PELTO: "League of Women Voters and the lobby group Excel Bridgeport co-hosting forum?"

Cross post from Jon Pelto's Wait What?

A controversy has developed surrounding a proposed August 22, 2012 candidate forum, at which Bridgeport's Board of Education candidates, would have an opportunity to debate and discuss the issues prior to the September 5th special election that will finally ensure that Bridgeport's citizens are represented by a democratically elected Board of Education.

Yesterday, the two candidates from the Working Families Party, Barbara Pouchet and John Bagley, announced that they would not participate in the forum because it is being co-hosted by Excel Bridgeport, Inc.

The Working Family candidates said that participating would "serve to legitimize an organization whose objective is to eliminate the right of Bridgeport's parents, taxpayers and citizens to cast ballots for members of our Board of Education."

There is no doubt that Excel Bridgeport was a leader in the effort to convince the State of Connecticut to take over the Bridgeport School System and remove the democratically elected members of Bridgeport's school board.  In addition, Excel Bridgeport actively lobbied on behalf of Governor Malloy's "education reform" bill and the organization has also spent significant resources in support for Mayor Bill Finch's efforts to change Bridgeport's Charter, by eliminating the elected board of education and replacing it was an appointed board that would allow stronger mayoral control over the education budget and school issues.

In response to the news that the two Working Family candidates were not going to participate, Maria Zambrano, Excel Bridgeport's Executive Director, maintained their stance that they are simply seeking "to provide Bridgeport voters and community members an opportunity to hear directly from all Board of Education candidates before the September 4th election. All BOE candidates were invited and encouraged to attend."

But of course, that argument misses the point.

Read more below the fold...
No one should deny Excel Bridgeport the right to hold as many candidate forums as it wants, inviting and encouraging whomever they want to attend.

The real issue is whether the League of Women Voters should be co-hosting a candidate forum with a group like Excel Bridgeport.

According to their history and mission statement, "The League of Women Voters is a citizens' organization that has fought since 1920 to improve our government and engage all citizens in the decisions that impact their lives...The League is nonpartisan, which means we don't support or oppose candidates for public office. However, we are well-known for hosting candidate debates and forums.  We undertake this, and other important election work, because we believe deeply that the public should hear different views on the issues facing our communities and our nation. An honest and respectful sharing of ideas is vital to the functioning of American democracy."

The League's dedication to its mission is so great that in 1988, the League actually took the unprecedented step of "withdrawing sponsorship of the presidential debates."  At the time, Nancy Newuman, the League' president, said they were taking this action because; "the League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public."

Reasonable people can disagree about whether the Working Family Party candidates should or should not attend a forum co-sponsored by Excel Bridgeport, but there is simply no doubt that Excel Bridgeport has played a leadership role in Connecticut's "education reform" movement, an effort that is systematically anti-teacher, anti-union and anti-democratic, and instead, dedicated to promoting the corporatization and privatization of public education.

Not only has Excel Bridgeport spent tens of thousands of dollars seeking to persuade public officials to take particular actions, but during the recent Supreme Court on the Bridgeport takeover, Excel Bridgeport submitted a legal brief urging the Supreme Court to allow the state's illegal takeover to stand, thereby preventing the people of Bridgeport from having democratically elected representatives.

While Excel Bridgeport's participation is the candidate debate is objectionable and I too would refuse to participate if I was a candidate, the real shock is that the League of Women voters would lower its standards and co-host a public forum with a group that is diametrically opposed to the legacy that has always guided the League and its actions.

The controversy is that the League has yet to withdraw as a co-sponsor or ask Excel Bridgeport to withdraw so that a true League of Women Voter's based forum can go forward.

For more background check out The Only in Bridgeport blog:

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