by Nicholas Power
San Juan Island
There has been a lot of ink spilled regarding the sign ordinance and the fact that San Juan County has unquestionably been violating the First Amendment rights of all citizens since the day it was enacted in 1998. Most distressingly, the county has known that it has been in violation of the First Amendment since at least 2003.
That’s not a typo, 2003 – for 15 years the “powers that be” have been intentionally flouting the Constitution. My opponent, Prosecutor Gaylord, recognized that this ordinance was unconstitutional in 2003 yet took no action to fix it and has benefitted from it as an incumbent for 15 years.
In June the county finally publicly acknowledged that the ordinance is unconstitutional and issued a moratorium temporarily freezing the effectiveness of the ordinance.
The county has tried to make me the villain in this drama, and I am compelled to respond.
County Auditor Milene Henley – who plays an essential role as a neutral representative of the government to oversee elections – has published a statement acknowledging that the ordinance is unconstitutional but makes judgments about what type of speech is appropriate for candidates and the public at large to make. This statement is still on the county’s website today, and you can see it for yourself at https://www.sanjuanco.com/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=507.
It is basic First Amendment law that the county government should not be making statements judging what speech is good speech and what speech is bad speech. It is not for them to decide – that is for citizens to decide.
I have also been accused of promoting “roadside spam,” which entirely misses the point.
I want our community to remain the special community that I moved my family here to live in and that we all appreciate so much. Those who live here will know that I have not put up any signs yet.
But the county is still sending a clear message to candidates that they should follow the county’s unconstitutional ordinance and that challengers should remain silent and not publicize that they are running against incumbents.
The Supreme Court has long held that ordinances which limit speech too close to the election favors incumbents. That’s why the ordinance is unconstitutional, and that’s why the county wants challengers to stay silent.
The point here is about accountability and compliance with basic and important laws at the foundation of constitutional law. Both Auditor Milene Henley and Prosecutor Gaylord took oaths to protect the Constitution – their actions however demonstrate that they might need to reflect on how well they are upholding their oaths.
This county has been run for far too long by elected officials who seek to preserve their position, status and wealth by fighting transparency and accountability. This needs to change. Why? Because the citizens of San Juan County deserve better.
Nicholas Power is running for San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney.