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Nancy Smith

My Mistake: League of Women Voters Is Partisan as They Come

April 22, 2014 - 6:00pm

The League of Women Voters' ringing condemnation of Florida's voucher program Tuesday hit me like a bucket of ice water. All these years, clinging to the belief that the LWV is what it purports to be. I'm done with it.

My mistake.

I finally and officially give up on the nonpartisanship -- or even bipartisanship -- of the organization I once trusted for its even-handedness.

Sunshine State News is more bipartisan than the left-creeping LWV -- and we admit to being right of center. The League admits to nothing.

It isn't just Deirdre Macnab's response to CS/SB 1512 -- in which she gives "a dunce cap" to the Senate Appropriations Committee for "defunding our public schools and placing more money into private institutions with less accountability, poorer results, and unapproved curriculum." This is only one issue. No point in getting into the number of women voters in Florida -- parents and teachers included -- who strongly disagree with the Florida LWV president on vouchers.

It's just that I can't recall an issue in recent years -- not a single one -- in which the League has taken a conservative point of view. Somewhere in the last 15 years, the organization's leadership decided it was OK to take sides and aggressively alienate half the "women voters" in this country -- and many male voters, too.

I was for many years in the 1980s and 1990s a huge supporter of the League of Women Voters. Why wouldn't I be? Eighteen years ago the LWV presented me with the Susan B. Anthony Award, and I felt truly honored. As a journalist, I was ethically comfortable with that because in Martin County, Fla., in those long ago days, the organization was a calm in every election storm.It honored its core, official position, that it is "strictly nonpartisan," neither supporting nor opposing candidates for office at any level of government.

The Stuart News and Port St. Lucie News, when I was managing editor, partnered with the League -- an oracle of election-related wisdom year after year -- to present very successful local candidate forums.

I'm telling you this, because I only feel I've been partially hoodwinked into thinking the League of Women Voters is a non-ideological, good-government group. Partially, because I'm convinced it once was.

Its changes were subtle until, at the turn of the century, League leaders began to emphasize their "other" role -- claiming the organization is "wholeheartedly political and works to influence policy through advocacy."

The League of Women Voters'Wikipedia website says, "The League works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and to influence public policy through education and advocacy, as well as through political lobbying of Congress."

Let's see ... nonpartisan/bipartisan but advocates for specific policy.

Now, that would be a pretty tough line to walk to maintain a reputation for fair play, even if you were a group seen to study all sides of an issue before putting out a policy statement. But when you roll out edicts on handpicked hot topics of the day, and your "specific policy" consistently falls on the same side of the ideological line, then you aren't bipartisan anymore. You aren't even close.

I've just been late in accepting it.

I took time Tuesday to look back at the LWV's 2012 political agenda on a number of state websites. It's a page straight out of the liberals' playbook. I didn't find any kisses for private property rights, debt reduction, Second Amendment rights, the XL Keystone Pipeline -- nothing on the right. Not a single issue.

What I did find in plentiful supply, however, were aggressive treatises on abortion rights; "regionally balanced" transportation systems; legal authority to control the use of land ("stronger state control"); adoption of the California standards for low emission vehicles; limiting smoking in public to designated areas; a more progressive state income tax, with an increase in the number of income brackets and a raise in the rates in higher brackets; and "the state has a role to play in child care" ... and should provide "some form of financial assistance."

I'm not here right now to argue against them. The point is, they're all progressive-liberal-Democratic issues.

Currently, the League of Women Voters of Florida lists nine issues on its website it calls "most recent accomplishments":

  • "Blocked the state of Florida's attempts to illegally purge registered voters 90 days before an election.
  • "Reduced gerrymandering by leading the charge for the Fair Districts amendments ..."
  • "Eliminated roadblocks to voting by demanding that the Legislature reinstate early voting days and the Sunday before Election Day ...
  • "Struck down unconstitutional restrictions on voter registration via a precedent-setting victory in U.S. federal court.
  • "Helped place Florida's Water and Land Legacy Amendment on the November 2014 general election ballot.
  • "Led the push for Sunrail, Central Florida's new commuter rail network.
  • "Initiated curbside recycling in St. Petersburg ...
  • "Successfully persuaded Florida voters to defeat nine out of 11 amendments on the 2012 ballot, many of which would have severely eroded the rights of citizens and/or defunded local governments.
  • "Worked with statewide environmental groups to successfully pressure the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to halt the sale of state-owned conservation lands."

Nothing wrong with these issues, particularly if you live in the blue camp. But for conservatives, there's a lot of favored policy missing from this list, and a lot on it they might raise a ruckus over.

I think it's safe to say FLWV leaders are not people who give the folks on the other side of the fence much of a look and listen. They're embedded right where they are. On the partisan left.

The League's attack on vouchers was the straw. My head is out of the sand.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423.

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