Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Tribute to Our Dad, Former US Congressman Bill Orton

Wes and me in front of the Utah State Capitol with the flag
flying at half staff in memory of our dad, Bill Orton.

As a new Presidential election season gets underway and Kids Rock The Vote begins coverage of the 2012 Campaign, we would be remiss if we didn't offer a tribute to our father, Bill Orton, who died in an ATV accident three months after taking us to DC for President Obama's inauguration.

When we were growing up, lots of people called our dad, "Congressman Orton", but he would always say, "Call me 'Bill'" or "'Bill' is fine". Dad was never much for pomp and circumstance. He grew up working on a farm and in dairies from elementary school until he left for college, and worked his way through college and law school, holding down two jobs and studying while taking full class loads. Until recently, Dad was the only member of his family with a college degree. After Dad got his law degree, he began seeing problems with our country's tax laws that he thought he could help fix. However, in order to fix them, he felt he needed to be in Congress.

Dad wasn't a "politician'. He was shy--not an outgoing people person, at all. He was intelligent and had great ideas, but he couldn't envision himself campaigning and asking people to vote for him. In 1989, he was traveling the country, teaching tax attorneys about the changes in tax laws when he was approached by a group of his clients who told him that the American people really needed someone in congress who understood tax law. They thought that Dad was just the person Congress needed. Since Dad was a Democrat in what was, at that time, the most Republican district in the country, he didn't believe that he could win an election. But, he knew that if he didn't try to make a difference, he would have no right to complain when the changes he wanted to see didn't happen. So, he ran and worked hard on his campaign. He won. And he won again, and again. People are willing to give you a chance to do something good even if they don't always agree with you. So, Dad went to Congress.

While Dad was in Congress he did some very important work. He didn't get to make the tax law changes he hoped to see. However, he did make progress on other issues, like balancing the federal budget and helping Democrats and Republicans work together to make things better for our country. Dad was one of the original founders of the Blue Dog Democrats. The Blue Dogs are moderate Democrats who work with other Democrats and Republicans to try to find a compromise on legislation that is good for our country.

Congressional historians also believe that Dad is the only person in our nation's history known to argue against the constitutionality of a piece of legislation (the Line Item Veto) on the floor of the House or Senate, have it pass, then successfully argue for it to be overturned by the Supreme Court (Clinton v. Idaho Potato Growers) after he left Congress. Dad believed that the Line Item Veto was an important cost-saving tool for our government to have, but that the way it was written in the Contract With America was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court agreed with him. Though Dad presented a constitutionally sound version of Line Item Veto legislation, Congress never accepted it, and no constitutionally sound Line Item Veto bill has been passed since

Dad always told us how important it was for us to be involved in and understand what was happening in our community, state and nation. When we asked to go with him to the 2008 Democratic National Convention, I think he thought we would end up just goofing off instead of doing what we told him we wanted to do--start Kids Rock The Vote to teach kids how to get involved in the election and make a difference in their own communities. Like the voters in his Congressional District had given him a chance to prove himself, Dad gave us a chance to do the same. While he attended the convention as a delegate, we interviewed almost four dozen members of congress, celebrities, members of the press and kids attending the convention with their parents to help other kids understand all of the ways that we can make a difference in the election and the issues that Congress and the President think are important. Over the next few months, we continued our work, traveling to several battleground states to spread the word to kids all over the US that they can make a difference!

Our last big trip with Dad was to attend President Obama's Inauguration in January 2009 (see our coverage of those events here on our blog). We had no idea that it would be our last family vacation together, but it seems right that our last big trip would be to DC to participate in the culmination of more than a year's worth of Dad's hard work on President Obama's behalf (he was one of the first DNC delegates in the US to declare for then-Sen. Obama). Dad left us an important legacy of service and civic involvement. We hope we are making him proud.

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