When the League of Women Voters of Manatee County meets Feb. 8, the subject of its monthly Hot Topic meeting is regional transportation.
The backdrop of that discussion at the Unitarian Universalist Church, though, will be a bit more celebratory.
There will even be a birthday cake.
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The League will commemorate the 90th anniversary of the national organization, founded in 1920, the same year as the passage of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote.
Not to League members like co-president Nancy Horne, a member for 40 years.
“My mother wasn’t able to vote and that resonates with me,” she said. “When I became older, it was overwhelming to think half of the population couldn’t vote.”
Ninety years after its founding, the league is dedicated to maintaining its role in the volatile political landscape — getting people interested, educated and proactive in the democratic process.
“The league is very relevant for all ages, especially in times like these with so many challenges and important decisions being made,” said board member Rosalie Shaffer, a member for 20 years. “We are all affected by the decisions of government and our ability to participate in government.”
The league has also included men since 1974.
One of the county chapter’s 75 members is John Mulligan.
“I’ve never had a need to belong, but the league in my opinion is looking out for others, looking at the issues in an honest attempt to get people to vote,” he said.
The league, however, would like to reach out to more younger women.
“I know when I was that age I was involved. I don’t know whether they have the same kind of fire for political kind of things,” said co-president Hannah Honeyman, a member for 20 years. “I’m hoping to see a change in that.”
Bob Sweat, county supervisor of elections for 24 years, respects the league’s mission.
“They play a big role, constantly working on getting out the vote,” he said. “They’re a hardworking group who are important to the public education and awareness about issues beneficial to the public.”
The county chapter’s current agenda — i.e., affordable health care, protecting natural resources — keeps it busy.
“I was on a (LWV) committee in New Jersey in the 1970s, when we were just beginning to be interested in the environment,” said Vice President Jo Williams, a member for 50 years. “So here we are in this county, working along with the Sierra Club and others who have the same values for our natural resources.”
What the League strives to do is provide a nonpartisan vehicle for examining issues and political candidates.
They’ll take a position on the former, but not the latter.
“You get information, research it pro and con, study it, thrash it out and ... reach a consensus,” Williams said.
Considering the partisan political arena nowadays, it’s not easy.
“It’s difficult to maintain the nonpartisan face to the League, because we are individuals and we have our own point of view,” Horne said. “We hope our strength is to be nonpartisan.”
County Commissioner Joe McClash thinks so.
He’ll attend the Feb. 8 meeting, where Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson will be the keynote speaker.
McClash will bring a proclamation from the county saluting the League’s 90th anniversary.
“They certainly provide a forum that is without bombthrowing,” McClash said. “They do try at least to provide balanced forum. I think they should be recognized for bringing professional debate to a variety of subjects.”
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.