Much has been written recently about attendance at the League of Women Voters Forum in downtown Cedar Rapids. Some have claimed that skipping this legislative forum is “bad form,” is somehow reflective of being in the “wrong line of work,” or demonstrates “not having a thicker hide.” Much of this vitriol has been aimed at me, which is suspect since the media has never called out my colleagues on either side of the aisle for missing League forums these past three years. Calling me out necessitates this “rest of the story” response.
I believe the purpose of forums is twofold.
First, forums provide an opportunity to hear from the people I represent, regardless of political affiliation. This is what democracy is all about! After having been shot at for real in the skies over Iraq, I certainly don’t fear or avoid hostile crowds or those who may disagree with me. The problem with the League forums is not that the crowds have been rowdy the last few times, and it’s not even that the crowds are overwhelmingly from the left side of the political spectrum. The problem is that the audience doesn’t represent my district. Very few of my constituents drive in to downtown Cedar Rapids, well outside of my district, for these forums. I’ve attended two League forums this session, and the number of people from my district in attendance has been dwarfed by the two forums I’ve held recently in Marion. I’ve recommended, on more than one occasion, that the League rotate their forums around the metro area to address this problem. They refuse. I have to go where my constituents are.
Second, forums provide an opportunity for constituents to hold me accountable by hearing my reasoning behind past and potential votes. The League format simply doesn’t satisfy this requirement. We can have as many as 11 legislators on the panel at a time. Given that the forum is an hour, we’ve had instances where we only got to a few questions. In contrast, for the two forums I’ve attended in Marion this session, I was able to hear from significantly more constituents and answer significantly more questions. I’m going to go where I can best interact with my constituents.
Finally, the point has repeatedly been made that the League of Women Voters is a “non-partisan organization,” so we ought to support them. I encourage people to go to the League’s website, look at their stance on issues, and honestly assess the veracity of that “non-partisan” claim. I did an analysis of all the bills this session that the League has either publicly supported or opposed. Of the 73 bills the League has filed either in support of or opposition to, fully 88 percent have aligned with the Democrat party position. If you agree with one party 88 percent of the time, it’s hard to claim non-partisanship. While this partisan leaning is no reason not to attend the League forum, claiming we should attend because the League is non-partisan belies the facts.
I will continue doing my best to represent the people of my district, who reside in Marion, Bertram, Ely and the surrounding parts of Linn County. Representing them well means listening to them and being accessible to them. This is best achieved at forums in and near my district.
• Rep. Ken Rizer, R-Marion, represents House District 68. Comments: Ken.Rizer@legis.iowa.gov