One-third of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted against legislation commending the work of the League of Women Voters of the Central Peninsula during the body’s Tuesday night meeting.
The legislation — a commending resolution which passed by a vote of 6-3 — honors the organization’s local chapter, which was formed in 1979. It praises efforts by the group to promote “active and informed” participation in government by local residents and advocacy for voting rights by the group.
“Throughout its 42 years of service, the Central Kenai Peninsula League of Women Voters has worked assiduously to raise the level of informed political debate and promote reasoned public policy,” the legislation says.
Assembly member Tyson Cox, who co-sponsored the resolution along with council member Willy Dunne, said he has participated in several forums hosted by the organization and that he appreciates the work the group is doing.
“I’ve actually participated in several of them, which I’m not certain that the person not liking this has,” Cox said. “They have been very useful and very respectful each time I’ve been there. I very much appreciate the service that’s there and giving the information and letting people make their own choices.”
A move for the unanimous approval of the legislation, however, was objected to by Richard Derkevorkian, who represents Kenai. Derkevorkian said he opposed unanimous approval of the commending resolution because he believes the group is not “nonpartisan,” as stated in the legislation. He also said that the organization’s president has testified in a previous assembly meeting in a way that “offended many of (Derkevorkian’s) constituents.”
Assembly members Bill Elam and Jesse Bjorkman also voted in opposition to the resolution. Elam said he opposes “some of the social issues and the stances” of the group. Bjorkman asked if anyone was aware of instances where the group showed political bias as a group, as opposed to one person.
“If you browse the Facebook group, I think you’ll see political bias,” Derkevorkian said.
In a Facebook post shared by the league of the Central Peninsula on Wednesday, the group clarified the definition of “nonpartisan” as it relates to LWV. Nonpartisan, they wrote, means the group is not allowed to support or oppose political candidates, political parties and certain votes, either directly or indirectly, per U.S. tax laws.
“(It) does not mean that the organization cannot take positions on political issues,” the post says.
LWV of the Central Peninsula President Carrie Henson said Wednesday that the organization generally has prioritized bridging community divides this election season by focusing on bringing people with opposing viewpoints together to find common ground. Henson said the group does have stances on certain issues, but that their role on the central peninsula is to educate voters.
“Our presence is just to educate voters on what’s on the ballots,” Henson said.
A review of recent posts shared by the LWV of the Kenai Peninsula’s page show promotions for organization events, reminders about ballot distribution, articles about state redistricting, opinion pieces published in Alaska newspapers, explanations on how to submit public comments on assembly legislation, 2021 election dates and a request for public support for assembly legislation encouraging participation in elections, among others.
The League of Women Voters is a nationwide nonpartisan organization founded in 1920 that has a stated mission of “empowering voters (and) defending democracy,” according to the organization’s “about” page.
On the central peninsula alone, LWV has hosted numerous community forums aimed at connecting peninsula voters with information that have featured assembly candidates, ballot propositions and pieces of state legislation, in recent years. The LWV of the Central Peninsula has also initiated voter registration events at Kenai Peninsula College and at local high schools.
The organization will host a Zoom discussion following a screening of the film “The Reunited States,” which a Facebook post from the group describes as “an opportunity for citizens of contrasting opinions to gather and learn from their differences to find common ground and further the cause of bringing our community together to solve common problems.”
Assembly President Brent Hibbert and Assembly Vice President Brent Johnson, as well as assembly members Tyson Cox and Jesse Bjorkman, have previously participated in forums hosted by the LWV of the Central Peninsula, according to previous Clarion reporting.
Tuesday’s full assembly meeting can be viewed on the borough’s website at kpb.us.