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Politicking at county fair allowed

 

By Michael Howell

The Ravalli County Board of Commissioners is not going to stop, or dampen, politicking by electoral candidates at the Ravalli County Fair, even if a few questions have come up over the Fair Book regulations and the vendor rules that might seem to shackle it.

Fairgrounds Manager Deborah Rogala brought the questions, which she had received from interested parties, to the commissioners for clarification.

It states in the Fair Book regulations that, “No roving vendor or solicitor, acting whether for profit or non-profit organizations or on his own behalf, shall be permitted on the Fairgrounds.”

The Vendor Rules, included in the contract by those who purchase a space, states: “No person or vendor will be permitted to distribute printed or advertising matter, solicit funds or put up merchandise signs on the Fairgrounds; other than in the contracted booth or space allotted for that purpose.”

Rogala said that she had received inquiries from a few callers wondering if these rules prohibited political candidates from soliciting funds, or just selling themselves as the best candidate, perhaps by passing out cards or information pamphlets.

Nancy Ballance, Republican candidate for House District 89, said that it was more important now than ever for electoral candidates to have a chance to meet “eyeball to eyeball” with the public. She said that kind of contact was crucial. She also thought that disallowing that in the public arena, especially at the county fair, was a violation of the constitutional right to free speech.

Another member of the public said, “It’s a tradition that should not be stomped on.” She said that it was a great place for kids to learn about politics and how a democratic society works.

Commission Chair Suzy Foss said, “Amen.”

Commissioner Ron Stoltz echoed that, saying, “It’s a matter of free speech.”

Commissioners Greg Chilcott and J.R. Iman were in agreement as well, but they did have some concerns about the distribution of a large number of items or printed material that would end up in the trash. Trash collection and disposal is a big issue on the fairgrounds at fair time.

Commissioner Jeff Burrows, also up for election this November, said he believed what a candidate did at the county fair is probably best left to the discretion of the individual candidates. He said that if the candidate crosses some line that might be improper, it will turn people off and the candidate will get the message.

“It could backfire on them,” he said.

No action was taken by the commissioners, but direction was given to the manager that glad handing by politicians, solicitation of political support, and even soliciting and acceptance of funds and passing out printed material by candidates was acceptable.

What a candidate can’t do is what no other person is allowed to do and that is to put up signs around the fairgrounds without purchasing the advertising space in advance.

 

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