Campaign signs could be reined in a bit

During his days as an eco-terrorist – a period that lasted for approximately one month many years ago, when he was about 12 or 13 – a young man who would later go on to minor local note as a community

newspaper editor was responsible for the destruction of many political campaign signs.

Every afternoon after school, the young man and several neighborhood friends found great purpose riding their bicycles in search of (to their thinking) ugly and offensive political signs at area highwaysides, so placed to promote various candidates in then-current races. Signs in private yards were off-limits – there was an intrinsic understanding that they were there by design of the homeowner – but any sign planted randomly on the shoulder was considered fair game, regardless of party or candidate. A few brisk pumps of the bicycle pedal, a well-aimed front wheel and – SNAP! – the sign was left prostrate in the weeds, for some hapless campaign worker to come and retrieve.

Maturity set in sometime thereafter, and with it a better understanding of such concepts as constitutionally protected speech, common courtesy, and the inherent contradiction of cleaning up roadsides by rearranging the garbage. Having since graduated to a more responsible vehicle for political comment – this editorial column – our erstwhile miscreant nonetheless felt a twinge of nostalgia at each indignant “Stolen Sign Report” that came in during the recent mayoral primary, well understanding the pique aimed at those who blight the landscape with campaign signage. While their actual influence is dubious – witness the Peddy showing – political signs tend to proliferate with the weird logic of the nuclear arms race. One side deploys them, the other side responds in kind, and pretty soon they’re mass-produced and scattered all over the place when really, just a few would do.

We won’t see disarmament, given that our state Supreme Court has found campaign signs to be a form of protected speech. But we’re not convinced our city is doing enough to regulate their placement. At the same time the court found some time limits on campaign signs to be overly restrictive, it also seems to have held that permission from property owners can be required before signs are placed. This in turn suggests that Bainbridge Island’s recently amended ordinance and the sign free-for-all it engendered leave our community badly served.

Allowing political operatives to put up signs in local rights of way with impunity, heedless of property ownership interests, is ridiculous. Sign placement clearly conveys endorsement; islanders should be free to put up a sign in front of their homes or businesses if they wish, to exclude others from doing so, or to remain free of campaign signs altogether. That may just go back to common courtesy (admittedly, usually lost once campaign season starts), but it also appears to be a matter of law. While we won’t condone sign theft or vandalism, it’s hard to fault folks who clear unwanted signs from their own grounds.

Oh, and for the record, the editor’s bicycle has had a flat tire for months.

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