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As Long as We Remember...

April 24, 2014

Signs Growing Like Weeds

Chris Cavey

We are entering the portion of the political season where political signage will start popping up like unwanted mushrooms in your lawn. Similar to a blight except in the form of a plethora of colors, which scream the names of political candidates and their attempted offices. If history repeats itself, full blown sign wars will shortly follow.


My first encounter with sign wars was in 1994. Back in the day, signs could only go up 45 days in advance of Election Day. Armed with my list and just over 100 signs, I drove to Reisterstown to conquer. As I crested the hill, I was in shock at what I witnessed. Hundreds of signs each within my vision when stopped at a traffic light – and it was only 8:30 A.M.! What!


My first stop was just a quarter mile away, an older couple who was friends of my Mom and had known me since birth. Mrs. Gill was excited when I called her to ask to place a sign in her lawn just days before. When I drove up, I saw two competitor signs in her yard! I was flabbergasted. How could this be?


After knocking on the door, I asked if it was still okay to put up my sign. Mrs. Gill said "Sure we're voting for you!"


But, why are my competitor signs in your lawn?  She laughed. "I have no idea who those people are. For at least 30 years, the Democrats just come by and put up signs. I guess it is because that's how we are registered." So, I put mine up and asked Mr. Gill to remove those of my competitors.


In 1994 I would place just over 300 signs in 10 precincts in Election District Four. I would lose in the General Election, but I gained knowledge for the following election cycle. When the first day of allowable signs came in 1998, I gathered up my four-year-old list and placed 300 signs in the same locations as they were in back in 1994! Never called, never asked permission, just took the chance.


Fantastic, 300 signs in the ground day one! Boom! I got only three calls. Two wanted me to remove them and one had recently purchased the home and just wanted to talk – he kept my sign up and then convinced a neighbor to request a sign too. I felt like a Democrat! I played by their rules and tied the game on the first day. I later went on to place another 300 signs in my district – but lost the election again. Maybe demographics had a lot to do with the outcome; however, I proudly littered my district with yellow and black CAVEY signs.


Fast-forward to 2010 and my role as Bob Ehrlich's field director, it was that year I had the opportunity to do some serious environmental damage with political signage. This time the entire state was fair game. Tens of thousands of blue and white plastic bag signs were distributed statewide along with the oily metal wires that held them up. What an operation!


Signs were delivered via a donated moving van to depots eastbound on Route 50 the entire way to Ocean City. County activists drove miles to the main depot in Glen Burnie to grab boxes of signs begging for extra allotments as if they were a form of currency. Everyone wanted a sign for my friend who already had 100 percent name recognition – it was crazy. The lawns in Maryland were Ehrlich blue.


Nevertheless, little bag signs just didn't satisfy some people. The real die-hards needed their fix in the form of four-foot-by-four-foot commercial signage. (Like me) Yep, 2x4 lumber, two foot deep holes, screwed down tight with drywall screws and angle braces that are staked to the ground. Man-sized signage built to withstand months of roadside wear. We placed thousands of these monsters…everywhere. Over 200 within Baltimore City alone!


Crews of men in pick-up trucks were hauling trailers of pre-built trusses or piles of stick lumber as they rode through Maryland spreading sheets of colored coroplast into every jurisdiction. Lumberyards donated pallets of lumber; individuals donated gas money and gift cards to feed the crews. We had a professional operation – but we lost.


After the 2010 Election I joined a Facebook Group called "Signs don't vote."


Through personal experience I have come to know that for a small time race by an unknown candidate signs are important. They raise name ID but, they are no polling indicator of an election outcome. For a statewide candidate with 100 percent name ID, signs are just you thumbing your nose at your neighbor and little more.


Sure, by Election Day, my lawn likely will be covered with political signage, but that will only be out of habit and nothing more because I know – signs don't vote…and I can prove it!


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