Opinion: Disappearing political placards part of campaign

By , Daily Memphian Updated: September 17, 2020 12:07 PM CT | Published: September 17, 2020 4:00 AM CT
<strong>Candidates for offices in Collierville have competed for space along the west side of Houston Levee north of Wolf River Boulevard. Campaign signs are one way candidates get their names in front of voters, but also a point of contention when those signs somehow disappear.</strong> (Clay Bailey/Daily Memphian

Candidates for offices in Collierville have competed for space along the west side of Houston Levee north of Wolf River Boulevard. Campaign signs are one way candidates get their names in front of voters, but also a point of contention when those signs somehow disappear. (Clay Bailey/Daily Memphian

Clay Bailey
Daily Memphian

Clay Bailey

Clay Bailey, a lifelong Memphian, has worked as a reporter in the city four decades. He concentrated on suburban coverage for the bulk of his career, except for a stint as sports editor of The Daily Memphian when it launched in September 2018. He now is suburban editor and also serves as a freelance sports writer for The Associated Press.

As we draw within six weeks of the Nov. 3 general election, it is time to set some ground rules regarding coverage of certain campaign misdeeds.

While there are highly volatile contested races at the national level and campaigns for Congressional and Senate seats, these guidelines deal more with local races, and in this case, the suburban type.

These matters arise every election cycle – the underhandedness of an opponent and whether it is really a dastardly deed or just an unscrupulous routine campaign tactic. And, with the popularity of early voting these days, the finger-pointing is spread over a longer period of time. That means the accusations last even longer, compared to the olden times of targeting the official Election Day.

A major focus of the local races comes under the category of yard signs. Every candidate has a story about yard signs, whether it be that they are stolen or moved, or that the opponent’s signs are out of place according to the town’s ordinances, too big or outside the city’s boundaries.

Or skirting the Roberts Rules of Campaigning and ignoring city codes when it comes to placing the signs, whether it is a good campaign strategy or the candidate thumbing their nose at the suburb’s regulations.

There are plenty of more important issues that warrant coverage ahead of sign problems. Theft of signs is a part of a campaign, and the cost of running for office. Any candidate who has ever bought yard signs should have a built-in allowance for theft, similar to a write-off for breakage in a restaurant.

So, please don’t call and point out that some of your signs are missing and you suspect your opponent of taking them. The violations hold about as much weight as you calling to say your opponent was going 75 on Interstate 40.

I should note, however, there is one scenario in the sign-theft category that will warrant attention.

In 2016, then-state Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, was caught on camera with an armload of opponent Mark Lovell’s signs. There wasn’t any doubt Todd was the person in the photos taken by a Lovell supporter. Todd even acknowledged it and said he wasn’t trying to hide anything; it was in daylight.

He eventually was charged on a warrant for theft under $500. But the case was dismissed when Lovell was a no-show for court.

While the charge went away, I assure you an incumbent caught uprooting an opponent’s signs before the election will get you publicity.

And in Todd’s case, he lost the election to Lovell.

On the opposite end, Germantown candidate Terri Johnson handled a sign-stealing situation well in a Facebook post this week. The back story seems to be that some of her campaign yard signs were missing, perhaps stolen; perhaps moved, perhaps just disappeared. She addressed the issue, promised to replace the signs and took the high road.

“I’d like to take a moment just to address a bigger issue, and that is respect,” said Johnson, who faces Sherrie Hicks for the Position 3 seat, where alderman Dean Massey decided not to seek re-election. “It is imperative that we respect every candidate in this race regardless of who you support.”

She went on to say that respect goes for all the candidates and, frankly, the residents who show their support – no matter which candidate.

That’s not any kind of endorsement for Johnson’s candidacy. There are many, many bigger issues that will come up in Germantown and other suburbs during this election cycle. Schools, development, budgets in a pandemic, improvement to infrastructure, experience, etc.

But rather than call and ask for a story on the missing signs, Johnson dealt with it diplomatically. Minor issues like that in a campaign are better handled through a candidate’s social media than railing about someone needing to write a story on sign thefts.

Because we are not chasing every campaign cardboard caper.

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Topics

Sherrie Hicks Terri Johnson campaign signs Curry Todd

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