the party as a young Democrat or party chair. It all happened quickly and enthusiastically for the most part.

The author comments: "Riddle is a former party chairwoman who beat the Democratic drum for years. Party chairpeople don't suddenly jump ship. At least no ones who hold dear the core values of their respective parties. Riddle jumped ship because she lost the support of her Democratic base, for whatever reason, and found herself floating toward an uncertain re-election campaign." 

Very untrue. 

I have made and continue to make decisions regardless of what it may or may not mean to my re-election campaign (I haven't even announced my candidacy).  I knew when I made the decision to disaffiliate that I was taking a huge step, if I was solely concerned with my re-election success I would have stayed with the party.  That's what most elected officials do.

After all, I had been reassured by a couple of members on the La Plata County Executive Committee that there would be no primary.  A clear message that in their mind it was better to keep the seat Democrat rather than risk the chance that they might loose it to a Repbulican.  Even with the sure odds of being an incumbent, supported by the party with the largest percentage of registered voters, I still chose and would choose this day to do what I did and become an independent.

The lawsuit is about me---and you, and our county, our state and our nation.  Anyone who thinks otherwise is paralyzed by a two-party system that doesn't want equal access to the ballot by candidates or voters.

So, in answer to the letter to the editor and the author's question:  "Is it really about the First Amendment and "fariness" as she puts it?"  She says yes! 

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Testimony in Support of Ballot Access

Here is the testimony that I gave to the Colorado State House of Representatives Judiciary Committee in support of HB 1271.

Testimony for House Judiciary Committee on HB 1271

February 18th, 2010

I thank the members of the House Judiciary Committee for this opportunity to speak in support of HB1271 and I applaud Representative Curry's effort to provide a more equitable approach to accessing the ballot, especially for those who choose to be an independent or unaffiliated candidate. This is a step in the right direction.

My name is Joelle Riddle and I am currently serving my first term as a county commissioner in La Plata County. I am registered as independent, which is listed as unaffiliated on Colorado's Voter Registration Form.

In November of last year, I contacted State Representative Kathleen Curry asking if she might be interested in proposing legislation to make it easier for unaffiliated candidates to get on the ballot. I changed my affiliation from Democrat to independent with a desire to more effectively represent the diverse constituency and issues facing our community.

I assumed that the requirements for affiliation or in my case disaffiliation, would be similar to those who wished to vote in an election and was shocked to find out that I had missed the candidate deadline of June 15th by a little over a month. I immediately started researching opportunities that would afford me a place on the ballot. While some may say that it was a mistake that will ultimately cost me re-election, I say it was a statement of recognition and then action in response to my community and the issues we face.

Economic crisis, health care, property rights, land use, environmental protection, oil and gas extraction, and many other important issues seemed to have easily been placed in one camp or another---by one of the major political parties. In truth, these challenging issues do not belong to a party, but to the people who wrestle with them on a daily basis and to the leaders who must step out of a worn out system to work with the people to find real solutions that will move us forward.

For me, this has been one of the proudest decisions that I have made during my time in office. It has opened the door literally and figuratively as more and more people come to me with their concerns and ideas and know that I am not listening with partisan ears and will not react using partisan rules. I value differing opinions and the best solutions for all constituents, I have found that independence has opened up more possibilities for people to come together and achieve what's best for our community regardless of age, race, gender or political party. It is for these reasons that I urge you to support HB1271.

While the proposed bill has an effective date that will not benefit me in my effort for re-election, it is an opportunity for you as legislators to give voice to this important and growing movement that aims to offer more choice and a truer democracy to the people of Colorado.

Independents are uniquely positioned to lead the way out of partisan paralysis for the very reason that we are not part of an organized party and are poised to offer new ways of collaborating in order to bring more diverse solutions to the table. This is the time to stand up for democracy and for independent voters, and put personal or party interests aside and do what is best for everyone.

Currently in Colorado, independent or unaffiliated voters comprise approximately 34% (1,089,402) of registered voters. These people are unaffiliated with any political party, and in some counties outnumber registered Democrats and Republicans. Nationwide independents are now 42% of the electorate. Polls show that 41% of college students consider themselves independents as do 35% of African Americans under the age of 30. Why then does Colorado continue to have the strictest law in the nation regarding independent access to the ballot? It is indeed timely that we support this proposed change to a state statute that unfairly discriminates against candidates as well as those who wish to vote for candidates who may more accurately represent their ideals and desire for a more innovative approach to political solutions outside of party camps.

An editorial that appeared in The Denver Post on January 6, 2010 stated that: "Unaffiliated candidates running for public office in Colorado must declare their independence well in advance-more than a year-of an election. No other political party, whether major or minor, must follow the same stringent rule. It's an unfair situation."

The Denver Post goes on to explain: "Specifically, Colorado law states: "No person is eligible for designation by assembly as a candidate for nomination at any primary election (by a major political party) unless the person has been affiliated with the political party holding the assembly for a period of at least twelve months immediately preceding the date of the assembly...unless otherwise provided by party rules."

The law gave more leeway to political parties in 1988 after a court challenge. Basically, political parties can opt out of state law to meet their needs, and they have.

A person must be registered as a Democrat for one year before appearing as a candidate, according to the party's bylaws. Recently, however, Democrats circumvented the timeline to allow an unaffiliated candidate to switch parties in order to fill an empty seat."

The legislature has the opportunity to change this unfair situation---and this committee is the first step in that process.

It is rare to find a political news story that doesn't mention the frustration surrounding partisan politics. Indeed, Colorado's own Governor Ritter was quoted as saying that "By not running for re-election, I'll be able to make the touch and unpopular decisions that simply need to get made-free and clear of the sometimes bitter partisan politics of an election year." I think we as leaders have been chosen to make those decisions regardless of party or election year.

Democracy is a delicate balance of tension between elected officials and the people. You as elected leaders listen to your constituents' concerns and then craft bills to resolve those concerns. It is time that you give voice to those constituents who are asking for something different, outside of the partisan boundaries that often hold hostage the issues and concerns that matter to them the most.

I would like to end by quoting the Denver Post Editorial once again and concur that: "Restrictions should be the same for all groups, whether they be major players or the growing number of people who feel disenfranchised and are choosing to eschew political parties altogether."

I urge you all to vote in favor of HB1271.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
Joelle Riddle

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Primaries= $ + Scars

I was just catching up on some newspapers and started reading an article that appeared in The Durango Herald on Thursday, the 18th titled: "Obama visit may heat up primary". I focused in and reread what was a confusing statement regarding primaries. Close to the end of the article a political scientist, Robert Lovey said , "He has noticed a national trend of party leaders trying to avoid a primary because they cost money and leave candidates scarred as they head into a general election".

Scarred? Really?

I would think it would be an obvious realization to those affiliated with a party that they really aren't involved in the candidate selection process if there isn't a primary. Who decides who the candidate should be?---like the article says, the Party leaders? Precinct captains? Only those who attend their caucus? It seems to me that primaries also provide an opportunity for the entire party membership to know each candidate better and how they may differ on the issues that are important to them.

While I'm not one to "toot the party horn" right now, I just think that primaries are to be encouraged---and making them open primaries would be especially nice, not to mention conceptually democratic. We should be spreading the candidate vetting net much wider than just a few people. I want the smartest and most qualified people running for office--not just the one's that a few party leaders encourage or discourage to run.

The other part of the equation is the $. Does this mean money to hold the election itself or a loss of money going to the party candidate if they have to campaign for both a primary and a general election? Granted, every candidate is taught to shudder at the thought of that last reasoning. But would it be worth the extra cost to the tax payers to pay for a primary election in order to better know their next leader?

I remember how hard it was to find candidates to run for office when I served on the executive committee for our county Democratic party and was party chair. There were very few people who wanted the job.

Our government needs smart, innovative problem solvers--- and especially communicative one's. To me it stands to reason that the more we have a diversity of those involved in the vetting process, the better those candidates will be---and more people will know them.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

bumper sticker philosophy

I saw a bumper sticker tonight that read: "Contrary to what you may believe, no one owes you anything". I liked it a lot. It gave me comfort and pulled me out of some self pity that I have to admit has been plaguing me for a little while now. I sat there re-reading it and letting it sink in and felt it resonate with a part of me that knows that feeling pride in my work is one thing I can always rely upon. I got my first job when I was in sixth grade, it was a pizzeria and I was a busgirl. I remember getting my first paycheck and how much fun it was to work with my best friend, cute boys and get free pizza. I don't recall not having a job since that day--often more than one at a time. I love earning a living and I like the satisfaction of a hard day's work.

My son has his first job, and I am so proud of him---I pick him up and he smells like a burrito, which reminds me of working in restaurants for so many years. He works at a great place with really good people and has the opportunity to have lots of valuable life experiences. I hope that he is learning what it means to work hard and earn a paycheck. As a parent I know that is one of the most important things I can help him to learn and incorporate into his life--- a sense of pride in his work and a sense of responsibility for himself. We took his paycheck to the bank when I picked him up from work on Friday and he proudly deposited it into his savings account. He makes minimum wage and is now learning to equate the number of hours he has to work in order to purchase the things he wants. It's interesting to watch his eyes get big as we talk about how much money (and hours of work) is required to buy a car and pay for all of the other things that go with that responsibility, like insurance, oil changes, etc. I feel like I am succeeding at parenting for a fleeting moment when we have those kinds of talks.

I know that it was just a bumper sticker, but sometimes such simple statements can encompass a philosophy and a way of looking at life---that one sure did for me!