Beginning early this year, several bills introduced in the Indiana General Assembly sought to restrict what teachers could say in the classroom and the guidance librarians could provide. Some of these bills were motivated by dubious claims about critical race theory, but others were downright chilling.
One raised the spectre that librarians could be prosecuted if deemed to have provided "harmful material" to minors. These bills were fraught with First Amendment implications and demonstrated a punitive disposition toward public servants. The editorial board of The Republic saw a need to speak out strongly against these bills and call them what they were: efforts at authoritarian censorship.
Readers responded. First, an unprecedented coalition of local education and civic leaders wrote letters opposing bills that had the support of local lawmakers. Then, hundreds of people participated in a "read-in" at the public library in Columbus, many also demonstrating against the anti-librarian legislation. As a result of the paper's editorial leadership and the pressure Hoosiers put on lawmakers, these bills were withdrawn from the General Assembly.
Judges commented that his editorials were among the shortest overall, but also the sharpest — very powerful. They said the editorials flowed really well from thought to thought and had them engaged from the beginning. One judge said editorial writers sometimes feel like they are tilting at windmills and fighting the good fight without seeing direct change. This series did have an impact, with the bills being withdrawn.
Stafford's award was presented to him at The Republic on Nov. 4 by Bud Hunt, group publisher and vice president of AIM Media Indiana. Hunt said, “While a lot of newspapers are beginning to shy away from editorials in local communities, we think it’s important our readers know the newspaper’s stance on issues that are important to them. Dave’s commentary has proven to be insightful, well thought out and grounded in good common sense. Sometimes he has a little fun making his point, too.”
Read his entry: