I headed out to the store today, and on my way, I saw three signs for an area political candidate along the highway. I'd never seen signs like that along the main highway--on public land--so they really jumped out at me. I was pretty certain that you couldn't put political signs on public land, so when I got home, I posted on Facebook wondering if anyone knew more about it, and who they thought I should call. City? County? One person thought the city, and another thought either the city or county highway department. The latter sounded most right to me, so I gave the county highway department a call.
When I described the situation and the location of the signs, the woman I spoke to said that because it was along a state highway, US 31, I'd need to call the state. Okay. I could do that. I looked up the information in the phone book, and called the regional office in Plymouth, just a few miles south of here. Here was the conversation.
Me: I have a question about some political signs I saw along the highway this morning. I called my county highway department, and they told me that because it was on a state highway, I should call the state. I thought you couldn't put political signs on public land. Private is fine, I know, but I thought putting them on public land was against the law.
Her: Was it on the right-of-way?
Me: Well, it was just off of the highway, by the shoulder. [I described the exact location of the signs. And here is where it gets interesting.]
Her: Hm, okay. Who were the signs for?
Me: Jackie Walorski. [That is the teabagger candidate running against the incumbent, Joe Donnelly.]
Her: [a pause] Okay, I'll have my guys check it out, but if it's not obstructing the view, it's okay.
Me: Really? I thought they couldn't be on public land.
Her: As long as they're not obstructing the view, it's okay.
Me: Hmm. I really thought that wasn't allowed. I think I need to do some more investigating. Thanks for your time!
So guess what I did? That's right...I did some more investigating. First I looked on the INDOT website to see if I could find their policies about what was allowed on public land and what wasn't. I really couldn't make much sense of it, so I looked at their FAQs, and still couldn't find what I needed. So I sent them an email explaining what I saw and where I saw it (although I didn't include whose signs they were) and saying that I thought political signs weren't allowed on public land. I then wrote to one of my local TV stations, because they have a feature called "Good Question of the Day," where people write in about various topics concerning the area. I thought it was a legitimate question.
Much to my surprise, I heard very quickly back from the LaPorte office of INDOT:
Thank you for contacting the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT). We appreciate you taking the time to contact us. Below is the press release that was sent on September 21, 2010 regarding Political Signs on INDOT right-of-way. Please feel free to contact the Plymouth Sub-District and they will investigate and remove the signs should they be on state right-of-way.
Again, thank you for contacting INDOT.
And here is the text of the press release that they included:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 21, 2010
Political Signs Removed From State And Federal Rights-Of-Way
Signs Will Be Taken To Nearest INDOT Subdistrict Office
LAPORTE, Ind. – The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) reminds all Hoosiers that campaign signs are prohibited from federal and state highway rights-of-way by Indiana Code 9-21-4-6. INDOT personnel are required by state law to remove all unauthorized signs within the state right-of-way. The right-of-way areas which must remain “sign free” for the safety of the motoring public include:
· All interstates and their interchanges;
· All intersections where at least one local, state or federal road intersects with a state or federal highway; and
· All rights-of-way paralleling federal or state highways (the right-of-way extends to the back of the ditch, to the fence line or up to utility poles). INDOT crews will not pull signs placed behind the ditch, fence line or beyond the public utility poles.
Removed signs will be saved at the nearest INDOT Subdistrict office. Candidates may reclaim signs between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for holidays.
As you can imagine, when I saw that, I pretty much crowed. I knew that couldn't be right! The broad at the Plymouth office had the nerve to tell me that it was okay! I honestly wonder if she said that because of whose signs they were? Was she a Walorski supporter? I have no way of knowing, but she definitely gave me false information.
I wondered if I should contact the Plymouth office again, or just wait to see what WSBT did. I couldn't contain myself, and I called the office. Here is that conversation:
Me: Hi, I called this office earlier about some political signs I saw along US 31, and--
Him: Yes ma'am, we checked them out and they've already been removed.
Me: Really? You're telling me they've been removed already?
Him: Yes, ma'am.
Ohhh, how sweet it is!
Someone asked if the signs were those of a candidate I don't like. I said that I don't just dislike Jackie Walorski, I loathe her. (I've written about her before.) If it had been signs from Donnelly, would I have called about them? No, I would not have. That's up to those who oppose him. I don't like Walorski, her supporters were wrong to put signs up on public land, and I got 'em removed. End o' story.
Check it out—I’m putting up a sign for Donnelly on my own blog. Because I can, and because I’m not putting it up on public land. That’s how it works.
Even beyond getting the signs removed, what I'm happiest about is that I didn't accept that stupid bitch's "Yes, it's okay" as the truth. I was almost certain that she was lying to me, or at least just trying to get rid of a call that she didn't want to take (and possibly trying to keep the signs up for someone she supports). Don't accept such an explanation if you are pretty sure that it's bullshit. Don't let some low-level bureaucrat brush you off with a glib remark, when you know it's not right. Don't let them get away with it.