Obnoxious Campaign Signs? – Thank Rep. Kasper

In 2012, Representative Jim Kasper and Senate Candidate Jim Roers’ campaign included placing 4′ X 8′ signs in residential neighborhoods and parking semi-trailer campaign billboards throughout District 46.  These signs were a not so subtle violation of Fargo’s local sign ordinance which prohibited the semi-trailer billboards and restricted signs in residential neighborhoods to 1/4th the size of what they’d dispersed.

Eventually, the City of Fargo came calling to inform D46 Republicans that they needed to remove the illegal semi-trailer billboards and illegal signs in residential neighborhoods.  You might think that, in respect for local laws, they would have immediately responded.  That was not the case, however, as they waited for nearly two weeks after being notified to comply.
The city’s enforcement of their sign ordinances on local Republicans apparently didn’t sit well with Representative Jim Kasper. So Jim waited for an opportunity to quietly change state law and override the local sign ordinance.
In the 2013 legislative session (immediately after the election), Senate Bill 2213 was introduced by Senator Miller and Representative Kasper.  The original bill had only one purpose, to restrict the distance campaigning could occur near polling sites. The bill was in response to former Republican Chair Gary Emenith’s lawsuit that struck down ND’s prohibition on election day campaigning.
When SB 2213 came to Chairman Kasper’s House Government and Veteran’s Affairs Committee, Kasper’s questions to Attorney General Stenehjem pivoted immediately to the ability of local governments to limit the size of signage. Kasper, “Would it be your opinion that cities or counties could not pass ordinances other than for public safety that would restrict political signs during an election campaign?” AG and now Gubernatorial Candidate Wayne Stenehjem gave an answer that should have annoyed any legal scholar and replied, “Things that have been upheld are things of the nature you are talking about.”

Kasper then seized the opportunity to amend the bill to wiping out local ordinances on political signs.  This amendment did not receive a hearing and there was no notice of public input.  Kasper and his accomplice Representative Ben Koppelman argued that legal precedent did not allow limitations of free speech on private property.

Their justification, however, was not accurate.  That is because CASE LAW DID ALLOW local governments the ability to limit signage for public safety and aesthetics IF the ordinance is content neutral.  In fact, on January 22, 2013, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the City of Cary, SC’s content neutral sign ordinance that limited the size and placement of signs on private property.  To be sure, content neutral restrictions have been recognized as constitutional in numerous federal court decisions.  Stenehjem either knew this or should have known this and informed the committee.

In a more recent decision, the U.S. Supreme court issued a major ruling  Reed vs. Town of Gilbert (2015 US Supreme Court), Justice Thomas noted that local governments still have “ample content-neutral options available to resolve problems with safety and aesthetics” which include the regulation of size, building materials, lighting, moving parts, or portability.

Kasper’s goal, however, was not about aligning local ordinances with case law.  His goal was to overrule Fargo’s sign ordinance when it came to District 46 Republican campaign signs.  Apparently, conservative philosophy to defer to local control doesn’t come to play when there is another agenda at hand.
So when you see those obnoxiously large campaign signs hanging on your neighbor’s fence or posted in their front yard, OR the semi trailers down the block masquerading as campaign billboards. you can thank Jim Kasper for the unsightliness of it all.  Because when it comes to getting his way, Jim plays an ‘inside game’ that disrespects his constituents and his local community.
Of course, on November 8, 2016 there is a solution.  Tell Al Carlson’s First Lieutenant, Jim Kasper to stay at home by electing Dan Fisher and Kirsten Diedrich to the ND House and by re-electing George Sinner to the State Senate.