MERCER COUNTY —
In a political climate many describe as poisonous, where knee-jerk reactions and partisan sniping are the rule, we'd like to take a moment to highlight an exceptional organization that defies those trends.
The League of Women Voters of Mercer County turns 40 this year, though the values it represents are as old as the nation. The League embodies those "better angels" that we hear so much about but rarely see when it comes to civic duty.
While most actors on the political stage are seeking some advantage for their party or their cause, the League seeks only to empower people of all political stripes and ideologies so they can be more informed voters and more active citizens.
Founded as the League of Women Voters of the Shenango Valley in 1972 at the cusp of the Watergate era, the local chapter has its roots in the civil rights, women's liberation and environmental movements of the time.
But that era of social and political upheaval was only the cauldron in which it was created and not the point of the organization, which is educating the public and encouraging people to vote.
The League does this by identifying issues of public interest, studying them and coming up with a position based on consensus. The impact of that consensus isn't always clear or immediate, but it is significant.
From their recent work on the Marcellus Shale gas boom in Pennsylvania to the first issue the League took up back in the 1970s - home rule for Sharon - the organization has demonstrated its seriousness and its dedication to the public good.
The League also hosts an annual legislative luncheon that puts Mercer County's state lawmakers on the spot and compiles "Facts for Voters" pamphlets that detail just about everything you wanted to know about political activism but were afraid to ask.
The League is strictly nonpartisan. It never supports or opposes candidates. That independence is one of the reasons that when campaign season comes around, we can depend on the League to provide some of its most valuable public services: sponsoring debates and producing its voters guide.
While both of these activities primarily benefit the public, they also help those who choose to run for office and those of us who strive to provide objective and comprehensive news coverage of candidates and campaigns.
Debates provide candidates an invaluable forum to face each other on neutral ground, in a forum where they get a chance to articulate their views and positions in their own words. They level the playing field in high profile races where financial advantage may favor one candidate and, for those who actually attend the events, cut out the middle man of the media.
We in that camp get a venue to size up the candidates side-by-side and a reason to highlight important electoral contests for our readers.
The League's voters guide, published twice a year in these pages, is a crucial resource for a public charged with selecting the most qualified and experienced candidates for local and state office. It provides information about the offices being sought and the candidates seeking them. For us at The Herald, it is the heart of our voters guides. Thanks to the League's efforts, our reporters can get beyond the simple facts and delve into the real meaning of the races we cover.
For years, the voters guide has been painstakingly put together by League Co-President Peggy Ruggles. Peggy has worked tirelessly, with no reward other than the satisfaction of a job well done, to gather the candidates' responses and compile them into publishable form. That's a lot harder than it sounds, with sometimes dozens of hopefuls to contact, cajole and, we're sure in some cases, browbeat into responding.
Peggy has passed on the voters guide duty this year, leaving the work to others in the League who we are confident will be just as diligent as she was, but we would be remiss if we didn't take this opportunity to properly thank her in print for the service she has provided over the years to the voting public and our own editors.
We all owe the League of Women Voters of Mercer County a debt of gratitude for their interest, hard work and enduring enthusiasm for making democracy work. Here's wishing them 40 more years of civic involvement. Keep up the good work.
Published March 28, 2012, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.