An interesting dilemma in Spokane, Washington, regarding a paid Facebook ad

This is one that I think has a series of interesting political implications and is very worthy of debate, not for how controversial the action is, but because of the potentially chilling effect it could have on free speech.

Here’s the background.  Spokane, Washington, just past an ordinance which requires most employers offer paid sick leave.  As you can imagine, this was a highly controversial issue.  Councilwoman Karen Stratton was one of the supporters of the ordinance.  In the most recent election she was opposed by Evan Verduin, the owner of an architectural design firm.  Verduin also opposed the paid sick leave ordinance and was upset that Councilwoman Stratton, among others, didn’t conduct more study or outreach to the business community.

Here’s where it gets interesting.  Verduin took to Facebook to express his opposition to the new policy and the way in which it became law:

“Now that the election season is over, the City Council has voted to enact the sick leave ordinance without additional study. There was no additional outreach to local businesses, no contact with business associations, and a total disregard of dozens of scientific studies that prove legislation like this harms those most for whom it is intended to help. Karen Stratton and wanted this legislation passes, and they delayed the vote prior to election to mislead the voters of Spokane. Shame on you Karen!”

Verdium then used his campaign funds to pay for the post to appear as a sponsored ad.

Another twist: Veridun is a member of Spokane’s Planning Commission and up for reappointment, which is subject to the consent of Council.  Councilwoman Stratton has announced that she will oppose Veridun’s appointment, laying out her reasons why in a letter to Council and the Mayor:

“The most charitable characterization of his comments is that they were juvenile and immature. In any other context, the comments could be defamatory and actionable.”

“The issue is whether Mr. Verduin is capable of engaging in civil public discourse that reflects well on the City and the Plan Commission.”

My feeling?  I can understand Councilwoman Stratton’s feelings, I really can.  That being said, I disagree with the decision to oppose Veridun’s appointment.  One of the most difficult things in politics – one that I will openly admit I struggle with – is dealing with the fact that citizens can say mean, nasty, terrible things about you.  Facebook gives your critics a megaphone.  Public officials may not like it, but within some very broad limits, there’s nothing that can be done about it.  If you assume that citizens criticizing elected officials is appropriate – and I do – then I think it’s unfair to oppose a citizen’s reappointment to a commission, provided that the citizen in question is doing a good job and represents your views.

Again, this is a difficult one, but public officials have to have thick skin.  That being said, I acknowledge that this is easy for me to say…I’m on the other side of the country.  If I were Councilwoman Stratton, I may feel very differently!

 

Kansas State Representative shares racist meme on Facebook

Sharing offensive Facebook content is often a fast path towards instant condemnation.  That’s a lesson that Kansas State Representative John Bradford (R-Lansing) just learned the hard way.

Last week, Representative Bradford shared this picture on his Facebook page:

John Bradford Facebook Post

The picture originated from the Facebook group Conservative Country, which features a variety of conservative, anti-Democrat and anti-Obama memes.

As you can see, the meme is just horrendously racist.  Representative Bradford did remove the post, but obviously faced overwhelming criticism for making it in the first place. Said Carolyn Campbell, a member of the Kansas Board of Education, Democrat and African-American, “Representative Bradford’s actions make it very clear that we are far from reaching Dr. King’s dream of equality. I’m saddened and appalled that this is an individual who is making decisions that impact our children’s education system.”

When interviewed afterwards, Representative Bradford expressed regret for the post: “It was in bad taste and I regret it.”

Interestingly – and certainly not surprisingly – this isn’t the first time that Representative Bradford has been accused of racism.  Representative Bradford was actually one of nine Republican Representatives who filed a complaint against a Democratic Representative – Valdenia Winn – after Representative Winn accused Bradford, and others, of holding “racist, sexist, fear-mongering” attitudes based on their support of legislation which would repeal residential tuition rates, at state universities, for illegal immigrants.

Clearly, those accusations will now be seen in an entirely new light!

Tweets and Consequences

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Tennessee State Representative tweets support for Bundy Militia

As you are probably aware, a group of armed ranchers has taken over a federal building in Oregon, as part of a “protest” of federal government land use and ownership policies.  The protest, of course, isn’t a protest, it’s an act of violence.  As such, the action has been condemned by even the most conservative of Presidential candidates like Ted Cruz.

However, not ever lawmaker has voiced their objections, and some have even tweeted their support.  Enter Tennessee State Representative Andy Holt (R):

That tweet from Representative Holt was deleted, but as you can see, some grabbed a screenshot of it.  After the tweet was deleted, Representative Holt added:

When asked for comment, Holt did say,”I do lend my moral support to the Bundy militia, or whatever they call themselves.”

So, to summarize:

  • A sworn government officer tweeted their support for an armed insurrection so extreme that even some of the most extreme Republicans running for President have disavowed it.
  • He deleted the tweet in which is expressed his support, then tweeted comments alluding to his support, then got into a flame war with others who attacked him for it.  If you’re going to do all of those things, why delete the tweets in the first place?

Tweets and Consequences

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Texas Representative’s old online comments revealed: Marital rape isn’t real, marijuana is great

Texas State Representative Jonathan Stickland bills himself as a “Christian Conservative Liberty Loving Republican” in his Twitter biography.  If that’s the case, he’s really got some explaining to do.

Representative Stickland has a primary opponent, Pastor Scott Fisher.  Pastor Fisher recently revealed old online comments which Stickland had made, including:

  • “Rape is non existent in marriage, take what you want my friend!”
  • In regards to a drug test he had to take for work: “They are stupid for doing this to me. I am the residential manager. Lead company in sales every month and now we will see how they respond…I smoke weed MAYBE 2-3 times a year?”  According to Stickland, the drug test was coming days after he had a “few glorious rips from a blunt.”
  • Commented on how he bought a “detox drink” and was trying to hide it from his wife
  • Commented that he was looking for a “smoke buddy” and gave his Email address for anyone interested.

Now, there are some important caveats here.  Some of these comments are very old – from 2008 – so they were made 7-8 years ago.  Even older are the comments where Stickland is looking for a “smoke buddy” – that’s from 2001, when Stickland was 17.

In comments to the Texas Observer, Stickland made the following statement:

I do not feel that way today. I can only repent and ask for forgiveness from the people it offended and hurt. Rape is serious and should never be joked about the way that I did regardless of my age.

The same article’s headline, I think, is perfect: “Johnathan Stickland’s Pot Antics are Comical.  His Views on Rape are Terrifying.”  I agree completely.  Perhaps he has grown and come to realize the error of his ways…but these comments will, unquestionably, need to be explained.

What this does show, however, is how online comments made – even years and years ago – can come back to haunt you.  This goes to show the importance of digital education, regardless of how old someone is.

Minneapolis councilwoman releases names & contact information of constituents who disagreed

Elected officials are frequently contacted by constituents who agree or disagree with them on issues.  This is totally normal, expected and healthy.  Frankly, I wish I was contacted more by constituents, even those who disagree, because at least that would mean that people were paying attention!

Anyway, when a constituent contacts an elected official, it is totally reasonable to expect a response from that official, with the elected in question explaining their position.  What should never be expected, of course, is that the elected official releases the private correspondence from a constituent – along with that constituents name and contact information.

Yet, in Minneapolis, that is exactly what happened.

Council member Alondra Cano appeared at a Black Lives Matter rally last week.  Stephen Dent, a previous supporter of Councilwoman Cano, wrote to the Councilwoman to complain, saying that she was unfit to serve office because of her attendance at the rally.  Cano then tweeted out the letter that Dent wrote, along with his name and contact information.  The councilwoman did the same to others – here’s an example:

Dent, understandably, was less than pleased, as are others.  For her part, Councilwoman Cano has not responded to inquiries from the media about the issue.

 

It is important to note that what Councilwoman Cano did is not illegal.  State open records laws do not prohibit the releasing of personal information or constituent correspondence.  That being said, this is insane.  Unquestionably, some of the Emails that the Councilwoman chose to publicize is disgusting and a poor example of how to influence an elected official.  That being said, like it or not, people have a right to (within broad limits) say whatever they want to an elected official.  It is inappropriate for an elected official to release contact information of people who contact them. This can easily be interpreted as an attempt to intimate and silence constituents who disagree, even if that wasn’t the intent.

 

Tweets and Consequences

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Mayor of Superior, Wisconsin, takes to Facebook to call President Obama a Muslim

Welcome back from Christmas break, everyone!  Here’s how we’ll be starting the social media day.

Bruce Hagen is the Mayor of Superior, Wisconsin (population about 27,000).  Hagen, in response to a picture of First Lady Michelle Obama, wrote the following on Facebook:

“Unbelievable! She and her Muslim partner have destroyed the fabric of democracy that was so very hard fought for!”

Ahh, so we’re going with the “Obama is a Muslim” meme again, I see.  That’s lovely.

Needless to say, the city’s residents and other elected officials were not amused.  Five City Councilors called for Mayor Hagen to resign in the wake of his remarks, with Councilors calling the remarks “inappropriate.”  Mayor Hagen, for his part, refuses to resign, saying: “Am I gonna resign? Absolutely not. If the people of this community feel otherwise, they will vote me out of office.”

The standard response of Hagen’s remarks, from defenders, is probably something along the lines of “Free speech!”  They are right, of course – to a point.  The Mayor is, unquestionably, entitled to say whatever he wants (within certain broad limits) without fear of government repercussions.  But here’s the thing: Free speech doesn’t mean freedom from the consequences of your speech, and elected officials are, as I’ve said a thousand times, held to a higher standard for the content of their remarks.  Indeed, this was best elucidated by City Councilor Graham Garfield, who said, “”Sure he’s entitled to free speech.  But elected officials are held accountable for stupid things they do and say.”

Tweets and Consequences

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“Great win!” tweets Iowa Senator, whose team then loses

I’ve written previously about premature tweets in regards to sports wins, and it seems that we have a new entry into that category, this one courtesy of Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA).

Here’s what happened: This past Saturday, the Iowa Hawkeyes were battling the Michigan State in college football.  The winner of the game would become the Big Ten Conference champion, and with time running down, the Hawkeyes had the lead.  Senator Ernst then sent out this tweet:

JoniErnstHere’s the thing: The Hawkeyes hadn’t won yet.  And, in fact, they didn’t, as a touchdown by Michigan State in the final minute cost the Hawkeyes the game.

Whoops.

The congratulatory tweet was deleted and replaced with this:

While I understand why the errand tweet was explained as a “staff error,” I think this is a lousy thing to do.  Odds are that is exactly what happened, but that’s irrelevant.  I think a leader needs to take responsibility for anything tweeted under the name, and not throw some poor staffer under the bus – even if that is how it went down.