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League Charges 2 Parties Block Debate Efforts

August 13, 1986|United Press International

WASHINGTON — The League of Women Voters accused the Democratic and Republican national committees Tuesday of trying to sabotage its sponsorship of the 1988 presidential debates.

League President Nancy M. Neuman said the committees pressured House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill (D-Mass.) and Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (R-Md.) to withdraw as honorary co-chairmen of its presidential debates advisory committee.

Neuman accused the parties of being "willing to engage in whatever shenanigans are necessary to sabotage our efforts," and declared that the league is determined to sponsor the presidential debates in 1988.

"We didn't pick this fight," Neuman told reporters at a news conference.

Spokesman Denies Pressure

She said O'Neill withdrew as honorary co-chairman Monday as a result of Democratic National Committee pressure. His spokesman, however, said the House Speaker had not been pressured but decided to support the party's decision to sponsor its own debates in 1988.

Mathias decided to remain on the committee because he had made the commitment, according to his spokeswoman, who said the incident was "unfortunate."

"This incident raises serious questions for the American public because it gives a small taste of how the parties would conduct the debates if indeed they could pull it off," said Neuman, newly elected president of the nonpartisan group.

Assails Committees

"Yesterday's events show that the parties won't even talk about who should run the debates," she said. "Instead, they resort to trying to pull the rug out from under us, hoping that we'll look the other way."

Last November, the two committees signed an agreement to sponsor the 1988 presidential debates, following a recommendation by the National Commission on Elections, a bipartisan commission that studied the presidential election process.

The league has sponsored presidential debates since 1976.

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