The Ugenti Law: Zenith Of Irony

by John Washington on January 3, 2013

The zenith of irony is when it is unintentionally self-inflicted. The Arizona Republic reports via AZCentral this morning that,

Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-Scottsdale, is proposing legislation to make online impersonation a crime.

House Bill 2004, if it becomes law, would make it a felony to use another person’s name without permission to create a Web page intended to “harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten.” It would be a misdemeanor to send an e-mail or text message that appears to come from another person and is intended to harm or defraud.

Ugenti said HB 2004 is modeled after Texas’ law, but was prompted by a constituent who came to her seeking help.

She said the situation involved people using Facebook and other websites in a way that caused her constituent, who does not want to be identified, personal and professional harm.

For example, it could be used in cases similar to last year’s incident in which a disgruntled Gilbert parent created a fake profile of his son’s assistant principal on a pornographic website and chatted online under the administrator’s name.

[The parent] was sentenced to serve three months in jail.

Ugenti said she is confident her bill would not affect parody sites and is not intended to do so.

“The bill has a high standard,” she said. “It’s the impersonation without the individual’s consent and with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate and threaten.”

She said she is waiting for feedback, but has not heard of any specific concerns.

The Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council, which among other things works as a liaison between state prosecutors and the Legislature, has not yet weighed in on the bill.

“We’re in the process of learning about it,” staff attorney Kim MacEachern said. “But I’m not aware that it’s been an issue in Arizona, from a prosecution standpoint.”

via Arizona bill would outlaw posing as others online.

First, and as usual, the Republic is reporting significantly less than half the story. I don’t know if it’s intentional omission, reporter ignorance of the issues, or the oft-cited editorial cutting for reasons of “available space.” All three happen on a fairly regular basis at the Republic, and I’m at a loss to explain any of them or determine which is happening in a given instance.

Regardless, the back story here is that Ugenti herself is a ‘victim’ of the very parody efforts she claims this bill isn’t targeting. Starting sometime last year, a Twitter account popped up on the Scottsdale radar entitled “Michelle @RubbingUGently.” It’s a spoof clearly originating from a televised crude comment Ugenti made [as reported by Stephen Lemons in the Phoenix New Times, but never in the Republic] toward a male colleague at a Legislative committee meeting this past spring.

Twitter Profile for Michelle @RubbingUGently

While I’m not a big fan of the occasionally crude parody provided by @RubbingUGently, I have to admit some of the Twitter messages are pretty darned funny. My hat’s off to the anonymous satirist.

I strongly suspect he or she may be the same person behind “Katti Kowgrrrl @RockingWithLisa,” which portrays observations of a fictional (I assume) friend of soon-to-be-former Scottsdale city council member Lisa Borowsky and their shopping/partying adventures. Having been occasionally and unpredictably on friendly terms with Lisa, some of those observations have made me cringe…but again, many are pretty darned funny.

Twitter Feed for Katti Kowgrrrl @RockingWithLisa

So to close out the point, the proposed legislation clearly targets Michelle’s critics, regardless of what Michelle says.

Second, if–as reported in the very same Republic article–existing legislation is working (resulting in punishment for real crimes), why do we need new legislation? Michelle touts herself as a conservative striving for smaller government, right?

Third, this is a self-inflicted ‘problem.’ As in most satirical criticism, the ‘victim’ here supplies most of the material for the satirist. To paraphrase a Will Rogers quote I posted a few days ago: There is no trick to being a humorist when you have people like Michelle working  for you.

Fourth, don’t our legislators have more important issues to tackle than protecting themselves from…themselves? I can think of two right off the top of my head in which Michelle has been intimately involved…on the wrong side: Campaign signs and the election calendar.

Scottsdale defined itself years ago with one of the most restrictive and well-crafted sign ordinances in the country, and our community character benefited tremendously. However, thanks to legislation specifically targeting Ugenti’s district that legislation overruled city ordinances in regards to campaign signs. Not coincidentally, Ugenti put up more signs in Scottsdale than any other candidate.

Many municipalities in Arizona used to have their elections in the springtime. There are a myriad of reasons why this campaign calendar was good (easier for door-to-door campaigning and getting to know the voters, allowed the voters to focus more on local issues, etc.), but only one reason to overturn it: Partisan politics. It was done purely to take advantage of Scottsdale’s Republican voter registration majority.

That is helpful (in a partisan sense) for two reasons: Many people “vote the ticket,” especially in years when we are electing a US President. This gives the advantage to anyone who has the money to broadcast their affiliation or themes that appeal to partisan voters. Of course, in the Scottsdale mayoral race all three candidates were registered Republicans. So, it became a race about who was “more Republican.”

And because unaffiliated (i.e., not registered as Republican or Democratic) voters have to REQUEST a primary ballot rather than being sent one automatically, this ensures that on a municipal level in cities that have non-partisan races, independents wind up not participating to a great degree in the primaries. That’s one big reason Jim Lane won his seat via victory in the primary in Scottsdale.

As a Republican myself, I’m offended that our party has to resort to trickery and disenfranchisement to win, instead of making a logical case to the voters. It’s bad enough that such tactics disenfranchise voters of the other party, but inexcusable when these tactics are used to help Republican candidates beat other Republican candidates.

So, to close out the commentary on Ugenti’s Law, citing Stephen Lemons’s reporting,

When some 100 college students showed up to a committee hearing to voice opposition to a law that would make going to college even harder for them than it already is, Ugenti callously remarked, “Welcome to life.”

Indeed, Michelle. I might have to make that a ScottsdaleTrails “Quote of the Day.”

One final comment, this to the editors at the Republic. During the campaign this past fall when the Republic was still allowing anonymous comments to be posted to the articles on AZCentral, a commenter with the handle of “TimmyTheGreek” posted a remark that I was “crazy.”

I challenged the Republic staff to reveal the identity of the author of this libelous comment. The response I received included this comment from Randy Lovely, editor and vice president for news,

While we hope to add greater accountability for comments so that some posters might think twice about how they express themselves, we fully support a free exchange of ideas and opinions. Particularly in the political debate, we want residents to express reasons for supporting — or opposing — candidates. That’s the name of the game, and you should have anticipated a rigorous debate when you decided to run for office.

I’d like to hear your thoughts about “Ugenti’s Law,” Mr. Lovely.

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