Has League of Women Voters Outlived Its Usefulness?

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Given my pointed criticism of Bob Dunning recently, I think it is only fair to point out that he is absolutely correct when he writes, “The spirit of openness and fair play that we’ve come to expect when debating political issues in the City of Davis was clearly lacking in the recent League of Women Voters ‘forum’ on Measure A.”

Why is that? Because they apparently went out of their way to invite only those speakers who supported Measure A and “specifically declined respectful requests from the ‘No’ side to have a seat at the debate table.”

Rich Rifkin, in a comment on the Vanguard yesterday afternoon, added context, “Through emails, he and I discussed this issue late last week. I had been contacted by Tom Randall, and Tom showed me his exchanges with Jean Canary of the DLWV. After I looked into what Randall had claimed happened to him (and to Ralph Finch, who also wanted to participate in the debate), I passed the story on to Bob and he did his own research and wrote that column…”

The League only invited School Board member Sheila Allen and former California Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin – both of whom were strong supporters of the measure.

In fairness, we have not yet contacted Jean Canary, though we intended to.  However, we do have her response to Mr. Randall in which she wrote, “The Board of the Davis League of Women Voters  has discussed our Measure A  forum and decided that there is a lack of information explaining the need for Measure A  to the Davis voters.”

She added, “The League has as one of its goals the education of the voters, and we decided the information format will allow the public the most opportunity to ask questions about their school district’s funding.”

The truth is that the League of Women Voters in Davis has been a problem for quite some time.  It pains me to have to write this, given the respect that I have for the organization’s history and the likely grief I will receive for writing this. 

However, from our standpoint, the League does not deserve the preeminent status that earned them the only official forum for the council candidate appointment process.

As I noted at the time, “Without disparaging the work of people who have volunteered their time, I really dislike the format of League of Women Voters forums.  Particularly with ten candidates, we had ten three-minute introductory statements and ten two-minute closing remarks.  That’s 50 minutes of a two-hour event to scripted comments, rather than questions.”

But it was worse than that as I noted, as the questions were actually quite bad.  They did not get at the heart of the issues and the format, as mentioned, was a problem.  They asked about a new general plan, which is really a secondary issue.  They asked about plastic bag bans, which is an interesting topic but also not a core issue.  They asked about Picnic Day. 

Nothing about the most crucial issues facing the city.  That should have been a clear indication that the League is out of step with what the burning issues are in Davis.  The better questions came from the public.

This was not an isolated incident.  My comment last spring was really that the League of Women Voters forum was highlighted as the centerpiece forum, it was shown on TV and it was promoted, but it was the least informative of the ten or so forums that the candidates for city council had.

But, bad as those forums were, they were at least fair.  When they had debates over Measure R and Measure Q, at least they had David Musser and Jerry Adler up there as opposition.

How you can have a candidate’s forum, a primary candidates forum or a forum about a parcel tax measure, without opposition, is beyond me.  I think this should be the death knell for allowing the League to be a centerpiece and focal point of the forums.  Now, whether there is anyone with actual authority that can change things is beyond me.

I have nothing against Ms. Allen or Ms. Eastin, they are great ladies who are deserving of respect in our community, but we needed to have a debate with both sides of the issue fairly and equally represented.  And that did not happen.  And once again, this will come back to harm the very cause that the League was hoping to promote.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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27 thoughts on “Has League of Women Voters Outlived Its Usefulness?”

  1. Avatar

    So your saying that women shouldn’t be involved in the voting process , because they’re doing a bad job with there forum .

    I’d hate to be in your shoes today !

  2. E Roberts Musser

    Avatar: “So your saying that women shouldn’t be involved in the voting process , because they’re doing a bad job with there forum .”

    This has nothing to do w women – it has to do with fairness. And shame on Measure A proponents for even being involved in such a travesty of undemocratic nonsense. The Davis League of Women Voters have shown their true colors, and have no business conducting any forums in which they are able to obtain a fee waiver bc they are supposedly a “nonpartisan” organization. I want to know if the Davis League of Women Voters were able to obtain a fee waiver from the city for the use of the City Council chambers for this forum?

    Frankly, it appears the proponents of Measure A will stop at nothing to get it approved by voters – by hook or by crook. (Personally I am not willing to let the two ladies that participated in this “forum farce” off the hook so easily.) Fairness apparently doesn’t enter into their thinking, the proponents of Measure A are that desperate. Seems like proponents are very afraid/feeling extremely uncomfortable that the opposition to Measure A has very valid points…

    Good luck to the school district when it comes time to renew the existing school parcel tax – I think citizens may be a bit more jaded after this fiasco and others – I know I am disgusted at such blatent manipulation as evidenced by the “informative” letter sham and forum farce… It has to make one wonder how much truth there is to anything the school district tells us… Fie for shame!

  3. Ryan Kelly

    I find the candidate forums valuable to get a sense of how the person plays with others. Do they make faces while others are talking? Are they patient? Do they make good use of their time to make a point or do they ramble and talk just so their voice is heard? Other than that, I don’t expect much substance. All of the forums are designed with bias. An example of this is the demand for a one word answer to the question, “Do you support the Boy Scout Christmas Tree boycott?” When candidates wanted to explain their answer, the moderator cut them off with the explanation that if they tried to say more she would not vote for them. Just plain petty.

    The League of Women voters has a charge to educate their voters (historically, women) about political issues so they can cast an informed vote. They failed here, because they did not allow for the voters to hear all the information available. I was a member of the League at one time. I was never asked to give input on pressing issues to be addressed at the forum. It seemed like there was a small cohort of women that drove everything and maybe this is the problem. The League should take an honest look at how they operate and try to restore their neutrality and purpose.

  4. Phil Coleman

    The irony here is that Measure A opponents won the forum “debate” by being excluded with all the subtly of a train wreck. Davis is quite passionate about its politics but, overall, there is a recognition of fairness and equity even among the most vocal proponents of any issue.

    The local chapter of LWW has had its image of neutrality irreparably damaged. Rather than discuss whether this organization has “outlived its usefulness” the question becomes can it possibly survive in Davis?

  5. Observer

    In my view the sad part of all this is that is was unnecessary and counterproductive. I support the schools and voted yes on A, but given the behavior of the superintendent and his letter to the current exemptees, the stacking of the deck by the LWV, etc, it was difficult to vote yes. These people do not have confidence in the democratic process and believe that the “right” vote will take place only if the process is short circuted. Things would work better for them if they just played by the rules. They don’t get it.

  6. itsme

    I’ve long stopped reading Dunning and Rifkin. Life is more pleasant without their hostile and often petty words. So I misssed this rare piece of news among the chaff. Good you reported it.

    Too bad about LWV. If they feel a biased evaluation of Measure A is ncessary for a sale, how good is the Measure?

  7. wdf1

    ERM: [i]Seems like proponents are very afraid/feeling extremely uncomfortable that the opposition to Measure A has very valid points[/i]

    At this point you’re substituting discussion of process and personality for any substantive discussion on policy. Measure A is not about voting for a candidate, but rather a policy that affects people who live in this community.

    I, for one, would have gladly apprerciated representation from the No side, because it would have been more interesting, and I don’t think the No arguments that have been presented so far hold up well. If LWV had allowed for a more conventional and credible format, then I think the discussion would have gone something like this:

    [url]http://davismedia.org/content/measure-statements[/url]

    Instead we’re having a discussion more akin to Hollywood gossip. And your comments about Measure A, so far, have been mostly about process, personalities, and the occasional, “the opposition has valid points” without weighing in on the specific points. You yourself can elevate the discussion by addressing the substance, if that’s a genuine interest of yours.

  8. Dr. Wu

    LWV also stacked the deck on Measure P allowing the developer to place his paid consultants, some of whom did not even live in Davis, on the Pro Measure P panel but then refusing to allow the No on P side to have Sue Greenwald on, claiming that they did not want elected officials in the debate.

    So its doubly ironic here that elected School Board officials are now allowed but others are not.

    The only consistency here seems to be whatever Ms. Canary wants she gets.

    This is a disgrace to LWV which does excellent work throughout the country. Unfortunately not in our fair City though.

  9. Rifkin

    [i]”The only consistency here seems to be whatever Ms. Canary wants she gets.”[/i]

    The Davis LWV was just as partisan, perhaps more-so, when Jean Lund was running it. Ms. Lund confused the League’s goal of promoting the democratic process with promoting the Democratic Party’s process.

  10. E Roberts Musser

    wdf1: ” You yourself can elevate the discussion by addressing the substance, if that’s a genuine interest of yours.”

    I have addressed the substance of Measure A several times, listing both the pros and cons if you remember. The bottom line is that this forum was rigged, right after the advocacy letter fiasco. Clearly the proponents of Measure A (school district) don’t seem to want to play fair – now why do you think that is, if they are so convinced of the righteousness of their position? From where I sit it looks as if they feel the opposition has hit home on its points where it hurts and are very afraid Measure A won’t pass this time around. But all the proponents of Measure A have succeeded in doing, IMHO, is jeopardize the success of the continuation of the school parcel tax… they are undermining their own credibility w unconscionable behavior – a stupid move, wouldn’t you say?

  11. wdf1

    ERM: [i]Frankly, it appears the proponents of Measure A will stop at nothing to get it approved by voters – by hook or by crook. (Personally I am not willing to let the two ladies that participated in this “forum farce” off the hook so easily.) Fairness apparently doesn’t enter into their thinking, the proponents of Measure A are that desperate.[/i]

    Elaine, you forgot to pound a little harder on Ms. Eastin, as well as your Vanguard colleague, Mr. Greenwald. Eastin posted her position on the Vanguard, but Mr. Randall did not. I guess it’s just further proof of her dispicable ethics to not wait and allow Randall to pull himself together to submit something to the Vanguard, huh?

    A little perspective: If you review archived Vanguard articles and comments, there were similar critical comments made of the school board, the administration, and the “Davis establishment” over Measure W. At one point, even D. Greenwald speculated there was reasonable chance that it might fail.

  12. wdf1

    ERM: [i]they are undermining their own credibility w unconscionable behavior – a stupid move, wouldn’t you say?[/i]

    To address the argument that you seem to imply, that voters should consider rejecting Measure A because its proponents are unscrupulous and incompetent:

    DJUSD did not get to this financial situation because the school board or administration was bad. DJUSD is in its current financial situation because of the way the state decided to allocate money. I can post news articles of hundreds of school districts across the state that are in a very similar situation as we are; similar budget responses, similar kinds of budget cuts. Unless we were to agree that this is one huge statewide conspiracy, it’s hard to believe that simultaneous incompetence from all of those hundreds of school districts produced this mess.

    DJUSD has laid out what kind of budget we will have if the revenue isn’t there. Quite frankly, I am grateful to be in Davis and have the chance to make a choice: are these kinds of cuts acceptable or not? If not, then consider voting for Measure A.

  13. Musser

    WDF1: you appear to be the only one who can excuse this outrageous behavior. And considering the nature of your posts, one truly wonders where you are coming from and to whom you are connected.

    having said that, if there is any truth to what Dunning says in today’s column, sheila allen was at the forum – placing the school board’s fingerprints all over this little stunt, as well as the DLWV.

    thus the school board shows that it is not acting in good faith in the passage of the tax – using underhanded tactics – the other one being the letter by the superintendent. I don’t want those people to have more control of my money if they are not ethical in the way they attain it.

  14. wdf1

    Musser: [i] you appear to be the only one who can excuse this outrageous behavior.[/i]

    I don’t excuse it. I think Mr. Randall or Finch should have been seated at the dais. I don’t think the arguments they have presented so far are very strong. Nor do I think yours are on this one. But we may have to agree to disagree.

  15. Musser

    “I don’t excuse it. I think Mr. Randall or Finch should have been seated at the dais. I don’t think the arguments they have presented so far are very strong. Nor do I think yours are on this one. But we may have to agree to disagree.”

    I agree with Elaine on this one: they are strong enough to make the school board nervous such that they feel they have to resort to these underhanded tactics.

    I think we are both arguing at cross purposes. You and DMG have stated what your bottom line is: if the school board cannot make up a shortfall and has to make drastic cuts, then the tax-payer needs to pony up and pay.

    That is not my bottom line, nor is it Randall’s. Community needs are just that – community needs. in other words, more people reside in the community than those connected with the school who also have financial needs to be considered. You and DMG just want to ignore that part of the equation because you have placed the school’s burden at the very top of the totem pole – I have done no such thing. So yes, our arguments appear weak to you. But since your bottom line is different than mine, your arguments are weak to me – what the school board needs goes and there is no other consideration including the school boards reprehensibe behavior.

    another editorial surfaced against measure A which touches on my point – there are people with financial hardships that cannot just pay a tax everytime the school board asks us to lie down like a lapdog and take the abuse.

  16. medwoman

    And again it will be the kids who lose here if the adults feel the need to continue squabbling over the true motives of the other side.
    I freely admit to having the kids education as one of my top priorities.
    I completely believe in everyone’s right to vote their own conscience. And I think that the Measure A opponents would have much more credibility if they stepped forward with ideas for how we all could support the schools if their side wins. I would love to hear about plans to volunteer, tutor, etc. And if measure A passes, how about those whose concern is for the less economically advantaged, how about pairing up with someone to cover part of their share?
    For those who feel that the government is too intrusive, nanny state, expensive, inefficient, arrogant …. Fill in your own perforative, ok, let’s step up as private citizens and demonstrate how we can do it better ourselves. Any takers?

  17. Musser

    ” A opponents would have much more credibility if they stepped forward with ideas for how we all could support the schools if their side wins.”

    and what about proponent’s credibilty? so far your argument is that if the school board is in anyway short, the taxpayer needs to cover the difference because there is no other way. if that is your positon, then does that mean the school board gets to write its own check with any dollar amount? because if you follow your argument to its conclusion, the school district can name its own price and pick others pockets till its heart is content.

  18. Gunrock

    I have been on the fence on Measure A for a while, I don’t like taxes in general, but Davis schools are “special” and a little extra might make sense. Problem is, this whole measure has been railroaded down our throats from the outset. I am voting no and I will be doing so because of the bs tactics of the League of Women Voters. Good job girls…

  19. wdf1

    [i]and what about proponent’s credibilty? so far your argument is that if the school board is in anyway short, the taxpayer needs to cover the difference because there is no other way.[/i]

    Not really. There is always cutting, and that is a political position that you might agree with. The school district has proposed a budget for next year that includes cuts already. If Measure A passes, then most of those cuts will be rescinded. If it doesn’t, then we have the blue print for the budget to follow.

    The question is, are those cuts worth taking? I say no, keep the teachers and pass Measure A; you say otherwise.

    I would have appreciated having that choice for the proposed statewide tax extensions, but we didn’t get that chance. I appreciate having a say locally in determining how we fund the local schools.

    And no, the school board doesn’t go to the local voters all the time. In order to balance the budget in the past few years, they have laid off staff and teachers, taken pay cuts at all levels, cut classes, increased class sizes, offered retirement incentives to more senior teachers in order to keep other teachers, spent down allowable reserves, and taken furloughs, and closed a school. These are all sensible responses to tough budget situations.

    And do I think adequately funded local schools are a high priority? Absolutely! I think the overall local economy is made stronger with good accessible local schools. It makes our community more productive and reduces future dependence on social safety net programs. Overall it is cheaper than the alternatives.

  20. medwoman

    Musser

    I have never argued that there is no other way. I believe I have offered some ideas for individual action regardless of whether the measure passes or fails. That is because I believe in the possibility of finding solutions rather than just finger pointing while the kids pay the price for adult intransigence. While I would never defend the action of the League of Women Voters, again I can not see that as a reason to penalize students.

  21. Musser

    since neither one of you addressed my question, I’ll restate it again:
    in a budget shortfall, should the school board have carte blanche to write its own check?

    and my other question to WDF1 was not addressed twice now, so I’ll go out on a limb: I suspect you are connected to the school district, because its all over your responses.

  22. David M. Greenwald

    “in a budget shortfall, should the school board have carte blanche to write its own check? “

    They don’t have carte blanche and they don’t write their own check. They have to get two-thirds of the voters to support them in order to increase the parcel tax.

  23. David M. Greenwald

    “You and DMG have stated what your bottom line is: if the school board cannot make up a shortfall and has to make drastic cuts, then the tax-payer needs to pony up and pay. “

    I think that’s an oversimplification of my view. But my view is that I prioritize spending for schools over spending for other government programs. And I would prefer to see taxes raised, pay more in taxes myself, than have teachers laid off, programs cut, and class room sizes increased. I’m also fine with that being a voter decision.

    I do take issue with one point that you made: “so far your argument is that if the school board is in anyway short, the taxpayer needs to cover the difference because there is no other way.”

    in actuality, the parcel tax only covers half of the cuts.

    I also take exception to your comment “because there is no other way” because to this point you have refused to lay out another yourself. You want to argue that there isn’t “no other way” then show us.

    “there are people with financial hardships that cannot just pay a tax everytime the school board asks us to lie down like a lapdog and take the abuse.”

    I think there are very few people who have financial hardships who have to pay the $200 tax while not being eligible for the senior exemption. But again, that’s why we have a vote.

  24. David M. Greenwald

    “You and DMG have stated what your bottom line is: if the school board cannot make up a shortfall and has to make drastic cuts, then the tax-payer needs to pony up and pay. “

    I think that’s an oversimplification of my view. But my view is that I prioritize spending for schools over spending for other government programs. And I would prefer to see taxes raised, pay more in taxes myself, than have teachers laid off, programs cut, and class room sizes increased. I’m also fine with that being a voter decision.

    I do take issue with one point that you made: “so far your argument is that if the school board is in anyway short, the taxpayer needs to cover the difference because there is no other way.”

    in actuality, the parcel tax only covers half of the cuts.

    I also take exception to your comment “because there is no other way” because to this point you have refused to lay out another yourself. You want to argue that there isn’t “no other way” then show us.

    “there are people with financial hardships that cannot just pay a tax everytime the school board asks us to lie down like a lapdog and take the abuse.”

    I think there are very few people who have financial hardships who have to pay the $200 tax while not being eligible for the senior exemption. But again, that’s why we have a vote.

  25. wdf1

    Musser: [i]I suspect you are connected to the school district, because its all over your responses[/i]

    I have had kids in the district, so yes, I am connected that way. I thought I had made that much clear before. Do you mean do I get a paycheck from the district? No.

    I follow the school budget like any good citizen, and I ask questions when I don’t know.

    As a parent, I have learned that good schools matter and make a difference and avoid more expensive remedies later on.

    As to your carte blanche question, I have already answered that, and I think my views align closely with DMG’s on this. The district has put this measure on the ballot to ask for funds to maintain classes and programs for optimal success of its current students.

    You seem to avoid answering hard questions. What would you like to see cut? The district could close Emerson, cut some extra non-teaching staff and administration and move some teachers to other schools, but you seem specifically averse to that.

  26. wdf1

    Musser: [i]I suspect you are connected to the school district, because its all over your responses[/i]

    I have had kids in the district, so yes, I am connected that way. I thought I had made that much clear before. Do you mean do I get a paycheck from the district? No.

    I follow the school budget like any good citizen, and I ask questions when I don’t know.

    As a parent, I have learned that good schools matter and make a difference and avoid more expensive remedies later on.

    As to your carte blanche question, I have already answered that, and I think my views align closely with DMG’s on this. The district has put this measure on the ballot to ask for funds to maintain classes and programs for optimal success of its current students.

    You seem to avoid answering hard questions. What would you like to see cut? The district could close Emerson, cut some extra non-teaching staff and administration and move some teachers to other schools, but you seem specifically averse to that.

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