Suppose there were a Republican state legislator in Georgia, who also happens to also be an ordained Baptist minister, who sent a letter to the owner of the Atlanta Falcons -- on official state legislature letterhead no less -- demanding he keep his players from speaking out in favor of same-sex marriage. The media firestorm would be predictable.
Well, a Democratic state legislator from Maryland did send such a letter in late August to the owner of the Baltimore Ravens, and while there has been media coverage since the story broke in the middle of last week, it's mostly been in print and online sources. A search of Nexis found no reporting by the broadcast network newscasts on this controversy. The New York Times sports page covered the controversy yesterday, but reporter Adam Himmelsbach omitted Del. Emmett C. Burns's party affiliation.
Last week, Baltimore NBC affiliate WBAL* broke the news that Burns, a Democratic member of the House of Delegates sent -- on official letterhead no less -- a missive to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti requesting that he effectively silence linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who is campaigning against a ballot measure in Maryland that would overturn a new law permitting same-sex marriage in the Old Line State. Ayanbadejo's political views have "no place" in the NFL, Burns groused, urging Bisciotti work to "inhibit such expressions" and that Ayanbadejo "be ordered to cease and desist" his political advocacy.
On Sunday, Randall Lane of Forbes.com argued that this not a garden-variety political gaffe, but a rather an inexcusable, fascistic attempt to push a private employer to silence an employee's political speech that deserves the strongest repudiation (emphases mine):
Ultimately, this incident isn’t about marriage equality. I support it strongly, but good people can disagree.
And it isn’t strictly about the First Amendment. Yes, it’s disgusting that a state legislator who purports to have a PhD knows nothing of his constituents’ free-speech rights (or the proper use of capital letters), but he’s far from the only ignorant, hypocritical politician in America.
For me, it’s about power and business, and the idea of an important elected official leaning on a private employer to muzzle his worker. Burns is a member of the state’s Economic Matters committee – and its Business Regulation subcommittee. He represents Baltimore County in the legislature. The Baltimore Ravens are one of biggest, most influential businesses in Baltimore County. So when Burns asks this business’ owner – on official legislature letterhead – what he intends to do about the free expression of his employee, using ominous legal language (“cease and desist,” “injurious actions”) and bluntly demanding, in a final, single sentence, that the owner provide him “an immediate response,” I shudder.
Earlier this summer, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino foolishly told a business, Chick-Fil-A, that it wasn’t welcome in his town because of the company’s political advocacy. He was lambasted and rightly so. This incident is far worse: Menino was targeting an organization, not an individual, and it was a theory not a threat, since there are not a single Chick-Fil-A in Boston.While repugnant, it was political blathering.
Burns’ Gestapo tactic goes a level further, and it should make any business owner wince. When Senate candidate Todd Akin made his moronic “forcible rape” comments, he was rightly ostracized by the Republican establishment. And that was for an extemporaneous (though consistent with earlier sentiments) answer to a question from a TV reporter. Burns’ idiocy was premeditated. He conjured the need for the letter, drafted it, sent it, and demanded a follow-up from a business he ultimately regulates.
Burns’ term is up in 2014, and he sits in a rubber-stamp district controlled by the party machine (in 2010, the Democrats put up a slate of three candidates for three legislative seats – the token Republican got about 6% of the vote). If Maryland Democrats believe in free speech and the rights of business, he won’t be overseeing regulation during the next legislative term – and he won’t carry his party’s banner when he’s up for election.
Burns has backpedaled a bit, telling the Baltimore Sun on Sunday that "[u]pon reflection, he [Ayanbadejo] has his First Amendment rights." Burns, however, did not explicitly apologize for attempting to strong-arm the Ravens football club into silence its outspoken linebacker.
*This link goes to a Washington Post blog item on the matter by Michael Rosenwald, who links to the WBAL story. However, the WBAL story Rosenwald links to no longer shows the original post date, but rather the September 9 date which reflects an update on the story.