Rep. Chad Christensen appears not to understand what it means to be a lawmaker. Taking his office too lightly, he abused it this week.
Christensen was upset about how he was treated at a Boise restaurant called Bacon. He had gone there for a birthday lunch with a group of friends, and they were all carrying firearms. The owner came over to speak with them, saying he felt their guns were too prominently displayed, frightening customers and staff. The restaurant served them but pulled a curtain to provide a visual barrier between those prominently carrying guns and the rest of its customers.
The meal itself betrays rashness and poor judgment in Christensen’s character. The friends he celebrated his birthday with were members of the Three Percenters, which he described as a “patriot group” but which most call a militia. The group’s leaders include a man who is famous for taking an elevated position over federal law enforcement officers and leveling a rifle at them during the Bundy standoff.
This is strange company for a lawmaker to keep.
Christensen’s behavior in the wake of the incident is more concerning.
He claimed that the business had broken a contract.
“By allowing us to purchase food he (the owner) entered into a binding contract. At that point, we had rights to sit without being harrassed (sic),” he wrote.
The idea that the restaurant had some sort of implied contract that forbids it from closing a curtain is a real legal novelty. Restaurants have a general right to refuse service in almost all circumstances. Bacon didn’t do that, simply pulling a curtain to shield other customers from a group of armed men.
Christensen admits the business had the right to refuse him service outright, but he thinks it’s breaking a contract to adjust the curtains? That’s absurd, and it shows an odd sense of entitlement. He then used his prominence as an elected official to call for a boycott of the restaurant, posting a crossed-out picture of its sign. And he threatened to do the same to other businesses in the future.
“As a business owner, if you have a problem with guns in Idaho ... I am going to use my reach to let as many people as I can know about it,” he wrote.
Christensen has not realized, evidently, that the public trust comes with a high degree of responsibility. His statements and conduct are no longer held to the same standard as ordinary citizens’ because they carry the weight of his office behind them.
Certainly, private individuals are well within their rights to refuse to do business with a company for any number of reasons, from the quality of their service to the political views of their owners. And they can encourage others to do the same.
But it’s a different matter when a government official calls for a boycott of a business that has merely exercised its rights. There may not be anything illegal about it, but it’s an abuse of authority.
Any time Christensen votes on a matter that could impact Bacon’s business, voters will have to wonder whether he was motivated by spite. Christensen may have no intention of abusing his office in that way, but how is this restaurant supposed to be assured of its right to conduct commerce on a level playing field after a government official has publicly expressed clear animus toward it?