Assembly Republicans unleashed a strong attack Thursday on the usually non-controversial League of Women Voters, charging that the longtime fixture on the American political landscape is not the nonpartisan policy analyzer it claims to be but rather a group rife with liberal bias.
Democrats fired back in one of the sharpest partisan exchanges of this year's legislative session, accusing the GOP of an unwarranted assault on a much-respected organization. The league--which has 12,000 members in California--is active on a number of fronts, from sponsoring candidates' debates to seeking more involvement by citizens in elections.
The bitter exchange on the Assembly floor took place over a simple resolution that sought merely to honor the league on its 75th anniversary. With the league's state officers in the background, the resolution failed to pass, missing by two votes the 41 needed for approval.
Republicans, who cheered and clapped as their members denounced the organization, mostly abstained from voting. The measure received only eight no votes.
Debate began with a stab at the league by Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove), who charged that the group often "represents one point of view." He objected to the league's stand of supporting a tax increase in Orange County to help recoup losses from its financial debacle.
Replied Assemblywoman Grace F. Napolitano (D-Norwalk): "I think Mr. Pringle would very much like to have the women only sell cookies."
Democrats and Republicans traded barbs for more than an hour, with much of the debate taking place over a Republican amendment deleting the word nonpartisan from the resolution introduced by Assemblywoman Susan A. Davis (D-San Diego), a former league chapter president. On a separate vote, the amendment failed.
Republicans charged that the league unfailingly takes liberal positions on policy issues. For that reason, said Assemblyman David Knowles (R-Placerville), he and his GOP colleagues want to strip "away the cover the League of Women Voters has enjoyed in years past and up to now."
"We say we're not going to tolerate this stuff any longer, (the league) claiming to be a nonpartisan organization when they engage in politics in a very partisan fashion each and every time."
What the Republicans really wanted, said Assemblyman Wally Knox (D-Los Angeles), was to "strip the League of Women Voters of its honor."
Among the league's officers listening to the debate was California President-elect Fran Packard. She said it is true that the group has taken some positions Republicans oppose, but not always.
Packard said the group remained neutral on legislative term limits, which California voters passed in 1990, but that the league endorsed congressional term limits on the ballot two years later. That measure also passed but is held up in the courts.
The league opposed the anti-illegal immigrant measure, Proposition 187, approved by voters last year, and backed Proposition 186, calling for a state-run health insurance program for all citizens, which lost heavily, she said.
Taking a philosophical view of the Assembly debate was Marlys Robertson of Manhattan Beach, the league's current state president. Commenting on the resolution's defeat, she said: "It would have been much nicer if it passed, but at least it gave us visibility."