Political signs draw vandals’ attention

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Shirley Spencer Smith sat in a rocking chair on the porch of herCrossroads Quick Mart on Highway 550 in Loyd Star and looked towardthe almost-bare wood sign frame that still stands by the road.

“The audacity of some people, just to tear other people’s thingsdown,” she said. “It reflects badly on everyone in this county. Ijust don’t like it that someone has done this.”

She was speaking of the large double-sided campaign sign she hadallowed campaigners for Sheriff Steve Rushing to put out by theroad on her property, just between where her home and her store arelocated.

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Smith said she always allows candidates to put up signs sinceshe has a visible chunk of property.

“It doesn’t matter who I’m going to vote for one way or theother,” she said. “Whoever this was didn’t have the right to dowhat they did. This is my land they went on to do this, too.”

Early in the morning on Friday, Smith awoke to loud noiseoutside her house and went to the window to see an old white truckwith a toolbox and some equipment in the back pulling away.

Store employee Linda Fairchild saw two men destroying the signfrom the window of the store when she heard the same racket.

“They took a claw hammer and were yanking the pieces out,” shesaid. “I knew they weren’t going to keep it because they weretearing it up. I noticed they didn’t take anyone else’s sign.”

Both Fairchild and Smith were offended at what seemed to be suchmalice to single out and tear down the sign.

“It’s a shame to think this is some mother’s child that didthis,” she said. “It would hurt me if my son did something likethis.”

Rushing said he was understandably irked by the sign’s violentdemise.

“Obviously, I’m upset about it,” he said. “But unfortunatelythis kind of thing happens every election.”

The incidents of sign vandalism have not been isolated to theone outside Crossroads Quick Mart. Many candidates have reportedsigns stolen all over the county, and Circuit Clerk Terry LynnWatkins had a large sign defaced with spray paint off Hog ChainRoad.

“It’s disheartening because those signs are so expensive,” shesaid. “Those big signs are around $200 each. Not only are youlooking at a lot of money, but time and effort putting them up,too.”

Lynn Boyte, another candidate for sheriff, said some of themischief is caused by youngsters who are pulling understandablepranks.

“We got a call the other day to come to Brookhaven High School,”he said. “Some kids had stolen some signs, and they had paintedClass of 2007 on them. But those kinds of things are to beexpected.”

Many candidates and local politicians feel it’s adding injury toinsult when their signs are defaced or taken, as they are puttingout personal funds in order to keep the jobs that feed theirfamilies.

“When people see those signs on the side of the road, they don’tunderstand how much they cost us,” said Gene “Bub” Simmons, who isalso running for sheriff. “It’s part of your freedom of speech. Youneed to get recognition, and that’s why you have to buy them.”

City Clerk Mike Jinks said during his campaign, elections signswere one of the more expensive parts of the campaign effort.

“It’s expensive,” he said. “And I only had the city to dealwith. I can’t imagine the cost to these people who are having toput signs up throughout the whole county.”

Democratic candidate for sheriff Robert Berry said he hasn’t hadany signs reported missing at this time, but that he does feelstrongly about the issue.

“It’s very important that the people that are doing this shouldhave the courtesy not to,” he said. “These signs are veryexpensive. It’s costing these candidates a lot of money.”

What many sign vandals and thieves may not recognize is thecriminal ramifications of their actions.

“If they’re torn up, bent or broken, it could be consideredmalicious mischief,” Brookhaven Police Chief Pap Henderson said.”But we would let the judge decide on that.”

Rushing said his advice to other candidates who might havevandalism to their signs, or theft, which can be charged as petitlarceny, would be to enforce the law if they can find out who theperpetrators are.

“From a personal standpoint as a candidate, I would pursuecharges if necessary,” he said.

Terry Harper, a Republican candidate for sheriff, said he feelsthere may not be an answer to the quandary.

“You’re going to have people that are going to support otherpeople, and if they don’t like that person, they’re going to pullthe signs up or spray paint them or whatever,” he said. “People arelike that because they would rather have more of theirs out therethan somebody else’s.”

Watkins said it was just hard for her to understand why peoplewould go out of their way to vandalize or steal something as simpleas a campaign sign.

“I would never do that to anyone else,” she said. “Everyone elseis out there working as hard as I am.”