It’s the voters who are going to lose, not the League of Women Voters itself.
That’s from Nancy Hedinger, the president of the League of Women Voters in the Morristown area, responding to the move by Morris County Republicans to decline invites – “politely” we must point out – to take part in League debates this year.
Laura Ali, the party chair, explained the move by saying the League has adopted a “progressive, leftist platform over the last several years.”
Hedinger did not directly address that point, but she did offer the following statement:
“When candidates refuse to participate in candidate forums, it is a loss for voters. The League has a century-long reputation of providing unbiased information to voters through candidate forums, candidate questionnaires, voter registration drives, and community educational events. The proposed forums would have been streamed online, reaching thousands of voters. For reference, a League sponsored Board of Ed forum last year in our county had 1.9 thousand views, a mayoral debate had 1.3 thousand views, and these represent our typical audience size for local races. Declining to participate in League forums does a disservice to Morris County voters.
“It is the voters that are harmed, when candidates refuse to participate in debates. The League conducts hundreds of forums statewide each year, providing an essential service and platform for voters to learn more about the candidates on their ballot. Over the years, candidates representing all parties have thanked the League of Women Voters and praised it for the fair, relevant and informative nature of its forums.
“Questions for League of Women Voters forums in Morris County are submitted by the public via online form. Only questions that address those issues the candidate can be reasonably expected to address if elected are used. Moderators are trained to professionally handle the questioning process, eliminate personal attacks and keep the discourse focused on the issues. Every candidate is given an opportunity to respond to each question and for rebuttal.”
There is some history here.
Broadly speaking, Republicans statewide for the last few election cycles have complained about an alleged leftward drift of the officially, non-partisan LWV. Some GOP candidates in recent years have refused to take part; others have. The League did hold a primary debate this year among Republicans seeking the party’s nomination in CD-11, although only three of the five took part. One who didn’t, Paul DeGroot, won the primary.
Partisanship aside, there also has been unhappiness in some quarters with the League’s debate format, which is quite structured. Robust give and take is generally not permitted.
League moderators are always from outside the district or town, which suggests impartiality. However, in viewing many League debates over the years, I have seen some moderators who are unfamiliar with local issues. That’s not good.
The larger issue of alleged partisanship may be a product of our polarized times. As Republicans move right and Democrats move left, there ain’t much there in the middle.
The League traditionally has supported “women’s issues.” That’s hardly a surprise. Time was when such issues as reproductive rights, equal pay and expanded child care were backed by women across the political spectrum. That is no longer the case.
And that may be why we are seeing Republicans refusing to cooperate with LWV debates. Don’t be surprised if it continues.