Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

Commentary by Ron Miller

Author's Note: I will be at the Peking Restaurant in Lexington Park tonight, Wednesday, August 18th at 6:30 p.m., attending the Tuskers club meeting and selling and signing books! If you can make it, please stop by!

Ron MillerSign, sign, everywhere a sign, blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind… ~ Five Man Electrical Band

Well, the July filing deadline has come and gone and, with it, so has the uncluttered scenery that normally characterizes most of southern Maryland. Yes, the political signs, those 4x8 monsters and their yard sign siblings, are everywhere. I do a bit of driving in the area, and I've actually made some observations about these signs that might be useful to some of the candidates running for office.

I must add this disclaimer, however; nothing I write here reflects an endorsement or rejection of any candidate. I'm behaving as an observer here, and I'm pretending that I have no awareness of the candidates beyond what I see on the roadsides and in the yards. No nasty letters or emails calling me everything but a child of God because I'm donning my reporter hat - got that? Good!

Let me make my current observations, and then I have a sign story of my own to share with you.
  1. In the race for the GOP nomination to challenge Delegate Sue Kullen in the fall, the winner in the sign wars, at least to my eyes, is Bob Schaefer. Whoever designed the signs did a great job; they catch your eye even if you're not consciously looking for them, and they're well-placed and evenly distributed throughout Calvert County. Mark Fisher's signs are good, but there don't appear to be as many of them, perhaps because of location or dissemination. I've only seen one Mike Blasey sign, not to say there aren't more out there.

  2. Steve Waugh is taking no chances in his race against Roy Dyson for the District 29 state senate seat. A cluster of his yard signs is located on Route 4 all the way up in central Calvert County, well out of his district but on a road where many of his constituents are sure to travel.

  3. I've only seen one sign for a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, and it's an Eric Wargotz sign in Prince Frederick. His opponents are invisible in this neck of the woods, which is unusual because there are ample conservative votes, money and support to be had here.

  4. Collins Bailey got quite a head start in getting his signs up, and people who know politics recognize the pithy libertarian sayings appended to them. What he may not realize is that he annoyed a lot of people who are accustomed to seeing signs only from July to November of an election year. As far as I can tell, he's done nothing illegal; some candidate or candidates challenged the date restrictions on signs placed on private property and won.

  5. The only picture signs I've seen are those for Charles Lollar who's seeking the GOP nomination for the right to face Steny Hoyer in November. That's a smart move for a new candidate introducing himself to the voters, and Charles has a winning smile and friendly disposition. They're colorful, too!

  6. Signs are all about name recognition, but they aren't the only way to get your name out there, so don't rely too much on them. When the brother of my arts pastor came here from Texas to visit in 2006, he remarked without knowing me that my signs were everywhere. That was heartening coming from a stranger to the area, but I still lost.
That brings me to my own story about the sign wars. My campaign in 2006 spent a pretty penny on signs, and we had a mix of picture signs and those with just our logo because we couldn't afford to make all of them picture signs. In deciding to place them, my campaign staff suggested that we put the picture signs in Prince George's County.

Yes, Calvert and Prince George's County are lumped together in the same senatorial district, thanks to Mike Miller's overriding concern for his own reelection and his party's monopoly in Annapolis than what makes sense for the people of these two counties - but I digress.

The logic was simple enough, at least it seemed to be. According to my advisors, people in Calvert County knew who I was, either from my politicking, my role in the music ministry at Chesapeake Church which put me in front of about 1,000 people a couple of Sundays a month, or just living life in the community I call home.

People in Prince George's County didn't know who I was, and so they advised me that it would make more sense to put the picture signs there. Not everyone agreed, and I thought a mix might be better, but these were smart, politically savvy people and I was a novice, so I gave the OK.

Remember those nasty emails I mentioned previously? Some irate observer in Prince George's County is convinced that I was trying to hide the fact I was black in Calvert County, while pandering to the black community in Prince George's County. I would have laughed at the assumption if he wasn't so strident about it. As it was, the arrogance reflected in his belief that he knew what was in my heart aggravated me to no end.

Anyone who knows me personally knows that I don't think that way. Do the political consultants and advisors take such things into account? Of course. I know my profile in the Republican Party is due in part to the fact I'm a black conservative. I also know if I couldn't put two sentences together, present myself well, or make a case for my ideas, they wouldn't have anything to do with me, and that goes for white candidates as well. They wouldn't have worked with me if I wasn't viable.

Besides, this observer has it backwards. I found that white people in the district weren't as race-conscious in their dealings with me as were black people. It really didn't matter to most of the white people I met that I am black or, if it did, they never let it show. Conversely, I might have been treated better in the black community if I had been a white Republican rather than a black one. I can't repeat the hurtful experiences I had with some outspoken black voters on the campaign trail in a family column.

In recounting my first campaign in my new book, SELLOUT: Musings from Uncle Tom's Porch, I made this observation:
[U]ntil I became a minor public figure, I could generally go about my daily business without race at the forefront of my consciousness. The people with whom I interacted regularly didn't impose race on me and I didn't make it the center of my life. I was comfortable in my relationships and my friends and acquaintances were comfortable with me. Since I joined the Bush Administration in 2001 and raised my profile, however, I haven't always been able to avoid the topic of race, and seeking elected office has only made it more prevalent as an issue, although not one of my making.
Those infamous signs are stashed away in storage at various locations, probably never to be used again. In some respects, I feel liberated now that I'm not running for office. Meeting and talking to people is one of my favorite things to do, but not everyone I encountered was civil, and some think the fact your face is on a sign gives them the right to be rude.

Just remember, folks, signs aren't enough to help you judge the heart and mind of a candidate. Meet them, talk to them, ask them questions and, most of all, be courteous to them as they are to you. They're not hard to find. Like the signs, they're everywhere.

Ron Miller is a conservative writer and commentator, author of the book, SELLOUT: Musings from Uncle Tom’s Porch, and the president of Regular Folks United, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of individual liberty, free markets and our nation's founding principles. The nine-year plus veteran of the U.S. Air Force and married father of three writes columns for several online sites and print publications, and his own website, Join him on Facebook and Twitter.

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