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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Free Speech, Local Business, and Where I Buy My Raisin Bran

So a friend of mine says to me the other day, "Well, looks like I'll be buying all my groceries in Brookings and Sioux Falls."

What, did Sunshine close?

No, actually, Sunshine opened up... its political views:

On the northwest corner of the block owned by Sunshine, store owner Dan Roemer Roemen* has apparently approved the placing of a "Vote Yes on 11" sign. The only grocery store in Madison is apparently endorsing South Dakota's abortion ban, along with the bad science and second-class citizenship for women written into it. (I wonder if Dan checked with corporate on that.)

Now Dan Roemen is not the only local businessman to use his property to promote his political views. My friend Dale Kringen has again allowed Russell Olson to place a big smiley billboard on the Kringen Plaza on Highway 34 on the west edge of Madison:

Eye doctor Michael Brooke is also in campaign mode, allowing the Jerry Johnson campaign to plant a couple signs on his office property on Highway 34 in town:

I disagree with all three of these businesspeople on how we should vote in November. However, I have no beef with their use of their own property to promote their views. I'm actually encouraged to see this eruption of political speech from Madison's businesspeople. I have had conversations with folks in town where I've asked for their support on an issue and they've said, "Sure, Cor, you have my support, but I don't dare speak up publicly. I've got to do business in this town." I am encouraged to see that Roemen, Kringen, and Brooke are not worried that their exercise of free speech might drive away customers.

Of course, I can't help noting that these brave souls are also backing conservative/Republican votes.

There evidently are folks in town who will discriminate based on political views. I've had folks decline to support me publicly in my political endeavors for fear of losing customers. I've publicly criticized the policies of the LAIC, and they now choose not to reply to my e-mails.

And at least one person I know is going out of town for groceries based on a political sign on Dan Roemen's commercial front yard.

Is free speech free? If I espouse universal single-payer not-for-profit health insurance (and I do!), and you think I'm a socialist (and some of you do!), do I have a right to be upset with you if you choose not to advertise on the Madville Times solely because of our political disagreement? If you are a Republican, can you justify refusing to buy eggs from Charlie Johnson just because he's a Democrat?

If you support women's rights and choose not to shop at Sunshine in Madison this month, are you making a principled decision to keep your grocery dollars from supporting a campaign for a bad law? Or are you being disloyal to your local economy?

Dan Roemen is free to use his property to declare his stance on Initiated Measure 11. I wonder—are his employees free to express their opinions as well? In particular, I am curious as to how Carol, Lisa, and the other women who work at Sunshine feel about working for a man who would vote to make women second-class citizens. (I know, some can argue I'm just as bad for refusing to make fetuses first-class citizens.) I may ask them next time I go to town for raisin bran.

We are free to express our political opinions. We are also free to shop and work where we wish... although when there is only one grocery store in town, that freedom to shop around is a bit restricted.

I'm still trying to sort this one out, readers. We have to live together in community, If we went around not doing business with anybody who disagrees with us on any political issue, we'd all be growing our own food and shoe-ing our own horses. How far can we go in standing for our views but still maintaining the fabric of commerce and community?

*I originally got Dan Roemen's name wrong. My helpful commenters have duly chided me, and I have corrected the spelling throughout. I apologize for the shoddy work!

Update 2008.10.13 17:40 CDT: Add another business to the roster of those willing to take their chances in the free market with free speech:
Freedom Financial of Madison makes it four businesses for the conservative side of the ballot. So will we see a local Chamber member step out with a Dems sign?


  1. Each of these bussiness owners risks alienating about 50% of the population by putting up signs. I guess if I was a business owner I would try to please the customers and not try and alienate any customers much less 50%. It is a free country though and they have the right to do it.

    Just Like I have the right to boycott any of those business that now have alienated me. Like Jubilee for me it will always be Jubilee not Sunshine. That is a good question though if the Bosch Family has signs up at their stores around Sioux Falls?

  2. It is never a good idea for a business to get involved politically or religiously and the abortion ban combines both. I spoke to a friend the other day who said they are Catholic Democrats, but they're voting for McCain-Palin simply because the Republican Ticket is anti-abortion. I said "are you kidding me?"

    He said he supports all candidates based on one issue, whether they are anti-abortion. Maybe I'm simple, but this one issue doesn't have a thing to do with our economy, the war in Iraq, healthcare reform or any other relevant issue.

    Abortion has never been an issue that has directly affected my family. We don't like abortion, but don't feel regulating choice is the right path either so we'll vote against the abortion bill again in November.

    There is much unbridled passion on both sides of this issue and any business who openly expresses an opinion on abortion runs a huge risk of "economic retribution" from those who disagree.

    The good news is that we forget rather quickly after an election. The signs come down and it is business as usual.

  3. The sign on Dr. Brook’s office corner is a hazard for traffic on Harth pulling out on the four lane. So I have noticed the sign but as a nuisance. I don’t think that is the reaction they wanted to achieve.

    I normally would not stop shopping with a business that promoted views different then my own. There is a line that would lead me to boycott a business. I have not seen that recently but I know it when I see it. I also don’t feel the same loyalty that I might toward other hometown business. So if I have to run to Sioux Falls, I may stop at HyVee and not feel too bad about it. I would prefer that business owner keep their personal views out of their business. But I agree, they have the right to the use of their own property to promote their views. I'm actually discouraging political speech from Madison's businesspeople at their place of business. Put the sign in your yard at home.

    I also have the same concerns for the employee’s views. I would feel better about a political sign in the parking lot if I saw employee’s wearing buttons with opposing views inside. If the owner really is for political discussion and not worried about offending customers with differing views they would encourage their employees to deck themselves with campaign buttons of their choice. Maybe they do and no one takes them up on the offer but I doubt it.

  4. Actually, Mr. Roemer and Dr. Brooke may not have put signs on their property -- doesn't the city own the boulevard (the space between the sidewalk and the street)?

  5. Actually, abortion has a lot to do with the economy. Abortions went down in the Clinton years and up in the Reagan years. Reagan was pro life, Clinton is pro choice. I think it has more to do with if you are in favor of the issue or in favor of a solution. A good economy puts many poorer women in a position to make better choices.

  6. Keep Buying Your Raisin Bran At Sunshine! I'm From Sioux Falls And I'm Going Today To Shop At Sunshine Just Because Of The Sign In Madison!

  7. dakota values:

    You seem inclined to support initiate 11. Will that legislation actually address the causes of abortion? Why do women want to get abortions? Is it simply because it's available in South Dakota?

    Or is it a deeper problem with causes such as poverty, poor sex eduation, etc.?

    People will just go out of state to get abortions if this passes and is upheld. Getting an abortion isn't a snap decision like buying a soda at the local convenience store.

    This policy will just drive more people out of our state.

  8. Cory... it's ROEMEN, not Roemer. I've known Dan since we both lived in Dell Rapids... come on!

  9. By the way, it is Dan and Renee Roemen, not Roemer. So, you're saying that Chad Comes, who is our City Engineer, shouldn't be able to walk in the DSU Parade with an orange Vote Yes shirt on Initiate Measure 11 without fear of losing his job because you are a taxpayer and therefore have the last say in funding his position or lobbying the Mayor and Commissioners? Personally, I oppose IM11 and will vote against it again, but I really like Dan and Renee and feel they are strong community supporters. I respect their right to promote a cause they are passionate about. They are going out on a precarious limb, though, because not everyone can separate the issues of free speech and free trade.

  10. No, Anon 12:42, I'm not saying that at all. I'm asking what everyone else thinks. Good comments so far -- keep 'em coming!

    (Oh, and so much for my clever plot to protect Dan and Renee by giving them a pseudonym... ;-) Sorry about that! I will make the correction!)

  11. i find it hard to separate the issues, but in a town the size of madison, do you have the options available to stop shopping at places with alienating signs on their properties?

    you'd eventually (and it wouldn't take long) run out of places to buy groceries and furniture, and places get your teeth and car cleaned.

    you'd think the roemens would be a little more business-savvy than that. it's a very sensitive issue, and it's my belief that Sunshine should stay out of my uterus.

  12. What a city employee does on his day off has nothing to do with a business displaying the political views of the owner. A city engineer has nothing to do with free trade. I agree he is going out on a limb but not because of free trade. I hope no ones employment would be jeopardized because of their political activity away from work especially a government employee.

    As far as separating free speech from free trade I don’t see why I should separate them. Consumer’s trade freedoms keep business in line, as far as prices, employment practices and environmental issues. The choice as to where I spend my dollars has many factors. I reserve the right to use any consideration before I spend.

  13. If you decide to not shop somewhere solely on the owner's politics, you're a moron... pure and simple.

    I don't always agree with Cory's ideas (like 90-percent of them), but if he has a good business that treats me right, then I'm going to use it.

    And if you can't separate the business from the personal politics, you need to see a doctor for that case of rectal-cranial inversion! LOL

  14. Anon 1:29:

    Don't public employees serve the public interest? Wouldn't an individual's position on an issue be an automatic bias?

    Or do you view public servants as policy makers regardless of arena?

    A city engineer has been elected/appointed because that individual is capable of doing that job. He was definitely not hired as a policy maker in any other arena. But, he might use his position to further his personal agenda outside the purview of job.

    I think that for the public sector, it's extremely important to separate your personal agenda from your day job. Similarly, I think it would be more appropriate for the owners of these businesses to put their signs outside their homes rather than businesses.

    You can disagree with someone's politics and still do business with them. The problem comes when you take your politics to work with you.

  15. If you want to boycott these businesses, then do it. It's a free country, for now. I'm sure they won't miss you.
    The Argus Leader and it's advertisers haven't missed my business for the last 25 years.
    I've always wondered how bad it must be to work at the Argus or any news station, if your a conservative. To be insulted every day on the job, but I guess the press is immune from harrassment laws.

  16. I live in Madison, and do not shop at Sunshine. A bi-weekly trip to Brookings or Sioux Falls where the prices are better, the selection is better, and as a general rule customer service is better.

    Now that I see this sign, it just makes me feel even better about our trips out of town. I'm sure in the long haul we are spending more by doing this, but we can afford it. Plus, I am going to reward the business that goes the extra mile to draw me. Going back to my first paragraph, better prices, selection and service.

    I am tired of downtown expecting us to spend our money here simply out of pure loyalty to our community. If you want my business, you have to earn it.

    To get to the topic at hand. Yes they can put the sign on their property, this is America and that is their right. But, I also have the right to shop elsewhere, and that it was I do.

  17. I would say that about 50% of the population already chooses to buy their groceries somewhere else. It is really too bad. At least on basic necessities we could keep the money in town.

    I strongly believe this community could support another grocery store. it would bring in more tax dollars that we could use to improve our own community as apposed to one 40 miles away.

    Speaking of taxes, does anyone know how the Roeman's pay taxes on the groceries they take out without running through the till. I don't have a problem with them stealing from themselves and the majority owners, but not paying taxes is stealing from the whole community.

  18. Anonymous 10:19 (who obviously doesn't care for the Roemen's) (and no, I am not a friend of theirs, they would not even know who I am)
    They pay the sales tax for personal use items the same way any business owner does. The state sales tax form, which also collects the city tax, has a space where you report what you have taken out for personal use, and the tax is included on that when you total all the taxes due.
    Now, do you report to the state and pay tax on, items you purchase from out of state, as is required by law?

  19. First, did you verify that Dan put up the sign or consented to it?

    Dan has the right to put a sign on his property and you have the right to not shop at his store, whatever your reason may be.

    I'm also sure, that Cory would have no problem with any of these businesses if the signs were for people or issues he agrees with. Just as I don't mind these signs at all, but would most likely shop elsewhere if Dan's sign were Vote No.
    Sometimes there is a price to pay for having values and stating them publicly.

  20. Anon 10:19's comments are just another reason Cory should consider eliminating anonymous comments. That is clearly a slanderous, unsubstantiated jab at the Roemen family, accusing them of taking groceries out of their store without paying for them, or paying sales tax. That is just plain stupid to make a public allegation like that and not put your name behind it. Cory may break ground as one of the first blogs to be sued for slander and defamation of character. Yes, this is free speech, but those who are attacked are within their rights to hold a blog responsible for damaging a person's reputation. Tighten up the criteria for comments, if for no other reason than to protect yourself, Cory.


  21. DRK, the presence of the sign on Roemen's property indicates his tacit if not explicit consent. And it's been up for almost a week; if he didn't want it there, it would be gone.

    RLG -- actually, there is a legal argument that a blogger, business, school, or webhost might put itself in greater danger of facing a libel suit by imposing some sort of editorial policy to remove suspected libel. If I did start pulling such posts and happened to miss one, or didn't remove an offending post before folks had seen it, I could be held responsible along with the author. As it is, I make no legal evaluation of the original content placed online by other authors. On the rare occasions when I remove a comment, it is purely for personal reasons, not viewpoint or legal reasons.

    But I agree that if you've got something worth saying, you should have the guts to put your name to it.

  22. As a former employee of Dan Roman's I witnessed on several occasions him walking out the back door with arm fulls of grocies and I was always told by him that I will mark out down tomorrow. Weather he did or didnot I dont know but I witnessed it at least 20different times while I worked for him.

    Christopher Stearns
    former night manager Food Pride

  23. NOTE TO SELF: Never hire Christopher Stearns.

  24. This post started out very interesting, then faded to useless attacks on someone who isn't even here. Who cares how the business is run? The stream was regarding the signs in the "yards". Here's a question: would you not shop there if you knew his wife had recieved an abortion? How about if he had bombed an abortion clinic himself? Where is the cutoff? It seems to me that all of you "liberals" are only liberal if the other person's opinions mirror your own.

    You pass yourselves off as "tolerant" and "accepting" while painting conservatives as backwards, Bible thumpers with no understanding of how society works.

    If you are not willing to shop somewhere because the person who runs that shop has differing views from yourself, you will be traveling pretty far.

    If anyone has been tolerant it is the Religious Conservatives (largest population segment) who have allowed an already flawed Supreme Court decision to be steadily chipped away at, to the point that abortion has become a lifestyle choice rather than a medical neccesity.

    Why flawed? because it was legislation from the bench, it was an advisory opinion (which is Constitutionally forbidden). The decision (in an attempt to avoid the "Penumbral Rights" flaw) misused the 14th amendment and applied a "Constitutional right" to one segment of the population while expressly ignoring another.

    Example: two 18 year olds (male/female) get pregnant. He wants the child, she does not. He has no say in the outcome of the pregnancy because she has Constitutional protections that he does not. Now, take the same couple and reverse the story. He does not want the child, but she does. Once again, she holds all of the cards and can opt to keep the child (While also attaching that child financially to the dad for the next 17-19 years). Is this fair or flawed? True COnstitutional rights, by definition, must apply to "all men"...by amendment..."The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

    So, if we apply liberty to abortion, then we MUST apply the same to the young in the situation above, her right to choose can not take precedent over his right to choose.

  25. Hey, Anon, who's the "you" you're referring to? I'm hearing a wide variety of opinions, hard to put in one box...

    ...and that's why I'm enjoying all of your comments on this post. We can leave sales tax for someone else to figure out, but I'm interested. And believe me, if I'd seen any businesses around town with "Vote No" or "Obama" signs in their front yards, I'd have included them in the discussion.

    Personally, I'm tracking down a "Vote No on 11" button to wear next time I go to Sunshine... or maybe a sandwich board.

  26. WOW!!! I got a call from a friend who directed me nto this site. I don,t live in Madison but we do a lot of shopping there. I can't believe how small minded some of you DWEEBS are. Get a life. Some of you are actually proud of the fact that you do your shopping out of town. Dan like most other Madison buisness' are the first ones asked and do support every local fund raiser from LAIC,Chamber
    of commerce, swimming pools,community rec, DSU, school fund drives, churches, and almost an uncountable number of hand outs to help all of your favorite charities, sports teams or whatever. Next time you want to ask for a hand out for your favorite charity or program feel free to go to Brookings or Sioux Falls and ask them for donations. Please let us know how you come out. What a petty attitude.
    Don Limmer, Lake Madison resident.
    A community supporter no matter what your views are.

  27. I hearby nominate Don's post as the "Post of the Thread"; right on, Don!

  28. Don Limmer I throw the B.S. flag on your statement. Dan Roman doesn't support all of the churches. He picks and chooses what he supports so don't make him out to be a saint. He is not. He is not evil either. BUT he is not a saint.

    I nominate Don Limmer posts at the B.S. post of the week.!

  29. Economically clueless pick up your flag and read my old response very very slowly so you can understand what it says. Isaid "Dan like most other Madison buisness' are the first ones asked and do support every local fund raiser from LAIC,Chamber
    of commerce, swimming pools,community rec, DSU, school fund drives, churches, and almost an uncountable number of hand outs to help all of your favorite charities, sports teams or whatever." What part of that statement made you think that I said Dan is a saint?

    I have a hard time understanding why some people have no tolerance and feel alienated by anyone that doesn't share your exact viewpoint or why you think it is not ok for a bussiness owner to express their preferences or beliefs.

  30. tara is the exact reason some people don't use their name. I buy my groceries out of town, not because of any sign, because I can get a LOT more for the buck.

  31. Don, your point is well-taken (and well-said). I don't question anyone's right to express his/her opinion (I encourage it -- that's why the blog is here!). I also don't feel alienated by the fact that any particular individual fails to share my exact point of view (believe me, in this town, nobody shares my exact point of view on everything... right, Jackrabit? ;-) ).

    But a couple of questions—and I ask them not to be a jerk, but to see what everyone else thinks:

    (1) Does one have to be rich and buy one's freedom of speech with lots of donations to civic organizations to be able to express a controversial viewpoint?

    (2) Will Madison's businessowners, the biggest, most influential customers in town, extend the respect Don talks about to every other businessowner, big and small, Republican and Democrat?

    By the way, this conversation is great, and I appreciate the number of you who have signed in by name.

  32. Most businesses don't mix politics or religion because customers are quick to retaliate with their checkbooks. Even though we have free speech, we also have free choice and a businessperson must weigh whether they can afford to allienate customers if they become outspoken on a political or religious issue, and Abortion is a HOT topic with folks. It's no different than when the Dixie Chicks decided to attack President Bush and some folks quit buying their CD's or attending their concerts. People have to decide what they want to be...A businessperson or a spokesman with an opinion. Often, the two don't blend without repurcussions.

  33. repercussions—that's still what's bugging me, Anon. Can we justify imposing repercussions on a neighbor for exercising a fundamental right?

  34. Repercussions are part of human nature, unfortunately. By the way, thanks for correcting my spelling.

    I think back a few years ago when Lon and Glenda Ihler decided to send their two boys to Chester's School District. Jim Dorman and Bud Postma told every Madison coach to quit doing business with them and Postma was very outspoken about his desire to hurt Lon's Cocktail Lounge financially.

    I asked Ihlers if anyone from the Madison School ever asked them "why" they open enrolled their boys to Chester and the answer was "no". It seems it was easier to attack them financially rather than try to determine why they were leaving and perhaps address the problems.

    Sadly, that is Madison and many other communities.


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