by Benjamin J. Kirby
Do you know what the Field Director of a campaign does?
Lots of different things. He works with the Campaign Manager to plot the course for victory, from macro to micro (like what precincts to target). He helps with the mail program. He works to get folks to campaign events, and often serves as the event advance man and lead.
One of the less glorious aspects of being in the field is being in charge of distributing campaign signs. (Ha! Okay, that was a lie: none of it is glorious. Unless you win.)
Anyway, I have been in and out of political campaigns for a long time, and I've yet to meet a professional in the business who likes campaign signs. In fact, most folks I've met hate them with the fire of a thousand angry suns.
They are almost always ugly. They are often a nuisance and safety hazard on the roadways (blocking views, distracting an already distracted population of drivers). Mostly, though, we political types ask this question of yard signs: how many votes has a yard sign ever gotten?
The answer, universally, is a big, fat, zero. (Think about it: you ever drive down the road on the way to go vote, see a yard sign and think, "Now there's someone I should vote for!)
So I don't like yard signs. That being said, I grudgingly admit they serve some purpose in promoting the campaign, strange though it may be. They are a sign of force and organization, and though most folks probably don't understand -- or care to understand -- that on a conscious level, it's true. When you see a bunch of signs around your neighborhood and at the big intersections in your town and stickers and folks wearing shirts and gear, you think, Wow, that candidate is everywhere, whether you agree with the politics of the candidate -- or issue -- or not.
And though you'd be forgiven for thinking -- as many of us do -- that there are too often far too many signs, you don't think about limiting them in any capacity. After all, it's a matter of free speech, right?
Gulfport City Council members received the answer they'd been waiting for. According to City Attorney Andrew Salzman it is constitutional for the City of Gulfport to limit the amount of political signs on a resident's property. It's how the limitations are applied that allows everyone to exercise their freedom of speech.
"Limiting it to one, at least giving that freedom of expression is constitutional," Salzman said.
Leaders are moving forward with proposed changes that would allow all opinions of a ballot issue, candidate and candidate issue to be expressed.
"You can limit the amount of signs as long as everybody has the opportunity to at least express one candidate or one sign per issue," he added.
One, this can't possibly be right. I'm not an attorney, but last time I checked the First Amendment of the Constitution (which was just now), it said that Congress shall make no law "... abridging the freedom of speech..." To "abridge" means to shorten, curtail, or reduce in scope.
In other words, I can't be limited in what I say, or how much I say it. Which makes the next part of the discussion even more unbelievable:
The changes were discussed at Thursday's City Council Workshop following an on going discussion about the legality of limiting signs. Other proposed changes include a sign limit of six square feet per sign.
You might say that other changes included abridging signs to six square feet. Hmm...
Look, I get it -- I really do. There are nuts out there who will construct a gigantic billboard in their own front yard, and it'll spark World War III right in peaceful ol' Gulfport. I recognize the necessity of zoning laws and our collective need to set parameters.
But this worries me a little bit. The proposed change reads:
No more than one (1) political sign per ballot issue position, candidate or candidate position shall be allowed on any property.
And yes, I understand from City Attorney Salzman that the ordinance has never been enforced.
Still. Because this is largely political in nature, don't you think it's just inviting trouble?
For example, I'd put an Obama yard sign in my yard. I did in '08. I'll do it again this year, sure.
Just one. All is well, right? Sure.
Except both Duncan and I have Obama/Biden stickers on our cars. Our cars usually face the house, so you can see the stickers from the street. Would that count as a "sign"? It's communicating the same message when our cars are parked there. What if we have a friend over and they have an Obama bumper sticker? What if we put a sticker in our front window for Obama/Biden? Is that a sign, too?
These are tough questions that I feel fairly comfortable the good folks on our Gulfport City Council can figure out. But I do know that somewhere out there a campaign field operative is reading this and weeping softly to himself, counting out yard signs, whispering to the recipient, Don't forget -- only one can go in your yard...