Don't need gag rules

Don't need gag rules

As emotions rise in a contentious election campaign, some people come up with really bad ideas.

In a democracy, at least theoretically, candidates win elections by persuading a majority of voters that they'll look out for their interests once in office.

But as our electoral politics become increasingly nasty, some candidates seek to win office by silencing their political opponents. That's the intent of proposed legislation announced this week by two members of the Illinois Senate, a Democrat and a Republican, who object to a former state legislator endorsing his successor for re-election.

The dispute stems from a letter former state Rep. Wayne Rosenthal of Morrisonville wrote on behalf of 95th House District Rep. Avery Bourne, a Republican from Raymond.

Headlined "An Important Letter from Former State Rep. Wayne Rosenthal," it urges voters to support Bourne's re-election. The letter states that its distribution is paid for by the Bourne campaign, and it is signed "Wayne Rosenthal, Morrisonville."

But state Sens. Andy Manar and Sam McCann contend that letters like that — in other words, political speech — should be banned because Rosenthal is a member of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's Cabinet. The two describe their proposed blatantly unconstitutional legislation as a "common sense, bipartisan" measure to prohibit "government employees from using their official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election."

But here's the thing. In this country, citizens, including government employees, have the right to "interfere with or affect the result of an election" by speaking out. Rosenthal may have a day job in state government, but that doesn't strip him of his constitutional right to participate in the election process by telling his former legislative constituents what he thinks.

That's why U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a member of President Barack Obama's Cabinet, was back in Iowa this week urging voters to support Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Should he, too, be barred from "interfering with" the race for president?

The answer to a speech problem, assuming it's even a problem, is not to bar people from speaking, but to encourage more people to speak up. Those who object to Rosenthal's letter to his former constituents can write a letter of their own.

Then the voters can decide who has the better argument.

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