Stolen Signs of the Times



Of the Baker City Herald

Bruce McMillan figures his andquot;John Kerry For Presidentandquot; sign must have made too tempting a target.

And the culprits who aimed at it didn't even have to get their hands dirty.

Their tires might have picked up a few blades of grass, though.

It was about noon on an August day when someone drove onto the grassy strip between the sidewalk and Main Street and tried to turn McMillan's sign into political roadkill.

The driver failed.

McMillan, who had put up the sign about a week earlier to replace his first Kerry sign, which was stolen, said the wire frame that surrounds the sign is quite flexible.

andquot;I just put it right back up,andquot; McMillan said. andquot;It did a little damage, but you can hardly tell.andquot;

McMillan's experience was not an isolated one in August.

More than a dozen signs, some supporting Kerry and some his opponent, President George W. Bush, were either damaged or stolen from Baker City lawns, according to officials from the Baker County Democratic and Republican parties.

And a few signs have disappeared during September.

Baker City Police have not arrested any suspects in the incidents, Commander Wyn Lohner said this morning.

Charges could include third-degree theft, second-degree criminal trespassing and second-degree criminal mischief, Lohner said. All are misdemeanors.

The rash of sign thefts and vandalism prompted a bi-partisan response from local political officials.

LeRoy Gornick, chairman of the Baker County Democratic Party, and Jan Kerns, chair of the county Republicans, co-signed a letter to the editor urging supporters of both candidates to leave the signs alone.

andquot;To remove or damage these signs is to ignore not only the law against theft, but also that they belong to someone who is freely expressing his own political opinion,andquot; Kerns and Gornick wrote.

The Baker County Democratic Party bought the signs for $5 each from the Oregon Democratic Party, said Jan Burgderfer, the Baker County party's secretary.

Burgderfer said her first sign was stolen. She said she moved her replacement sign closer to her home, and she also stores it inside most nights. The second sign has survived, she said.

Bea Jean Haskell said she erected her Kerry sign in the lawn at her First Street home in August, about the same time she handed out signs to several other Kerry supporters in the city.

A few days later Haskell awoke and noticed her sign was gone.

Then her phone rang.

And rang again.

At least a dozen Kerry signs disappeared that night from Baker City yards, Haskell said.

She said no one bothered the Fred Warner Jr. and Mitch Southwick signs she staked in her yard during previous elections.

But those were local races that apparently did not generate as much partisan vitriol as the Bush-Kerry campaign has.

andquot;I was born and raised here and I thought people were mutually respectful to one another,andquot; Haskell, 63, said. andquot;I was really disappointed and disheartened.andquot;

McMillan, who had never before put up a political sign, said he was more surprised than upset.

His first sign disappeared the same night Haskell's did.

But having his second sign driven over shocked McMillan more than having his first sign stolen did.

Especially since the driver bounced over the curb in broad daylight.

andquot;I had been outside just a few minutes before,andquot; McMillan said. andquot;Somebody apparently felt pretty strongly about (the sign.andquot;)

Thus far more Kerry signs have been stolen or tampered with.

But that might have more to do with the more recent arrival of Bush signs than with any particular partisan leanings of Baker City residents.

In the 2000 election, Bush received 2,937 votes from Baker City voters, compared with 1,352 for his Democratic foe, Al Gore.

The Baker City Herald
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