Libertarian House Candidate Elinor Swanson was campaigning outside the venue where President Donald Trump was going to hold his Billings, Montana rally last Thursday. She says she was told to move and that she couldn’t wear her campaign t-shirt inside the venue.
“I was told that only Trump politics was allowed inside,” Swanson recounted on Monday morning.
“I was told only Trump politics were allowed as it was a private event,” she said. Swanson and her boys had to move down the hill from the arena to where the protesters were standing near the entrance to MetraPark.
“I was surprised at how far the barrier existed given that I was told to leave even that outdoor area where attendees were lining up,” she said.
Later, Swanson and her boys walked back up the hill and entered into the arena.
“That’s correct,” she said and they got in “after I covered up my t-shirt and my kid’s t-shirts. We went inside the event and then uncovered them. Inside the event, I had our (campaign) t-shirts on again.”
Once inside, Swanson said she resumed talking to potential voters and handed out her card. She says she recognized several faces and that people were friendly.
Swanson also attended a campaign rally featuring Vice President Mike Pence on July 25, 2018, also at Metra.
The Billings attorney said she disagrees with the so-called “free speech” policy that was in place for the Trump rally.
It’s not new, said MetraPark officials.
Marketing Director Ray Massie said the event was considered private as the Rimrock Auto Arena was by a private entity - Donald J. Trump For President, Inc. He added it’s a special case when the venue is leased by the president. He said in that case, the Secret Service along with local and state law enforcement officials, not Metrapark, set the ground rules as the private renter.
“So they’re within their rights to move people,” said Massie. “We do have a free speech zone that we’re required to have as a public entity.”
MetraPark is a multi-use facility paid for by voter approved bonds. It’s governed by the Yellowstone County Commission and an advisory board.
Massie said even though the Trump rally at Rimrock Auto Arena was free and open to the public, who were admitted after applying for tickets through the Trump campaign, He said the Trump campaign sent their deposit for $6,910 via FedEx. The final bill is still being calculated.
MetraPark General Manager Bill Dutcher said what Swanson encountered is not new. He said the policy is in place for all political candidates.
“There’s nobody that can campaign unless they rent a spot,” said Dutcher. He said during Montana Fair, a couple of candidates did rent banners. “It’s controlled that way, but there’s nobody free-wheeling, walking through grounds or standing out on sidewalks handing stuff out. That’s totally prohibited.”
He said the policy also extends to others, like business owners or activists, who may also want to hand out materials.
“Here’s where our county attorney comes in,” said Dutcher saying the county attorney’s office vetted the policy.
“They cannot block traffic, as we had with the anti-marijuana thing. We’ve had tobacco product things. We’ve had protesters during the circus,” he said. “They can stand off to the side of the sidewalk and they can ask you to come over and talk to them.”
But he said if they impede traffic, they can be asked to leave the premises.
“And we’ve gone through this for years and we’ve got this down to a good science,” said Dutcher.
As for the vendors selling Trump t-shirts, buttons, and other memorabilia? Dutcher said that was up to the event organizers and MetraPark officials were not involved.