Government doesn't need to serve as truth police

It is the voters, not the government or courts, who should have the last word on these matters.


Politicians have been known to bend and twist the truth. A few even, well, serve up bald-faced lies.

It's troubling, but what can we -- the voters -- do about it?

Hold politicians accountable for what they say and reject at the polls those who purposely mislead.

Yet, Washington state law attempts to police lying. It bars false statements in the official voters' guide by politicians against their opponents.

Sen. Pam Roach, whose histrionics at the state Capitol have angered Democrats and fellow Republicans, is using the law to block her challenger's statement submitted to the voters' guide. Matt Richardson, also a Republican, used the statement to shine light on Roach's outbursts and the actions taken against her because of them.

Richardson wrote: "Unfortunately, the permanent sanctions against Pam Roach prevent her from contact with Senate staff, and more critically, from meeting with other Republicans. This severely impairs her ability to represent the people and the interests of our district. After her 20 years in office, another 4 years for Pam Roach will not be productive."

Roach said the sanctions don't impede her communication and aren't permanent, The Tacoma News Tribune reported.

It's certainly debatable whether her actions and subsequent sanctions impede communication. As to permanent, no end date has been assigned to the sanctions.

A judge in Thurston County Superior Court will hear arguments Friday.

Why? It is not the place of government to determine the veracity of political statements.

The state Supreme Court took that position three years ago in a challenge to a 1999 state law that was an outright ban on politicians lying.

"There can be no doubt that false personal attacks are too common in political campaigns, with wide-ranging detrimental consequences,'' Justice Jim Johnson wrote for the majority. "However, government censorship ... is not a constitutionally permitted remedy.''

"... The notion that the government, rather than the people, may be the final arbiter of truth in political debate is fundamentally at odds with the First Amendment.''

Given that the voters' guide is a government publication, Roach's challenge might have some legal traction.

Regardless of how the court rules, the government attempting to be the truth police is a mistake. Ultimately it must be the voters who decide -- at the ballot box -- whether political candidates are telling the truth or lying.

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