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Former Colorado Senate leader Ken Gordon dies

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Ken Gordon, pictured at a 2004 interview at the IJN.KEN Gordon, the former Democratic Colorado State Senate majority leader who refused PAC donations in favor of transparency in the electoral process, passed away suddenly on Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, in Denver. He was 63.

Services were held Sunday, Dec. 29, at the Davidson/Hermelin Chapel at Clover Hill Park Cemetery in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham, Mich., where members of his family are buried.

There will be a memorial service for Mr. Gordon on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 11 a.m., at Temple Emanuel in Denver. An open house will be announced in the program.

Gordon, who was state representative from 1992-2000 and state senator from 2001-2008, was admired on both sides of the political aisle. But his loss is also deeply personal.

“Whenever I asked Ken what he was thinking about, he would either say democracy or Michigan football,” his long-time companion Betty Lehman wrote on Facebook shortly after his death.

“I often felt like I was dating Superman, who fought for truth, justice and the American Way,” Lehman wrote. “He was the most ethical, decent man I have ever known.”

Read the IJN editorial eulogizing Ken Gordon

Lehman cherished Gordon for his “beliefs, his intellect, his humor and extraordinary morality, and for his steadfast commitment to his friends and family, his football team, and to me and my son, Eli.”

She concluded that he had “the best laugh, keenest wit and the kindest heart. . . The world is a lesser place without Ken Gordon.”

Joyce Foster, former Denver City Councilwoman and state senator, told the IJN that Gordon “was just marvelous. He absolutely refused PAC money, which deepened his connection to constituents.

“He went door-to-door asking for their advice. He made phone calls. He listened. Not all your peers like it when you take a stand [against PAC contributions], but that made Ken work even harder. He was all about that.”

Gordon ran for Colorado Secretary of State in 2006, losing to Mike Coffman.

Although term limits put an end to his Senate career, “he would have stayed there if he could because he was doing such important work,” says Foster.

She describes Gordon “as very serious. He wasn’t the warm, feel-good kind of guy. He read constantly. He didn’t have any idle time.

‘You’d want to say, ‘Ken, lighten up!’

“He was incredibly articulate, a man of unquestionable integrity,” Foster says. “He raised the bar high for prospective candidates. He was the kind of person people really wanted to represent them.”

IN 2004, when Gordon became Senate Majority Leader and his friend and colleague Andrew Romanoff was elected Speaker of the House, the Republican rule that dominated the Capitol since 1960 came to an abrupt end.

For Romanoff, Gordon’s premature death was equally abrupt.

“Ken was one of my closest friends,” Romanoff says. “I’ve known him for 20 years. To be honest, it’s very hard for me to describe him in the past tense. It’s awful.”

Gordon never suppressed his humor around Romanoff. In fact, it was all over the place.

When Romanoff made his first bid for the statehouse, Gordon taught him how to knock on doors and mingle with potential voters.

“I was running for the House and Ken was running for the Senate,” Romanoff recalls. “A woman answered her door and I introduced myself. She said, ‘Forget it —I’m voting for Ken Gordon.’”

Another time, a woman wished Gordon good luck on his retirement. He said, “I’m not retiring, I’m running for the Senate. Who told you I was stepping down?”

“Oh, that nice Russian gentleman who was just here,” she smiled.

“Ken had a great sense of humor,” Romanoff says. “He always said he had lots of material to work with.”

On a more serious note, Romanoff says that Gordon “was one of the most principled leaders I’ve ever known. He didn’t just teach you how to get elected, but how to maintain your integrity in office, which is a scarce commodity in political life.”

After the term-limited Gordon left the Senate, he remained passionate about restoring the power of the people and reducing the influence of money in politics, Romanoff says.

“Promoting campaign finance reform was crucial for Ken, who founded the non-profit cleanslatenow.org,” says Romanoff.  “He strongly believed that the main reason we can’t get the programs we need is because PAC money drowns out the voice of ordinary people.

“Mark Twain said, ‘Everybody complains about the weather but there’s nothing you can do about it.’ Ken felt finance reform was something we could change, and he fought for this his entire career.”

The last time Romanoff saw Gordon was at JFS’ Reel Hope gala last month. “We often called and texted each other, but this was the last time I saw him.

“I had no idea I’d never see him again,” he says with difficulty. “I guess our lesson is that we never know.”

KENNETH Marshall Gordon was born on Feb. 6, 1950, in Detroit, Mich., to the late Harold H. and Marion T. Gordon.

His father, a lawyer, was a veteran of WW II and his mother was a gym teacher.

“Being Jewish and born only five years after the Second World War, I grew up with a profound interest in the Holocaust,” Gordon wrote on his Website.

(He later told the IJN that anti-Semitic White Russians murdered his grandmother’s family in the spreading chaos of the Russian Revolution.)

On the same Website, Gordon wrote that America’s intervention in Vietnam “fundamentally shaped my world view. These events led me to believe that history does not automatically turn out well and that if one has an interest in public policy one needed to take personal responsibility and action.”

He moved to Colorado in 1975, after receiving his law degree from Boston University.

Gordon worked as a Colorado public defender from 1976-1980 and served primarily low-income state residents and minorities. He then went into private practice for 14 years.

Democratic Committeeman (1982-1984) and District Captain (1986-1987), he received Westword’s Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Award in 1988.

He also was a professor of political science, 1983-2000.

Gordon, who served in the Colorado House of Representatives from 1992-2000, was Minority Leader from 1999-2000.

In 2000, he won the race for the Colorado Senate. In addition to Senate Majority leader, Gordon was Assistant Minority Leader from 2003-2004. His primary concerns were education, health care, finance reform and the environment.

When he was named Senate Majority Leader in 2004, he spoke to the IJN about how Judaism affected his moral values and motivated his decision to enter politics.

The Jewish people “feel part of a community,” he told the IJN.

“We want to look out for one another — but we’re not just out for ourselves. This leads to the conviction that everyone deserves a good education and health care.

“Also, I was aware of the Holocaust and how badly things can go in the world if we don’t pay attention to what’s happening.

“For me it was a feeling that if I didn’t get involved and help craft public policy, it wasn’t going to turn out all right.”

He devoted the past few years to cleanslatenow.org.

Mr. Gordon is survived by his children Benjamin Gordon and Windy (Christopher) Cook; grandchildren Aubrielle, Siena and Braydon Cook; and sisters Patti Gordon and Wendy Gordon.

Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 01 January 2014 23:34 )  

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