Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias It appears that another harvest season is underway.

That's a strange observation to make in late July, I know. Sure, farmers have already collected a couple cuttings of alfalfa from hay fields in the area.

But yellow tassels have just started to appear on the corn crops. The beans have grown to the point where they almost hide their rows from view, but it's plain to see they aren't ready yet.

And unlike the freshly picked sweet corn that's just become available, the harvest that's underway now can hardly be labeled as being in good taste.

We're in the midst of one of the ugliest campaign years in South Dakota's recent history. And politics, it seems, helps bring out the worst of some people in Clay County.

It's time for a change of behavior. And we can start right in our own front yards.

We can all help inject a more positive tone in this year's campaign by respecting citizens who choose to place candidates' campaign signs on their property.

It's time we all treat each other a bit more decently. It doesn't matter whether you like the signs or not, or whether you like a particular candidate or not.

It's time for the trespassing, tampering and stealing of the signs to stop.

We learned last week, from a letter writer, that all of the efforts he went through recently to place a campaign sign on his property was for nothing. Vandals quickly chopped it down and carted it away.

Perhaps one of the most shocking examples of possible campaign sign theft happened at the conclusion of the Clay County Fair. Local businessman Jere Chapman, who is running for the S.D. Legislature, has spent a significant amount of money for a special sign that can be draped over the sides of a mini-van to be driven in parades, county fairs, etc.

Last Saturday night, as people were celebrating another successful fair in Vermillion with ice cream and cake, the sign disappeared.

Fortunately, it was found, unscathed, the next day, laying in the yard of Chapman's former residence in Vermillion.

Chapman is hesitant to accuse anyone of stealing his sign. The whole thing may have been a misunderstanding, he said. It's possible, he said, that someone might have taken the sign in good faith, to make sure nothing happened to it.

Got to admit, though, that it's easy to conclude that the sign's disappearance may have been the work of someone who initially didn't have the best of intentions. If someone were trying to do Chapman a favor by taking his sign, you'd think he or she at least would have made a phone call to assure him it was safe.

Midge Carlson, who has been active in Clay County Republican politics for several decades, is getting fed up. She noted that yard signs are easy pickings for vandals in Clay County.

Most residents have grown to expect to lose an occasional sign or two from their yards during the course of a campaign, she noted. But Carlson is becoming deeply disturbed by recent experiences of both residents and candidates.

It seems that, in some cases, a sign may only last a day or two before its taken. This naturally forces the candidate to supply the homeowner another sign.

And, that, too, is taken.

"You know, our constitutional rights are being violated here," Carlson said. "We cannot express our own wish for a candidate. It's not good."

It's ironic, she said, that such activity occurs during campaigns here in the United States � a nation that boasts of its many freedoms, including the freedom its citizens have to elect political leaders.

While stealing a campaign sign from someone's front yard may not land you on the FBI's 10 most wanted list, the activity, Carlson said, still has some serious consequences.

It's not just the candidates, who must spend additional funds for replacement signs, that suffer.

The entire American experience � and that includes participating in free and open elections � should bring out the best in us, Carlson believes.

Instead, each election cycle seems to bring out the worst. Campaigns are growing more negative. An increasing number of citizens seem to see nothing wrong in doing whatever they can in stopping some office-seekers from promoting their candidacies.

They see nothing wrong in brazenly trespassing on private property and stealing something that doesn't belong to them.

Carlson said these thieves are doing more than trespassing on private property.

"They are trespassing on our constitutional rights," she said. "That's all there is to it. I'm very angry at this point. Our people need to have their chance to get their information before the public, and we are being deprived of that."

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