A Reason For Optimism
Have we really gotten to the point that politicians seeking to run for office in November 2018 are already announcing their intentions? Well, that may be maddening as all get out, but you’ll have to excuse me if I give a bit more leeway to the most recent candidate to jump into the Colorado Governor’s race. He’s a personal friend of mine, and given that his competition for the office could include such nationally recognized names as Ed Perlmutter and Ken Salazar, it would have to be deemed understandable if he plays the role of early bird out to get the worm. For those of you who do not yet know this 42 year-old state Senator who both Time and The New York Times have proclaimed as a rising star in the world of politics, his name is Michael Johnston, and he’s one of the few good ones left in a government filled with corrupt politicians more interested in lining their coffers for their re-election campaign than in serving the people who put them there in the first place.
It’s only natural that folks have become jaded when it comes to their elected officials. They’ve seen enough to know that votes are bought and sold to the highest bidder and that when it comes to politics as usual, it more often comes down to unabashed self-interest or downright self-preservation than it does to the common good. But Michael Johnston is different. Michael began his career in community service by working in the very schools he would later help to serve in his legislative capacity. After graduating from Yale, he joined Teach For America, a nonprofit that recruits college graduates to teach for two years, typically in low-income neighborhoods. He worked in a rural school in Mississippi and later wrote a book about his experience working with students there. In 2005, he was hired by Mapleton Public Schools to lead a new high school in Thornton, a suburb of Denver. The school served mostly low-income black and Latino students. In 2008, he was an education adviser to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Despite his prominent role in educating lower-income students, Johnston eschewed the easy path and was instrumental in pushing forth an education bill in 2010 which put him at odds with the Colorado Education Association because it pushed for teacher reforms that placed higher accountability to the forefront. Throughout his time in the public sector, Michael Johnston has championed the causes of education and empowering the disadvantaged even when doing so meant scrutiny of his own personal record.
But this is not the first time I have written about Johnston. You see, Michael grew up in Vail and attended the Vail Mountain School where I taught for a number of years. In 2010, I was taking a group of students to the Colorado capitol when my boss at the time informed me that an alumnus of the school was currently working as a state Senator. My boss arranged for us to meet Michael, and as it happened, we visited the capitol on the very day that the teacher’s union was vocally protesting outside as debate upon Johnston’s education reform bill, SB 10-191, was underway on the Senate floor. Michael’s interaction with those students impressed me so much I wrote about the experience in a column for the Summit Daily News. You can access that column at: http://www.summitdaily.com/news/craig-sen-johnstons-better-vision-for-education/
What impressed me most about Johnston was his immediately discernible integrity and candor. Remarkably articulate and sincere, like a youthful JFK, he spoke openly of both sides of the bill and transparently acknowledged the challenges the bill had in front of it. As Johnston himself said on the Senate floor before the passing of the bill, “We will absolutely measure our success by how many of those children get across the finish line. … We as adults will hold ourselves accountable.” Johnston has certainly done just that and then some.
A few years later, I heard Johnston speak at a teacher’s convention at the Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge, Colorado. At the time, he was campaigning for Amendment 66, a sweeping tax reform initiative that would have provided Colorado schools with much-needed financing. Though the amendment eventually failed to garner the requisite support from the voters it needed to pass, his ardent support of the measure was clear from the impassioned tone he set throughout his speech. A friend of mine, in town to listen to another friend of ours who was set to speak later, turned to me and said, “Who is this guy? We need more young politicians like this. He’s like a white, Colorado version of Obama.” I couldn’t agree more.
So don’t sit there and bemoan the lack of ethics and backbone in modern day politics. Get up and vote for someone who you can truly believe in. March down to Johnston’s office and ask how you can help. Throw every ounce of support you have behind one of the few politicians left out there who has the potential to restore your faith in a government of the people, by the people, for the people, because, for once, he truly is one of the people.
In my column after the recent presidential election, I called out those who failed to vote because their cynicism of the democratic process left them disillusioned and apathetic. It is, after all, that same ambivalent attitude that cedes the reins of our political institutions to the waiting hands of the same narcissistic blowhards we all later complain about after they have been already been elected. Well, if Michael Johnston can’t renew your faith in American democracy, you might as well pack those bags of yours and head to Canada because finally we have a reason for optimism.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com