and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
May #3

LWV may be nonpartisan, but it has an agenda
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, May 20, 2005

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 2 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 females.

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 representation.

During the 1980s ballot campaign for Proposition 2, 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 2 override.

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.