Saturday, July 24, 1999

Political candidates’
right of free speech

Bullet The issue: A political candidate who was censured by the Campaign Spending Commission has filed suit seeking to invalidate the code of fair campaign practices.

Bullet Our view: The commission violated the candidate's right of free speech.

A lawsuit challenging the Campaign Spending Commission's code of fair campaign practices is a welcome attempt to end a blatant violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech.

Roger Ancheta, who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for the state Senate last year, and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed a suit in federal court seeking to invalidate the campaign practices code.

The commission censured Ancheta last February, saying he violated the code when he mailed fliers with a cartoon depicting his opponent, Democrat Randy Iwase, in a jacket pocket labeled "special interests."

The flier also implied a conflict of interest on Iwase's part by stating that he headed the Senate Planning, Land and Water Use Committee when his law firm received $1 million from the Bishop Estate for work on land and water issues.

Iwase filed a complaint with the commission, saying the flier violated the fair campaign practices code, which calls for "decency, honesty and fair play." The commission's director, Bob Watada, said it censured Ancheta because he had "gone over the line in distortions and misrepresentations."

It is wholly inappropriate for a government agency to be passing judgment on statements made by political candidates and censuring them for remarks it considers offensive.

The First Amendment prohibits government from infringing on the rights of free speech and free press, and this is certainly a case in point. In particular, political candidates must be given wide latitude because of the importance of the electoral process in a democracy.

Ancheta's allegations may have been fair or unfair. That question is irrelevant to the First Amendment.

The Constitution does not protect only statements that government decides are fair or responsible. It protects all statements. The First Amendment directs that government shall make "no law" abridging freedom of speech.

There is a remedy for irresponsible and damaging statements -- the libel and slander laws, which require a determination by a court. The U.S. Supreme Court has made it especially difficult to win libel suits against public figures. The reason is the need to encourage and protect full discussion of public issues.

No agency of the executive branch should be allowed to make judgments about the propriety of candidates' comments. The dangers of such a practice should be obvious.

The Legislature has ignored the constitutional problem with the code of fair campaign practices. The Cayetano administration has been insensitive to First Amendment issues.

Now it is up to the federal court to defend free speech in Hawaii political campaigns.

Settlement of library
suits clears the air

Bullet The issue: The state and a book supply company were embroiled in a legal battle over a canceled contract.

Bullet Our view: Settlement of the lawsuits ends a distraction for the library system.

SETTLEMENT of the legal battle between the state and a mainland book supplier will enable the state library system under its new leadership to end this distraction and move on to other issues.

Chief librarian Virginia Lowell, who took over the system a year ago, said she supported an out-of-court settlement because the state's chances of winning its suit against the supplier, Baker & Taylor, weren't good. Under the agreement, the company will provide the libraries with $75,000 worth of books selected by the state.

Baker & Taylor had sued the state for terminating an $11 million contract to select, buy and process books for the library system. The state had countersued, seeking the return of a $733,000 down payment.

The contract with Baker & Taylor was negotiated by former librarian Bart Kane as a means of coping with steep cuts in the library system's budget while avoiding layoffs.

But librarians quickly complained that the books they were receiving were unsuitable and overpriced. Kane and company officials exchanged accusations regarding the responsibility for the foul-up. A blue-ribbon committee was appointed to investigate and recommended that the contract be canceled. That action resulted in the company filing suit.

Some librarians called for Kane's firing -- and eventually succeeded. Kane is suing the state alleging wrongful dismissal.

Lowell stepped into this mess last year and decided that the best course of action from the point of view of the libraries would be settlement rather than prolonged litigation. Now she is free of this dispute.

However, Lowell is subject to the same budget constraints that plagued Kane. In a meeting with Star-Bulletin editors this week, she noted that the Legislature had appropriated no funds for purchases of books and other materials for the last three years. She said Hawaii ranks near the bottom of the states in per capita spending on its public libraries.

Lowell also said she will refuse to open a new Kapolei library unless the state provides funds to pay staff and purchase materials -- which thus far has not happened.

The libraries have been starved of funds by the Cayetano administration and the Legislature. Even in a time of budgetary restraints, Hawaii must do better.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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