The four Republican commissioners on November's ballot in Wake County have collectively chosen to duck encounters with voters. They've announced they will not attend three candidate forums sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the citizens group, WakeUp Wake County.
The reason? The League of Women Voters, a 94-year-old organization that supports nonpartisan voter education, can't be trusted to stage an event in which Republicans will be treated fairly. Or, as the four commissioners put it in their joint letter to the league, "We believe your group has a scope that is too narrow to adequately preserve the impartiality of the setting needed for a full and fair discussion of local issues."
It's no secret that these four commissioners who hold the 4-3 majority on Wake's board oppose tax increases, adequate funding for Wake schools and public transit. But it is a surprise to see them come out against democracy. Yet there it is in writing and signed by Paul Coble, Joe Bryan, Phil Matthews and Rich Gianni.
The collective rejection in the Aug. 11 letter came long after the league invited the commissioners on June 17 and then sent formal invitations on July 8. The timing compounded the insult to the league by leaving the forums in the lurch. The league's rules bar it from holding a forum with candidates from only one party. WakeUp Wake County is still weighing whether to go ahead with the events on its own.
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It's true that the Republican commissioners' four Democratic opponents also turned down an invitation for an Aug. 28 forum sponsored by the conservative Wake County Taxpayers Association. But the Democrats declined because of scheduling conflicts after the invitation came with relatively short notice.
Sig Hutchinson, a Democrat running against Bryan, said of the Taxpayers Association, "I'll talk to those guys. I've got a great message about keeping taxes low."
The letter to the league went out on Coble's letterhead and marked another instance of boorish behavior by the Republican majority.
Previously, the Republicans have ignored a plan for expanded bus and light rail services. They've sought legislative authority to take away the Wake school board's control of school construction and provoked disputes with school board members in joint meetings. Most recently, they refused to let Democratic Commissioner Betty Lou Ward, a 26-year member of the board, participate in a meeting by phone after her release from the hospital. Of the Republican commissioners' latest partisan prank, Hutchinson gave a precise summary : "It's silly. It's petty. It's childish. It's unnecessary."
The rejection of the league's invitations with a snide comment about the group's ability to sponsor a fair forum was more than rigidly partisan and impolite. It is a disservice to Wake County voters that illustrates the Republicans' dismissal of anyone who disagrees with them. The Republicans will not attend forums sponsored by a venerable group with a long history of supporting voters rather than candidates. But they will attend forums sponsored by local chambers of commerce. In other words, after business, there isn't anyone they need to speak to or hear from.
It is especially rich that Coble, Bryan, Matthews and Gianni would accuse the league of not being able "to preserve the impartiality of the setting needed for a full and fair discussion of local issues." A hallmark of this Republican-led board has been squelching dissent, limiting public participation and refusing to let voters decide whether they want to pay more taxes for better public transit.
Now, faced with meetings they can't control and questions they can't ignore, the Republicans have retreated. They don't want to hear from those who want the county to move forward on such issues as school funding, water quality, public transit, growth planning and affordable housing. But in running away, the Four Nos may well run themselves out of office.