For years, a guide compiled by the League of Women Voters provided Kootenai County residents with information about government, the judicial system, and area schools.
This spring, however, the annual project ran into a snag when county commissioners objected to it being printed on county printing presses. Commissioners didn’t want the League of Women Voters’ name on the front of a brochure they felt should be an official document.
Commissioner Ron Rankin, who led the opposition, also said that he was against using the brochure because the league’s founding members were “card-carrying communists” and because the group’s local chapter opposes a 1 Percent Tax cap initiative he has championed unsuccessfully for years.
“I can’t say that that doesn’t play a part in it,” Rankin said Thursday, recuperating at Kootenai Medical Center after knee surgery. “I don’t want the county to recruit for them.”
Rankin went on to say he would have been against printing the document with public funds regardless of which group put it together. He said the county had no business printing brochures for any private or nonprofit groups.
“It’s not just a ‘Ron doesn’t like them’ situation,” he said. “The other guys feel the same.”
Commissioners Dick Compton and Dick Panabaker are in favor of moving the League of Women Voters’ name - now in bold print on the brochure’s first page - to small print on the last page, giving the group credit for researching the information.
Chapters of the League of Women Voters in Spokane and Kootenai counties both have a citizens guide. Until five years ago, the two groups received financial support from Kaiser Aluminum to print the brochures. But when Kootenai County officials realized they were using the document so much to help educate people - at the court house, the library, and at polling sites - they agreed to take over publication.
“We’ve always found it extremely useful,” said Tom Taggart, the county administrator who was the clerk at the time the county took over printing the brochure in 1992. “The best thing to do is to get it into as many hands as possible.”
The guide provides Kootenai County residents with information about their representatives in federal, state, and local governments, as well as court listings, school information, and other public services. Last year, about 4,000 copies were printed - at a cost to the county of 5 cents a brochure.
The League of Women Voters chapter here now is trying to downplay any conflict surrounding the brochure. They have been working with county officials to redesign to pamphlet, and are meeting next Monday to discuss the issue further, said Gloria Klotz, the league’s chairperson.
“We don’t want to be in a big controversy because we’re still working with the commissioners,” Klotz said. “We’re just asking that our name be on the front of the pamphlet.
“Because we do all the labor in gathering information, we feel like we’re paying our way,” she said. “It’s a little different than just being another nonprofit group.”
But Klotz and other members objected to Rankin’s characterization of the group’s founders as communists. League members also are left wondering if Rankin’s opposition to their brochure isn’t simply punishment for the group’s stand against the inveterate tax activist’s 1 percent tax cap initiative.
She said the League of Women Voters’ purpose is to educate the electorate and register voters. The group occasionally takes stands on issues, Klotz said, but only after careful consideration.
“To the best of my knowledge, we have never had any communist affiliations,” Klotz said, conceding that like many other political organizations - or other groups, for that matter - “there might be some members somewhere back there” with leftist ties.
The organization’s roots stretch back to 1848, when some 300 women rallied for parental rights, education beyond the sixth grade, and voting rights. It was founded 77 years ago by suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt just before women won the right to go to the polls.
Joy Scherr, who is co-chairman of the Kootenai County chapter with Klotz, said Rankin’s opposition to the brochure along ideological lines was troubling.
“Only someone who was misinformed or very foolish would think that,” Scherr said. “This is all information that helps people make decisions. It’s a wealth of information.”
Typically the brochure would have been printed by now - the 1996 pamphlet has been rendered out-of-date by last fall’s elections. People who have come to depend on it have been calling, asking when the new one would be available, Scherr said.
Both Scherr and Klotz are hopeful that the group can decide just how it will print the brochure at next Monday’s meeting. Options include accepting the county’s changes, asking the commissioners for further modifications that would put the league’s name back on the front page, or even printing the pamphlet with their own funds.
Whatever they decide, county clerk Dan English is simply hoping he’ll have something to give to voters this year. The brochure is that important, he said.
“Anything I can do to combat voter apathy, I’ll do,” English said. “This brochure is a big part of it.”
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