TDH: 5/19/11

With sign dispute, a real circus in Place 3

Sign of the times
Sign of the times

Here's a sign of how ridiculous the Place 3 race has gotten: Accusations are flying back and forth not just between Randi Shade and Kathie Tovo, but candidates that didn't even make it to the run-off – or for that matter, even the ballot!

Texans for Accountable Government czar John Bush has claimed ownership – literally – of those disclaimer-free “Shady the Clown” signs, and now alleges Shade herself swiped his property in removing them from a polling place on Election Day – a claim Shade's campaign, itself the target of much sign removal and defacement, hasn't disputed. Joining Bush in filing a police report was Chris Nielsen.

Yes, that Chris Nielsen – the one who announced a Place 3 run but didn't file his paperwork on time, and then accused Shade of retaliating against his non-run by postponing regulation of his electric vehicle business. Apparently Nielsen had ponied up for some of the Shady signs, writing in a police report “I placed my Shady the Clown signs on the front lawn of Barton Hills Elementary to express my first amendment right of freedom of expression and Randi Shade came and stole them.”

And who witnessed this grave crime? Neither Bush nor Nielsen, but none other than libertarian Place 3 candidate Kris Bailey (the only one who's managed not to go to the police yet. At least someone's abiding by his limited government principles.). Bush says in his police report that Bailey saw Shade take the sign from outside the school.

Bush notes “I normally don’t like to go to the police to handle conflict that occurs amongst we Austinites” – and seriously, his use of state violence is a little out of character, “but if there is anybody that ought to be following the law and held accountable, it’s public officials.”

He also goes on to claim the disclaimer-free signs are legal since they're “not political advertising,” but parody, and don't advocate passage or defeat of a certain candidate. (Earlier versions posted for fundraising purposes, however, did urge readers to “Un-Elect Shady;” moreover, that very fundraising, absent any sort of political action committee (PAC) incorporation, may prove more problematic.)

Shade campaign manager Katherine Haenschen follows up on this point, saying “John Bush and associates are arguing that the signs are NOT political advertising, and do not require disclaimers. According to the law, therefore, the signs are not political speech and are NOT subject to protections for political speech. The signs are essentially 'litter on a stick,' and when they are stuck in public property, the law states that anyone can take them. They're the equivalent of the 'Austin Singles!' or 'Refinance your mortgage' signs stuck around town in public property. … Bottom line: if it's NOT political advertising, it has no protection at a polling location or in any other public property.”

The Hustle will keep you updated on this important matter should any further developments occur.

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