Ken Gordon was a noodge. I mean that in the best way. He was an activist at heart who somehow became a politician and bugged everyone, always, about doing the right thing, which is the last thing most people (and not just politicians) want to do.
Gordon died at age 63 of a heart attack, to the surprise of everyone. That his memorial service should be held the day before opening day of the legislature, where he spent 16 years, half in the House and half in the Senate, should be a surprise to no one.
Those who spoke at the memorial included a governor, a campaign manager, a former speaker of the House now running for Congress, a politically astute rabbi whose wife was in the legislature.
They told stories of Gordon, mostly of the politician with the terrible people skills. (Like the time he was reading a book, at a party, to himself.) And yet he held leadership positions in both houses because he was the one who actually liked doing it. He ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state, as if anyone – John Hickenlooper joked — would actually want that job. Gordon did.
He loved being at the legislature. One thing he’d do: He would corner you when you were two steps from being somewhere else to try to talk you into doing something you didn’t want to do. I know this from experience.
Another thing Gordon would do – and I know this from experience, too — was talk not just about his pet project, but also about Michigan sports, about World War II history, about the state of the state.
He liked to joke. No one enjoyed Gordon’s jokes more than Ken himself. But mostly, he was serious, and not just about what was wrong in politics, but also in his belief that these were things that could actually be fixed. And so you see him holding a sign in front of the Capitol that reads Money Is Not Speech.
I like the believers at the legislature, the ones who really care, even the ones I don’t agree with, so long as they believe politics is about accomplishing something. At Gordon’s memorial, the crowd was large, packed with people from the political world. The speeches were warm — Andrew Romanoff’s being particularly good.
These speeches weren’t money, of course. But, to borrow a line from Bania on Seinfeld, they were gold. You know, like the Capitol dome.