Even after Illinois Green Party gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney got over 10% of the vote in 2006 and established the Green Party as a major party under Illinois law, the Illinois League of Women Voters is refusing to let Whitney debate the Republican and Democratic candidates in Chicago on Wednesday, October 20th. In the editorial viewpoint of Green Party Watch, actions like this make a mockery of democracy in America.
Fighting to be included in debates is a familiar exercise for Greens in the United States. Most political organizations fall into one of two camps: either they support open debates with all ballot-qualified candidates, or they support closed debates, which are typically limited to Democrats and Republicans. However, the League of Women Voters, in various times and places, has played the role of both ally and adversary to supporters of open debates.
The League of Women Voters ran presidential debates until 1988, when the Democratic and Republican parties, unhappy with the LWV’s inclusion of independent candidates like John Anderson, formed the Commission on Presidential Debates to seize control of the debates. The LWV issued a statement to announce its withdrawal of sponsorship for the debates:
The League of Women Voters is withdrawing sponsorship of the presidential debates … because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter. It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.
However, this year the League of Women Voters in Illinois has invited only the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor to an October 20th televised debate, despite the fact that Green Party candidate Rich Whitney received over 10% of the vote for governor 4 years ago. Whitney has called a press conference for Monday October 11th to demand that the LWV include him. Whitney’s campaign has also created the facebook group “Let Rich Whitney into the League of Women Voters Debate” and this video message from Rich Whitney to Illinois voters, which the campaign will release as a TV ad if it can raise enough money:
Whitney will take part in a debate with independent Scott Lee Cohen and Libertarian Lex Green on WJBC on Monday 11 October from 3-4:30PM. Democrat Quinn and Republican Brady declined to participate.
In Connecticut, Green Party Attorney General candidate Steve Fournier has filed a complaint with the IRS challenging the LWV’s tax-exempt status. Fournier says that while the League is supposed to be nonpartisan, its criteria for debate participation discriminate against independent and third-party candidates.
The gubernatorial debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters is the “real” debate to attend. It’s Tuesday, Oct. 19, 7:30 pm, in the Cultural Arts Center at Montgomery College’s Takoma Park campus, 7995 Georgia Avenue. For more information, see http://lwvmd.org/n/node/3261 or call 301-984-9585. Unlike WJZ-TV and the Baltimore Jewish Council, the LWV serves only the voters, and all of them. Third Party candidates have to work hard and overcome many electoral hurdles to get on the ballot; they deserve to be heard.
Maryland Green Party gubernatorial candidate Maria Allwine also commented on the post.
Is the League of Women Voters in your state a friend or foe of open debates? Can Greens call on the League’s better angels to ensure that our voices are included in the debates? What do you think?