CONCORD — The arrest of Michael Zona, a New Hampshire Republican Party staffer who dressed in a chicken costume to call attention to what the GOP says is a lack of town halls by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, has drawn a lot of jokes in the social media since Monday evening.
But there’s a serious issue involved, and the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union is interested.
NHCLU staff attorney Gilles Bissonnette said the organization, dedicated to defending rights guaranteed by the Constitution, is concerned about the arrest of Zona and will follow the case.
Bissonnette Tuesday afternoon issued this statement to the New Hampshire Journal:
“We are very concerned about the arrest of Mr. Michael Zona for disorderly conduct during the Londonderry Old Home Day Parade, and we will be following the facts of this case closely as they become publicly available.
“While it is both appropriate and necessary to keep our elected politicians safe from harm, this does not mean that law enforcement has the right to suppress peaceful, non-threatening speech that is protected by the First Amendment by calling it ‘disorderly conduct.’
“This includes political speech that takes place in parades that are open to the public. As the United States Supreme Court had made clear, Americans – including our politicians — must tolerate insulting, and even outrageous, speech in order to provide adequate breathing space to the freedoms protected by the First Amendment.”
Zona has said he did nothing wrong before being arrested. He was charged with disorderly conduct for his behavior during the parade and is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 8.
Bissonnette had no further comment beyond the statement.
State GOP spokesman Lauren Zelt said Bissonnette called the party office Tuesday morning to inquire about the case. She said he spoke with party Executive Director Matt Mowers.
The NHGOP sent the chicken to several Shaheen events, some with a sign, saying “Shaheen Chicken To Hold Town Halls.” The party has also posted a “ticker” on its web site counting the more than 700 days, hours, minutes and even second since Shaheen held a traditional town hall meeting.
The Shaheen campaign has said it has held a series of telephone town halls and an event hosted by WMUR-TV.
Campaign staffers or volunteers in costume have cropped up occasionally in New Hampshire politics, dating back at least to 1986, when Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Endicott “Chub” Peabody, a former Massachusetts governor, had someone kin a chicken suit follow Sen. Warren Rudman, calling Rudman “too chicken” to debate.