Joelle Riddle was one of three full-time La Plata County Colorado Commissioners since winning the election in 2006. Not a newcomer to the political arena and policy making, Riddle was a Young Democrat and then chair of the La Plata County Democratic Party prior to changing her affiliation to "independent" to better serve the people of La Plata County. She was prevented from running for re-election by Colorado state law which imposes a 17-month waiting period for candidates who disaffiliate, a law that she and other nonpartisans challenged in the courts. Riddle was honored this year with an Extraordinary Leader Award during the Women’s Resource Center’s Girls Night Out for her education work with Planned Parenthood, the various constituencies she has represented as a commissioner and founding the independent Voters for Colorado.
by JOELLE RIDDLE
Election Day November 2, 2010, turned out to be a very personal experience for me. I knew that this day more than any other would be the beginning of the end as far as my current capacity to serve as an elected official.
It was clear several months ago that I was not going to be on the ballot, having discovered the inequities in Colorado law immediately after changing my affiliation from Democrat to independent (or unaffiliated). It was further affirmed I wasn’t going to be on the ballot after a federal court judge ruled that there would be no changes to the rules set in place by the parties to blatantly advance their candidates and discourage others.
I knew it, but on Election Day I felt it.
It was sobering in a way that I hadn’t imagined as I looked at the list of candidates on the ballot and didn’t see my name, as I had four years earlier. To not win an election is one thing, but to be prevented from even running is another -- very frustrating -- experience all together.Being on the “inside” allowed me to experience the consequences of a broken system and how it fails the people and the issues that are most important to us on a regular basis, day after frustrating day. Until the system changes we won’t have qualified candidates, we won’t solve problems and we won’t regain the public trust.
Although I experienced this intense feeling of injustice and frustration (as most independents do at one time or another, I imagine) it was juxtaposed with a very deep sense of relief, a relief that I would no longer have to work within a broken, dysfunctional system. The effects of our partisan politics are felt at every level, and if you are someone that thinks it only affects our elected officials in DC, then think again—it’s thought, felt and ingrained into all levels of our political process, even in our small rural communities, and that’s exactly where we need to start the reform.
I spent the last four years learning and understanding countless processes, participating in numerous local and state boards to advocate for my community, studied issues I had never even heard of prior to taking office. I built relationships based on trust in order to continue to do the best job I could for my community. And really all of that didn’t amount to much in the end as far as the "system" was concerned. Everything boiled down to the fact that I didn’t want to play for just one team; I wanted to work for all of the people, with no biased party labels or preconceived notions. For me it was a natural evolution and a product of my observations and learning.
Being on the “inside” allowed me to experience the consequences of a broken system and how it fails the people and the issues that are most important to us on a regular basis, day after frustrating day. Until the system changes we won’t have qualified candidates, we won’t solve problems and we won’t regain the public trust.
I knew when I made the decision to become an independent that there would be consequences, some rather predictable and others I couldn’t have imagined.
One thing was for certain, independence was the only way forward that would allow me to do the best job I could for the people I was elected to represent.
I have never regretted that decision and it has proven to not only affirm my passion for democracy, it has elevated it to a level that will inspire my work as a grassroots organizer for “Independent Voters for Colorado”.
Although I wasn’t re-elected to office, I know that my commitment to the people in my community is deeper and I am even more determined to help change our government. In the future I want to contribute to a more authentic expression of our democracy; a productive political process and not just a power game for political parties who seem to be concerned for their own “win” as opposed to genuine gains for those whom they purport to serve. I would venture to say that my next Election Day report won’t be fraught with so much frustration, but more of a sense of accomplishment in working with other independents to organize and demand a better democratic process.
Joelle Riddle can be reached at UPDATED!! firstname.lastname@example.org or (970)799-3720