Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce (R), the architect of the state’s controversial anti-immigration law, is currently fighting a recall effort. Part of his district runs through Mesa and the recall has brought hoards of campaign signs along with it. City administrators are using it as a chance to assess how the new law will change the signage landscape. Sheffield says the recall is more like a test run for the new law and local officials will use it to assess next steps.
“We are very concerned about sign clutter,” says Sheffield. “This is one of the main reasons we have a sign ordinance in the first place.”
Building codes in many Arizona municipalities strictly regulate the appearance of buildings, so as not to distract from the natural beauty of the state. And proponents of continued regulation contend the same standard should apply to political signs.
There are also environmental concerns, say supporters of tighter regulations on signage. If signs aren’t picked up after Election Day, they can quickly go from being an eyesore to litter. Communities that are conscious of their image and of the environmental impact view uncontrolled signage as an affront to both.
“Allowing you to put [campaign signs] in the median is a stretch for me,” says Weinbrecht. “They can put them up anywhere on private property, why do they need the median to express their opinion? That’s city property.”
At the very least, new state laws in Arizona and North Carolina have added some urgency to the debate over placement of campaign signs. Legal challenges to the new laws could be on the horizon and the political printers are taking notice.
“Political signs are as American as apple pie,” says Gary Bezella, president of Cross & Oberlie, which manufactures and prints political signs.
Bezella says any regulation on placement of campaign signs should come from candidates and campaigns themselves, rather than states and municipalities. Bezella also says the signage industry has taken note of the environmental worries—his company encourages recycling.
Mike Maier, co-owner of Patriot Signs, says addressing the environmental impact is now much easier.
“We have a totally biodegradable sign that will biodegrade in a landfill,” Maier says.
Opponents of campaign signs along public roadways say they expect the 2012 election will bring the debate over signage to a boil in more localities across the country as campaigns, initiatives and third party groups battle for the attention of voters.