I traveled to the Denver suburb of Lakewood, Colorado, over the weekend, to flap my gums about reforming mental healthcare in America. And found myself listening to the most stirring talk I have ever heard about reforming mental healthcare in America.
Hint: it wasn’t mine. It covered much of the same ground, but with the riveting pace, passion and purpose that educates and inspires.
The talk was delivered without notes by a guy who came so late to the event that people were starting to walk toward the exits. When they spotted him coming through the door, they rushed back to their tables and shouted in unison: “You’re LAAAAAAATE!”
The shout was not hostile. It had been rehearsed: an affectionate scolding to one who was known and loved by the people there, who understood that he is deluged with speaking obligations.
The speaker did not disappoint. His remarks galvanized the audience, which erupted in a standing ovation at the conclusion. He had completely upstaged a certain gum-flapping speaker from earlier in the evening. The gum-flapping speaker hardly minded. He recognized that if the political will of Colorado voters were to move in the right direction, this late-arriving figure could well be the charismatic figurehead of the mental-health reform movement from the floor of the United States Senate.
If that should happen–well, better late than never.
The occasion was a gala honoring Heart-Mind-Connect, a new entrant in the expanding archipelago of grass-roots advocates for fixing our broken systems for reclaiming the mentally ill. H-M-C was recently organized by a small collective headed by the singer-songwriter Maree McRae, whose son Stephen was stricken with a rare disease known as common variable immune deficiency. CVID, a genetic disease, attacks antibodies that fight infections, and can produce schizophrenia-like behavior in its victims.
The galvanizing, late-arriving speaker was Andrew Romanoff, 53, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2020. Romanoff is campaigning to get past a crowded primary field that includes the former Colorado governor, John Hickenlooper, so that he can take on the incumbent Senator, the Donald Trump-supporting Cory Gardner.
Romanoff’s resume bristles with achievement. He won four elections to the Colorado House of Representatives, serving from 2001 through 2009, serving as Speaker from 2005 until term limits ended that run. His causes included expanding the Medicare health program; supporting the “Green New Deal” to promote renewable Energy; championing immigration reform to ease the path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants; and opposing special-interest funding of political candidates. He has rejected Political Action Committee donations for his Senate campaign.
Romanoff holds degrees from Yale and the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, and a master’s degree in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He has researched the Ku Klux Klan for the Southern Poverty Law Center. He has taught English in Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
He served as president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado from 2015 until 2019.
So naturally (according to Romanoff’s own accounts) the intrepid and visionary Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has done its best to make him disappear. Apparently the DSCC prefers the easy listenin’ strains of the incumbent to the reformist drums and trumpets of candidates such as Romanoff.
As Channel 4, the CBS affiliate in Denver, reported in August:
“The DSCC is a powerful political machine that spends hundreds of millions of dollars each election and Romanoff says it is threatening polling, media and other political consultants that if they work with him, it will cut them off.”
“The DSCC has endorsed John Hickenlooper. Romanoff says helping Hickenlooper is one thing, sabotaging his campaign is another.”Via CBS Andrew Romanoff Accuses Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Of Trying To Push Him Out https://denver.cbslocal.com/2019/08/29/andrew-romanoff-democratic-senatorial-campaign-2020-cory-gardner/
What a waste of hope and vision that would be.
Romanoff’s focus on mental healthcare springs from personal experience–as it does for so many advocates and policymakers.
During his tardy appearance at the H-M-C gala, Andrew Romanoff spoke for about twenty electrifying and lucid minutes, sans suitcoat (the polar opposite of being an empty suit, it occurred to me), tie loosened, fingertips in his trousers pocket, crisply ticking off the goals and the challenges of the mental healthcare reform movement. I did not take notes–no one at the event had prepared me for the eloquence and accuracy and force of Romanoff’s words. I can guarantee one and all, however, that the standard-bearer we have all longed for within the halls of political power may be working his way there.
The emotional peak of his remarks came as Romanoff recounted the horrific story of a family member who put a pistol to her head in 2014 and pulled the trigger.
The victim was Romanoff’s first cousin. “I thought of as her my kid sister,” he said. The calamity occurred without warning, without advance hints that the young woman was disturbed. “Her mom and dad and I–the four of us–were celebrating New Year’s 2015 when she walked into the backyard and killed herself.”
Romanoff’s casual, wry demeanor changed as he briefly told this story. His eyes filled and he paused several times.
A cynical politician–perhaps a lifer on the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee–might have seen this moment as calculated; a carefully rehearsed, twice-told tale manufactured to elicit sympathy.
I choose not to think so. As Huck Finn said, I been there before. I doubt that many readers of this blog, burdened in private by their own bereavements, would think so either.
I choose to believe that Andrew Romanoff is the goods: as a potential voice in the Senate for enlightened reform of our country’s shameful mental healthcare systems; but also as a voice for enlightened governance generally.
I wish him well.