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Bob Loy, Director of Environmental Programs
During previous elections The Outdoor Circle mailed letters to all candidates for political office to educate them on how to comply with Hawaii’s campaign sign laws. We also asked candidates to protect the visual beauty of our neighborhoods by following a few common sense guidelines. But not this year. Look around our islands and you will quickly realize that sending the letter would be like closing the door after the horse has bolted from the barn. From Hanapepe to Ka‘u the islands of aloha already are awash with campaign signs and the worst is yet to come.
Campaign signs were once a reliable representation of a candidate’s strength. A campaign sign in a family’s yard was a proud statement of their support. But today campaign signs are less about voter endorsements and more about candidates boasting about themselves. Their message: the candidate with the most and biggest signs is the best qualified for the job.
But as campaign signs block the view planes at busy intersections and line the fences of major roadways the magnificence of the islands and the appeal of our communities becomes obscured and compromised. Some argue that it’s a small price to pay every couple of years. Usually it’s the candidates who make this argument.
The truth is that this year campaign banners—many as large as mainland billboards—began appearing in February. By March campaign sign fever was in full swing. That means we are subjected to at least 6-plus months of signs for elections that occur every two years. In other words, our home, arguably the most beautiful place on earth, is cluttered with political campaign signs 25 percent of the time.
And just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, it has. This is the year when you really get to know your candidates. Not from substantive discussions or forums….but in your face at 45 mph as you round the curve in Aina Haina or cruise Farrington Highway in Waipahu and are greeted by giant photographs of grinning politicians on banners flapping in the breeze. Hands down there are more larger-than-life photographs of faces on campaign banners in 2010 than any other year in memory.
Many of these huge banners are attached to PVC frames that serve as billboards—in the leading anti-billboard state in the entire country. In the newest twist at least one candidate has created vertical billboard banners. The first one I saw was sitting atop a sign for another candidate. The total visual package reached at least 10 feet high on the utility pole to which it was illegally attached.
So how can we protect Hawai‘i from becoming a campaign sign casualty while allowing candidates their right to identify themselves and supporters their right to reasonably display their support? Federal court rulings have held that this balance is possible by carefully crafting laws that impose sensible restrictions yet still allow voices to be heard. The Outdoor Circle has tried for several consecutive legislative sessions to convince lawmakers to respond to the challenge.
While some candidates respect their communities and refrain from posting excessive campaign signs, we have learned that it is counterintuitive for most elected officials to limit their political advertising. Inside the State Capitol the conversations quickly turn from what’s best for their communities to what’s best for them. “My opponent will kill me with a million signs,” said one long time Representative. “I’ve got a garage full of them—they aren’t cheap,” lamented another. And my personal favorite: “A lot of businesses depend on our campaigns…signs are good for the economy.” How can we fight this type of logic?
Unfortunately the campaign sign landscape isn’t likely to change in the near future. Honolulu Councilmember Ikaika Anderson has introduced a resolution to limit campaign signs but it has a long way to go before becoming law. In the meantime there is still time for candidates to show respect for the beauty of our islands and the sanctity of our neighborhoods:
• Limit the number of signs on any one property. 20 signs are no more effective than two.
• Limit the posting of huge banners, with or without photos. Use them at rallies and sign waving events instead.
• Prohibit campaign signs from being posted on public property or utility poles. That’s already illegal.
• Refrain from excessive advertising until 45 days before the election.
• Remove all signs within 10 days after the election
Finally, The Outdoor Circle encourages all voters to hold candidates accountable for their own actions and the behavior of their campaigns. If you see signs posted on public property including parks, medians or on the highway rights-of-way call the candidates or call The Outdoor Circle. We’ll make sure they clean up their act. But perhaps more important, let the candidates know that you’ll be casting your vote—not for the person who has the most signs or the biggest banners, but for the candidate who best demonstrates the ability to make Hawai‘i a better place.