Jeff Jardine

Campaign signs near Modesto annoying as ever in number, placement

A campaign sign for 12th Assembly District candidate Heath Flora blocks congressional candidate Robert Hodges’ sign along Highway 120/108 in Oakdale.
A campaign sign for 12th Assembly District candidate Heath Flora blocks congressional candidate Robert Hodges’ sign along Highway 120/108 in Oakdale.

Folks get turned off by many aspects of elections at many levels, not the least of which can be some of the candidates themselves.

For today, though, we’ll stick with those annoying clusters of campaign signs. Through the June 7 election, they will continue to coagulate on prominent corners, along fences, stuck into lawns and just about everywhere you look, covering every race for every office.

The purpose is to saturate your mind with a candidate’s name so you’ll remember or at least recognize it when you fill out your ballot. And like the first rule of business – politics is definitely big business or there wouldn’t be so many big-money interests investing in candidates – sign placement comes down to location, location, location. Which explains why folks who place the signs jockey for position and in some cases, move or even destroy opponents’ signs.

Certainly the most egregious case of this in the Valley happened several election cycles ago in Stockton, where incumbent Supervisor Ed Simas destroyed campaign signs of his challenger, Victor Mow. Simas replaced Mow’s signs with his own, which read “Ed Simas Supervisor Integrity.” Eight minutes of videotape showed the dirty deed, for which Simas later apologized. Mow might have been forgiving. The voters were not. Simas lost.

In Stanislaus County, former state senator and current county Supervisor Dick Monteith can go on for hours about the sign sabotage he’s witnessed and experienced.

“People have no idea,” he said. “There used to be a company that would go around late at night with a hydraulic lift and put the campaign signs up high on light poles or whatever – so high that even the property owner wouldn’t be able to get them down.”

Some candidates post signs on private property without asking the owner for permission. Others, Monteith said, post on apartment complex walls and when questioned, they claim they talked to the property owner and were given the OK.

And who might that property owner be? Uh, no response.

At a forum in Turlock one year, a woman asked Monteith his view on same-sex marriage.

“I told her my wife and I believe marriage should be between a male and a female,” he said. “After that, all of my signs along Tully Road were knocked down. A Harley-Davidson (motorcycle) group that supported me went back and put them all up.”

Another time, he witnessed a young man tearing down one of his own strategically placed signs posted in front of a downtown Modesto business and replacing with a sign promoting his opponent. When Monteith confronted the perp, the young man unleashed a stream of profanity at him.

“I told him he was a punk and to stop it,” Monteith said. “Then I put mine back up.”

In the ongoing congressional race, voters get to choose between farmers. Campaign signs for incumbent Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, tout him as a “Local Farmer.” Same-party challenger Robert Hodges’ signs tell voters he is an “American Farmer.” And Democratic challenger Michael Eggman’s signs have suggested he is a “Real Local Farmer.”

But if you’re driving west into Oakdale, you won’t see Hodges’ “American Farmer” sign, which is attached to a fence across Highway 120/108 from the rodeo grounds. It is mostly obscured by a same-sized sign stumping volunteer firefighter Heath Flora for the state’s 12th Assembly District seat being vacated by terming-out Kristin Olsen. The photo in Flora’s sign shows him standing in front of a building totally engulfed in flames. He isn’t looking at it. Maybe it’s supposed to be a metaphor for putting out political fires in Sacramento.

The good news is that the signs are supposed to vanish within 10 days of the June 7 election, though some will linger. Last month, I wrote about a former Modesto mayor (not named Whiteside, Ridenour or Marsh) who called me – twice – to complain about the “Love Modesto” signs all over town promoting the city’s big annual day of cleanup, beautification and public service. Carmen Sabatino seemed to think they were blight or something, and wanted them taken down before the event or the 10-day follow-up period. He’d even called the city attorney to voice his concerns.

After the column appeared, I received a couple of photos of long-leftover campaign signs, including one in a Modesto yard and another attached to a billboard just outside the city limit along Crows Landing Road. They read: “Sabatino/Our Mayor Again/Restore Respect for Taxpayers.”

He lost his bid for mayor Nov. 3. Sabatino’s signs – supposedly out of sight and out of mind by Nov. 13, 2015 – remained in place as of April 13, 2016. Love Modesto crews must have missed them. I do give Sabatino points for buying quality. They survived the El Niño winter. Someone since then took down the one on a billboard in south Modesto. The other, near Sonoma Elementary School, still stands 194 days later. But who’s counting?

Maybe somebody should call the city attorney to complain. After all, there are plenty of other campaign signs out there for candidates engaged in active campaigns.

Plenty, as in on just about every prominent corner in the county, and some behind others.