Being hired to head Common Cause, a national government watchdog group, was the equivalent of being appointed to the Supreme Court for Miles Rapoport.
That’s what Rapoport told a group of supporters Sunday at a fundraising event in Hartford.
“Common Cause is a national organization with a 43-year history,” he said. It “was the creator of the post-Watergate campaign finance regime that we have in this country.”
Despite its storied history, it was a tough sell to get the 64-year-old former Connecticut Secretary of the State and legislator, to leave Demos, a New York-based public policy organization that he headed for 13 years. However, Rapoport was up to the challenge.
Karen Hobert Flynn, who has been helping run the organization since the death of its late president, Bob Edgar, said she recruited Rapoport for the position. Hobert Flynn described Rapoport as a leader who has the ability to help individuals realize their talents.
“He’s a networker who puts people together,” Hobert Flynn said.
Rapoport, who began his career as a community organizer, said he plans on adding income inequality to Common Cause’s agenda. Robert Reich, the labor secretary under Bill Clinton and focus of the documentary “Inequality for All,” is the chairman of Common Cause’s national governing board.
“If John Gardner were alive today, he would absolutely say that the fundamental question facing America is the incredible levels of economic inequality unseen since 1913,” Rapoport said to a round of applause. “There is a suite of policies that can do something about it. What we need is the political will to do that and I want Common Cause to lend its voice and its power to doing that.”
He said he’s looking for Common Cause to have a “stronger racial equity lens” as the United States embarks upon a shift in its demographics. Rapoport said he wants to make sure the organization has the ability to bring Millennials in to work on their issues.
“I also want Common Cause to be an anchor for a broader movement,” Rapoport said.
He said there are issues like campaign finance reform, gender equality, and sexual orientation equity that are issues no one organization can solve on its own.
Despite the gridlock in Washington, Rapoport said he is optimistic about what he believes is a movement toward a more progressive agenda.
“I believe the conservative period as characterized by the last 35 years of American political history is over,” Rapoport said. “They have run aground. They have run out of ideas. The consequences of that program are the inequality that we see today. The wage stagnation that we see today. The sense that this is the first generation of young people who are going to do more poorly than their parents.”
He said he senses that there is a moment of opportunity and it’s not going to happen automatically, but he thinks progressive and democratic values will help build a bright future.
Common Cause has 400,000 members and 35 state chapters. Hobert Flynn said 21 of those are staffed in addition to having advisory panels. The rest are run by advisory panels and part of the goal of the organization is to get staff into some of those states to move issues forward that are important to those states.
Each state is different, according to Hobert Flynn. In California they’re looking at revising their ballot initiative, while Colorado has focuses on voter registration and mail-in voting.
In Connecticut, Common Cause and the Connecticut Citizens’ Action Group, another group which Rapoport headed in 1979, was instrumental in getting public campaign finance reform passed in 2005.
“It helps the country because he has a vision of what actually needs to happen,” Dan Livingston, a labor attorney who attended Sunday’s event, said about Rapoport.
As head of the Washington-based organization, Rapoport will split his time between his West Hartford home and his new apartment in Fairfax, Virginia.