A Candidates’ Night Forum that had been scheduled for Monday, Oct. 24, at the Lebanon Municipal Building Auditorium has been canceled after county Republican party candidates declined to participate because an NAACP representative would have acted as a co-moderator.
The forum’s sponsor, local radio station WLBR / Big Wilbur, had proposed that candidates answer questions and explain their platforms at the event, which would have been moderated by WLBR news director Laura LeBeau and Taelor Norwood, of the NAACP’s Lebanon branch.
Invitations to Candidates’ Night had been extended to Republican candidates Dan Meuser (incumbent, Pa. 9th U.S. Congressional District), incumbent state senator Chris Gebhard (48th state senatorial district), incumbent state representative Russ Diamond (102nd state house district), and Pennsylvania House of Representatives candidates John Schlegel (101st state house district) and Tom Jones (98th state house district).
In a September 25 email to Forever Media, WLBR’s owner, county Republican chairman Bill Bova said “I fear the bipartisan nature of past forums was lost with the choice of this year’s co-moderator/host Taelor Norwood/Lebanon NAACP.”
Norwood is the Lebanon NAACP branch’s assistant secretary, according to its website.
The Lebanon NAACP responded in a media release by stating in part “[w]e forcefully and categorically reject the false claim that the NAACP is a partisan organization. . . . Our Branch is not supporting any candidate for office, financially or otherwise. Like the national NAACP under whose organizational umbrella we fall, we are a 501(c)4 non-profit civic organization operating exclusively for the promotion of social welfare as defined by the Internal Revenue Service.”
The Republican objections seem to go beyond Norwood individually, who Bova described as ” . . . an activist and has been an outspoken advocate against policy positions that the Republican nominees support.”
Bova’s email went on to say that it would be inappropriate “to include the Lebanon NAACP as a co-host in this year’s debate. A quick look at the Lebanon NAACP executive committee reveals multiple board members who have run for public office, all as Democrats.”
Bova added that “multiple current executive members have made monetary donations to the campaigns of Calvin Clements, Laura Quick and Mark Temons, again, all Democrats.”
The Lebanon County NAACP chapter’s web page lists Michael Schroeder as its secretary. Schroeder ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for state senate in a 2020 special election. The NAACP web page does not appear to list any other local NAACP officials or directors who are current or past candidates for local elected office.
A review of campaign contribution records compiled by Ballotpedia and the Pennsylvania Department of State (DOS) shows that Schroeder has donated $300 each to Quick and Temons, and that local NAACP executive committee member Pat Seely donated an unspecified amount to Temons.
Temons’ campaign manager, Robert Misciagna, told LebTown that the amount of Seely’s contribution “appears to be a single $100 donation.”
No other contributions to local Democratic candidates by officials named on the local NAACP website, or by the NAACP itself, could be found.
Ballotpedia does not list how current its figures are. The DOS lists reports through Sept. 19, although some local Democrats’ reports are through earlier dates.
Executives of the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce have been unchallenged moderators in past Candidates’ Nights sponsored by WLBR, without objection from Republicans or Democrats.
The local Lebanon Valley Chamber belongs to the Chamber’s state and national organizations, and lists them as “advocacy partners.” The state and national arms of the Chamber regularly publicly endorse political candidates and lobby elected officials.
Bova declined to speak on the record when asked whether any other member of the NAACP’s Lebanon branch would be acceptable to Republicans as a moderator, or whether the Republicans see a distinction between the Chamber of Commerce and the NAACP when it comes to moderator neutrality.
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