CASPER, Wyo. — Republican campaign signs have been stolen and vandalized in Natrona and Park counties and, in one case, replaced with a challenger's sign, campaign officials and insiders said.
Signs for Gov. Matt Mead, secretary of state candidate Clark Stith, Park County sheriff candidate Bruce Olson and several lawmakers have been stolen or defaced in recent weeks.
Of the past eight campaign cycles in which Bonnie Foster, current chairwoman of the Natrona County GOP, has been involved, she’s heard the most complaints this year, she said.
Foster has received complaints that state Sen. Bill Landen’s signs are disappearing and state Rep. Tom Lockhart’s signs are being removed and replaced with the signs for Chuck Gray, who is challenging Lockhart in Casper's House District 57. The people who have complained are property owners who didn’t want people on their property touching the signs, she said.
Foster doesn’t believe Gray or Kara Rae Linn, who is challenging Landen in Senate District 27, are removing the signs. But some of their supporters may be, she said.
“Some of these people are still upset over SF 104, even though it’s dead, done and over,” Foster said, referring to the law that temporarily removed Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill as head of the Wyoming Department of Education. The Wyoming Supreme Court has since ruled the law unconstitutional.
“We need to move on," Foster said. "There seems to be a lot of hostility toward anybody who voted for SF 104, without ever asking them why or getting them to explain. They’re just assuming, and we all know when you assume what that means.”
Linn did not respond to a message seeking comment. In an email to the Star-Tribune, Gray denied any involvement.
"To suggest that either me or my campaign would be involved with such pettiness is ridiculous," he said. "Signs of mine have been stolen as well, but I'm focused on giving my neighbors the more limited government they expect."
Landen didn’t point fingers at anyone. The Wyoming winds could be blowing his signs away, he said.
Lockhart saw one of his signs on the ground. A Gray sign was in its place. He’s heard of other instances of his signs being replaced, he said.
“My experience has been it could be anybody,” he said. “It could be the opposition. It could also be some kids pulling up signs because they think it’s a fun idea.”
Signs are expensive for candidates, Foster said. She encouraged the public to be civil.
“It’s great for the incumbents to be challenged because it puts them on their toes,” she said. “But we don’t have to be nasty and vindictive. That’s not Wyoming’s style.”
It is tough for cops to resolve campaign sign issues, said Lance Mathess, public affairs officer for the Park County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s almost the point where it’s unsolvable,” he said. “We’ll take the information. Certainly we encourage people if you see someone taking a campaign sign down before an election that is suspicious activity.”
The primary election is Aug. 19.
County clerks can monitor signs placed on government property or on private property on which campaigns do not have permission. The county sheriff can take the signs and return them to the candidate, said Natrona County Clerk Renea Vitto.
On election day, county clerks make sure campaign signs are not within 100 yards of polling places, she said.
“People do steal them,” she said. “They try to do dirty campaigns. Maybe kids steal them. They think they’re fun to have. But it is strictly up to the candidate to monitor his own signs — the candidate or the committee. They can (write) a letter to the editor, asking people to not bother their signs.”
In Casper, a 4-foot-by-6-foot Mead sign on Second and Durbin streets has been vandalized repeatedly, said Gale Geringer, Mead’s campaign manager. Mead supporters were able to clean up the sign.
In Cody, Mead signs have been slashed, she said.
Other Mead signs in Park County have been trampled on or removed, said Geri Hockhalter, a Cody supporter of Mead.
Next to the vandalized Mead sign, someone later slashed a Stith campaign sign. The signs were on U.S. Highways 14-16-20, the route to Yellowstone National Park that is busy in the summertime with traffic, said Hockhalter, who is also supporting Stith.
Stith called it an isolated incident. He’s not blaming his opponents, who he said have been civil throughout the campaign.
“I had a campaign staffer from one of the other candidates alert me last night that one of my signs had fallen down,” he said. “I was able to do sign maintenance on that.”
Larry French, chairman of the Park County GOP, said someone took a sign in support of Olson from his yard.
“I put three more up and called the police and filed a complaint,” he said.
Rep. Gerald Gay, R-Casper, loses about a third of his signs a week, one of the reasons why he posts only five or six at a time, he said. This year is about normal, compared with other election years.
“My signs say ‘Gay’ in big white letters,” he said.
People tear up or vandalize his signs, such as writing “Politicians are all gay,” he said.
“My signs probably have the highest vandalism rate,” he said.