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Did Texas woman’s political yard sign go too far? Sid Miller calls her out, and others call the cops
Brianna Stone, Austin Bureau
AUSTIN — Marion Stanford expected the political sign she painted to rile up some folks in her small town of Hamilton in Central Texas.
But she didn’t expect to end up in a heated Facebook exchange with Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, or for the police to show up to confiscate her sign.
The sign features the GOP elephant logo with its trunk up the dress of a female figure, with the word “Help,” next to the phrase “Your vote matters.” Behind it in her yard were campaign signs for Democratic candidates Lupe Valdez, Beto O’Rourke, Julie Oliver and Miller’s challenger, Kim Olson.
“Here we have a political party that is using women,” Stanford said. “I thought the sign represented what is going on now, and we can’t just stand quiet. I wanted to tell people we could stop it with voting.”
Miller, who is notorious for sharing controversial posts to his nearly 800,000 followers, shared a photo of Stanford’s sign with the caption: “This is in Hamilton, Texas and is supposed to be Judge Kavanaugh’s young daughter. Notice my opponent’s sign in the background. The Democrat sleaze knows NO bounds!”
Stanford said she painted the sign last week after watching Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testify about the sexual assault allegations against him.
“That was not Judge Kavanaugh’s daughter,” she said. “The cartoon was made last year by Washington Post cartoonist Ann Telnaes, a Pulitzer Prize winner.”
Telnaes is known for her cartoons and opinion pieces that take aim at President Donald Trump and other Republicans.
Miller’s post attracted thousands of reactions, with some Facebook users calling Stanford a pedophile and saying that her sign was pornogaphy and that she should be arrested.
“This is not something a reputable, respected politician would do,” Stanford said of Miller’s post. “There’s nothing in my sign that remotely suggests it’s Kavanaugh’s daughter.”
Stanford said she began to receive phone calls and was harassed on Facebook. Tuesday evening, she said, police came to her house and said they had received complaints.
“Police told me to remove the sign or they would take it and would arrest me,” Stanford said. “So I let them take the sign.”
The city manager of Hamilton, which is about 100 miles southwest of Fort Worth, denied that police mentioned arrest or forcibly took the sign.
“It’s political season, and a citizen here placed a yard sign that featured a political animal taking an inappropriate position with a young child,” Pete Kampfer said. “A police member visited the owner’s home, and the owner asked the officer to take the sign.”
Kampfer said the city strongly values freedom of speech and the Constitution. The sign is still at the police station.
Legal experts said that if police took the sign, the city may have violated Stanford’s constitutional right to free speech.
After reviewing the photo of the sign, Southern Methodist University law professor and First Amendment expert Dale Carpenter said it is fully protected under the First Amendment.
“There is no basis I can see for removing the sign,” he said. “It’s not obscene, and no court would find it to be. You can say it’s offensive or distasteful, but that’s protected under the Constitution.”
Carpenter said Stanford has the right to have an offensive sign, and Miller also has the right to mislead people about the message of the sign with his Facebook post.
Miller’s campaign spokesman, Todd Smith, said he had no doubt that the little girl in the sign was meant to be Kavanaugh’s daughter. He said several of Miller’s supporters sent him the photo after it circulated across social media.
“It was vulgar and disgusting and had no place in someone’s yard,” Smith said. “The Democrats are so distraught that a conservative might take a seat on the Supreme Court.”
Miller’s opponent, Olson, also condemned the sign.
“We don’t know who made this sign or what they intended, but it’s clearly inappropriate,” Olson said in an emailed statement. “Anyone who continues to share such an image that makes light of sexual assault is out of line and out of touch.”
Smith said that Miller did engage with Stanford on Facebook and that he is not concerned about a lawsuit.
“If she was trying to inspire people to get to the polls, then it worked — it did inspire people to go vote for Republicans,” Smith said.
Miller was easily elected agriculture commissioner in 2014 and easily won this year’s Republican primary. But, the Texas Tribune reports that interest groups are endorsing almost every statewide Republican candidate except Miller.
The Texas Farm Bureau, an organization that advocates on behalf of farmers and ranchers, is one of the groups that didn’t endorse Miller.
Miller’s spokesman said the campaign doesn’t care.
“I would be worried if the Farm Bureau did endorse him because they haven’t picked the winner in 25 years,” Smith said. “We didn’t have their endorsement four years ago, and we’re not concerned about it now.”