Come spring, the League of Women Voters is blooming
all over the place, with local ballot and candidate forums.
Always, it identifies itself as "nonpartisan," which some voters take to
mean impartial. But all "nonpartisan" means is that the organization has
no formal connection with a political party and is not, as a group,
active in specific candidate campaigns.
Citizens for Limited Taxation is nonpartisan. But no one would consider
it impartial or non-ideological; its values are limited taxes, personal
responsibility, and maximized personal freedom. CLT is never invited to
host impartial forums because it is assumed, probably accurately, that
its activists would have a hard time being objective.
There is an arm of the League of Women Voters that simply informs voters
about the need to vote. But that arm aside, the organization has an
agenda that rarely deviates from that of the Democratic Party.
The League positions on taxation, the size of government, and social
issues usually mirror those of liberal Democrats. The League was an
official opponent of Proposition 2½ and a 1986 state tax limit. It
officially supports "progressive taxation" and "social and economic
justice," and worked for the graduated income tax that Massachusetts
voters have rejected five times so far.
When I first moved to Massachusetts, I thought I might want to join the
LWV because I'd heard it did serious studies on various issues before
its members voted for what it calls a "consensus" position.
I attended my first League-sponsored forum in Danvers on the subject of
"gun control." I was curious because this was a phrase I had never heard
in my native Pennsylvania or anywhere else I lived.
The anti-gun-control side made a decent presentation, with data and
charts. His opponent then strode to the front of the stage and pulled a
gun, aiming it at the audience of what quickly became ducking, screaming
women. Having seen a gun before, I wasn't one of them, though it crossed
my mind that if I were armed I'd be justified in defending myself
against someone who was violating the law against "brandishing."
His point, I guess, was that we should all experience how scary guns
are. Immediately thereafter, a "consensus" vote was taken in favor of
gun control, which remains the official League position today. I was
amazed, and quickly lost interest in joining a group of silly, emotional
A few years later, I attended a local membership meeting on "tax
limitation" in Swampscott. A League member made a presentation in
opposition to the general concept, then the group leader announced there
would be a vote.
A young, obviously new member, asked if there could be a discussion
first. No, she was told, first we vote, then we'll have coffee, then we
can have a discussion if you want. I laughed so hard I was told to
leave, which I was happy to do.
The next time someone suggested I join the League, I said that I had
done some research on its positions and I didn't agree with any of them.
I was told I should join them and change them from within. Hey, I don't
agree with the Communist Party or Flat Earth Society either, but have no
intention of joining them to change them from within!
I'm sure many women do join just to get involved at the local level and
may have no idea of the real agenda of the national organization.
I myself did vote with the state LWV once, in 1974; it was promoting a
ballot question to cut the size of the Massachusetts House. This seemed
to be a cost-saver; in fact, it was the biggest ballot mistake I and the
rest of the majority ever made and is the basis for the undemocratic
institution that the House has become. With fewer members, the
Boston-based leadership has more control, and we have less real
During the 1980s ballot campaign for Proposition 2½, the League had
"forums" all across the state; but only one side was invited. A young,
apparently naive member called to invite me to participate in one local
event, and had to call a few days later to rescind the invitation. The
League, she was told, already has a position in opposition and the
forums were meant to sell a "no" vote.
Fortunately for taxpayers, they failed. But keep this long-standing bias
in mind if you attend a League-sponsored forum on a local Prop 2½
Some local leaders do make an attempt to have an objective forum. The
present-day Swampscott/Marblehead League did a decent job on the Patriot
Act last year. But more true to form, the Marblehead League held a
one-sided local forum on the "Pay to Throw" trash issue this March, with
only the supporting side invited onstage. Later, its candidate forum
carefully positioned the pro-override incumbent selectmen center stage,
with challengers on the fringe.
Maybe someday if there are enough members interested in true and fair
debate, they can "change the League from within."
Good luck, ladies.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.