This post pertains to the controversy created by Republican Party chairman Steve Munisteri, who advised Republican candidates for the State Board of Education to eschew appearing at a League forum with the Democratic candidates. Readers will recall that Munisteri said that the League was a Democratic organization and that its officers were “hard-core” Democrats who voted in the Democratic primary. Some commenters asserted that the League had undue control over the questions that would be asked. Here is one such comment: You wrote this above – “The rules of a debate are typically determined by the opposing camps, not by the sponsoring organization(s).” In the case of the LWV, you could not be more wrong. They had predetermined the rules. They said their members would be submitting the questions, their debate committee would be determining the questions and they had predetermined a moderator – Evan Smith, a Democrat who is knonw for his liberal views and has made public comments about the current SBOE. That makes him hardly a neutral participant. I e-mailed the president of the Austin/Travis County League of Women Voters to ask if she would clarify the organization’s rules. In particular, I wanted to know if the charges by Republican chairman Steve Munisteri, which is that members of the League determine which questions will be asked, is true. Here is the president’s response: The Austin League is not originating the questions. We have asked the public to submit questions which we will select from. Those who attend the taping can also submit questions before the forum begins. We usually collect all the questions, see which issues are of most concern to the public and ask as many as time allows to all the candidates. Of course, if you happen to be Steve Munisteri and you are looking for bogeymen, you might wonder who “the public” is. But this seems pretty harmless to me. Inviting members of the audience to submit questions is a common tactic. What gets asked is ultimately the decision of the producer and the moderator. I am particularly puzzled by the charge that the LWV had determined a moderator in advance. What are they supposed to do? Put out a call for volunteers? Pick someone from page 184, column three of the phone book? Of course they chose a moderator in advance. Every sponsoring organization of a debate chooses a moderator in advance. The choice was Evan Smith. You can’t do any better than Evan. He is great at keeping the ball rolling, and he plays it straight down the middle, as anybody who has seen him on Texas Monthly Talks knows. This episode is just another sad commentary on the politicalization of everything.
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