UPDATED: Greenwich Republicans Decline to Participate in 2022 LWV Debates

Update: The Chamber of Commerce notes it is not sponsoring a candidate debate.

On Tuesday morning the League of Women Voters Greenwich’s released an email blast penned by president Sandy Waters explaining that for the first time in recent history, LWV Greenwich will not host a debate among local candidates for public office in 2022.

Waters said the Greenwich Republican Town Committee had directed their candidates not to participate.

She added that since the LWV sends invitations directly to candidates rather than political parties, Republicans candidates themselves normally agree to participate.

“This year they’ve ceded that authority to the new RTC leadership team,” Waters wrote.

This news may have been foreshadowed by Republican Harry Arora back in 2020 who ran in a special Jan 21 election for the remainder of Fred Camillo’s term as State Rep,151st district. Arora asked the LWV for a moderator who was not affiliated with a party. The LWV had offered Kaye Maxwell, former president of the LWV of United States, who has moderated debates in CT for 30 years.

On Jan 2, 2020 the LWV Greenwich announced the debate between Mr. Arora and Democratic opponent Cheryl Moss would not take place.

“The Arora campaign has rejected the League’s choice of Moderator and has insisted upon unacceptable conditions requiring the publication of her political affiliation,” LWV said in a release at the time.

Also, in 2019, then Town Clerk, Republican Carmella Budkins, declined to participate in a LWV debate with her opponent, Democrat Molly Saleeby. In a press release with the schedule of debates, the LWV wrote that the town clerk debate was cancelled due to the last-minute response and inability of Carmella Budkins to participate.

GFP offered to host a debate on a night she might be free. Budkins said, “We have so many things happening, there is not one night free.” The last time Budkins was challenged was back in 2011, and she did not participate in a debate then either. She did not run for re-election in 2021.

In the announcement about fall 2022 debates, Waters added, “This collective response is disappointing.”

Waters said the RTC’s assertion that the LWV Greenwich is an unfriendly/unfair debate venue for Republicans does not square with the inconvenient fact that Republican candidates for Governor, Secretary of State, US Senate (including Republican candidate from Greenwich, Leora Levy) and the US House have accepted Connecticut League debate invitations in partnership with CT Public this fall.

Moderator Kay Maxwell of the LWV moderated a debate of State Rep candidates on Oct 11, 2018 Photo: Leslie Yager

“Candidates who duck nonpartisan election debates to seek political advantage do not serve the public interest,” Waters continued, adding, “No one conducts debates more evenhandedly than the League of Women Voters.”

She said the LWV moderater was experienced and trained, and can be a member of any or no party.

Waters referred to the LWV’s Debate Guidelines which are Board-approved each election cycle to ensure adherence to their Nonpartisanship Policy.

She said the League, not partisan candidates, chooses the Moderator for their skills and the moderator is generally not a Greenwich resident.

Of note, debate attendees supply the questions when they sign up. From there, a member of each political party reviews the questions and submits only those that all candidates can answer to the Moderator. Waters said the 2021 LWV candidate debates can be viewed HERE.

“Voters can judge for themselves the fairness and thus the implausibility of RTC resistance,” she added.

Lastly, Waters said the LWV’s 501(c)(3) status requires that they not favor any political party by holding an “empty chair” debate, so they have decided to focus their pre-election energies this year toward Getting Out the Vote and presenting appropriate pre-election programming instead of on a debate.

“Current Greenwich RTC opposition to participating in League debates and expanding access to in-person voting regrettably conflicts with the League’s century-long tradition of promoting informed citizen participation in our democracy,” Waters said.

“We will not be deterred by this new opposition, nor will we retreat from our mission. We will continue to put the same energy into informing and engaging Greenwich citizens today as we did to secure the rights of all women to vote in 1920.”

RTC chair Beth MacGillivray submitted a statement titled, “Greenwich Republicans Accept Three Nonpartisan Debate Invitations”

Greenwich Republicans are eager to participate in neutral debates this election season to engage in a fair competition of ideas. That’s why our candidates have already accepted three invitations to debate their Democrat opponents in events hosted by the Greenwich Chamber of Commerce, the Round Hill Association, and an event hosted jointly by WGCH, Greenwich Sentinel, and My Voting Power.

Greenwich Republicans declined a fourth debate invitation from the Greenwich League of Women voters because of the organization’s diminishing neutrality and objectivity in recent years. The League of Women Voters boasts a great history in our country, underscored by nonpartisan goals, but the current iteration of the Greenwich chapter has become too far removed from these objectives in recent years.

Until that is fixed, Greenwich residents cannot benefit from debates hosted by our local chapter.
Consider just a few reasons that justify our opting for other debates and forums:

• The Greenwich League’s board of directors is composed of 12 Democrats and only one Republican, an imbalance that cultivates strong bias.

• The Greenwich League’s leadership has recently taken strident, vocal positions on political issues—like voting rules and more—which are complex and will be actively decided by the winners of the elections that they seek to “neutrally” moderate debates for.

• And now, in the aftermath of Republicans declining the debate invitation, the League’s president has explicitly disparaged Republican candidates, contradicting their own claim to nonpartisanship. She wrote, “Candidates who duck nonpartisan election debates…do not serve the public interest.” How can she still claim nonpartisanship by taking such a strong editorial stance against our candidates?

Our party and candidates are actively participating in at least three debates with their opposition to demonstrate our record of standing up for local control, economic growth, local police, and parental input in schools. We hope that the League will be able to regain its place in a neutral and fair space in the future so it can host debates again and honor the integrity of its mission and history. We did not seek to publicly air grievances about this disagreement with the League, but they have, unfortunately, chosen to do that.

DTC chair Joe Angland released a statement as follows:

The Republican candidates, and the Greenwich Republican Town Committee to which they have subjugated their debate decision-making, have abdicated their responsibility as public officials and as candidates seeking public office. Their collective, undemocratic decision to refuse to participate in a decades-old League of Women Voters debate event under a manufactured excuse of “unfairness” by the host fails the public’s interest which they presumably wish to serve. Among its many electoral public service benefits, the LWV has served the important role of non-partisan and independent debate moderator for local elections dating back to 1920.  Questioning their “fairness” is without cause or merit, as reflected by the willingness of Republican candidates throughout Connecticut to participate in LWV-sponsored debates.  The below letter from the LWV summarizes their fair and unbiased approach to debate protocols. 

The primary duty of any elected representative and anyone seeking elected office is to serve the citizenry in an open, transparent and honest way.  Since the dawn of our republic, one of the primary methods to engage constituents on public policy positions is through debate. Debates allow candidates a unique opportunity to express their views, positions and ultimately their votes and legislative priorities on the important issues facing our community.  Equally important, debates allow the citizenry an opportunity to learn about the issues and about the person who seeks to represent them in Hartford or Washington, D.C.  

To refuse to debate is a dereliction of this primary responsibility.  While refusing to participate in a fair and public debate may benefit the candidate and party strategically, it is insulting to the citizens of our town and the democratic process—conjuring excuses not to debate is both undemocratic and un-American.  The Democratic candidates – Trevor Crow, Rachel Khanna, Hector Arzeno, and Steve Meskers  – stand ready to participate in this debate hosted by an experienced, well-recognized and non-partisan moderator.  They hope the Republican candidates reconsider their decision and act in accordance with the electoral customs and norms of our community and country and put the public’s interest before undemocratic RTC antics. 

Kay Maxwell, moderating a LWV debate in 2018 in Greenwich Town Hall.