Master Sgt. Kelly Links introduces panelists at a Women's Equality Day luncheon at the Air Force Academy Aug. 27, 2012. Panelists were Rep. Crisanta Duran (D-Denver), League of Women Voters President Catherine Perrone and RBI Strategies and Research co-founder Rick Ridder. Other guests of note included Rep. Janak Joshi (R-Colorado Springs) and Lynn Gangone, dean of the University of Denver Women's College. Links is a dental technician with the Academy's 10th Dental Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Don Branum)
Colorado Rep. Crisanta Duran (D-Denver) speaks during a Women's Equality Day panel at the Air Force Academy Aug. 27, 2012. The day honors passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, on Aug. 18, 1920. Also on the panel were Catherine Perrone, president of the League of Women Voters of Colorado, and Rick Ridder, president of the Denver-based polling firm RBI Strategies and Research. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)
Rick Ridder (left) takes part in a panel during a Women's Equality Day luncheon at the Air Force Academy Aug. 27, 2012. Ridder is president and co-founder of RBI Strategies and Research, a political polling firm based in Denver, and has written for Salon.com and the Denver Post. Also on the panel were Catherine Perrone (right), president of the Colorado League of Women Voters, and Rep. Crisanta Duran (D-Denver) (not pictured). (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)
Col. Stella Renner asks RBI Strategies and Research President Rick Ridder about the challenges of collecting demographic data on military voters, many of whom vote in states other than their states of residence, during a Women's Equalidy Day panel at the Air Force Academy Aug. 27, 2012. Also on the panel were Colorado Rep. Crisanta Duran (D-Denver) and Colorado League of Women Voters President Catherine Perrone. Renner is the Academy's vice commandant of culture and climate. (U.S. Air force photo/Mike Kaplan)
8/29/2012 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- A Colorado state representative, the state's League of Women Voters president and the co-founder of a political polling firm came to the Air Force Academy on Monday to discuss the importance of women's suffrage and the need for informed voters as election season approaches.
The panel, comprising Colorado Rep. Crisanta Duran (D-Denver), Catherine Perrone and RBI Strategies and Research's Rick Ridder, spoke about the power of women's votes, how to sort through biased sources of information and how to embrace political discussions without drifting into partisan political territory.
Duran, the youngest member of the Colorado State House, was elected into office in 2010 and spoke about how candidates relate to their constituents and community.
"So many times, particularly at the local level ... by getting involved with issues that affect the local community, there can be an amazing difference that you can make," she said. "Sometimes I think people don't realize how important it is just to show up when issues affecting the community are being discussed and having your voice heard in one way or another. One of the most important things people can do in this country is make sure that they cast their ballots, because there's no greater power than to have a representative voice on the future of our country."
Perrone became involved with the League after retiring from the corporate world in 2001. The League, she said, found itself without a mission after voters ratified the 19th Amendment, extending suffrage to women, on Aug. 18, 1920.
"Once it was ratified, we discovered our role was to educate 20 million women how to cast a vote," Perrone said. "From the very get-go, we started as a non-partisan organization, and what that basically means is, we don't endorse or oppose candidates or political parties."
Instead, she said, the League seeks to inspire both women and men to engage with local government and to educate themselves.
"The power of the vote is awesome," Perrone said, whispering to add emphasis to the last word. "It takes your energies and puts them in a place where other people listen. It's an encouragement of a power to participate at every level of government ... from your local water board ... or your city council, all the way up to the president of the United States. Where else in your life can you reach so many levels so simply?"
Ridder introduced himself with humor, telling the members of the audience that they were "a little sick."
"Let me explain to you why you're sick," he said. "Normal Americans ... do not come on a Monday at noon to a room -- with very little sunlight, I might add -- to talk about politics. Normal Americans think about politics about 12 to 15 minutes over the course of a two-year period. That means that already we've had you for two-thirds of that allotment, and you're here for another 45 minutes, so you're going to skew everything."
Striking a more serious tone, Ridder told the audience they held a remarkable power, because 52 percent of all voters in the November presidential election will be women. That number might increase to 53 percent for the state of Colorado, he added.
"So when we talk about the women's vote, it's because you're the majority, and you have the power to a greater extent than your male counterpart across the table," he said. "It's important to take and grasp that power and take it to the next level."
Duran said the nature of politics is changing, particularly in how candidates connect with the voters in their communities. How candidates reach out to people is just as important as the message itself -- a lesson she learned during the 2008 presidential campaign. Focusing on key groups of people who wouldn't normally vote and talking with them on issues that are important to them is key, she added.
"Now I use Facebook, I use Twitter; I know a lot of other elected officials use those means to communicate as well," she said. "I think one of the most important ways to get out to voters is to have one-on-one conversations with them about what they care about, what they see for the future of the country.
"That personal touch is really making a big difference. When I ran, I knocked on so many doors; I called so many people; I had so many one-on-one conversations, because at the end of the day, that was really the most effective way to communicate why I was running for office and why I was asking for their support and their vote," Duran added.
Perrone acknowledged that filtering bias from information sources is no small task.
"It's gotten harder over the last few years, that's for sure," she said, to laughter from the audience. The League issues a pamphlet each year aimed toward sharing information about candidates running for office and about each of the state's ballot initiatives. The League contacts organizations registered with the Colorado secretary of state and asks them to provide position statements for and against each of the initiatives.
"We gather that information here at (the) League, and then we publish it," she said. "We don't edit it, but we do fact check it." While the pamphlets require several hundred man-hours of volunteer work, the League provides them at little to no cost. Audio and interactive versions of the pamphlets are available on the League's website at www.vote411.org.
Motivating young Americans to vote can be a challenge as well. Debbie Southee, an employee with the 10th Force Support Squadron's Cadet Support Flight, asked for "leverage" to help convince her nieces and nephews living in upstate New York to exercise their rights.
"I cannot get them interested whatsoever," said Southee, a naturalized U.S. citizen. "Their parents have not voted; their grandparents have not voted. ... Give me three top reasons why a 21-year-old needs to vote."
Duran said funding for education is a topic of contention between the candidates representing the two major parties that might get the nieces' and nephews' attention. Another, she added, is whether the country will continue to provide opportunities for the next generation.
"I would encourage them to look at the platforms for all the candidates on those issues," she said.
The final question for the panel centered on how service members can discuss their views on issues and candidates without straying into partisan political territory. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Aug. 22 that partisan political statements by service members can erode public trust.
Air Force Instruction 51-902, "Political Activities by Members of the U.S. Air Force," limits how service members may participate in the political arena. The Hatch Act, which is detailed at http://www.osc.gov/hatchact.htm, outlines what activities are allowed or prohibited for civilian employees.
"One of the great things about the military is that there's a history and tradition of being engaged but not partisan," Ridder said. "It's difficult, but I think that what's important is being able to discuss in terms of your value system, in terms of what makes you feel connected with an issue or a candidate, and also looking at all the sides."
Ridder referred to a recent study that showed placing a party affiliation in front of a candidate's name could change an election's outcome.
"You don't have to use the labels, 'Democratic position' or 'Republican position,'" he said. "Those labels really don't mean much. What means much is what you believe and how you wish to communicate that and express it. ... The biggest change in politics in the last 20 years is that we've gone from 'All politics is local' to 'All politics is personal,' so think in terms of how something impacts you."
Guests at the event also included Colorado Rep. Janak Joshi (R-Colorado Springs) and Lynn Gangone, dean of the Women's College at the University of Denver.
8/31/2012 7:04:06 PM ET I invited all 3 panelists and discussed with them the non-partisan nature of the event. Each assured me a commitment to non-partisan politics. Each delivered Dr. Vila Chief Diversity Officer USAFA
Dr. Adis Vila, USAFA
8/31/2012 2:48:08 PM ET Valid points Scott. I was aware of Duran's political leanings coming into the event but I think all three of them understood that this was to be non-partisan and I certainly wrote the story in as non-partisan an angle as I could. Hope that answers your concerns.
Don Branum, U.S. Air Force Academy
8/30/2012 8:51:52 AM ET I realize that the LLW is mostly non-partisan but Rick Ridder Howard Dean's Campaign Manager and Crisanta Duran are quite the opposite. Is it really appropriate to host political events at USAFA under the cover of Women's Suffrage Didn't we solve that issue a century ago