League of Women Voters forum

A nonpartisan public forum Thursday night will give candidates running for the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors in the March 3 primary election a last chance to win over voters before ballots start getting sent out in the mail on Monday.

The League of Women Voters of the Mother Lode will host the free event that’s expected to run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Sonora Opera Hall. This marks the first candidate forum hosted by the group since it formed two years ago.

“We’ve really put together a very professional event,” said Patti Cherry, president of the league’s Mother Lode chapter. “The national League of Women Voters has been doing candidate debates and forums for decades, so there’s a tremendous amount of acquired knowledge on protocol and guidelines.”

All nine candidates running for three open seats on the board have confirmed to Cherry that they intend to participate.

Cherry said the group decided to limit the forum to only those running for county supervisor due to the sheer number of them in the upcoming election.

“We really have to thank our lucky stars that there are three candidates for each of the three open positions,” she said. “That tells me that our public is more engaged now than ever, and I think we have to respect anybody who would throw their hat in the ring to do this.”

The Union Democrat and Sonora Area Foundation are co-sponsoring the forum.

Columbia College President Santanu Bandyopadhyay will serve as moderator and ask the candidates questions that were developed by a committee that included members of the league, Union Democrat Editor Lyn Riddle, and a former member of the Grand Jury.

Cherry said the group also solicited ideas for questions from 30 special interest groups throughout the county, including the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency, Audubon Society and others.

Questions will cover such topics as transparency in government, fire safety, the environment and the county budget, Cherry said.

“We went through to carefully design the questions so that they’re not leading, they’re not biased, and we’ve covered most areas of potential interest,” she said.

The audience will also have an opportunity to submit questions, though Cherry said they likely won’t have time for many because they want to end the event after two hours.

Each candidate will be given an equal amount of time for an opening statement and followed by a brief response to each question. They will all be seated on the stage at the same time and respond to the same questions.

“They’ll have to be brief and think on their feet,” Cherry said.

The League of Women Voters of the Mother Lode is nonpartisan and contains members who identify as Republicans, Democrats and independents.

Cherry said the group has grown from about 30 to 65 members over the past two years, most of whom are women but also includes several men.

“We don’t advocate or argue against candidates or political parties,” she said. “In fact, we don’t even allow people to wear badges for a particular candidate at our meetings.”

The group is one of the more than 1,000 chapters and 50 state leagues throughout the U.S. 

Cherry said the organization focuses on specific issues and takes a position only after taking time to carefully study them as opposed to getting involved in partisan debates.

In addition, the local chapter has helped get hundreds of people registered to vote and formed an Observer Corps of members who regularly attend meetings of the county Board of Supervisors and Sonora City Council to provide citizen oversight.

“A lot of people have joined the league because they want civility in politics, so we’re to model respect and civility all the time,” Cherry said.


Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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