Sunday, October 07, 2012

Every Day Is Yard Sign Day

It's 30 days to election day, and that used to be a major milestone on the local political calendar. 30 days out was Yard Sign Day, because an Iowa City ordinance banned posting them any earlier.

Other cities had even stricter ordinances; when I worked the 1992 campaign cycle in Linn County, the Cedar Rapids ordinance was 21 days. As a practical matter, that meant 17 days, because it was hard to get the yard sign crew together in the middle of the week.

All those ordinances have been tossed out, as unconstitutional restrictions on free speech. The only remaining restrictions are on placement in the right of way or, in most cases, on corporate property. Ballot issue signs are OK on corporate sites but candidate signs are not.

Other cities restricted the number of signs you could have, which would have made this West Liberty resident unhappy. (I was out today doing some rare honest political work, doorknocking with House 88 candidate Sara Sedlacek.) And yes, Muscatine County supervisor candidate Stu Willits really does look like that.

Willits and his distinctive facial hair are a rare exception to the rule that your sign should emphasize name above all. Party would be next, depending on your turf. I'll admit, I left "Democrat" off mine when I ran in a red district -- but it's gotten a lot bluer, and Sedlacek's got a real chance to win it.

The color coordination above appears to be coincidental. My signs were blue, too, and my opponent's were red -- but that was 1996. The modern color scheme of blue for Democrats, red for Republicans was locked in on Election Night 2000, and in the rest of the world red is universally associated with left parties and blue with conservatives.

Other things yard signs didn't have in 1996: URLs. I did have a campaign web site, though in the days of dial-up I doubt anyone in my district saw it, and I think the address had a ~ in it.

More unsolicited yard sign advice: Election date is only recommended for an off-cycle special; people KNOW when a presidential is. As for district number, some of my local legislators are now on their third district map and district number with the same yard signs, with old district numbers covered up in layered stickers like a license plate.

As you see, the new Obama signs are in, but my yard still has an old one. You need to be right on top of the 2012 edition to read the way too small OBAMA and BIDEN. The Obama signs showed up a bit late, and one person on a corner lot on Iowa City's Highland Avenue had made their own. I anonymously dropped off an official one yesterday. When I drove by today, the person left up the home made sign, but put up the official one facing the other way.

Steve King's campaign twitter is constantly bragging about seemingly every barn sign in western Iowa. But for what it's worth, the best yard sign blitz plan I ever saw was written by Christie Vilsack, for Tom's first state senate race.

It's a good thing that the date restrictions on signs is no more. But on Sign Day, part of me misses the sudden explosion of fall colors. Now it's more gradual, and less noticeable.

Sign Day also makes me miss a couple local Democrats who were commanders of the yard sign crew who aren't with us anymore: labor leader Jean Martin, and Bob Dvorsky's proud father Ernie. I'm still working off of some of Ernie's lists, and I remember seeing him, in his 80s, pounding stakes into the frozen ground for Bob's February 1994 hurry-up mid-session special election, when he moved from the House to the Senate.

Yard signs don't vote, goes the saying, but people with yard signs vote. My take on signs is: it helps if the public knows who lives behind the sign. A random site helps less than the home of a well known community member. And I'm really surprised how many people know where I live -- though I'm not sure if I'm helping my candidates or not.


John said...


Anonymous said...

How do you pronounce Sedlacek? Every time I read her name in print, I wonder how it's pronounced.