One of our local political candidates started putting up signs back in December, for a party primary that wouldn’t happen until June. Dozens of signs.
Late in February my mother complained about them, saying she wanted to get rid of a Jim Gunter sign that had appeared at her street corner. Who’s Jim Gunter anyway?
So I went and took it down. Soon I began removing other signs as I encountered them.
I’ve now removed at least 40 of the things. All were on the public right-of-way within a mile or two of my house.
I didn’t go out of my way to do this. I didn’t have to. The candidate (or a zealous supporter) kept putting up new signs at street corners, in vacant lots, along the U.S. highway. I pulled them up during my morning walk, or while running an errand in the car, if traffic was light.
I didn’t remove them the day they appeared. They had to stay up long enough to get on my nerves. Sometimes someone else took them down first.
I don’t have a problem with the candidate. Jim Gunter is a former commissioner who wants his old job back. Considering the ignominy with which nearly all of our recent commissioners have covered themselves, it seems remarkable that anyone wants to run for that office.1 So if Gunter wants to run, I say more power to him.
Besides, I’m usually glad to see campaign signs, and I’ve posted a number of them myself over the years. I’ve never cared for the witticism that calls them “litter on a stick.”
So why do Jim Gunter signs get me riled up? It’s the sheer number of them, along with the absence of any other discernible campaigning effort. The signs come across as an effort to manipulate voters with a crude name-recognition campaign. The idea behind them seems to be that voters will respond like brainless organisms to any repeated stimulus.
I have seen only two Jim Gunter yard signs, indicating support by real voters. But hundreds of signs have sprung up like weeds in untended lots. Quite a number are standing in front of abandoned businesses, which seems like an unwise tactic. (Gunter, the candidate of business failure?) When I drove south to Montgomery in February, I even saw a cluster of Gunter signs beside the Interstate in another county.2
His sign tactics seem almost demented. One other candidate has placed signs on the right-of-way in our area, maybe four or five in a month. I notice they never stay up for more than a day or two. But it was Gunter who was quoted in the paper complaining that an opponent was removing his signs.
Perhaps it’s no wonder that the candidate seems to have no time or money for, say, canvassing or phone-banking. He’s spending everything he’s got on signs. The expense of printing the signs, which come in at least four distinct styles, must have been considerable. Some of them are nailed to one or two wooden stakes, and time and labor were spent to make them durable. And we’re just one neighborhood in a large district.
I’ve speculated that maybe Gunter wants political office, but he despises campaigning and hates meeting and talking with people. I emailed him through his website about his signs. I told him I was taking them down, and suggested he might have a more successful campaign if he eased up on them. I never received a reply, not even a go-to-hell.
I heard that Gunter did show up at a monthly neighborhood meeting, along with other commission candidates. I’m sorry to have missed the meeting, but a neighbor who was there said she was unimpressed with Gunter. She found him unaccountably angry and resentful.
But then, she was biased against him before the meeting began. She said she found all those signs annoying.
So that’s my political life at the moment. While the county goes to wrack and ruin (see note below), I’m on a crusade against political signs. When I object to the manipulation of voters, I guess it gives me the fleeting sense that I’m a citizen in a democracy.
Update: As of May 7 I have collected 52 Gunter signs, and 13 from all other political candidates. The second worst offender is Circuit Court Judge Nicole “Nikki” Still, with 7 signs.
1 The Jefferson County Commission has presided over so many crimes and failures in the last two decades that books could be written. The main task of the next commission will be to keep local government running while avoiding what would be the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Talk about a thankless task.
You see, the county sewer system was out of compliance with environmental laws. So past commissioners floated municipal bonds to pay unsupervised contractors who only did half the work they were supposed to. They also tried to dig a giant sewer tunnel under the Cahaba River, a fat-headed scheme that was a costly failure. JPMorgan was involved in the bond issues; they and other Wall Street firms played our commissioners for rubes, getting them heavily involved in a derivatives market. Middlemen bribed commissioners and collected a few million in excess bond fees. When the financial system imploded, the county couldn’t find bond buyers and was on the hook for tens of millions of dollars in extra financing costs. The $250 million sewer repairs had ballooned to more than $5 billion in debt. They had no way to pay it.
Several former commissioners, public-works officials, and others are now in prison. The current commission is in partisan gridlock, incapable of substantive talks with each other, much less with the state legislative delegation that holds so much power over local affairs (thanks to our 1901 Alabama constitution, designed by ex-Confederates to ensure tame, ineffective government). Only one of the five incumbents is seeking re-election. I forgot to mention that the county occupational tax was ruled unconstitutional, forcing the county to give up operating revenue. They closed courthouses and laid off staff, leading to horrendous lines at the tag office.
I said books could be written. I suspect that local journalist Kyle Whitmire may be writing one since he left his job at the Birmingham Weekly. Meanwhile there’s this and this. (You can’t read Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone article about all this unless you buy the magazine.) ↩
2 In fact, those Interstate signs convinced me for a while that Gunter must be running for a state office, probably commissioner of agriculture. News coverage of the commission race finally straightened me out about that. ↩