The League of Women Voters debate controversy
Sun September 5, 2010 6:35 pm

When Steve Munisteri was elected chair of the state Republican party, I wrote in my report on the GOP state convention that his defeat of the ultraconservative Cathy Adams was a positive development for the state Republican party. Now I'm not so sure. Munisteri went off the deep end when he told GOP candidates for the State Board of Education, Marsha Farney and Ken Mercer, not to participate in a debate that would be sponsored by the Travis County League of Women Voters because the League's a Democratic organization.

"In Austin, the League of Women Voters should really be called the 'League of Women Democrats,'" Munisteri said. He said that the organization's leaders have ties to the Democratic party--namely, that all six of the League's elected officers have voted in Democratic primaries in recent years and other leaders have contributed money to Democrats, including those who were scheduled to debate.

My response is: So what? So the leaders of the organization sponsoring the debate were Democrats. How is that going to affect the debate? It can't. So they contributed to Democrats. How could that affect the debate? It can't. The rules of a debate are typically determined by the opposing camps, not by the sponsoring organization(s). Of course, the League's officers were foolish to contribute to participants in the debate. They gave Munisteri an excuse to get his candidates out of the debate.

This reminds me of the thankfully brief flap over whether I should have been allowed to participate in the Republican gubernatorial debate in February. (KERA-TV disqualified me because I was an opinion journalist, and Texas Monthly withdrew as a sponsor of the debate.) A panelist cannot affect a debate. All you can do is ask questions. In the case of KERA debates, the questions are discussed in advance among the panelists and the moderator determines what will be asked and in what order. Nothing I or any other panelist would have asked would have made any difference in who "won" or "lost" the debate, just as the political contributions made by members of the League of Women voters would not have affected the debate. Munisteri wanted to kill the debate and discredit the League of Women voters as a future sponsor of debates. But let's not pretend that anything the League might have done would have influenced the rules--or the outcome--of the debate.

I have voted in the Democratic primary. That doesn't make me a Democrat. Nor does it make the officers of the League of Women voters Democrats. If you want to vote for your local leaders in Travis County, you are probably going to vote in the Democratic primary. Steve Munisteri ought to understand this.

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