A Half-Assed Apology

Two things about the article I wrote about campaign signs the other day:

  1. I’m going to make a half-assed apology to John Warford for saying he had an illegal campaign sign in his yard, because,
  2. It turns out the Wayne Stenehjem campaign sign I wrote about wasn’t illegal.

Warford in a minute. First the sign.

Bismarck did indeed pass a city ordinance limiting the size of political campaign signs in 2013, in “the interests of the city in maintaining a safe and clean environment for its citizens.” But that ordinance got stomped all over by the leaders of the North Dakota Republican Party, including Wayne Stenehjem, in the North Dakota Legislature and in the courts. In the end, it was legislation passed by Republicans in the Legislature and a lawsuit by the former Republican State Chairman that nullified Bismarck’s ordinance. I knew about the lawsuit, but thought it only applied to the timing of when political signs could go up. My bad. I should have done my homework better. So the sign I had a photo of in my blog on Monday was legal. Legal, but that doesn’t make it right.

Never mind that it was the Republican Party, the party of local control and small government, that took away Bismarck’s attempt to keep its neighborhoods free of big billboard-type political signs. What hypocrisy. Now there’s a big old Stenehjem sign a block and a half away from my house, at the gate of a quiet middle class residential neighborhood, that my neighbors and I are going to have to drive by every day from now until November, unless Doug Burgum pulls off a miracle on June 14.

One might have thought that, in the spirit of being a good neighbor, Wayne Stenehjem might have respected the wishes of Bismarck residents whose City Commission banned those signs here just three years ago, and might have refrained from putting them up in residential areas.


Back to John Warford. I apologize for saying our former Mayor had an illegal sign up in his yard on Ward Road. The sign was legal. Still, when Wayne asked him if he could put that sign in his yard, he might have said “Well, gee, Wayne, it was just three years ago, when I was Mayor, that I signed an ordinance banning those kind of signs in residential neighborhoods. It might look a little hypocritical of me to let you go ahead and put one up in my yard now. How about you put up a smaller one?”


So I’m not apologizing for the remarks I made about him having the sign in his yard. It shouldn’t be there. He should tell Wayne to voluntarily take it down, in the spirit of the wishes of the people of Bismarck whose sign ordinance was squashed by the Republican Party. John was a darn good Mayor. He’s better than this.

As for North Dakota Republican Party leaders, I suppose the next thing they’ll try to do is make it legal to use the Great Seal of the State of North Dakota in political ads.

If you’re interested in the history of how the sign ordinance came to be stomped on by the Republican Party, here’s the repartee that took place last night on my Facebook page between a couple of friends of mine, both well-informed former North Dakota Legislators, Democrat Scott Stofferahn and Republican Duane Dekrey. 

Scott Stofferahn Some background Jim. In 2012, District 46 Democratic-NPL (ND) forced the D46 Republicans of Roers & Kasper to take down campaign signs that clearly violated Fargo’s city sign ordinances. They had Roers Construction semi trailers draped with billboard sized campaign signs parked in the district and 4X8 foot signs in residential neighborhoods where signs 1/4th the size were legal. So during the 2013 session, Kasper amended a bill related to campaigning near polling sites negated all municipal sign ordinances as it relates to political campaigns. Clearly, this demonstrates how Jim Kasper and his political allies have no respect for local governance. There was no hearing on this substantial change to the original Senate bill and he never disclosed the true intent.

Jim Fuglie Oh. Never mind.

Scott Stofferahn It is the sheer arrogance that really ticks me off. They are all about local governance unless it suits their purpose. Stenehjem offered some mealy mouthed comments in committee about political speech that was not complete or accurate. No doubt this was a rehearsed effort to placate Kasper.

Duane DeKrey It was Gary Emineth that challenged ND’s sign laws on constitutional grounds and won. There really isn’t any laws now. Case in point the Potter sign on I 94 close to VC was up for at least 2 yrs after he lost

Scott Stofferahn Gary Emineth challenged the campaign laws, but to say that they had to supersede local sign ordinances was well beyond the court case. The original legislation had nothing to do with wiping out all local ordinances for campaign signs. Kasper’s effort was nothing more than personal self interest.

Duane DeKrey The ruling was free speech was infringed by ND saying how many feet from a polling place and when they had to come down

Duane DeKrey It’s also why you can campaign on Election Day now in ND

Scott Stofferahn Duane, you are obviously not reading the content of what I am posting. Constitutional law DOES allow for regulation of signs so long as those restrictions apply broadly to ALL signs, not specifically to POLITICAL SIGNS. Therefore, if local ordinances set size restrictions for all signs in residential areas, courts will uphold those restrictions. Separate timing restrictions may be struck down. Kasper, Stenehjem, and Koppelman conveniently never informed the committee of this important distinction. This is typical Kasper underhanded activities that we’ve seen time and time again.

Duane DeKrey I didn’t say I disagreed with you.
















2 thoughts on “A Half-Assed Apology

  1. Those of us who treasure political debate and free speech need to be careful when we start to assign motives. Isn’t it possible that those who question limiting sign restrictions are like me, motivated by fierce defense of our First Amendment devotion? I would be just as skittish if the challengers were Democrats. And in my mind the Great Seal is a wholly different issue, Jim — even though I believe most violations are inadvertent.
    Our First Amendment is so precious that all of us need to think openly when we are abusing it. And all of us who write and vote do it. As a legislator I often reminded constituents it is not possible to vote 800 times on issues you haven’t had the opportunity to thoroughly understand without sometimes being a hypocrite.


  2. Sorry, John, I don’t see this as a free speech issue at all. It is called zoning. The Bismarck sign ordinance is part of the building code. Politicians are free to stand on my street corner or residential lot–with permission from the owner–and speak. But we’ve long ago agreed, all of us, that governments can regulate structures in building and zoning codes, for the public good.


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