Free speech should prevail | Editorial
July 26, 2011 · Updated 11:52 AM
Mayor Jim Slowik finds himself in quicksand every time he sees a political sign. He struggles to do the right thing, but the more he struggles the further he sinks.
Most recently, he allowed a proponent of the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District’s swimming pool levy to display a “vote yes” sign while giving background information to the city council. A Public Disclosure Commission spokeswoman, contacted by this newspaper, said the mayor erred in allowing the sign to be shown because the council proceedings are broadcast on Channel 10, paid for by the taxpayers. Therefore, the reasoning goes, the mayor allowed a partisan message to be sent out using city resources. He received a verbal hand slap for his apparent gaff.
In another sign incident, Slowik’s staff members determined that their boss’s opponent in the mayoral race, Scott Dudley, had posted his signs earlier than a city ordinance allows. Slowik soon had to back off because of court cases that seem to indicated certain time limits on campaign signs are unconstitutional.
With activist courts and bureaucracies like the Public Disclosure Commission watching their every move, it’s hard for any public official to know what he or she can say, when they can say it, or when they should allow someone else to say something.
They should always err on the side of free speech, which is what Slowik did by allowing a citizen to hold a sign during the council’s public comment period. But on the other hand, the attempt to restrict Dudley’s signs was obviously a bad idea.
Rules that try to restrict free speech always end up hopelessly complicated and in the end stifle free speech. That’s why the founders made it simple in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
Perhaps Tim Eyman should circulate an initiative to freshly pass the First Amendment in this state, where political free speech has been curtailed. Then maybe people would be left alone to say what they want, when they want, just as the founders intended.