The White Bear Lake Area League of Women Voters spent an eventful program year engaged in education and advocacy on topics of public interest including high school civics education, national and state policies affecting fair representation, and effective citizen advocacy.
LWVWBLA members first studied and presented a report on high school civics education in the White Bear Lake Area in 2017-2018, and are now working with MN Representative Dean Urdahl advocating for HF 249/SF 294, a bi-partisan bill to ensure students are adequately prepared to be capable citizens able to fully participate in the political process.
The bill requires students to take a separate credit-bearing civics course in 11th or 12th grade when they are about to graduate and become voters; ensures experiential learning is integral to formal civics coursework; and directs districts to include in annual school performance reports the percentage of students graduating in the previous school year who answered 30 questions correctly on the state civics test.
Fair representation was another timely program topic this year. Fall unit meetings focused on important issues in the looming every-10-year redistricting process: gerrymandering, or manipulating district boundaries to favor one party or an incumbent; voter suppression and manipulation; uncompetitive electoral districts; and possible effects of the citizenship question in the 2020 census, including a population undercount, unfair electoral district boundaries, fewer electoral districts, and reduced federal funding in Minnesota. The LWVWBLA supports changing state law to direct an independent redistricting commission, rather than legislators, to re-draw electoral district boundaries to better ensure fair representation.
The LWVWBLA sponsored a public forum in November on voter manipulation and suppression with retired MN Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson, and another public forum in February on MN immigrants, the 2020 census, and fair representation with MN Immigrant Law Center attorney, Mirella Ceja-Orozco. People attending these forums heard differing perspectives on redistricting.
A third public forum in January was dedicated to effective citizen advocacy. An expert panel of retired legislators, Mindy Greiling, Carol McFarlane, and Barb Yarusso, and third party gubernatorial candidate, Ken Pentel, provided a master class on how citizens can effectively advocate at the State Legislature.
The panelists discussed, among other topics, what citizen advocates must know about structure, politics, and people at the state legislature; what citizen advocates must do to access, persuade, and prevail at the legislature; and why public policies are rarely developed all at once. They compared the relative effectiveness of professional lobbyists and citizen advocates, and offered advice to citizens interested in changing MN’s redistricting law.
This spring members discussed voting system vulnerabilities described in “The People’s House” by David Pepper, a prescient thriller for political junkies.
The LWVWBLA’s program year concludes in May with a member report on a two-year study of area police responses to domestic violence. We look forward to another exciting program in 2020 to coincide with the League of Women Voters’ 100th anniversary. Please join us.
Links to recordings of the three public forums, the guide to effective citizen advocacy, and the report on high school civics education are on the LWVWBLA website: http://www.lwv-wbla.org. The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan group, and all public forums are free and open.
Lisa Larson and Joan Neumiller are members of the LWVWBLA Board of Directors.