The lead-up to Election Day is turning out to be more like Groundhog Day for Michael Quick.
“I put an Obama sign up,” he says, “come home from work, it’s gone. Put another one up, come home from work, it’s gone.”
It’s become such a routine occurrence for the Oxnard resident that he’s resorted to taking his “Obama/Biden” sign inside the house when he’s at work — essentially defeating the purpose of what the lawn placard is designed for.
But for Quick and others, it’s a necessary evil when considering that a rash of mysteriously disappearing campaign signage is no random coincidence. There are crimes that become prevalent in certain seasons, their rates rising and falling during specific parts of the year, and election time is no exception, when the stealing and vandalism of signs has become a common occurrence on front lawns all over Ventura County.
According to Jason Benites, assistant chief of the Oxnard Police Department, the message of sign vandals and pilferers varies.
“As far as the theft of signs and destruction of signs that’s politically motivated,” he said, “it’s hard to see what the person’s motive is, if they don’t want a certain measure to pass or a candidate to win.”
Countywide, that’s certainly the case. Alex Mooney, an Ojai woman, said two “No on Prop. 8” signs supporting gay marriage were removed from her property. Jim Mangis, a member of a Ventura County-based volunteer group for the Barack
Obama campaign, also has had a pair of signs taken from his lawn. One was up since the primaries, he said, and lasted untouched before the sign swiping began just in the past month.
On the 700 block of Poli Street in Ventura, through early October a sticker affixed to a mailbox proudly bore the face of Barack Obama, in shades of red, white and blue, with a singular message underneath: “Change.”
Somebody must have interpreted the word in the wrong way, and this week, the sticker lay on the ground, torn into pieces.
The right wing of politics isn’t immune, either. According to Chris Collier, the deputy regional political director for the Central Coast division of the Republican Party, signs for McCain/Palin, Tony Strickland and Yes on Prop. 8 have all gone unaccounted for, the victims of “widespread vandalism” across the county. In many cases, thieves may take signs and switch them out with ones for the opposite party affiliation.
“They’ve been the objects of systematic and repeated vandalism,” he said. “Everyone comes in and says, ‘My signs have been stolen.’ ”
Collier said his office has on record 28 separate thefts. Many others go unreported, according to Benites of the Oxnard P.D.
One reason could be how relatively easy, however inconveniencing, it is to replace yard signage.
It’s a theory called the “escalation of commitment,” the reluctance to back down from supporting someone or some cause when property or livelihood has been defaced or defamed.
“Putting up a yard sign can have an effect on the person who puts out the yard sign,” wrote Dr. Art Markman in a Psychology Today column earlier this month. “Getting someone to put up a yard sign may solidify their commitment to a particular candidate.”
It may also have an effect on the person stealing a yard sign, as was the case last week with a thief committed to opposing local issues in Oxnard, even if it meant trying to remove every sign in the neighborhood.
According to Benites, Oxnard police issued a citation last week to Daniel Lechliter, 59, who was caught in the act of taking two “No on Measure V” signs opposing a proposed traffic initiative. Witness accounts describe Lechliter driving up to people’s properties, pulling the signage out of the ground, tearing them in two, and driving off.
Benites said authorities managed to track down Lechliter because of his very conspicuous van — one decorated with his own political paraphernalia for John and Tim Flynn, the father-and-son duo running, respectively, for county supervisor and city mayor; Martin Jones, running for city treasurer; and pro-Measure V banners.
“There wasn’t any attempt to hide what he was doing,” Assistant Chief Benites said of the crimes.
“It’s a heated-up year and heated-up campaigns,” says Quick of Oxnard. “People are desperate.”
The same can be opined about the way a political race is sullied by inordinate amounts of mudslinging, contrary to promises of clean campaigns by the candidates involved. By Election Day, voters remember the dirty laundry of their governmental hopefuls more than the issues they stand for.
Fresh on Ventura County residents’ minds, for example, is the verbal spat two weeks ago between county Fifth District opponents John Flynn and John Zaragoza, a he said-he said case of territory marking … in this case, the front lawn of an Oxnard neighborhood, where the two men allegedly shared words (and middle fingers) over, you guessed it, the placing of campaign signage.
Quick, director of development and special projects for the Ventura County Rainbow Alliance, added that numerous No on Prop. 8 signs have disappeared, somewhat expectedly considering the nature of the thefts, from the alliance’s offices on Telephone Road in Ventura. Ironically, from his own household in Oxnard, where the chronically vanishing Obama signage was, a pair of No on Prop. 8 signs remains untouched.
It could be a testament to the choosiness of some thieves allegiant to only certain issues. Still, it wouldn’t affect how Quick, who has already voted, would visit the polls.
“I don’t think it accomplishes anything,” he said. “It wouldn’t change the way I vote.”
Quick goes on to dismiss the thefts as petty vandalism, however flustering they may be.
“I just think it’s ridiculous that people have the gonads to go into someone’s yards and take their signs.”