Police block sign waving by Honolulu City Council candidates
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Eloise Aguiar
Campaigns for the open City Council seat representing Waimanalo, Kailua and Kane'ohe are hitting roadblocks as police move to limit sign waving along highway medians and near intersections.
Police say the practice is illegal and have asked candidates to move on.
But candidates are wondering why now, especially since politicians have been sign waving for decades.
"I think sign waving and walking door-to-door is the most grass-roots possible way that a candidate can campaign and I think they should be permitted to do that within reason, so long as they are doing so in a safe manner," said Ikaika Anderson, who with 10 other candidates is vying for the council seat left vacant by the death of incumbent Barbara Marshall.
Anderson said he was told to leave the grass triangle area at the Castle Medical Center intersection and he's heard of other candidates being asked to leave, but apparently not all candidates have been warned off, he said.
"I haven't seen any of my fellow candidates who are sign waving in an unsafe manner," he said. "Everybody is following the rules, so why certain people are being targeted and getting kicked off, I can't answer that."
University of Hawai'i law professor Jon Van Dyke said a 1975 case found that sign waving is protected by the Constitution but that safety issues may restrict it.
"The court said that it was unconstitutional to ban sign waving from traditional First Amendment forums such as public sidewalks and other thoroughfares," Van Dyke said. "There are other cases since then that allow for restriction in very congested areas."
If sign wavers create a safety hazard in a congested area, then restriction could be implemented, he said. "But in general, waving signs on the side of the road is constitutionally protected."
Candidate Wilson Ho said he and his campaign helpers were nowhere near traffic while holding signs in a huge grassy island at the Likelike and Kamehameha highways intersection.
He and candidate Tracy Nakano Bean were asked to leave on Monday, he said.
"I've been there for a month," Ho said, adding that he is careful not to obstruct traffic or stick his sign out in front of drivers. "Why now? I can't understand that."
At first, police said they were following the law and warning candidates, including those on the grassy traffic island.
Later, police department spokeswoman Michelle Yu said a section of the law is unconstitutional and that the department will check with experts next week.
"We will follow up and be trying to sort this out on Monday," Yu said.
Candidate Keoki Leong said he learned from the police that they do not enforce the law unless they are getting complaints. This practice raises the issue of fairness, Leong said.
Leong was asked to move from the hillside next to Castle Hills, along Likelike Highway.
He said he understands about the distraction and always emphasizes safety to his campaign workers.
"We try to be aware, not to distract drivers as much as possible," Leong said.
Candidates aren't the only people to stand out on medians hoping for support. The firefighters' association, cheerleaders and other organizations have been out there with their scoop nets or boots. It's a cheap way to raise money or get name recognition for candidates with small budgets, said candidate Pohai Ryan, who has not been asked to move.
"If none of us can sign wave because people are calling in, then I feel our free speech rights are violated," Ryan said, adding that anyone could call in complaints, even other candidates.
"For candidates who have smaller budgets, it's always the island way, to wave. Besides ... it shows humility in the candidate."
Bean, who has been asked to move, said police are doing their jobs but it does raise concerns about past and future practices.
"Though there's a law on the books, it is a law that has never been enforced and there are decades of past practice," Bean said. "If they are going to be doing this with me or any of the other candidates, are they going to address this with Mayor Mufi Hannemann when he's running for election or (Lt. Gov. James) "Duke" Aiona when he's running for governor?"
With just two weeks to go in the campaign, candidate Steve Holmes said he's seen an increase in the number of supporters on the road and that may be generating complaints. Some campaigners are more boisterous and aggressive, intimidating drivers as they try to navigate the crowded intersection, Holmes said.
"Generally if you're polite and well-mannered, stay back away from the busy part of the intersection and allow people good views of where they need to go, then it's not a problem," Holmes said.
Reach Eloise Aguiar at email@example.com.