• Linn County Journal Editorial Board

Editorial: Protect free speech – leave the political signs alone

Updated: Aug 24

It’s easy to tell that we are in the final countdown for the primary election on Aug. 2.

All of our favorite big-pharma ads on network television have been replaced by 15-second spots that run the political gamut from those who claim to be the most conservative to those who will fight for women’s rights.

For television viewers in and around the Kansas City metropolitan area, that means we get a double dose of commercials from both Kansas and Missouri sides of the state line. Because of that it’s even more important for candidates to go to extremes to get voters to recognize their name.

Some of the ads can be informative or gently poke fun at the candidates, like a commercial that seems to point out how nerdy a state treasurer candidate really is (the message there, I suppose, is professional bean-counters are the best choice to guard taxpayers’ money).

Some of them just leave you scratching your head, trying to figure out what the candidate was getting at. Like the commercial with a smartly dressed middle-aged candidate for the U.S. Senate swinging a chain saw around.

And while political signs have popped up around Linn County, our crop of signs have nothing on the number of signs that have appeared on the medians and rights-of-way in Johnson County.

Not too many years ago, a politician for the state treasurer’s office chose to run his campaign with emails, tweets and texts, eschewing the more traditional signs for the online notifications.

That might work in Silicon Valley where the people are computer savvy and spend more time looking down toward the palm of their hand than they do looking at the sky and trees.

But for many people who live in rural areas, those signs are important. If you are thinking about voting for someone or some issue and you see a candidate’s sign in your neighbor’s yard, it might affect your vote – depending, of course, what your relationship is with that neighbor.

For those who are passionate about their candidate or their issue (for example, the abortion amendment this year), those signs give freedom of speech, albeit the speech itself is read, not spoken.

Already this election season there have been reports of signs being stolen or vandalized – mostly signs that support the abortion amendment or those that ask voters not to approve it.

It is a hot-button issue that has been brewing for decades – ever since the U.S, Supreme Court’s decision in the Rowe v. Wade case made abortions legal. People get so passionate that they feel they are justified in destroying or writing graffiti on the other group’s sign.

The anti-abortion proponents hoped that by scheduling a vote on the issue during a primary election - which historically sees a higher number of Republicans turn out to vote – have found themselves battling an energized and well-funded opposition. At this point, the vote could go either way.

But as the campaigns for and against reach a fevered pitch, we need to remember that, above all, the right to speak freely in this country and in this state needs to be respected, revered and protected. That includes the signs in your and your neighbor’s yards.

Stealing or vandalizing political signs does nothing to advance a cause or a candidate. It in fact tends to do just the opposite.

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