— From The Journal Times of Racine
We legally defend, with our tax dollars, our elected officials when they are sued for actions taken as part of their official duties. That’s only natural and fair; the elected official shouldn’t be personally liable for good-faith discharge of his or her duties.
We should not, however, have to pay for behavior by elected officials which has nothing to do with the official duties. Such behavior, we feel, is solely the responsibility of that elected official.
Which brings us to the actions of state Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfleld.
Kooyenga says he will reimburse taxpayers the $30,000 the state is paying to settle a lawsuit over his removal of a Capitol protester’s sign last May, The Associated Press reported.
Kooyenga’s announcement earlier this month came shortly after Gov. Scott Walker’s administration released footage of the incident in response to requests by the AP and other news organizations to make it public.
The video shows Kooyenga walking into the Capitol with a coffee cup in hand. He glances at the sign, then returns and reads it. He comes back shortly afterward, takes the sign and leaves.
Protester Donald Johnson made the sign and filed a federal lawsuit in October seeking damages and accusing Kooyenga of violating his free speech rights.
The state reached a settlement earlier this month with Johnson. The sign referred to President Donald Trump as “sadistic,” ”racist” and a “serial groper.”
You might not like Johnson’s printed statement about the president. But as we all should remember, freedom of speech extends to speech we don’t agree with.
Kooyenga said at an April 4 town hall meeting that his military training taught him the sign’s placement along a curved wall in the Capitol made it a “clear risk” because it concealed something to the public.
The flimsiness of the justification suggests Kooyenga’s action was no less political than the message on the sign. The key difference being that Johnson was exercising his First Amendment rights and, by removing it, Kooyenga was censoring him. Not in the way someone banned from an online discussion group howls about censorship, but in the legal definition of the government suppressing someone’s free speech.
Kooyenga said earlier this month that he plans to fully reimburse taxpayers “with the assistance of family and friends.” State law prohibits Kooyenga from soliciting money from lobbyists but he can solicit from others as long as whatever he’s soliciting isn’t seen as a reward for legislative action or inaction.
We’re glad to see a legislator indicate a willingness to reimburse the taxpayers — and, in this case, we’re among the taxpayers in question — for behavior which had nothing to do with his official duties.
That being said? Pay up.