After a last-minute huddle, the League of Women Voters of Umpqua Valley changed its rules Friday morning, allowing Shannon Souza, candidate for state Senate District 1, to attend its upcoming debate.
The change is a welcome evolution of an otherwise restrictive rule that gave undue power to incumbents. Until today, the League wouldn’t host just a single candidate if opponents couldn’t — or wouldn’t — attend.
While well-intentioned, the dark side of the policy reared its head when Interim Sen. Dallas Heard declined to attend a Douglas County forum scheduled for mid-October.
Heard referred to his busy schedule as the reason he couldn’t attend the forum and said the League needed to give incumbents advance notice to ensure they can attend. But the president of the local League said Heard was emailed about the forum on Sept. 3 — 43 days ahead of the event — and called two days later. Heard didn’t respond until Sept. 21 and said he would be touring fire areas in Southern Oregon and would be unable to attend the forum, which is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Coincidentally, he would have also been putting a muzzle on the Democratic nominee, Shannon Souza.
Which is why Friday morning’s decision is such a breath of fresh air. The group’s forums are an invaluable asset to our community; they’re incredibly well attended and offer voters the chance to ask candidates questions directly. But the group’s previous policy was backward. So long as all of the candidates are given enough time to make accommodations, and the League is flexible enough to entertain potential scheduling conflicts, the League should host forums with whichever candidates are able — or willing — to attend.
That way, candidates like Heard are pressured to attend and address prospective voters instead of wielding the power to silence opponents.
We commend the League for following in the footsteps of its sister chapter in Curry County and allowing Souza a seat at the table.
Now if only Heard and Interim Rep. Gary Leif would show up.