If by now you were hoping that you’d be hearing about issues in the recall of state Senate President Russell Pearce, remember that when it comes to Arizona local elections, it’s all about the signs.
Well, and the lawsuits. Pearce, R-Mesa, is trying to get before the Arizona Supreme Court with his claim that the petition signatures, determined by a Maricopa County Superior Court judge to have been valid to force the recall of the District 18 legislator, in fact are not. And recall organizer Randy Parraz is talking libel suit — sort of.
More on that in a moment. Back to the signs.
Grown men and women for and against Pearce, with potentially tens of thousands of voters to win over in only a little more than two months, instead are bickering over a Mesa sign ordinance.
The law bans where and when an anti-recall group has placed political signs that ironically include the words “stand for the rule of law.”
As Garin Groff reported in Friday’s Tribune, Mesa city officials were stung by an apparent 180-degree turn by Citizens Who Oppose the Pearce Recall, which reneged on a promise it made only hours before to remove the signs.
The city is now poised to remove hundreds of the signs, which don’t mention any of Pearce’s potential opponents by name, grouping them all together under the supposed direction of recall organizer Randy Parraz.
“Randy Parraz and his recall candidates…” the signs begin, followed by bullet points with questionable statements about what they all are apparently believing in and who’s behind all of them. One says that the whole list of them “oppose the rule of law.”
Instead of taking this typical name-calling in stride, Parraz told Groff he is mulling over suing for “slander,” because this claim implies that he is not law-abiding. Moreover, as Groff reported, Parraz said he has never been in touch with any of the opponents.
Aside from using the term slander, which refers to defamatory statements made orally, instead of libel, which is about written statements as on a sign, Parraz is only playing into the hands of the anti-recall folks, said attorney Dan Barr, who represents the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona.
Whether someone opposes the rule of law is not a statement of fact that can be proven true or false and is therefore meaningless, compared to an accusation that someone violated a specific law, said Barr, of the Phoenix law firm Perkins Coie.
If such statements could be factually proven, then plenty of political figures would have a good case, said Barr, who noted how many people have publicly accused either George W. Bush or Barack Obama of violating the rule of law in some way as president.
“Not only does Parraz have a nonexistent libel claim, the more you complain about this the more you make it about you, which is what the Pearce people want,” Barr said. “If his goal is to remove Russell Pearce then he should ignore this.”
As for the “Randy Parraz and his recall candidates” statement, Barr said it’s arguable that the candidates are running due to Parraz’s efforts.
And as for the anti-recall folks, if they expect voters to stand up for the rule of law, they should start doing it themselves. Mesa has set forth what Barr called speech-neutral rules for political signs.
Courts have allowed government to set forth reasonable “time, place and manner” regulations on signs that take a neutral stand on their content. And it is quite reasonable, for purely safety reasons based on visibility, to require that signs be posted no closer than 15 feet from a right of way. According to Groff, Mesa officials said that about half of the anti-recall group’s approximately 300 signs violate this rule.
You can’t see through a sign, whether it’s put up by liberals or conservatives, tea partiers or tax-and-spenders.
Another speech-neutral rule is that signs may not go on streets until at least 60 days before the Nov. 8 election, which is Sept. 9. Any sign up now would be in violation.
Mesa has given Citizens Who Oppose the Pearce Recall until Monday to remove the signs or face having the city do it for them — taxpayers would hope that the city hands them a bill for the work. This group should stop behaving like children and be as good as their word by removing the signs — and get to the issues.
And Parraz should let political hyperbole roll off his back instead of allowing it to stick in his craw — and get to the issues.
Notice that’s “get to the issues” and not, “get back to the issues.”
• Mark J. Scarp (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Tribune contributing columnist whose opinions appear here on Sundays.