Signgate: Gov. Walker takes down campaign signs - Must Read Alaska
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Signgate: Gov. Walker takes down campaign signs

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DOT TO ADVANCE ON SIGN WAR, WITH CROWBARS?

What do you do when you’re the sitting governor and you’re losing the “sign war” for your reelection? You have your Department of Transportation enforce the “no signs visible from roadway” law.

In advance of a crackdown from the Alaska Department of Transportation, Gov. Bill Walker’s campaign has started removing its own Walker/Mallott signs from roadways.

Photographed above, Walker’s sign had been stripped from its wooden frame, which was a still standing at the corner of Jewell Lake Road and Raspberry Road in Anchorage on Wednesday. Empty Walker frames are also found elsewhere in Anchorage, notably at the A and C Street triangle near 39th.

The State has hired three part-time workers to remove signs that are in the State’s rights-of-way.

A notice went out to candidates on July 9 that the enforcement of the sign law would start.

Four days earlier on July 5, Gov. Walker purchased $19,000 worth of bus wrap signs in Anchorage, according to his financial reports with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

The same site at Jewell Lake and Raspberry Road, in a photograph from two weeks ago.

“Does DOT feel they have the roads in such good repair that they can use their limited resources for harassment of candidates?” asked one political campaign worker, who asked to remain anonymous.

At this point in the campaigns, there are literally thousands of candidate signs up across the state. Three part-time workers will have their work cut out for them, as they pry and haul the signs back to a DOT storage yard and then fine the candidates $50 per confiscated sign.

How DOT temporary employees will make the decisions on which signs to target during the last three weeks of the Primary election is delicate. Taking down the wrong sign may attract a First Amendment lawsuit from a candidate, especially if an opposing candidate’s sign is left standing in an equivalent place.

The entire endeavor is lawsuit bait. Documentation of sign removal will need to be impeccable in advance of legal action that could plausibly allege the Walker Administration is willfully trying to swing the election.

All signs in the state right-of-way are illegal, but the law that governs this is not enforced historically for campaigns, or even for garage sale or real estate signs. Signs are often found within sight of state roads — even if they are on private property.

The law is problematic, but resulted from a voter initiative in 1998 to ban billboards.

A State DOT representative said anything that blocks the line of sight and creates a safety hazard will be targeted first. That might be a judgment call, but Walker’s sign on Raspberry and Jewell would not have been in that category. It was among several at that intersection, with others possibly creating a sight-line hazard.

In the past, the law is something the State has ignored because the First Amendment is unambiguous in its protection of political speech. All it usually does is send out a notice to candidates about the law, which can be seen here.

Tuckerman Babcock, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, recalled how in 1994, the state Department of Transportation picked up all of Sen. Lyda Green’s signs in Wasilla, while leaving Jay Kerttula’s sign untouched.

“They wanted me to pay to pick up my signs, and I said, ‘You give me all the signs, and I’m not going to pay for them, and I’m not going to complain to the media that you are a political arm of the Democratic Party.’ They gave me the signs back,” he said.

“I think they have to be mindful of public safety, but they don’t want to be caught taking sides,” Babcock said.

WHO BENEFITS?
With fewer of his own signs in Anchorage, the governor’s focus on Alaska’s largest city for sign removal may look like a political ploy. His signs are in much greater numbers in Juneau and Valdez. But throughout the Railbelt, Mike Dunleavy has the most signs, therefore the most to lose.
The sign enforcement doesn’t impact candidate Mead Treadwell nearly as much, since he has comparatively few signs out. He just joined the race on June 2. The same goes for Mark Begich, because he joined late and has few signs out.
But Walker signs, unlike Begich signs, have been out for months prior to the DOT’s sudden, recent interest in sign law enforcement. Preventing his Democratic rival from closing that gap can be seen as preserving the governor’s political advantage.
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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Kind of funny how this post is sponsored by ads for elections……

  • It would seem as if Governor Walker is violating state law as well if he is wrapping Anchorage Muni buses with his political signage. Read literally, the statute prohibits signage on parked vehicles. And the Anchorage Muni buses are also government property “paid for by” muni taxpayers. So, Governor Walker is using government property to advertise his campaign! This would be similar to putting political campaign bumper stickers on other Anchorage Muni vehicles. If not illegal, then definitely unethical.

  • If the law supposes that, the law is an ass…

  • Insider trading basically.
    Buy up alternative ad space and then unleash the hounds on the competition.
    Who thinks like that?
    Great coverage Suzanne!
    Appreciate the time that went into researching and enlightening us on the latest shenanigan.
    Well written.
    Thanks.

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