PORTLAND — Four years ago, America lost a one-of-a-kind champion of democracy who, at age 88, embarked on an unforgettable cross-country journey. One who walked for 14 months, traveling more than 3,200 miles. One who took a sleepy, good-government issue and made it relevant to millions of Americans.

Doris “Granny D” Haddock was that champion. Her effort to promote campaign finance reform inspires me today, and this week’s Supreme Court McCutcheon v. FEC ruling shows why her cause is more urgent than ever.

Back in 1999, I was active with the League of Women Voters. In Maine, I worked to implement the brand-new, citizen-initiated, Maine Clean Election Act. I followed with interest Granny D’s progress as she made her way east from California to Washington, D.C. She began on New Year’s Day and walked all through that year and into the next.

While Granny D walked, Maine people and Maine government prepared for the first election cycle with Clean Elections. There were lawsuits to win, rules to make and education and outreach to be done.

When she arrived in Washington, pioneering Maine candidates were engaged in the new, groundbreaking qualifying process for Clean Elections. For the first time, rather than dialing for dollars, candidates asked their neighbors for $5 qualifying contributions. They held “friendraisers” instead of fundraisers to launch their campaigns.

It was a thrill to join Granny D for the last five miles of her walk, from Arlington National Cemetery to the U.S. Capitol, and to welcome her on behalf of the League of Women Voters.

Although Granny D began her journey alone, she arrived in Washington with a big, rowdy crowd of good-government advocates, social activists, singing grandmothers, a unicyclist, high school students, members of Congress – all of us so moved by her extraordinary trek that we simply had to be there to support and honor her work.

Thousands cheered Granny D on the steps of the Capitol, then quieted as she spoke passionately about her experience.

Everywhere Granny D walked, she talked about the corrupting influence of money on politics. Because she felt so keenly the erosion of our democracy over her long lifetime, she wanted Congress to rein in the special interest money that played an increasing role in every election cycle by passing the McCain-Feingold Act.

Granny D also did a lot of listening. She listened to the families who fed her a meal, the hosts who put her up for the night and the many who walked with her for an hour, a day or a week. She learned that Americans from west to east want similar things. Breathable air. Clean drinking water. Safe schools. A fair shot at the American dream.

While Granny D found no constituency for polluted air, undrinkable water, corporate tax shelters or anything that special interests routinely push upon Congress, on that day she told the crowd what she did find – a widespread anger at the deep disconnect between the lives of ordinary Americans and the actions, and inactions, of our government.

On her walk, she helped people connect the issues important to them with the way we finance campaigns. And, in Washington, she was very interested to hear about Maine’s new Clean Election law.

Congress eventually passed McCain-Feingold, and Clean Elections became a popular, well-used program in Maine. Granny D continued her role as a public citizen, including a gutsy grass-roots run for U.S. Senate at the age of 94! After that improbable race, Granny D said, “Democracy is not something we have. It’s something we do.”

Granny D inspired a nation, but Maine’s Clean Election system inspired Granny D. She spent her last months advocating for Clean Elections in her home state of New Hampshire and in Congress because she believed the only way to save our democracy was through public financing of elections.

Granny D died at age 100, just weeks after the Supreme Court handed down the infamous Citizens United ruling giving corporations free rein to spend unlimited dollars in elections.

A year later, another decision, Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett, gave well-heeled, privately funded candidates the upper hand, damaging our Clean Election system.

This week, the high court dismantled more precedents, created new loopholes for the wealthy to exploit and ensured the continued dominance of big money in our elections.

Granny D’s cause must be our cause. To honor her legacy, we must step up and “do” democracy by fighting for common-sense laws that strengthen democracy.

I’ve got my walking shoes on. How about you?

— Special to the Press Herald