Walker Administration's political crackdown on signs continues - Must Read Alaska
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Walker Administration’s political crackdown on signs continues

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BUT IS ENFORCEMENT ARBITRARY AND CAPRICIOUS?

By its own admission, the Alaska Department of Transportation says the department’s crackdown on political signage has not hit the Walker-Mallott signs.

Gov. Walker knew about the crackdown and likely authorized it verbally, and he removed many of his own signs just before the State DOT got busy on sign removal last month.

Now, we are told by the Anchorage Daily News, the governor and lieutenant governor have had none of their remaining signs flagged and none has been confiscated by DOT.

The campaign sign Walker posted at the entrance of Matanuska Lake State Recreation Area has finally been removed, after weeks of criticism from Must Read Alaska over the governor’s misuse of state resources. It is unclear if he or his brother removed it or if the State Department of Natural Resources finally decided the boss had abused the privilege long enough.

Gov. Walker’s illegal sign using state property at the entrance to the Matanuska Lake State Recreation Area.

In the sign graveyard at DOT’s property behind State Troopers’ maintenance yard on Tudor Road in Anchorage, the area is littered with campaign signs of Republicans and Democrat candidates. Each of those signs costs as much as $350, plus volunteer or paid labor.

But no Gov. Bill Walker signs are to be seen there.

Walker was losing the sign war, and candidate Mike Dunleavy was winning it. When Mark Begich jumped into the race as a Democrat and started putting up signs, that’s when the crackdown came.

The Anchorage Daily News editorial board doesn’t see the problem. It thinks the signs have been handled fairly by the Department of Transportation. The editorial that appeared over the weekend says no candidate has been disadvantaged by the enforcement.

Not so.

The Dunleavy for Alaska group, according to APOC reports, has spent as much as $50,000 on signs, and it’s been a great success for that group, pushing Mike Dunleavy’s name recognition to what is now a respectable level.

And Mead Treadwell and Mark Begich, both who jumped into the race on the last day possible, wanted to get their sign game going to compete with Dunleavy and Walker.

Walker, through his surrogates at the Department of Transportation, has just cost his opponents a combined cash outlay of more than $100,000, by selectively enforcing the “no political sign” rule after their signs were already in place, an action he may have to defend on constitutional grounds.

Some campaigns moved their signs when asked to by the State. In reality, all they really needed to do was move them a few feet and tear off the survey tape. But being a scofflaw is something that is not easy to defend as a candidate, even one whose education informs him or her that this is a First Amendment issue.

More than 25 political campaign signs were torn down by DOT in recent days; the agency said it was because they were causing safety hazards.

Saturday in Soldotna: A Walker sign impeding visibility but not flagged by DOT.

But a review of many of the “disappeared” signs shows that’s not the case. Walker signs remain, such as at the Soldotna intersection in the photo above, while small, unobtrusive signs far off the road have been flagged for removal, such as the one shown here in Wasilla.

Sen. Mike Shower shows a campaign sign of his in Wasilla that has been tagged for removal by the Department of Transportation.

DOT spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy told the ADN that the sweep was not motivated by politics. The State’s official position is that the sign law hasn’t been enforced in recent years due to budget cuts, but that’s folklore. The political sign law has never been enforced in dozens of years, according to political observers who have been active for decades.

In late July, DOT workers started tagging signs around Anchorage, and then started removing signs that candidates left in place. At Raspberry Road and Jewel Lake Road, the state said it was a safety concern, although most of those those signs were clearly off the roadway. Only the Mark Begich sign actually appears to be obstructing a sight line:

Jewell Lake and Raspberry Road, before the Department of Transportation crackdown.

According to the Anchorage Daily News, DOT collected 14 Republican candidate signs and 7 Democrat candidate signs from around Anchorage. The most signs removed from any candidate belonged to Edie Grunwald, running for lieutenant governor, who lost four of hers to the DOT sign graveyard.

According to the Anchorage Daily News editorial, the campaigns have been treated fairly. That would require a written plan, not an ad hoc round-up done when it became evident that the election season was getting too hot.

Gov. Walker may have another strategy in mind: The signs build excitement and public knowledge of a primary election. He is not appearing on the primary ballot, however. Every vote for his opponents who are on that ballot will not be a vote for him. Low turnout will benefit him in November, and give him time to convince voters to give the Walker-Mallott ticket another chance.

Or you can go with the Anchorage Daily News editorial theory: “But in its crackdown on illegal signs thus far, DOT officials haven’t flagged every sign legible from the roadway, as they could. Instead, they have wisely opted to focus on ones that are obvious offenders and those that pose potential hazards, much as state troopers don’t try to pull over every speeding driver, only those most likely to present safety hazards.”

But the ADN may not be an honest broker of this matter because every sign that comes down means a possible advertiser and additional revenue for the newspaper.

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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

  • Didn’t you also previously report that the Walker campaign purchased a significant amount of People Mover ad space right before the sign removal was announced? Is that not the political version of “insider trading”?

  • This is a pretty obvious abuse of power. Why suddenly is this law being enforced when it hasn’t been for over a decade? Walker easily could have made a phone call telling DOT not to enforce it.

    At some point does an unenforced law become abandoned?

    Perhaps in the next Legislature, this should be clarified in a political signage bill. It could include only so many signs of specific sizes on a roadway per mile.

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