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A Good Citizen, Indeed

Colleen Bennett is a driving force with League of Women Voters
by: CLIFF NEWELL, Colleen Bennett displays her favorite beverage – Voter’s Choice Tea. The program she started has been an excellent fundraiser for the League of Women Voters.

When it comes to being involved with the League of Women Voters, Colleen Bennett admits, 'I'm engrained.'

For the past 30 years, 26 of them as a resident of Lake Oswego, Bennett has been working to register voters, educate voters and promote legislation that will benefit the great American public.

And in the big election year of 2008 Bennett's volunteer spirit is turned up full force.

'You feel you can help and make a difference,' Bennett said. 'People say, 'Oh, I'm not political.' Everything is political, even the gas you get at the pump. You are involved.

'A lot of people say they don't get involved because they don't know what's going on. That's where the league comes in.'

While the league never advocates for political parties or candidates, it does advocate for specific issues, and this year the LWV is focusing on three of them: National level - health care; state level - water issues; local level (Clackamas County) - libraries.

But the group only advocates for issues after the most careful preparation.

'We form committees and study these issues, and material is given to all of the members,' Bennett said. 'What we come up with shapes our positions and we form a consensus. Then we can take action.'

The League of Women Voters is reminiscent of the old E.F. Hutton commercial: When they talk, people listen.

'The league has a very good reputation,' Bennett said. 'When we speak with officials and politicians we've done our homework. We have researched thoroughly, both the pros and cons of an issue, and we come to an agreement. We have their respect.'

This painstaking study and integrity works well within the organization itself.

'Not all of our members agree on the positions we take,' Bennett said. 'But they know how hard we work on them and how fair we have been. That is why they remain members of the league.'

In was in 1978 while living in Spokane that Bennett unexpectedly became a member of the LWV. She and her husband Joe had three sons, and she was very active in their school lives.

'I kept running into people who were very knowledgeable about school affairs, and all of them turned out to be members of the League of Women Voters.

'That impressed me, so I went by their office to ask if I could speak to their chairman for schools.'

As it turned out, the Spokane chapter of LWV soon did have a school affairs chairman: Colleen Bennett. As soon as she made the inquiry she was offered the position, and 30 years later she is still going strong as one of the LWV's strongest supporters.

Bennett has held just about every office in the organization worth holding: President of the Clackamas County chapter, president of the state organization, and a member of the national nominating committee. Currently, she chairs the nominating committee and is on the library study committee.

Bennett has also initiated some highly innovative programs for the league, including the corporate affiliate program (of which the Lake Oswego Review was the first member) and the arrangement with Strand Tea Company to produce the league's very own special brand - Voter's Choice Tea - as a fundraiser.

Bennett even sold 900 boxes of Voter's Choice Tea at the recent LWV convention in Portland.

For such good work she was honored with the league's Carrie Chapman Award in 2005.

Indeed, she is engrained.

'I couldn't have done it without Joe's support,' Bennett said.

In fact, Joe's support has been so enthusiastic that he even gave her an automobile license plate with the letters LWV on it.

Oddly enough, when the Bennetts moved to Lake Oswego in 1982 Colleen had intended to taper off from her league activities. Of course, it didn't work out that way.

She said with a laugh, 'I had a friend in Beaverton who called the Clackamas County chapter and said, 'Do you know who is living there now.''

In other words, a real ringer. Bennett has been going strong ever since and shows no sign of slowing down. That's good news for democracy around here.

'You're never out of the league,' Bennett said. 'It's in you. I always go back to the league.'