The Pasco County Commission has amended its Ethical Campaign Practices Act to encourage civility among candidates.
Commissioners voted unanimously on Jan. 21 to support changes suggested by Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley.
Corley said the changes incorporate “language that speaks to civility in the public discourse for candidates running for office within Pasco County.
“In essence, this ordinance is a plea for civility, if you will, amongst those running for office in our great county,” Corley said, noting the changes update an ordinance initially adopted in 2006.
Corley noted: “It’s not solely my request, but more importantly, rather something the voters not only want but deserve, and have asked for many times to me, personally.
“Many voters have relayed that they tire of the toxicity and lack of decorum among campaigns and candidates. So, that’s what’s the driving force is behind this.”
Agreeing to abide by the Pasco Ethical Campaign Practices Act is voluntary, but Corley said over the years hundreds of candidates have signed it. He’s not aware of any who refused.
The changes approved by commissioners ask candidates to:
- Conduct campaigns openly, publicly discuss issues and avoid criticisms of a personal nature against opponents
- Prohibit unethical practices which undermine the system of fair elections
- Listen respectfully to those with opposing viewpoints and avoid language that is insulting or inappropriate
- Abide by any ordinance or property restriction relating to the placement or posting of campaign signage
- Run a positive campaign, emphasizing qualifications and positions on issues of public concerns and limit criticism of opponent to legitimate challenges to that person’s record, qualifications and positions
- Refrain from the use of campaign material either in print or by electronic means through social media that falsifies, distorts or misrepresents facts
Also, there’s a new provision aimed at ensuring that amplified devices are not used to attempt to solicit votes, as voters enter polling places.
The restriction on amplified devices, Corley said, “stems from 2016, where we had voters complain they had to endure a certain campaign using a bullhorn. It was rather disruptive. They were annoyed at it, and nothing could be done.”
The reference to social media is a needed update, too, Corley said. “Remember, there was no Twitter or Facebook in 2006.”
Earlier in the meeting, Randy Evans, state committeeman for the Republican Party of Pasco County, voiced opposition to the changes proposed by Corley.
“This ordinance contradicts the Republican Party’s platform, and it is unenforceable,” Evans said. “It is a waste of time and not worth the paper it is written on.
“Every candidate for public office should be civil towards everyone, not just an opposing candidate. If a candidate feels another candidate is being uncivil, they can walk away, they can call the Sheriff’s Office, or, if necessary, exercise their Second Amendment and stand their ground,” he said.
He cited a portion of the Republican Party Platform, which says: “We oppose any restrictions or conditions that would discourage citizens from participating in the public square or limit their ability to promote their ideas, such as requiring private organizations to publicly disclose their donors to the government. Limits on political speech serve only to protect the powerful and insulate incumbent office holders.”
Evans posed this question to commissioners: “Instead of wasting time on this unenforceable ordinance, and restricting free speech, why not pass an ordinance making Pasco a sanctuary county for the First Amendment and the Second Amendment?”
Commissioner Jack Mariano asked for Corley to react to Evans’ remarks.
Corley responded: “Mr. Evans didn’t reach out to me, so I didn’t have any discussions with him. I kind of wish I had, to be honest with you.
“You’re either for civility or you’re not for civility with this ordinance. It can’t be one or the other.
“The ordinance is asking all candidates to be civil. This is above partisanship, clearly,” Corley said.
Corley continued: “While it does not prevent a candidate from being less than truthful, or being nasty during their campaign, it is my hope that each candidate going forward would spend their energy and resources running a positive campaign, and join us in the goal of restoring and maintaining civility in the public discourse.”
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey offered this reaction: “I would just say I have no objections to sign anything that says civility and good behavior should be in order.”
She also said she’s glad the amended ordinance addresses the issue of amplified devices because that was a problem before and could not be addressed.
Starkey added: “It doesn’t inhibit anyone’s free speech. I wouldn’t want to do that.”
Corley: “It’s a plea. Voters are tired of negativity.”
Christine Bright, chair of the Pasco Unit of the League of Women Voters of Hillsborough County, backed the changes recommended by Corley.
“I just wanted to stand here today and say that the members of the Leagues strongly support ordinances which promote civility in our political campaigns.
“We’re very concerned about the erosion of civility,” Bright said.
Published January 29, 2020