In Politics, Your Opinion Isn't Just Your Opinion

August 9 2007, 3:51 PM
A campaign staffer for Democrat Jared Polis, who is one of three Democrats running in CD-2, resigned today after a controversy involving inflammatory comments he made on a few national blogs. As the Rocky Mountain News reports:
Congressional candidate Jared Polis' outreach director is gone after the staffer trashed Polis' two rivals in snarky online posting that stunned fellow Democrats. Raf Noboa had written that longtime conservationist Will Shafroth has "no deeply held convictions," and Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald is backed by "the same folks who gave us 12 years of Democratic ineptitude." Noboa, who began work Monday, resigned today shortly after the Rocky Mountain News asked Polis' campaign about his comments. Polis, Shafroth and Fitz-Gerald are running for the 2008 Democratic nomination in the 2nd Congressional District. Wanda James, Polis' campaign manager, said Polis personally called his opponents to apologize. "That's not how Jared Polis feels about the people he's running against," she said. "The tone of the blog post was clearly not the philosophy of our campaign. We will not participate in this type of negative campaigning."... ...Noboa posted his comments Wednesday on My Direct Democracy, a blog known as My DD. He announced his resignation today in another posting, saying the sentiments he expressed were his and his alone. "I feel that my error of judgment should not reflect on Jared, but rather on myself, and I will now take time to reflect on how I can best repair the breach," he wrote. Pat Waak, the state Democratic Party chairwoman, said, "Oh, my God" when she heard about the postings. "That's not very helpful," she said, mindful that squabbling among Repubicans in their primaries in 2004 and 2006 helped Democrats score victories.
This incident has generated a great deal of discussion on several blog sites, including Colorado Pols (a site which I also write for) and the national site Daily Kos. Some commenters have said that they see nothing wrong with what Naboa wrote because he was just expressing his own opinion, but that's not how it works when you are a paid member of a political campaign. As a campaign staffer, it is often assumed that whatever you say publicly is a reflection of the candidate you work for whenever you are speaking about campaign-related manners. Thus, when Naboa criticized Shafroth and Fitz-Gerald, it raised the question (fairly or not) of whether Polis felt the same way. This is the same kind of trouble that a former spokesperson for Rep. John Salazar got into last fall when she spoke out against Rep. Tom Tancredo. This isn't a free speech issue and it has nothing to do with your right to express your opinion - it's a matter of perception, and when you are a paid staffer, whatever you say on the subject of politics gives the perception that your views are similar to those of the candidate or elected official whom you work for. Should Naboa be free to say whatever he wants? Absolutely. But he isn't free from the perception his words will create...or the consequences as a result. I believe deeply in the importance of free speech, but I also understand the very real - and reasonable - limitations that are attached. Free speech doesn't mean that you can say whatever you want, whenever you want, without the fear of repercussions for those statements. Free speech means that you can't be prosecuted for saying whatever you want (depending on the circumstances, of course, because you can't legally yell "Fire" in a crowded theatre just to incite a panic), but it doesn't protect you from getting fired for calling your boss an asshole. Common sense protects you from that.