Altemeier col December 2017

When the going gets tough, League gets going


Is there a time since the Vietnam War when our government has had more challenges?

At the federal level, we face a nuclear North Korea, election tampering by Russia, climate change, tax reform, and rising federal debt.

National, state and local governments are experiencing deteriorating infrastructure, the threat of terrorism, opioid addiction, and immigration conflicts.  Our San Antonio government is running more smoothly than most, but we still seem ill prepared for the impact of rapid growth on our education, transportation and water systems.  Better transparency and ethics reform wouldn’t hurt either, but new leadership will hopefully tackle all these issues.

And longer term, our nation will have more job losses because of automation.  This will probably generate more social unrest.  Think driverless trucks.

Improving the turnout of educated voters will take a lot of thought, time and effort if we are to have any chance of success.

Also, has there been a time when extreme partisanship was worse?   When polarization of governments blocked productive debate, negotiation and decisions; paralyzed us for solving problems like these?  Perhaps not since the Civil War.

What’s behind this?

Start with poor voter turnout.  The most ideologically polarized voters are the ones who show up at the polls in greatest numbers, so these people have a disproportionate influence on elections.  And after all, why would candidates running for election support constituents who don’t vote?  “Bring out your base!”

Polarized voters create polarized governments.  Polarized governments create paralyzed inept countries.  You heard it here.

The bottom line: We need broader voter representation, especially including less ideological ones, people in the middle who want the government to function as a unit as opposed to wanting their side to completely defeat the other.  “My way or the highway.”

What’s the solution to poor turnout?

Maybe a large, powerful, national nonpartisan organization could make a difference, achieve better turnout, unlock frozen governments.

So . . . can you think of a time when the League of Women

Carrie Chapman Catt, center, in white, leads a group of suffragists in a New York City parade staged in the fall of 1917 to gain support for woman suffrage. The required constitutional amendment was finally ratified by the necessary 36 states and officially proclaimed on August 26, 1920. To the left, in academic robes is Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, a distinguished minister, physician and suffragist. Mrs. Catt was president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, which was dissolved when women got the vote. The League of Women Voters was formed in its place.
In 1917, Carrie Chatman Catt leads suffragists in a march in New York City.


Voters was more important?  Since women’s suffrage, anyway?   After all, a main goal of the League is to “encourage the informed and active participation of citizens in government, and influence public policy through education and advocacy….”  If the League can’t turn this around who or what can?

Simple, right?  The League will save us.  All we have to do is stand back and cheer it on.   But here’s the problem: the LWV is a volunteer organization, totally dependent on the efforts of its members.  Us. Our work and financial contributions.  And improving the turnout of educated voters will take a lot of thought, time and effort if we are to have any chance of success.

Fortunately, San Antonio’s League has grown much stronger over the past decade and especially this year.  Did you see our recent education and transportation forums?  How influential they appeared?  Or hear about the training session for those considering running for a first office? These events took work.  They demonstrate how much our League can do, how much its members can put into things that matter. Thanks to those who made them happen.

Unfortunately it’s just the beginning. Is the League, especially our San Antonio branch, up to making a difference for voter turnout?  Was the League up to gaining voting rights for women in 1920?  The 19th amendment was adopted almost 100 years ago: 2020 is right around the corner.

Do we still have what it takes?  Let’s see what 2018 elections say.  I’m in, anyway.

William Altemeier is a long-time member of the League of Women Voters.