The next theater for the war in Iraq may be Lawrence.
City commissioners are set to decide tonight whether to place a question on the November ballot allowing voters to call for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
The request - made last week by the Lawrence Coalition for Peace and Justice - is advisory in nature, but it already has sparked debate about what role the city should play in voicing its opinion about one of the more controversial issues of the decade.
"I'm wrestling with it," City Commissioner Boog Highberger said. "I think it would be good for our elected officials to know what Lawrence residents think about the issue, but I'm struggling with whether it is the role of city government to conduct an opinion poll.
"I'm afraid it could be awfully divisive for the community, and not accomplish much."
The issue may have a tough time winning the necessary three votes to be placed on the November ballot. Highberger was one of three commissioners who said last week that he was willing to consider the issue. Commissioner David Schauner was another, but he said Monday that he's now leaning against putting the issue on the ballot.
"It is such a complicated issue, it may not be appropriate for a referendum," Schauner said. "This is the most complicated issue you could ever ask to be flattened into an in-or-out type of decision."
That hasn't stopped other communities from doing it, though. The Wisconsin Green Party successfully placed a similar question on the April ballot of 32 communities in that state. Twenty-four of the communities, including Madison, home to the University of Wisconsin, voted to call for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
In Vermont, 56 communities had town hall meetings in March where citizens voted on the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. More than two-thirds of the communities approved of a withdrawal.
In 2004, San Francisco became the largest community to speak out on the issue. Voters there approved a referendum calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops by a 2-1 margin. Milwaukee has scheduled a similar vote for the Nov. 7 election.
Allan Hanson, a member of the Lawrence Coalition for Peace and Justice, said Lawrence has the chance to become part of an important national movement.
"This is a good way to get public opinion expressed in this country," Hanson said. "If we are the only community in the country that does it, nobody will notice. But if we are part of a groundswell, it can make a difference."
Opinions of Lawrence residents Monday on Massachusetts Street were mixed.
"It seems like it is much more of a federal issue," said Lawrence resident Gary Patterson. "It is not something you just simply decide to bring the troops home. Besides, our vote wouldn't matter."
Denise Diamond, Lawrence, has a nephew who is about to deploy to Iraq.
"He might be mad if the city did something like that, but I would support a vote on it," Diamond said. "I want us to do something to get the troops home. My nephew is 18 years old, and I don't think he has any idea what he's getting into."
Members of area veterans organizations said they had some concerns about calling for a public vote on the issue.
"All I can tell you is that I do know that what we're doing over there is the right thing," said Paul Benner, commander of Lawrence's Veterans of Foreign Wars post and a veteran of the first Gulf War in the early 1990s. "I don't have a lot of tolerance for uninformed people, and these folks calling for this seem to be pretty uninformed."