Where's the spirited debate?

Posted: Sunday, October 05, 2003

Well, it's election season again. And once again, the sign fairies have descended upon the area, placing their multicolored droppings across our fair land.

This year we've only got local politics to worry about, yet just as the leaves began to turn color poof! the signs appeared on every street corner, vacant lot and building front in town. Just like magic.

Or maybe it's sleight of hand.

After all, ordinances exist against placing signs in the right of way, yet they're nearly impossible to enforce because of the sheer volume of wood and paper and ink plastered just about everywhere you look. And private property owners say they have a right to put up whatever kind of political advertising they damn well please, thank you.

Private property owners doing what they want doesn't bother me. What bothers me is the fact that laws are being broken on behalf of and sometimes by the same people vying to become those who would uphold the law. To me, anyone who places a political sign illegally in the right of way is saying, in effect, "Elect me. I'm for public safety, a clean environment and fiscal responsibility (except when I'm campaigning)."

The idea that everyone should be allowed to express their opinion in public is fine. But as we've seen with recent smoking bans here in Kenai and Soldotna, when the expression of that particular opinion comes into conflict with the general public's right to enjoy things like clean air, clean streets and peace of mind, then we've got a problem.

In my opinion, this proliferation of signs does nothing but pollute the highways, perturb pedestrians and punish those few politicians who refuse to participate in this nasty part of our political process.

OK, maybe I'm being too hard on the sign fairies. After all, they've got their point of view, too. Let's look at that.

The sole purpose of placing these signs is to create name recognition. Except in Florida, a political candidate can only win if the voters know the candidate's name. Therefore, candidates believe that by placing signs where the most people will see them along the highway, usually more people will know their name and will subsequently vote for them.

This is beyond silly. It's very, very sad. Have we really gotten to the point where the candidates believe the electorate is so dumb that they'll elect the first name that sounds familiar? Judging by the street corners in Kenai, I'd say so.

Now, at this point I'm sure you're saying to yourself, "What's the big deal? The signs will be down in a couple weeks anyway."

Well, that's true, but only to a point. Most of the signs will be gone after the election, but some will surely remain until after the snow flies. The fact is, it's a lot easier to tack a sign to a tree in September than to pull one off in November.

And what about all the signs that blow off or wilt in the rain? The flotsam of a thousand fallen fliers is sure to become part of the greater garbage problem we have each spring.

Isn't it time we stood up to the sign fairies? Wouldn't it be nice to go through an election season without having to be visually solicited on every street corner?

Now you're saying, "Of course it would, but there's nothing we can do about it. We're just simple townsfolk, how can we stand up to the forces of the mighty political machine?"

I think maybe the answer is in the signs themselves. Instead of trying to ignore them as they slip into your unconscious, take note of those names you see in red, blue and green. Maybe even make a list. Then, when you get to the polling place, pick the candidates who were the least visually offensive throughout the campaign.

Maybe, just maybe, send the message that these signs are not something we want cluttering our streets, clogging our gutters and clouding our judgment. Maybe the sign fairies will move away and we'll be free to enjoy the spirited debate and free discussion of ideas that should be what election season is all about.

Or is that just a fairy tale?

Matt Tunseth is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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