Rampant vandalism hits political signs

Both parties say crime widespread, intense this year

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter



Political vandalism around the nation

• A giant pile of horse manure was dumped at Ohio’s Warren County Democratic Headquarters sometime during the night on Oct. 8, according to the New York Daily News.

• Vandals threw eggs and spray-painted “LIAR” on a Romney sign and left hand-written signs with curse words calling all Republicans racist at the headquarters of the Clay County Republicans in Florida, says FCN.

• A “Kill Obama” message scrawled in red paint on an Aspen, Colo., man’s home prompted an investigation by the U.S. Secret Service, reported the Los Angeles Times.

• “Obama” was spray-painted over a highway sign in Romney, Texas, according to NBC5.

• In Augusta County, Va., a deer carcass was draped over a sign supporting the Obama campaign, reports WHSV.

• Vandals set fire to a Vietnam veteran’s lawn in Lake County, Fla., which was filled with Romney campaign signs. The words “Obama for life” were painted on his driveway, says The Inquisitr.

Get involved

• Anyone in Vancouver who has information about political sign vandalism is encouraged to call the Vancouver police west precinct at 360-487-7355 during regular business hours.

• In Clark County outside of Vancouver, call the Clark County Sheriff’s Office at 360-397-2211.

Each election season, signs are stolen and defaced on both sides of the political aisle, but candidates say this season's vandalism is particularly severe.

Rep. Tim Probst, a Vancouver Democrat, who's running for the 17th District Senate seat after two terms in the House, has had 17 of his campaign signs slashed and cut down with a box knife. Volunteers had placed many of the signs along highways and other major thoroughfares.

The first time Probst noticed a sign was down, he simply put it back up. He figured the vandal was just someone who didn't like the signs or wanted to wreak a little havoc. However, when 12 signs were cut down the night of Oct. 23 at multiple intersections, Probst suspected it was orchestrated foul play.

"It's unlike anything we've seen before," Probst said. This is his third election campaign.

And Probst is far from the only target this year.

Republican Brandon Vick of Vancouver, is running for state representative in the 18th District and had signs posted along Interstate 5 in the Salmon Creek area.

"We were doing well until two weeks ago, and now we can't keep a sign up," Vick said.

At first, he thought the wind blew down his signs, but then he found his entire series of signs, about 30 total, were ruined. Vick noticed his signs were the only ones slashed or torn down in a cluster of Republican signs.

Vick has been replacing the signs where he can and is focusing his resources on contacting voters. He's been involved in local politics for 10 years and has seen vandalism before. But this election season, he said, people are not letting others speak freely.

"There just seems to be an intensity about it this year," Vick said.

Vandalism has also been targeted at signs for certain ballot measures. On Oct. 17, Reject R-74 signs were stolen in Camas and replaced with a note explaining why the signs were removed, said Sgt. Scot Boyles with the Camas Police Department. Around the Vancouver area, Reject R-74 signs were spray-painted with the words "STOP HATE."

Vancouver Republican Carolyn Crain has dealt with extensive vandalism during her campaign for state representative in the 49th District. She says she has lost about 170 campaign signs and has had her RV egged twice this election season.

"This is probably the ugliest, most violent, most threatening round of elections I've ever seen," Crain said.

During a telephone interview with a Columbian reporter, Crain said a man drove by her home, stopped to flip her off, and hit the gas.

Although this is her first time running for office, Crain has worked on campaigns for Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dino Rossi. She says she is no stranger to hurtful political tactics.

Crain's RV was egged twice in front of her house on Northeast 47th Street -- just before she filed for office and just after the primary. She's since serviced the RV for the damage and moved it away from her home.

"We're not supposed to be threatening people and destroying other people's property," she said. "That's crossing the line. That's no longer freedom of speech."

Signs for her campaign have been snatched from her yard and from different spots around the city. Her supporters have called in, giving her the description of vehicles they catch in the act of stealing a sign, but Crain hasn't had much luck reporting the thefts to police.

"It's a seasonal issue," said Sgt. Fred Neiman with the Clark County Sheriff's Office.

Each election, the sheriff's office deals with complaints about political signs being stolen or defaced, but it's hard to catch people because they often work at night. He advises candidates to post signs in well-traveled, well-lit areas and to call 911 if they see vandalism in progress. Those caught can be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail, $1,000 or both. Each removed or ruined sign is a separate violation.

Candidates spend an estimated $5 for each small yard sign and $100 for a large campaign sign. Crain said when they're repeatedly stolen or vandalized, it starts to eat into campaign funds.

"It's just sad," she said.

When her 4- by 8-foot sign at Northwest Lakeshore Avenue and Northwest 78th Street was slashed with a box knife and thrown on the ground, Crain decided to rebut. She left the sign in its trashed state, but posted small yard signs around the remaining wood framework, along with references to signthug.com.

The website takes aim at political vandalism by offering up to $100 for information about political sign destruction or defacement. Signs advertising signthug.com have been left at political party headquarters in Clark and Cowlitz counties.

However, there are few details about the organization available on the site. Kim Kapp, Vancouver police spokeswoman, said the police should be the first point of contact for reporting property damage, not an anonymous website.

Sign theft in court

At the end of July, the PCO Liberty Alliance got fed up when signs for its local precinct committee officer races were repeatedly stolen. Members set up a game camera pointed directly at a sign for candidate Lynda Wilson posted in the median on Northeast 164th Avenue.

Former congressional candidate David Hedrick checked the trap one morning and caught a man snagging the sign as he rode by on his bike. Hedrick followed the thief in his car and, while recording the incident on video, called out the window, "What's wrong with Lynda Wilson as a PCO? Maybe she's too conservative? Maybe the establishment doesn't like her?"

"Go (expletive) yourself," the cyclist responded. They talk back and forth and the man eventually dumps the sign in nearby bushes.

Although the "bait" sign was placed on city property, Hedrick said the other signs were stolen on private property. When the man on the bike, identified as John L. Ellis-Reisdorf, 66, of Vancouver, was summoned to court, he said he thought the sign was illegally placed near his neighborhood. His case is still pending.

Candidates are advised not to place signs on public property, including medians, as they may be removed. Rules about sign placement vary between the city and the county.

GOP headquarters hit

Sometime before 3 a.m. Sept. 14, the glass front door and two windows at the Clark County Republican headquarters in Hazel Dell were vandalized.

"It was a shocker to walk in and see that glass shattered everywhere," said Clark County GOP Chairwoman Stephanie McClintock.

The organization replaced the glass and installed security cameras that day, costing a couple thousand dollars. McClintock said it was frustrating because the money could have been spent on candidates. No one saw the incident and there was no evidence, so the vandal's identity remains a mystery.

"It could have been someone's political statement or it could have been some idiot chucking rocks at the building," Neiman said.

Tomatoes strike Dems

The Clark County Democratic Party office at 3021 N.E. 72nd Drive was pelted with tomatoes 13 or 14 times from late August to mid-September. Party workers picked up tomatoes and threw them away.

Around the same time, the Vancouver Education Association was also splattered with tomatoes on three separate occasions at its office near the intersection of West Fourth Plain Boulevard and Broadway.

"At first, I honestly didn't know why they were doing it," said VEA President Courtney Eyer.

Police told the association that a man on a bicycle appears to have been throwing tomatoes at buildings where campaign signs for President Barack Obama have been posted, Eyer said. The VEA building had signs supporting Obama and Washington state gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee, also a Democrat.

"I think it's great when people express who they're supporting," Eyer said. "I would love to have someone come up to me and talk to me civilly about who they support."

Tomatoes were also thrown onto the roofs of houses with yard signs supporting Democrats. Anonymous "Welcome Wagon" letters were left in several Vancouver neighborhoods, decrying Obama and U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, as well as inviting others to join in the tomato attacks.

Ron Gaines read one of the letters and felt resolved to pitch a political sign in his yard, he said in a letter to The Columbian. After posting the sign, he had tomatoes thrown at his house in the Carter Park neighborhood.

Kapp said Vancouver police have received seven reports of tomato attacks since Sept. 1. Whoever is responsible for the tomato attacks would be charged with malicious mischief, which carries a $750 fine. The letter would be a separate charge.

Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513; http://twitter.com/col_cops; patty.hastings@columbian.com.