Known as the “original grassroots citizens network,” a unit of the 90-year-old League of Women Voters is shaping up for South Hillsborough County.
The most suitable specific date and place for an organizational meeting now are being discussed with several South County residents interested in bringing the non-partisan organization to the area, according to Mickey Castor, president of the Hillsborough County league. The local group’s working title presently is the “South County League of Women Voters,” she added.
One of those interested in initiating formation of a South County unit is Marilyn Balkany, Castor said. Balkany, a Sun City Center resident and long active in community public affairs, also is a member of the SouthShore Roundtable composed of representatives from the various communities and chambers of commerce which comprise the South Hillsborough region. She organized a League of Women Voters public forum in October to inform area residents about issues on the November general election ballot.
The League of Women Voters – open to men as well as women – is dedicated to public education on governmental matters and to encouraging public participation in government, Castor emphasized. The organization never supports or opposes any candidate or any party, she added, although it does occasionally take a position on a specific issue when a strong consensus among members is demonstrated.
One such issue was the recent call for fair redistricting of Florida’s state legislative and national congressional districts based on updated population figures and reasonable boundaries rather than creating oddly shaped multi-county districts to satisfy a particular political party, Castor noted. There are legislative districts today, for example, which are represented by a single legislator but snake in a long line touching on as many as four counties while most of the population in those counties in represented in the legislature by several other individuals elected to the positions from more compact districts. The league opposes such gerrymandering, Castor said.
The League of Women Voters (LWV) as a national organization was founded in 1920 shortly after women’s suffrage was enacted giving U.S women the right to vote and for the purpose of informing the new voters of governmental processes, limitations and obligations. The league today has 90,000 members in the 50 states, the District of Columbia and in the U.S. protectorates, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, Castor added.
In Florida, there are 29 leagues which have developed across the state since 1939, all dedicated to the organizational mission: “to promote political responsibility through informed and active participation in government,” Castor said.
Membership in the league is assessed on a scale, with the annual fee for a household set at $85, for a single individual at $60 and for a student 18 years or older, currently $39.50, she said. Members at the unit or county level also become members of the state and national league, Castor added, and as such, they receive the national, state and local publications, either electronically or in paper form.
In furthering the league objectives to promote active citizenship, members may take part in different functions fielded by the individual units such as studying in detail a specific issue in order to present what may be multiple aspects in an understandable form or sponsoring public forums to help a community gain broader understanding of key issues potentially affecting it or participating in a local “FYI” when members visit a particular place related to league objectives for more in-depth knowledge. For example, Tampa league members soon will spend several hours over lunch with Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor (no relation) at Tampa Police headquarters, the league president said.
And, each year, league members from throughout the state meet in Tallahassee to observe the legislature in action. “Democracy,” the LWV officer noted, “is not a spectator sport.”
The major programs pinpointed by the Florida leagues for attention during the three-year span from 2009 through 2011 include topics related to government, education, justice and natural resources, Castor added.
The leagues also emphasize “respectful discourse” even though individual members may hold differing viewpoints on a subject. “Members come from different backgrounds and bring with them different sentiments and different ideologies,” Castor noted. “But, if we want a strong democracy we have to recognize we need to be open to hearing others, and we have to respect their right to hold other opinions.”
The Hillsborough County LWV website address is www.HCLWV.org. Anyone interested in additional information about formation of the South County LWV unit can contact Balkany at 813/634-9759.
Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson