The town of Oro Valley, whose local government does not mirror its idyllic surroundings, was Arizona's retail development subsidy capitol until its town council declared a moratorium on the practice last year. Now it is distinguishing itself in another way: as the states leading suppressor of political expression.
The towns policies have inspired a remarkable degree of civic activism, including a blog called Let Oro Valley Excel, operated by retired executive Art Segal. Segal is an irritant in the body of the beast, regularly subjecting local policies to scrutiny and criticism. The final straw for the powers that be was the endorsement on his blog of two candidates seeking seats on the town council.
Town officials demanded that Segal either register his blog as a political action committee, or link other candidates websites on his blog. Either requirement would paralyze the blogosphere, which is the most revolutionary means of political expression since the invention of the soapbox.
The town mischaracterized Arizona law regarding political action committees, which encompass not mere endorsements but organized efforts and expenditures to promote candidacies. Indeed, were the laws broader than that, newspapers that endorsed candidates would have to register as well.
More important, political speech is at the core of the free speech guarantees of both the Arizona and U.S. Constitutions. Registration constitutes an unconstitutional prior restraint and even a warning like the one served on Art Segal has an impermissible chilling effect.
Segal refused to comply with the towns edict, and the Goldwater Institute stood ready to represent him in court. After having outside legal counsel review their policy, the town seems to have backed off for now. But its clumsy attempt to suppress political opposition provides a clarion call for the need to be eternally vigilant in defense of our freedoms.
Clint Bolick is the director of the Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.
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