For the people’s common good

Some people may think it odd to find a former conservative operative supporting the NAACP’s “Journey for Justice” as it crossed through Georgia, or to find me as the new board chairman of Common Cause Georgia. But it isn’t. My personal journey is a response to our political system, and to political tactics that ignore what governing is about: our common journey as people.

My own journey began in 2010 when I left the Republican Party to become an independent. Republicans then had serious ethical lapses — as some Democrats certainly do, too. But after experiencing firsthand the benefits provided by the health care reforms under the Affordable Care Act, I decided my party forgot public service is about people and the common good. Leaving the party was a major step in my journey.

The 860-mile “Journey for Justice” from Selma, Ala. to Washington, D.C., is a major undertaking that involves people doing a simple but extraordinary thing to call public and media attention to concerns about voting rights, criminal justice, public education and living-wage employment.

The issues speak to our common ideals as Americans, reminding us that our shared values cut through the noise of finger-pointing and political labels intended to divide us. Working families deserve a living wage to survive. We all want our children properly educated, no matter what neighborhood they live in or what school they go to. And Americans want to know justice is equally applied, we only incarcerate people who are guilty, and sentencing is fair.

For too many Americans, those statements aren’t true — which means we aren’t living our values and delivering on the promise of democracy. We must all recognize our responsibility and take the first step in our individual journey for change.

While Common Cause doesn’t work directly on all these issues, the one that connects all the others is our democracy — each American’s voice in a government of, by and for us. The interests of voters across the ideological spectrum more often than not conflict with the policies of the millionaires and billionaires dominating our politics today. Their interests all too often determine legislative priorities, and what voters want often gets ignored. The only check the people have on power and money in the Citizens United era is our vote. It is more important than ever to make sure you are registered in compliance with state law and make plans to vote.

My journey to Common Cause Georgia is about moving away from polarizing tactics and asking what is best for the common good of the people. As a strictly nonpartisan organization, we work with allies, elected officials and political leaders to hold power accountable, no matter who holds power. The corrupting influence of money in politics, combined with attacks on voting rights, are a one-two sucker punch to the face of democracy.

But there is hope, and you are the reason for it. As voters learn about solutions to the challenges our democracy faces, we can move from outraged to engaged, and we can win. Common Cause works on a full range of democracy reforms. In addition to securing voting rights and battling money’s corrupting influence, we want to end partisan gerrymandering so people, not politicians, are in charge of drawing political boundaries. We work for strong disclosure laws, so the people know who is influencing our government. We work with reformers from both parties to win campaign finance changes, because encouraging small donor contributions means politicians listen to all their constituents, not just big donors.

While the government watchdog role that made Common Cause famous is important, changing policies so our democracy can truly reflect our views is critical work. Talking about problems and blaming others is easy. Finding effective solutions and working with both parties to implement them is much harder, but it is what makes Common Cause unique in these politically polarized times.

Looking forward, the stakes in the 2016 election couldn’t be higher. It will be the most expensive in history, so brace yourself. But if you don’t want money to control our politics, follow the lead of the marchers on the Journey for Justice and do something simple, yet extraordinary. Take that first step to get engaged, regardless of party, to make sure both parties work for the people. Add your voice to millions calling for reform, so together, we continue our journey to deliver on the promise of democracy and justice for all. We the people will decide the direction our government should take with our votes, and send the big donors’ club a message our democracy is not for sale.

Clint Murphy is chairman of Common Cause Georgia.

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