Commonviews 2002: Campaign Sign Contraband & Shenanigans
April 19, 2002
(Commonviews 2002 is a series of articles examining the most important issues in South Carolina’s 2002 statewide GOP primary races. Click here to find out more about the purpose of Commonviews 2002 and how to submit your own suggestions for future topics of discussion.)
The 2002 political campaign season in South Carolina is well underway as our highways and side streets have been literally covered by campaign signs from candidates running for every political office in the state.
They’re everywhere, they’re everywhere!
We have been inundated by several television news stories lately detailing the problems with the posting of campaign signs across the state. Specifically, Newschannel 7 WSPA-TV has been watching the Upstate for sign violations. The claim made by these news stories is that these signs are a distraction to people driving and may cause unnecessary accidents.
This has led counties across the state to set strict rules for political candidates to post their campaign signs. In Anderson County, candidates are required to purchase a $15 permit in order to put up their signs. Has anyone seen any campaign signs in Anderson County? Undoubtedly!
Yet, since none of the candidates have bought one of these permits, every single sign posted in Anderson County is illegal! In fact, Anderson County has the right to fine candidates personally more than $1,000 and the State can fine them $100 and even put them in jail for each violation. So far, none of the campaigns have been fined.
Lt. Governor candidate Rita Allison had a sign she had posted on Hwy. 29 taken down because it supposedly violated state law. When she complained, the sign was immediately put back up. However, after the sign was posted again, local highway officials surmised that the sign was once again in violation of state law and it was taken down. Will the madness ever end?
Even Attorney General Charlie Condon was identified by Newschannel 7 for an illegal campaign sign in Duncan yesterday. His campaign sign was only 55 feet away from the center of the road rather than the legal distance of 100 feet. However, the news story neglected to tell its viewers that a campaign sign for Lt. Governor Bob Peeler was only a few feet away from Condon's sign. His was in violation of the law as well.
Why, all of a sudden, is there such a crackdown on campaign signs in the 2002 elections in South Carolina? I remember seeing thousands of signs in the 2000 elections and in the local political races last year in every nook and cranny in the Upstate.
I have a theory that I think may explain why this is happening.
It would not surprise me if the order to tighten up on the campaign sign violations came directly from none other than Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges himself. He probably ordered local officials to tear down any and every campaign sign they can find. I have even heard that church and business signs have been torn down with the political campaign signs. This overly zealous attempt to restrict the posting of campaign signs is an obvious violation of every candidate’s First Amendment rights to free speech!
There is little doubt that Mr. Hodges is tired of seeing an abundance of Republican signs plastered all over the state. He’s beginning to feel the heat from having lame-duck fever! Regardless of who ends up as the GOP nominee for Governor, there is little doubt Hodges’ days are numbered. That’s why I think he is taking these drastic measures at this time.
Nevertheless, whether the order came from Hodges or elsewhere, the signs are coming down as fast as they went up. As long as the signs are not posted on private property without the property owner’s permission, what is wrong with campaign signs being posted wherever the campaigns want to put them?
In addition, if the signs are being placed in the “wrong” places, then why don’t the local counties or the election commission provide a map to the political candidates with the “approved” areas for campaign signs? Wouldn’t this solve the myriad of problems we are seeing this year?
Another related issue of concern is campaign signs that are being torn down by political opponents. I have heard about one particular campaign actually paying college students cash to locate and tear down one of their opponent’s signs at night. This juvenile tactic is utterly reprehensible and is not in the spirit of a fair and competitive political campaign.
What do YOU think?
Do campaign signs serve a good purpose by informing potential voters of who the candidates are in the political races?
Or do campaign signs cause too many problems by being too much of a distraction for drivers and too tempting for political opponents to play dirty politics?
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