Among the vinyl singles that I kept alphabetized in a cardboard box back during my 1970s childhood, the Five Man Electrical Band’s “Signs” occupied a spot in my most-played stack of records.
You know the tune: “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind …” This is the song that pops into my head come election season. The political candidates are vying for your vote and want as much visibility as possible. Naturally, those political signs that show up on people’s lawns are a popular option.
(As I’m sure many of you know, “Signs” really isn’t about actual signs … its lyrics were written during the Hippie generation that were basically an anti-establishment commentary on rules, appearances and so on).
Driving around Philomath, I’ve seen a fair number of political signs — more for certain candidates than others. Most are in front yards but some are in more creative locations.
One road that you can’t put a political sign on would be Highway 20/34 — at least in the right-of-way. The Oregon Department of Transportation will remove any signs in those locations. If you want more info, ODOT put out this press release. Benton County has similar restrictions.
But do political yard signs work? I tried to read up on the topic and there seem to be strong arguments both ways. But in short, I’ll agree that the signs are basically intended to create emotional engagement between the candidate and voter. Plus, many of those running for office like seeing their names in people’s yards — it’s an illustration of those residents sharing with the rest of the town that they’re invested in this candidate (or in many cases, this group of candidates).
For the first time this election season, the Philomath News will have digital versions of political signs through website advertising. Before accepting advertising, I had to do a lot of research and also reached out to my digital news colleagues on how to set up the rules. Political ads are not like other ads, so I had to come up with a set of guidelines (you can read them here) and requirements. One of the primary things to point out is that no matter which candidate is advertising on the Philomath News website, it does not mean that I’m endorsing that person for office. It’s merely a business transaction.
Now, I do have my own personal opinions on who I’d like to see on the City Council or in the mayor’s seat, for example, and I’ve already made up my mind on the measures that will appear on the ballot. But those choices are my own — if readers believe they know which candidates or issues I personally favor, then I haven’t done my job very well. Anything I write about these folks or measures will not include my own perspectives (yes, it’s true, I’m not a very big fan of national news networks, where editorializing seems to be the norm these days).
In the coming days, I’ll be reaching out to candidates to ask if they’ll participate in a Q-and-A with the Philomath News. I’ll come up with a certain number of questions, explain the rules and set a deadline for them to get their responses back to me. I wasn’t able to do this for the 2020 general election, by the way, because the Philomath Express shut down that year in September and I didn’t launch the Philomath News until late November. I’ve never had a candidate turn down the opportunity to get their voice out there but we’ll see what happens.
I’ll also ask each candidate to submit a photo of themselves that they approve of to appear with their answers. Years ago when I worked in another state, I took a photo of a sheriff’s office candidate and published it with a Q-and-A and received numerous emails from people who believed it was an awful picture and accused me of making the guy look bad on purpose. So, I generally no longer take Q-and-A photos of candidates (unless they really want me to and give me their approval on the spot after looking at the image on my digital camera).
As for the signs, we’ll see if any more go up around town before the ballots are mailed out beginning Oct. 19. I’ll also be interested to see if political signs show up in the police log over the next few weeks. Stealing or damaging them is actually somewhat common in most communities during election season (although those incidents seem to most often involve the signs of presidential or gubernatorial candidates).
(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at News@PhilomathNews.com).