Nov. 3, 2018
Earlier this month, six of seven Republican candidates for the Grand Traverse County Commission abruptly pulled out of a public forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Grand Traverse Area (LWVGTA). While they expressed no qualm with the local organizers or their long history of fairness and nonpartisanship, they took issue with League of Women Voters (LWV) National CEO Virginia Kase's civil disobedience surrounding the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.
Republican Gordie LaPointe, an unopposed candidate for the county's sixth district, said he was so upset with the League and their CEO's behavior that he sent an email to the other candidates encouraging them to boycott.
“After watching television and the screaming and shouting down of people, I said I can't work with an organization that promotes that type of activity,” LaPointe said in an interview with Interlochen Public Radio. And as a commenter on a story covering the controversy in Traverse City’s online daily, The Ticker, he added “I chose not to participate in the LWV forum based on a principle. I oppose civil disobedience, which seems to be the norm for anything they disagree with.”
The League of Women Voters is a civic organization that was formed in 1920, just prior to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, in order to help women take a larger role in public affairs after they won the right to vote. Their mission is to encourage informed and active participation in government, create better understanding of political issues, and shape policy through education and advocacy. It is officially nonpartisan, in that it neither supports nor opposes political candidates or parties.
LWVGTA President Jan Warren says that the stance taken regarding Brett Kavanaugh was about advocacy, not politics, because he was appointed, not elected.
However, the LWV supports many progressive public policy positions including campaign finance reform, universal health care, abortion rights, climate change action, environmental regulation, and gun violence prevention.
So instead of engaging with voters across the political spectrum at the LWV forum, Robert Hentschel, Brad Jewett, Ron Clous, Dan Lathrop, and Matthew Schoech joined LaPointe in the basement of Horizon Books for a rally disguised as “one-on-one open honest conversations about local issues facing Grand Traverse County.” Addison “Sonny” Wheelock Jr., candidate for the county's fourth district, was the only Republican candidate who honored his commitment to participate.
It is ironic that these candidates are criticizing Kase for the same sort of activity that delivered voting rights to more than half of the American adult population in the first place.
“The League was founded by women who fought for women's suffrage. They marched in the streets, disrupted the status quo, and, yes, faced arrest and punishment to advance their cause. We honor their legacy by participating in our democracy through this civil disobedience,” says Kase.
“The Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing was an appalling display of inequity for women’s voices. For far too long, American women and girls have been told to keep quiet after enduring sexual assault. In 2018, the time has come to stop telling women to ‘sit down and shut up’,” adds LWV President Chris Carson.
I suspect that passivity was exactly what many Republicans expected from the LWV. They mistakenly assumed that because these sweet old ladies mainly work to register voters and provide election information through voter guides and candidate forums that they were relatively benign. They are now realizing that politically active women are a force, and that is making them uncomfortable.
“Celebrating this being arrested and illegal protesting, that isn't the sort of thing that is consistent with our candidacy,” said Hentschel, candidate for the county's seventh district, in an interview with Up North Live.
This is a ridiculous excuse to forego a LWV-sponsored opportunity to speak with Grand Traverse County residents, especially when you consider that “illegal protesting” comes with the same misdemeanor charge as, say, jaywalking.
Which brings us back to civil disobedience. Wikipedia defines it as the active, professed refusal of a citizen to obey certain laws, demands, orders or commands of a government power. It is most often equated with nonviolent resistance.
Although civil disobedience is generally considered to be an expression of contempt for law, Martin Luther King Jr. regarded civil disobedience to be a display and practice of reverence for law: “Any man who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail in order to arouse the conscience of the community on the injustice of the law is at that moment expressing the very highest respect for law.”
I find this kind of division distressing, especially on the local level. Promoting the interests of women shouldn't be a “political” issue. Protecting women's health and believing sexual assault survivors shouldn't be considered “partisan.” And it shouldn't be too much to expect candidates from opposing parties to respectfully engage in discourse with their constituents and one another.
“(The six Republicans') withdrawal from the forum prevents us from educating the voters of Grand Traverse County about their qualifications, their thoughts on the critical issues facing the area, and their goals for office,” Warren says.
These candidates believe that they don’t need to engage with voters in order to win. But we all lose when our elected officials stop listening.
Like the suffragettes before her, Kase stood tall to empower voters and defend democracy. They ran away without respect for either.
Christie Minervini is a Traverse City resident who owns Sanctuary Handcrafted Goods in the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. She is passionate about gender equality, community development, and ending homelessness.