MOUNTAIN LAKES – Many Republicans are not fans of the League of Women Voters; saying the group tilts to the left.
Nonetheless, the League, which has various local chapters, continues to host forums among candidates on all levels – municipal. county, state and federal.
But not everywhere.
A controversy over the League that surfaced a year ago in this prestigious Morris County community over a high school program involving Rep. Mikie Sherrill has now morphed into this year’s race for borough council.
The four-person Republican ticket is declining to take part in a League-sponsored forum. Aside from the underlying view of the League held by many Republicans, the impetus for this decision comes down to name calling.
The release from the “Laker Republican Club” refers to an email last year from a League executive board member that “included accusations of Republicans being racist, misogynist, anti-LGBTQ, anti immigration, anti-environment, morally corrupt and unethical.”
Whew. There’s a lot there.
The Republicans said they were willing to essentially put the matter to rest, but they wanted the League to apologize. That didn’t happen.
“Unfortunately, the matter was never resolved and (the League) did not condemn these biased and intimidating comments of their Executive Board Member,” the statement reads.
So, there will be no League forum for Republicans.
The League put together a lengthy statement in response to the Republicans’ snub.
“The Mountain Lakes League has never been bigoted toward Republicans and denounced bigotry at its first mention,” it said.
As for the email in question, the League doesn’t deny it was made, but said the individual was “speaking” as an individual and not on behalf of the League.
Additionally, the statement said the League “made every effort to assure the (Laker Republican Club) that the integrity of the debate has never been and will never be compromised.” It added that the Mountain Lakes League offered to bring in another chapter – the West Morris/Warren League – to run the debate but to no avail.
As we said, there is some history here.
Back in the spring of 2019, the League planned a program at the borough high school to encourage young girls to become politically active. Sherrill was to be the featured speaker.
But critics said they feared the program would discriminate against boys. There were reports that the school administration originally suggested that only girls attend the program.
This prompted some passionate school board meetings and the program was ultimately shelved.
All this political hubbub may be happening because the borough, which was once a dependable GOP stronghold, is changing. And this is a pivotal election with four of seven council seats up for grabs. Democrats not only control the council at the moment, Sherrill won the town in 2018 and Hillary Clinton carried it in 2016.
And to complete the political circle from last year’s LWV flap, one of those expressing concern about the high school presentation was Councilwoman Audrey Lane. This year, Lane is the campaign manager for Rosemary Becchi, the Republican challenging Sherrill in CD-11.
What Follows is an Editor’s Note:
IMPORTANT Clarification from the League of Women Voters Mountain Lakes Regarding Laker Sensibility Candidates Refusal to Debate
The League of Women Voters of Mountain Lakes must correct the record with regard to our communications with the Laker Republican Club (LRC). The Laker Sensibility candidates’ recent explanation for declining a League-sponsored debate is untrue. Our League has 5 important points of clarification to make.
- The Mountain Lakes League has never been bigoted toward Republicans and denounced bigotry at its first mention.
In their email blast dated September 10, 2020, the LRC stated that they had asked for “a commitment from the League that they stand against bigotry toward Republicans.” The LRC stated that this matter was unfortunately never resolved.
In a letter dated September 4, 2020, our League clearly denounced bigotry toward all political groups. The September 4th League letter to the LRC from the League President said:
“I want to make clear that the views expressed in that letter are not those of the League but rather are the personal views of this member. This member spoke, exercising her first amendment rights as a private citizen and military spouse, not as a League member.
“The League embraces tolerance of ALL political parties as we are a nonpartisan organization. Our members, however, can be wholly partisan and can express their partisan leanings without admonishment as long as they do not do so in the name of the League.”
- The ML League was asked by the LRC to remove a member of our Board. The LRC further requested that the League ask our member to step down from the League Board. In their statement of refusal, the Laker Sensibility candidates’ statement excerpted a portion of an email response sent to the LRC on July 4, 2019 by this League member.
Our League assured the LRC that the by-laws of the National, State and Local League provide for all League members, including those in Board positions, to express their partisan views as long as they do not do so in the name of or while referring to the League. This was well within that member’s rights as written in our by-laws. In multiple communications with the LRC, the League was clear in stating that the views of this member in no way reflected those of the League. The League provided a copy of our by-laws to the LRC which explain this and that the exception to this rule on partisanship applies only to the League President and the Voter Services Chair.
- In order to participate in the League debate, the LRC required that the ML League formally apologize to the LRC for a letter written by our member.
While we are sorry for the situation that has been created here, the League would not formally apologize to the LRC as this would mean we would take ownership of the contents of an email that the League had nothing to do with. Further, since the member wrote her email as a private citizen (and did not post on any social media) without mention of the League anywhere in her letter, this member was in full compliance with our by-laws.
The League does not silence its members nor restrict their first amendment rights. The League cannot amend its by-laws based on a request from one political group or another. Our League is part of national organization and we pay dues to and work in coordination with the State and National League on whose by-laws ours are based.
- The League made every effort to assure the LRC that the integrity of the debate has never been and will never be compromised.
Our League reviewed the nationally developed debate process that has been in place for more than 50 years in Mountain Lakes with the LRC, and we reminded them of the success of the Bucco/Bhimani debate which the ML League co-sponsored in October 2019 along with the Morristown League.
- The ML League offered a solution to the impasse reached with the LRC: A debate organized by the West Morris/Warren League. Because there appeared to be an impasse with the LRC, the ML League then secured the services of a sister League, the West Morris/ Warren League, whose standards are consistent with ML and all state Leagues.
The LRC and Laker Sensibility Candidates rejected this offer without explanation.
The mission of the LWV is to empower voters and defend democracy. An important way we fulfill that mission is through hosting nonpartisan debates. The League also has a valuable asset in VOTE411. This website can be accessed at www.vote411.org. Here you’ll find extensive, important information for planning your vote during this pandemic year. Vote411 provides information on national, state and local candidates for election as well as on all the logistics of voting in your district.
We hope that all 8 candidates for Borough Council take advantage of the Vote411 opportunity and we urge our community members to go on that website and to check it frequently as it is updated regularly by our state League voter services volunteers.
During our centennial year, the League is proud of what we’ve accomplished. We hope that the LRC and their candidates for Council can join in with this venerated organization and agree to a League standard, nonpartisan, well-run local debate where the community of voters can have their pressing questions answered as they have for decades. We urge the LRC and Laker Sensibility Candidates put aside this diversion and accept the generous offer of the West Morris/Warren League.