by Max Brantley
I don't watch Sean Hannity on Fox, but a blog reader does.
He sent a note this morning about the appearance there last night of "Republican strategist" Alice Stewart.
Stewart is a deputy to Secretary of State Mark Martin and handles press relations for him. She worked in a similar role for Gov. Mike Huckabee and, since at least the days after his presidential campaign time, has appeared on cable shows with commentary from the Republican point of view. She's a former TV reporter and maintains a website about her work as media consultant.
I believe a state employee is free on her own time to speak in whatever fashion she chooses, including for pay as a partisan political analyst. But something that is constitutional and legal can also create ill appearances. Read on for advice on this from her own current boss.
Here's how the reader framed his objection:
She said President Obama was a failure. Doesn't she work for the office that will be handling the presidential election next year in which President Obama will be running? How is this ethical?
She should resign!
I've asked Stewart how she'd respond to this complaint. No word back so far. I'm not sure exactly where I stand. The reality is that her boss is a partisan Republican as are all his top aides. That's a given in evaluating their work whether they speak extra curricularly or not. Same for Democrats in statewide office. However, to my knowledge, this sort of free-lancing is rare, maybe for good reason. I can't recall another employee of a statewide elected official who worked in her spare time as a political analyst. Except, also in Mark Martin's office, Princella Smith, the Republican congressional candidate who recently resigned from the secretary of state's office after a scrape over some vehicle violations. She also did TV political commentary from the Republican side of the debate. Off the clock, she said.
But there's rich irony in Stewart's appearance knocking Obama: Another paid staffer in the secretary of state's office is Mark Myers, who handled Mark Martin's campaign advertising. Martin's chief political strategy was that he was a Republican and not associated with that foreign-sounding black man who was elected president. One of the ways Martin and Myers drove this home was by making a HUGE deal out of the fact that Martin's Democratic opponent, Pat O'Brien, had been an Arkansas campaign leader for Obama (the better to associate O'Brien with a picture of the black man). How, Myers complained, could O'Brien have overseen Pulaski elections as clerk (and, by inference, seek to oversee state elections) when he was aligned with the black president? Mark Myers surely would agree it is fair to ask how it's any different for a key secretary of state staffer to be on national TV bashing the president with an election in the offing.
Indeed, Mark Martin himself vowed to limit the political activities of his office employees as a sign of fairness. You can read the full Myers/Martin news release on the jump. Stewart's partisan commentary isn't covered as specifically prohibited or permitted activity. But Martin made this general point referring to O'Brien's backing of the black man:
To be clear, I am not saying that he did anything illegal, but I am saying that he created an appearance of impropriety in the election process. As an election official, it is your duty to make sure that the elections are beyond reproach.
"Beyond reproach." I hope Alice will respond. And maybe Mark Myers, too, in that he busily politics for Republicans on social media. He does it now in off hours since I complained about his partisan Twitter posts appearing during the work day. Not that Myers' taxpayer-paid $58,711 job, plotting partisan advantage in the office's oversight of local and state redistricting, is exactly non-partisan.
UPDATE: Stewart's response: "Yes, I was off the clock. Thanks for asking." I've suggested she didn't respond to the question posed. More if it arrives.
MARK MARTIN CAMPAIGN NEWS RELEASE
LIMIT SOS POLITICAL ACTIVITIES
Friday, 06 August 2010 00:00
Mark Martin Wants Limits On Political Activities in the Secretary of State Office
Little Rock, Ark. (August 6, 2010) - State Representative Mark Martin announced proposed new recommendations for limiting political activity on the part of employees of the Secretary of State’s office and himself. This occurred during a presentation to the Association of Arkansas Election Commissioners on August 6, 2010.
“During the 2008 Presidential election, Mr. O’Brien actively worked on the campaign of Barack Obama while he was serving as the chief elected election official in Pulaski County. Not only did he endorse Barack Obama, but he served as the state spokesman for the Obama campaign,” Martin stated. “To be clear, I am not saying that he did anything illegal, but I am saying that he created an appearance of impropriety in the election process. As an election official, it is your duty to make sure that the elections are beyond reproach. I think Mr. O’Brien’s work on behalf of the Obama campaign created an appearance of a conflict of interest that was likely troublesome to many voters,” Martin added.
Martin continued, “In an effort to ensure that the people of Arkansas know that I will try to run a fair and non-partisan office, I will require that employees in the Secretary of State’s office, including myself if elected, follow the following guidelines:
PROHIBITED POLITICAL ACTIVITIES:
Publicly endorse or oppose, or actively work for or against a candidate for an elected public office, a statewide ballot initiative, amendment, or referendum.
Contribute to a candidate for an elected public office, or an organization that is working for or against a statewide ballot initiative or a referendum.
Be a candidate for, or hold an elected public office.
PERMITTED POLITICAL ACTIVITIES:
Register to vote under a partisan affiliation.
May contribute to a political party or partisan organization.
Hold an official position in a partisan organization or political party.
Participate in the partisan nominating process by voting in primaries and attending county/state/national committee meetings, assemblies or conventions.”
Martin finished by saying, “It seems logical that if we have restrictions on what Election Commissioners can do at the county level, we should have similar restrictions on the state level for those who are entrusted with ensuring the election process works fairly for all Arkansans.” Videos of Mr. O’brien’s use of his official title in the endorsement and campaigning for Barack Obama can be found at http://www.youtube.com/user/Arkansas4Obama.