And The First Amendment
By Susan M. Halpern
Former Addison Councilmember (1992-1999)
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The First Amendment guarantees the right to a public discourse, including with respect to elections and candidates. More than 50 years ago, in the seminal case of NY Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), the U.S. Supreme Court forcefully rejected efforts to discourage or “chill” public discourse regarding public figures. The case arose in connection with the civil rights movement, and involved public officials who were trying to prevent reporting on their inappropriate conduct. Revisiting it reminds us that the ability to publicly proclaim the TRUTH, as guaranteed by the First Amendment, has been and must continue to be zealously guarded.
Our recent article regarding a council candidate’s inaccurate, alarmist mailer was 100% factual and TRUTHFUL. His claim that $41 million is somehow missing was laughable, and we appropriately chastised him for his clear failure to educate himself regarding Addison’s finances. Neither he nor anyone else has identified any inaccuracies in the article, including with respect to his pending, nine-years-running bankruptcy case. And yet, some among us have been subjected to threats – some direct, and some veiled – specifically intended to chill our publication of the TRUTH about this candidate.
That’s beyond shameful. Threats aimed at chilling public discourse – whether direct or veiled – are dangerous and subversive, and have no place in our democracy. Rest assured that we will not be intimidated.
Let’s make a few other things clear here. First, publication of TRUTH is appropriate, even if that TRUTH is unflattering. If a candidate feels “damaged” simply because his conduct is TRUTHFULLY reported, then the only thing that confirms is that the conduct was inappropriate in the first instance.
Second, what we said about ethics complaints stands. If you file one, you don’t talk about it. As the Texas Ethics Commission has forcefully stated, anyone can file a complaint, which means that filing a complaint does not establish a violation. Therefore, publicizing the mere filing of a complaint is an effort to mislead voters, something we will not do.
Third, I have reviewed the law on which the negatives and naysayers have attacked Mayor Joe Chow regarding the use of campaign funds, and I think their claims are baseless. In my view, they misconstrue the applicable law. But then, given that they misnamed the law and fabricated a quote supposedly taken from it, perhaps they didn’t even read the law. In any event, I say again, they have done exactly what the Ethics Commission condemns: they are publicizing the filing of a complaint with the clear intent to mislead voters by improperly treating the filing as establishing a violation. It speaks volumes about these folks, and the magnitude of desperation they feel regarding the election.
Oh, and one bit of trivia: the actual complaint was not filed until almost a week after the negatives’ designated blogger wrote about it. I guess once they went public they had to find someone to actually file something. Which confirms yet again that the negatives’ designated blogger is exactly that, doing the bidding of the negatives and naysayers, including by carefully coordinating their mutual negative efforts. It’s not what Addison needs. But more to the point, in the end, the Texas Ethics Commission will sort it all out.
Fourth, Mayor Joe Chow’s opponent is once again making claims about signs, insinuating that people are taking and/or defacing signs. I’ve said it before: if people are harming signs or taking them, then by all means, catch those folks and prosecute them. Put up cameras, set up surveillance, do it all. But, I again express my skepticism about these claims. After all, these are the same folks who brought us “Poopgate,” where they made wildly unfounded and absolutely false accusations to the effect that a current councilmember put dog poop on someone’s sign. What nonsense. And, I do observe that claiming the theft of a large quantity of signs would be a clever way to try ot explain away the absence of visible support in our community.
Finally, we published an article a while back titled “The Politics of the False Plurality” (http://truthinaddison.com/?page_id=1869). It’s a good read, particularly these days, with the negatives and naysayers in full blast mode. For purposes of this discussion, I’ll just leave it at this: Don’t be fooled by claims of legitimacy founded in the supposed approval of unnamed commenters (“another reader commented…”). And, judge Truth in Addison’s articles by their content, not by who comments on them. Remember, when you speak TRUTH you don’t need propping up.
We live in a wonderful town that is moving forward. Let these negatives and naysayers describe how they would positively contribute to our town, rather than attacking and threatening people and claiming that things are awful when they’re not.
Let’s keep the Addison Way moving forward!