League of Women Voters forums offer vital constituent contact

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Nobody can force Rep. Ken Rizer, R-Marion, or any other state lawmaker, to attend public forums sponsored monthly during the legislative session by the League of Women Voters. It’s a free country, which Rizer — a retired Air Force fighter pilot, combat veteran, and commander — well knows and has fought to defend.

But Rizer’s decision to skip the final April forum is misguided; his defense of his decision unpersuasive.

For more than 30 years, League of Women Voters forums have provided a valuable opportunity for citizens to question and interact with Linn County lawmakers from both political parties. They are nonpartisan events — the like of which are becoming troublingly rare in our hyperpolarized political environment.

Rizer says the forums, held at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, don’t draw constituents from his Marion-centered house district, which also includes a small part of Cedar Rapids. The reality is that Mercy is just 5.6 miles from the center of Marion, and that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Rizer’s constituents work, shop, seek services and recreate in Cedar Rapids every day. And as chairman of the Senate State Government Committee, a panel that handles many far-reaching bills, Rizer’s constituency reaches far beyond his district.

Rizer contends the league forum format is unwieldy, with as many as 11 lawmakers in attendance, and doesn’t satisfy the core mission of a public forum to allow constituents to hold him accountable. But we fail to understand how skipping the forum helps satisfy that mission. When Rizer and other Republicans shunned the league’s March event in favor of Farm Bureau forum being held at the same time, it actually made it more difficult for constituents to hold all local lawmakers accountable.

Rizer further asserts that the non-partisan League of Women Voters really isn’t non-partisan. As evidence, he cites the league’s stances on legislative issues that Rizer contends are more consistent with Democrats than Republicans. It’s true the league’s stances on many issues lean politically left, but that no more disqualifies the league from declaring its non-partisan status than the Farm Bureau’s pro-Republican stances on numerous issues mean the large farm group can’t remain non-partisan.

Most important, Rizer is asking his constituents to believe in a false choice.

Rizer and Hinson want forums held in their district, which is a great idea. But they should be in addition to the league events. We’ve reached a moment in our political history when we need more engagement across our deep political trenches, not less. We need more willingness to confront anger, criticism and resentment, not less. Instead of calculations and explanations, we need our elected officials to show up.

• Comments (319) 398-8469; editorial@thegazette.com

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