Campaign signs may foretell future

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 2, 2008

Annexation — check.

School board appointed or elected — check.

Dilapidated houses — check.

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Recreation complex — check.

Futura font, patriotic colors, attention-grabbing slogan — check.

When it comes to choosing who gets my vote this year, I have decided to look past the “big” issues in the campaign and look no further than what I see from my car window.

After weeks of passing by sign after sign, I have started to realize that these 18-inch by 24-inch pieces of plastic tell a whole lot about the candidates — more than what you might think.

As a newspaperman, I have had the luxury to be able discuss issues in depth with many candidates. I have had the opportunity to learn who the candidates are and what their vision for the city is.

Unfortunately, knowing where a candidate stands on the issues does not predict what kind of leader a candidate will be.

So this election I have decided to look to perhaps a better predictor — the campaign sign.

Campaign signs are the first impression that a candidate gives to voters. Sometimes it is the only impression.

The always popular, red, white and blue color scheme conveys to voters ideas of patriotism. Voting, after all, is rooted in American ideals.

Some candidates choose color schemes associated with a local school or local church. Some choose a different color scheme, to stand out — show independence.

And then there is the use of a particular symbol to convey a particular message.

Looking to the graphic message of a campaign sign for voting inspiration is a little like talking to the candidates in passing. It is all about image and a little about substance.

For me, it is the location of campaign signs, not what’s on them, that can be the most enlightening.

I am sure I am not the only person who enjoys playing the election season game, “Who’s sign is in who’s yard.”

But the one thing I don’t like about the campaign season is finding campaign signs staked in places where they shouldn’t be.

It happens every election season. As election day nears, a proliferation of signs show up at street intersections, on city property and in the public right of way.

In the past few days, I have witnessed many plastic signs crowded along the side of the highway and huddled around traffic stoplights.

The problem is that all of these signs are illegal.

Election laws prohibit the display of election signs on public property, including the right-of-way along streets and highways.

Officials say the law exists because the display of such signs creates a safety hazard. Such signs, they say, creates a distraction for drivers and blocks the view.

But for me the issue is more than about safety.

It is about respect — respect for voters, respect for the office for which they are campaigning and, ultimately, respect for the law.

Why should I as a tax-paying citizen allow someone to use public property to campaign for public office?

In past city and county elections, officials have ignored the laws they say they will uphold when they get elected.

Some candidates may say they are only doing what the other candidates are doing. With so little time left, how could they allow another candidate to get the advantage, especially when there is little recourse?

But if candidates and their supporters feel like they can bend the rules or, even worse, feel like the rules do not apply to them, imagine what they might think if they are elected to office.

My hunch is the candidates who think they can circumvent the campaign laws, will be the same elected officials who think even one secret meeting is acceptable.

Doesn’t sound like respect to me.

I hope candidates remember the bigger message they are conveying before they consider locating their signs on public property.

Ben Hillyer is the web editor of The Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540.