Freedom of speech is under attack courtesy of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus. He is effectively trying to stuff as much speech as possible into the definition of “political advertising,” hassling average Texans out of the conversation. In his interim charge to the General Investigating & Ethics Committee Straus commanded the following:
Review the definition of "political advertising" and determine whether the definition should be expanded to include content contained in blogs and other types of Internet communications.(For the complete list of interim charges click here.)
By changing the definition of “political advertising” in this way, Straus would effectively quash the ability of ordinary citizens to discuss politics online. All of a sudden your tweet about supporting a candidate would be a political advertisement instead of free speech and you’d have to file an ethics report with the State of Texas. There would have to be monetary values tied to blog posts, tweets, facebook statuses, etc. and the burden of that reporting would be on you!
When I first read the charge I had to do a double-take. The very idea of making citizens file ethics reports over personal tweets and blog posts seems like something we might expect from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, not a REPUBLICAN Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives! What should startle Texans is that Joe Straus, leader in the race for Speaker of the a Texas House with 99-51 Republican advantage, is pushing this issue from the wrong side.
From a practical perspective, it’s easy to understand why liberals would fight against free speech on the internet. Internet and talk radio have served to counterbalance the huge preponderance of left-leaning newspapers and network news divisions that have dominated the political conversation for decades in America. Still, neither the Internet nor talk radio are exclusively conservative. They merely provide conservatives a medium.
As I pointed out on Friday, Speaker Straus isn’t a fan of Texans voicing their political opinions. It seems that if telling you to sit down and shut up doesn’t work he’ll just try to restrict your free speech through legislation and burdensome reporting requirements for your tweets and blogs.
Exploring how to limit the online engagement of any group is an affront to freedom of speech. This is not the first attempt by Straus and his leadership to limit the public’s ability to influence Texas government.
During the 2009 Legislative Session, Straus’ house leaders worked to cut away at Texan’s First Amendment rights by putting McCain-Feingold type restrictions on the state’s elections. It’s interesting to note that out of the six Republicans that voted for this bill only three survived re-election.
You may also be interested to know that the House Ethics Committee is meeting tomorrow in secret to discuss allegations that members have been threatened with severe recriminations if they fail to support the Speaker's re-election. This committee is chaired by Straus lieutenant Chuck Hopson and they are using House Rules to evade open meetings requirements. In light of the severity of the claims of malfeasance it is especially alarming that the meeting will be cloaked from the public eye.
It’s time that we stand up for our right to free speech. I’m not ready to give up my voice just to make Speaker Straus’ re-election easier. Texas needs a Speaker who will champion our rights rather than explore how they can be stripped from us!
For non-Texans reading this post: Some people have asked me why y’all should be concerned with a Speaker race in Texas. The simple answer is that if liberals (Republicans and Democrats) can do it here, what hope do you have? Keep calling your friends in Texas and remind them to call their legislators and demand a conservative Speaker!