Campaign signs don't walk away
We’re into the campaign sign segment of the political season, which means two things:
1. More campaign signs.
2. More complaints about missing campaign signs.
Nature of the beast that when May rolls around in an even-numbered year I start hearing from candidates, as I did last week when one uttered a familiar refrain:
“Someone is stealing my signs!”
This candidate believed it was an opponent’s supporters stealing the signs, which is possible but, boy, would that be stupid.
Signs go up in yards or along roadsides, and then a few weeks later they start disappearing.
(By the way, a word about the photo. I wouldn’t normally run a photo of a single candidate’s campaign sign without a purpose, but I was left with two choices. I could get a photo of the numerous campaign signs I see in the road right of way, and then catch grief from that candidate for picking on him/her; or walk two blocks from Just Wright Citrus world headquarters on the shores of Big Lake Henderson to someone’s yard where I see Rebecca Bays campaign signs every day. Now you know what I know.)
Signs disappear for four really basic reasons:
— An opponent’s campaign is stealing campaign signs. Though a common accusation, it’s rarely proven. The risk/reward downside is pretty huge.
— Supporters of an opponent are stealing signs. That’s a little harder to nail down, and I’m going to say right now if you’re doing this, that’s not showing support for your candidate. It shows you’re a criminal and your candidate, if he/she is wise, will stay a million miles from you.
— Vandals doing what vandals do. Steal/wreck stuff. Not a political statement. Just mischief.
— The sign is in the road right of way, and a county code inspector picked it up, tossed it into the back of his pickup and took it to the county landfill.
This is political yard sign 101. They can’t go into the right of way. If you’re unsure where that is, power poles are usually a good indication. Power companies receive permits to place their utility poles in the road right of way, so they’re usually right up on the far edge. Anything between the power pole and roadside is off limits.
Candidates: Best way to make sure your signs stay where they’re planted is to keep them out of the road right of way.
That means getting permission from the property owner for campaign signs. This is easy in neighborhoods, where folks proudly have someone’s campaign sign in their yard. I remember my dad doing that when I was a kid for our state representative.
In the rural areas, it’s not so easy. That’s why we see campaign signs jumbled up like a rugby scrum opposite busy intersections. Once one shows up, they all do.
As for the right of way, I asked the county what happens to the signs once they’re picked up. It was always my understanding they were kept in a storage room somewhere for candidates to retrieve, but that is no longer the case because it was more trouble than it was worth. Apparently candidates didn’t come get the signs and they eventually became junk anyway.
I’m sure you’re thinking, “Gee, Just Wright Citrus, this is fascinating and all, but are you really going to spend a Monday morning on campaign signs?”
That is EXACTLY what I’m doing. Political signs are a major part of someone’s campaign. They’re a significant cost and it’s time-consuming getting them planted. Few things rile candidates early on more than their signs disappearing. I understand the frustration.
So of course I have a little story.
In 2002, a congressional candidate’s husband was caught in Spring Hill stealing and vandalizing campaign signs belonging to U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman, who was running for re-election. Thurman didn’t prosecute, and the candidate, Ginny Brown-Waite, won the race.
It was horribly embarrassing for Brown-Waite and 20 years later, I still remember the details.
Campaigns are hard enough without trickery. Let’s be nice to their signs.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.