The League of Women Voters boasts that it presents "unbiased nonpartisan information about elections, the voting process, and issues." Phyllis Loya always assumed that meant the organization believed in presenting both sides of issues to its members, but recently she discovered she was wrong.
In 2005, Alexander Hamilton, 18, and Andrew Moffett, 17, robbed a Wells Fargo branch in a Pittsburg, Calif., Raley's supermarket. Loya's son, Larry Lasater, then 35, was the cop who had the bad luck to find them after they crashed a stolen getaway car. As Lasater chased the suspects, Hamilton fired four shots that killed Lasater.
In 2007, a jury convicted Hamilton of first-degree murder and robbery and sentenced him to death. (Moffett was sentenced to life without parole.) Upon sentencing, Hamilton proclaimed: "I got the death penalty. I ain't got no problem with that." He also told a judge he didn't see any point in listening to Loya or Lasater's widow, JoAnn, as they testified about the pain he had caused.
It seems Hamilton has something in common with the Piedmont League of Women Voters; the group also doesn't want to hear what Loya has to say.
Loya recently came across a press release for a Piedmont League of Women Voters event on Oct. 24 about Proposition 34, the ballot measure to end California's death penalty. The group invited only a supporter of the measure to speak. So Loya got in touch with the group and asked whether she could present an opposing viewpoint. The answer was no.
"Apparently, I never understood what the League of Women Voters is about," Loya, now a co-chairwoman of the No on 34 campaign, told me. "I mistakenly thought it was about presenting both sides." Wrong.
Loya's son lost his life serving his community. Before he was a cop, Lasater served in the Marines. He died two months before his first child was born. Son Cody is now 7. "What more could my son possibly have given the citizens of this state?"
League of Women Voters of Piedmont President Julie McDonald did not return my calls or emails, but League of Women Voters of California Vice President Helen Hutchison said: "We are an organization that does two different things. People know us best for our voter services, but we also do advocacy. My guess is this is an advocacy meeting."
When the group isn't giving out neutral advice on ballot measures, you see, it also endorses ballot measures.
"We only do advocacy when we study the issue, come to member consensus, and we take a position," Hutchison said.
OK, but I called the No on 34 folks, and they told me the state League of Women Voters never had met with them. True, Hutchison answered. But that's because the group was working to end California's death penalty before Proposition 34 qualified for the ballot.
Nothing opponents could have said -- and no facts they could have presented -- would have swayed the League of Women Voters from its support for Proposition 34.
The Piedmont group called its forum "Proposition 34 -- Should California Kill the Death Penalty?" That sounds like a question.
Attorney Cliff Gardner is scheduled to speak in support of the proposition. Gardner now represents Scott Peterson, who is on death row for the murder of his wife, Laci, and their fetus. Gardner filed an appeal that contends Peterson could not get a fair trial in San Mateo County. It's sort of ironic because Phyllis Loya cannot get a hearing, fair or otherwise, with the League of Women Voters.
As Loya concluded, "there is no room for victims at their table."