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Stifling Debate in the El Paso County GOP

May 3, 2011

Last night at the El Paso County party Central Committee meeting Bob Denny, HD-20 leader,  supported by Jeff Hays of HD-20, introduced a measure on behalf of Rep. Amy Stephens designed to stifle opposition to SB-200. It prevented party officers and Executive Committee members from criticizing elected officials and their policies.

There was some debate over whether the resolution violated the free speech rights of members. Eli Bremer felt that he could not be perceived in the public square as anything but the County Chair and felt the ban was fair if applied to officers: chair, vice-chair, secretary and treasurer. As it applied to other Executive Committee members, the ban would not apply if they made it plain that they were speaking in their own capacity and not as a party representative.

While remaining neutral in primaries is written into the bylaws, there has never been a prohibition on weighing in on policy positions. It was clearly understood by all–and explicitly discussed–that the genesis of this resolution by Denny and Hays was the vocal opposition to SB11-200 by many in the party.

In any case, when a Republican official sides with Democrats, the measure said, the ban did not apply–but first the Executive Committee will have to pass a resolution allowing dissent. It seems to me that any House Republican voting against Senate Republicans and voting to support Senate Democrats with SB11-200 would fall into that category. But don’t get out ahead of the Executive Committee or you could be censured.

In the end, cooler heads prevailed, and the measure passed with amendments that made it clear that county officers should remain neutral but were not absolutely prevented from speaking out. A big thanks is due to those on the committee who, while recognizing the need for civility in discourse and party discipline and unity, also balanced that with concerns for free speech and reasoned, open debate. You can read the measure for yourself, with my handwritten edits, here.

But watch what you write on Facebook, Twitter or your blog–all mentioned specifically in the measure–Big Sis is watching. Clearly name-calling and personal attacks are simply rude and uncalled for, but no one in public office should have a problem with honest disagreements on policy. We’re not Democrats after all.

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