WINNEMUCCA — Two young political organizers from California with no place to exercise their First Amendment right to Free Speech were given sanctuary on the private property of local businessman TG Sheppard Wednesday (Aug. 4) afternoon.
The young men started out campaigning under the trees in front of the US Post Office but were told they had to leave – reportedly by the Postmaster herself. The young man in the photo said they were informed they could not campaign on federal property.
The two organizers moved their operation to the sidewalk at the corner of Grass Valley Rd. and Hanson St.– where they were confronted by a Winnemucca Police Department officer in the afternoon.
The officer told them they would have to move because they were creating a traffic hazard as people slowed down to look at their signs. Fair enough.
However, the officer went on to say the organizers would not be allowed to campaign on public property anywhere within the city limits. He said they would have to find a private property owner and get permission to campaign on his or her property.
This caused the young man shown in the photo to observe, “If you’re not a private property owner you don’t have Freedom of Speech in Winnemucca.”
The two young men were Democrats with the Summer Shields campaign. Mr. Shields is the Democratic write-in candidate running against Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in California’s 8th District. The two organizers were in rural Nevada raising money for the candidate.
The young men were advised by the officer to seek permission from TG Sheppard to campaign on his private property. Sheppard’s offices are directly across from the corner they were being shooed away from. The officer did not say how they would be less of a traffic hazard across the street.
Mr. Sheppard, who’s not generally known for being a friend of Democratic Party candidates, stood up for Free Speech and the First Amendment and gave his permission for the two men to continue campaigning on his private property.
SPJ was on present during a part of the exchange between the organizers and the WPD officer. On Wednesday (Aug. 4) SPJ requested a copy of the city ordinance that prohibits campaigning on public property, but have not yet received it. The request was made to City Manager Steve West who said he would contact City Attorney Kent Maher.
If, in fact, it’s against city ordinance to campaign on public property law enforcement should be aware of several law breakers. On the Fourth of July, in Paul Vesco Park, which is city property, Humboldt County District Attorney Russell Smith and Humboldt County Sheriff Ed Kilgore were each campaigning – apparently in violation of city ordinance.
Also, in 2008 the candidates for district court judge campaigned in the same location and Judge Michael Montero was present and campaigning. Come to think of it, Winnemucca City Councilman Paige Brooks was campaigning there, as well.
There were many witnesses to this apparent criminal activity.
The young man in the photo said when they arrived in town they checked in with the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office Dispatch and advised them of their purpose in town. They also met with a WPD officer earlier in the day, he continued, and advised the officer of their purpose.
That officer must not have been aware of the city ordinance against Free Speech on public property because he did not advise them to find private property. Or, in the alternative, perhaps the ordinance didn’t become law until later in the afternoon.
Perhaps the actual ordinance prohibiting Free Speech on public property within the city limits can shine some light on this issue. If it ever arrives.