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Holmstadt cites League of Women Voters' advocacy in refusing to take part in candidate forum

Dan Schoen, the DFL candidate for Senate District 54, participates in a League of Women Voters forum Tuesday in Cottage Grove. Leilani Holmstadt, the Republican candidate in the Senate race, refused to take part in the forum over what she said is the League's DFL-aligned lobbying efforts. (Bulletin photo by Scott Wente)

A local legislative candidate refused to participate in a League of Women Voters forum, citing the group’s political activism.

Leilani Holmstadt, a Cottage Grove Republican running for Senate District 54, announced on social media Monday she would not take part in the League’s candidate forum Tuesday in Cottage Grove. She called the League a “left-leaning lobbying organization.”

“LWV leaders prowl the halls of the Minnesota State Capitol promoting an agenda fully aligned with the DFL Party’s,” Holmstadt wrote. “The LWV fashions a public image of being a neutral party in elections as a distraction and reputation enhancer for its advocacy activities.”

League organizers had a chair and sign for Holmstadt next to her opponent, Democrat Dan Schoen, but removed the sign when the forum started. The moderator announced Holmstadt was invited but was not participating. The League’s policy is to allow a candidate to participate even if the opponent does not.

“It’s unfortunate my opponent isn’t here tonight to visit with us as well,” said Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, who currently represents House District 54A. The other Republican candidates, House District 54A’s Keith Franke and House District 54B’s Tony Jurgens, participated.

Known for holding candidate forums, the League is a nonpartisan organization but does take positions on some issues. The League says the organization never backs a political candidate or party, but members advocate for the group’s adopted positions.

Holmstadt said the League’s “operations advance abortion, gun control, and illegal immigration, among a host of other far left objectives.”

The League’s Minnesota chapter lists on its website that it has positions on election integrity, immigration reform, judicial independence, money in politics, natural resources, principles governing its work, public education, redistricting and voting rights.

South Washington County candidates from both major parties have participated in League forums in recent years. The forums usually include opening and closing statements and questions from the League and from the audience. There are time limits on candidates’ answers.

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, is retiring this year. He attended the forum Tuesday and afterward raised concerns over whether the League fairly applied its own rules prohibiting candidates from wearing campaign buttons or what materials they can have with them during the forum. Don Slaten, a Democrat running to replace McNamara, wore a campaign button on his lapel during the forum.

A League member asked McNamara to submit his concerns in writing so they could address them.

In an interview afterward McNamara did not want to comment on Holmstadt’s decision not to attend. He said he was unfairly treated by the League during a 2006 forum but would always participate in the election forums.

“The people deserve to hear what you have to say,” he said.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

(651) 459-7600
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