League of Women Voters
"Someone Out There Cares"
The SUNDAY STAR-BULLETIN & ADVERTISER
Honolulu, April 9, 1967, C-1
By ROBYN RICKARD Advertiser Staff Writer
|Mrs. Tosh Tasaka pauses before going into Senate gallery to begin her stint of observing the sessions.|
Imagine, if you can, an intelligent woman listening to hours of political discussion and never opening her mouth to comment. No matter what is said, how heated the arguments become, she doesn't scowl, frown, or show what she is thinking. Not by a single expression does she reveal a party preference.
Impossible? Not so. This woman is a rather new and special member of the League of Women Voters
(LWV). They call he an "observer."
As a member of the League, of course, she has no party preference, and when on duty she doesn't even laugh.. though she is allowed a Mona Lisa "bipartisan smile."
These observers are known nationally as "the only women in the world with the power of speech who don't talk."
Locally, they have been active in the past in municipal meetings through the Honolulu League of Women Voters, but this is the first year the more recently organized State League has launched an observer program for the full session of the Legislature.
Speak No Evil
|Mrs. Vera Stern takes notes on roll call voting of a bill during session of House of Representatives. |
"Being the 'third monkey' isn't easy," says Mrs. Marguerite Simson, president of the League of Women Voters of Hawaii.
"Sometimes it is difficult to keep quiet ... we have to bite our tongues ... sit on our hands, but we do keep still."
Mrs. Simson said there are 12 observers -- one in each House each day, and six others for evening sessions.
"We could use more women of all ages. So far, women with children in school come to the day sessions which start about 11 o'clock, and they are out in time to pick up the youngsters. The women on duty at night often have small children they leave with their husbands.
"There are no special requirements, and you don't need a college education -- you just have to be a woman. The girls who are observing now have taken a practical politics course sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, and some have attended workshops on observing and lobbying.
"When they are watching the sessions, some observers take copious notes, and others come away with just a few facts. They usually take note of the roll call voting, and keep track of legislators' views on the bills we are especially interested in.
"This year, we are observing the progress of legislation on ethics election laws and water pollution. On the periphery, we are also concerned with education and the Constitutional Convention," Mrs. Simson said.
|Mrs. Barbara Furniss files bills and information in "library" she has set up in her own living room.|
"We wear identification badges, and the legislators can all see us, but we can't always hear what they are saying -- especially in the House, which is large, and where there is often commotion. The representatives have mikes, but they don't always keep them on or talk directly into them.
"There are fewer problems in the Senate because the room is smaller ... and then we have Doe Hill. Any time a senator leaves his mike off, or doesn't make himself heard, the Senator from Hawaii jumps up, and asks to have the remark repeated.
"With practice, it is easier for us to understand and most of us make maps so we know where everyone is sitting, until we get used to the faces," Mrs. Simson said.
The politicians are very much aware of us, for though we are not numerous, they know we count. The senators and representatives realize we are not there out of idle curiosity, or with any destructive motives. We are simply exercising the public's right to know and to try to effect legislation which will be good for the whole community.
"In fact, some of the legislators have told us it's nice to have somebody out there who cares!
"We keep files on all legislators, with information on their personal life and views. And when we feel a politician is opposing our policies, we send someone around to talk to him.
"The information we gather, along with bills, clippings from newspapers, bulletins, pamphlets, is kept in our libraries," and she said with a smile, "We call them libraries, but most of the time the material is kept in cartons and stored in closets at the committee chairman's home. We don't have a headquarters."
The contents of the libraries are used as reference by members in doing their lobbying. This program is just as important to the League as their observing, and just as unique, for though there are more than 200 members in Hawaii, they speak with just one voice.
"Of course, before there is any talking, there is a great deal of thinking on the part of all members. We decide which issues to be most concerned with, reach a position and then try to convince politicians they should be on our side," Mrs. Simson said.
|Senator John Ushijima listens to LWV lobbyist Mrs. Nan Lowers, Laura Draper and Helen Fredericks.|
Influencing legislators through lobbying is an old, but tricky art, Mrs. Simson admitted. "The lobbyist has to know her subject. If they ask something and our member doesn't know the answer, she must say so. We never bluff."
"While we are observing on several bills, our present lobbying is only on the elections laws, and most of the talking at public meetings so far has been done by Mrs. Nan Lowers, chairman of the Election Laws Committee.
"She is not a professional speaker, and I doubt if she'd do any other type of public speaking, but she is excellent just because she knows her subject so thoroughly.
"Officers and other League members also visit legislators to make known our views. But no matter who is talking, they speak only within the framework of the League's thinking. Our members never inject a personal note -- even as an aside or off-the-record," Mrs. Simson explained.
She said the League speaks in favor of: voting for 18-year-olds, residency requirements of six months in the State and one month in the precinct, voting machines and identification at the polls.
"Identification can be important. For instance, we know of one prominent Honolulu man who went to the polls and found someone had already voted in his name. This can happen any time there is no requirement for identification of the voter."
|Mrs. Evelyn Oishi carries stack of bills from the printing office.|
Earlier this year, the League members worked on ethics at the city level led by Mrs. Mary George, president of the Honolulu League of Women Voters.
This group has been operating for several years, but some felt they were restricted to just Honolulu activities, so they started the State chapter two years ago.
Mrs. George said. that all of their members consider the League especially important to people in Hawaii.
"We in Hawaii are relatively new in Congress, and as last State to join the Union, we have much to accomplish. In the old days, everything came from 'The Great White Father' in Washington and we had no voice.
"Newcomers to the Islands find League membership is an excellent way to learn what kind of a community they live in, and how it works.
"Watching our government in action -- whether it is at county or state level --
is fascinating and educational. Almost any woman can profit by membership.
"Two of our women politicians, Rep. Dorothy L. Devereux and Sen. Eureka Forbes got their start in the League and are still members."
Room for More
|Mrs. Marguerite Simson talks to Senate President John J. Hulten as she lobbies for the LWV on election laws.|
Right now there are nearly 300,000 women in the State, so we expect our membership to grow. There is plenty of room in the League for all women who wish to join. The League gives a woman a chance to learn, and a chance to matter, Mrs. George said, then added, "Keeping up with politics also gives us some interesting tidbits to exchange with our husbands in the evening."
Another League member, who would like to see more women join the group, had this to add: "When you become concerned ,about what's happening in the country and wonder what you, as one woman, can do about it, consider this solution: You can join the League and help keep the government clean."
Political housekeeping, anyone?
Legislators Talk About League
The legislators, as a whole, seem to appreciate the League's women who look, listen, and talk only when they lobby.
Here is what some of the men had to say:
John J. Hulten, Senate President: "The League of Women Voters is a positive and constructive force in our community. They approach the business of government the way it should be approached -- that is, on the basis of thorough investigation and not on the basis of sudden emotion.
"Only after long study do they take a public stand. The League is an asset to Hawaii, and I encourage continuation of their work."
Elmer Cravalho House Speaker also believes the should continue. He added: "I believe the activities of the League show a very healthy aspect of public life, and assures us that the interest of part of the public goes beyond elections.
"We may not always agree with the women, but it is refreshing and meaningful to receive the opinions of the public."
Representative Hiroshi Kato, Judiciary Committee Chairman: "I think their work is highly commendable, and I wish other organizations would come and observe the Legislature. The more informed. people are, the better they will be able to vote.
Senator Donald D. H. Ching, Public Health Committee: "It's refreshing to us hard-nosed politicians to see people who are at the Legislature just for civic good, and with no axe to grind. People like that are too few and far between. Most people only come out when their pocketbook is affected.
"I've also been impressed with the League's work in ethics at the City Council, and would like to encourage others to join them in such constructive activities."
Anyone interested in watching the League in action may attend the annual meeting and State convention to be held Friday and Saturday in the Special Events Room of the Liberty House at Ala Moan a.
The meeting begins at 9 a.m. Friday, and the convention begins with a luncheon at noon. and includes Saturday meetings from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information call Mrs. Simson. 982-371, or Mrs. George, 264-496.
Advertiser photos by Charles Okamura and Leland Cheong