Advocacy group urges voters to stay involved

Posted: Sunday, December 10, 2000

Voters' responsibilities continue beyond the election of legislators, a League of Women Voters official said.

"Part of our job is to stay on their tails and to work with them and try to figure out what we can do to make sure that government proceeds in the manner that we would hope that it would," the league's Diana McKenney told the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. "The League of Women Voters is also very interested in keeping people involved in government all the time, not just prior to elections."

A key component of its program is educating members.

McKenney, who lives in Kasilof, said many Juneau businesses have cable television and watch legislative hearings day after day. The proceedings are a prime topic of lunch-time conversation. Outside Juneau, though, it is difficult to track legislative committees.

"Has anyone here tried to track a bill?" she asked. "One or two people? And why don't you track bills? It's not easy. It's nearly impossible to keep up with a bill."

The Legislature's Web page gives minimal information, she said.

"You can pull up the actual text of the bill, and you get little one-line tracks of what's happened to the bill -- where it was, where it's at now, if it's coming up or something," she said. "But basically, you're not getting any meat with that information. You can't figure out what they're doing."

McKenney said people often hear about bills only after they pass, then wish they had contacted legislators in time to make a difference.

The league has tried several methods to be involved, she said. It has hired lobbyists, but those are expensive, and what motivates legislators more is a massive response from constituents. Phone trees also have been tried. But membership in many organizations is dwindling, she said, so it is becoming more difficult to call the membership. In addition, there are so many good issues.

Instead of a lobbyist, she said, the league now hires someone to provide weekly legislative updates.

"She lets us know what's happened this week, what changes have occurred, especially to those bills that are important to us, and what's coming up next week -- how things are getting ready to happen."

The weekly reports highlight important issues and tell which legislators comments should be addressed to. The league e-mails the reports free to its members and to nonmembers for a nominal fee. McKenney said the group is considering whether to distribute them also by mail for those who have no access to e-mail.

As guidelines to its members, the league also researches and develops positions on important issues.

However, she said, the league does not get involved in legislation unless it has studied the issue and agreed nationwide on a position.

At the national level, the league is studying election systems such as Internet voting and proportional voting, where voters would indicate their first-, second- and third-choice candidates.

If proportional voting applied to the present presidential race, votes for losing candidates such as Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader would be discarded, and voters' second choices would be counted instead.

The league also is studying drug policy -- whether the war on drugs, which cost $19 billion last year, is accomplishing anything, or whether that money might better be applied to other problems.

At the state level, she said, the league is studying the urban-rural divide and Alaska's ballot initiative process

At present, anyone who gathers enough signatures can place an initiative before Alaska voters, McKenney said.

"It doesn't have to be an Alaskan citizen. Any special interest group can get something started, pay somebody 50 cents a signature to go out there and collect signatures," she said.

Paid workers may not even understand what they are asking people to sign, she said.

"And people sign on. They don't even know what they're signing for, to get this particular measure on the ballot," she said. "So, what we're studying is, is there a better way? Is there maybe a way to control this? Is there maybe a way to make sure that people are getting information before they put there names on there?"

The league is strictly nonpartisan, she said. It neither supports nor opposes candidates, though it holds candidate forums to educate voters.

The local chapter meets the third Thursday of each month at about 7 p.m. at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Building in Soldotna. Both men and women can join the league. For information, call McKenney at 262-3941, e-mail her at lwvak@hotmail.com or visit www.lwv.org on the Internet.



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