Editorial: Is the League of Women Voters turning partisan?

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

As a Republican senator from the traditionally Democratic state of Massachusetts, Scott Brown treads a fine line.

He occasionally votes with Democrats, reinforcing the image of independence he hopes will bring him a full Senate term in the 2012 election. But he often sides with Senate Republican leaders, as in his vote to strip the EPA of authority to regulate greenhouse gases, knowing he'll face heat with traditionally Democratic constituencies.

But the attack ads aimed at Brown over his EPA vote come from a previously unlikely source: the League of Women Voters.

For more than 80 years, the LWV has billed itself as a scrupulously non-partisan organization, dedicated to better government and active participation by all. Whether sponsoring debates for local office, researching complex public policy options or supporting reforms to make government more transparent and accessible, the League's strength has been in its independence, its credibility and its commitment to putting policy above politics.

The ads targeting Brown, featuring a young girl on a respirator and a line calling on Brown to "protect the people, not the polluters," do a disservice to the League's traditions. In content and style, the 30-second commercials, billed on the national LMV website as a "seven-figure ad campaign" come across as a partisan hit job, not a voter education campaign.

The League launched a similar ad blitz targeting Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, which adds a touch of bipartisanship to the effort. It also means that the League, which has operated above the political fray for decades, is now a campaign player in at least two states.

One way to gauge what has been lost is to ask if the LWV of Massachusetts were to sponsor a candidates' debate next year between Brown and his opponent, would Brown decline on the grounds the League is no longer non-partisan? Will this initiative by the national League make it harder for local and state LWV chapters to present themselves as neutral?

We can imagine a commercial that the LWV could run that was more consistent with its principles and traditions. It would educate the voters about global climate change and the responsibilities of the EPA. It would portray emissions controls as a matter of generational responsibility requiring tough choices, including sacrifices needed now to avoid future pain.

A voter education campaign worthy of the League's traditions wouldn't confuse sympathy for a wheezing child with complicated public policy considerations, and it wouldn't bludgeon a politician it doesn't like with an appeal to emotion.

We disagree with Brown on this vote, and our sympathies are limited. Millions of dollars in special interest money was spent on both sides before the special election he won in 2010, and millions more will be spent on his campaign in 2012.

Our concern here is with the League of Women Voters. If the LWV becomes just another interest group funneling anonymous donations into 30-second negative ads, the nation will have lost something difficult to replace.

-- The MetroWest Daily News