Sign steal­ing strains sher­iff ’s race

The Taos News - - FRONT PAGE - By John Miller jmiller@taos­ The Taos News

If you’ve seen a cam­paign sign for a Taos County Sher­iff can­di­date ap­pear and then dis­ap­pear, per­haps with the sign of the op­pos­ing can­di­date tak­ing its place, it might not be be­cause your neigh­bor changed their mind as to how they plan to vote Nov. 6.

Some­one else, how­ever, might be try­ing to change it for them.

In the weeks lead­ing up to the only con­tested Taos County race in the gen­eral elec­tion, re­ports from around the area in­di­cate that an un­usual num­ber of cam­paign signs for both Demo­cratic Sher­iff Jerry Ho­grefe and his chal­lenger Jani Davis – the only Repub­li­can to run this year – have been de­faced or stolen.

It’s a com­mon tac­tic seen dur­ing heated cam­paign cy­cles. Al­though this one, too, has seen the typ­i­cal turn from civil to not-so-civil as elec­tion day nears, both can­di­dates have also found some com­mon ground late in the run­ning, agree­ing that the sign steal­ing has got­ten out of hand.

“A few weeks ago I no­ticed signs were taken or knocked down,” Davis said. “When I stop at a place and talk to some­one and they agree to put a sign up, I would do it for them, usu­ally

with screws. So I know where the signs were posted.”

Davis says she’s spo­ken with sup­port­ers from Taos to Amalia and Three Peaks who’ve told her that her signs were taken down in the mid­dle of the night, with a “Jerry sign” some­times propped up in their place.

Other signs, she said, have been dam­aged and “shot up” with firearms.

All told, she es­ti­mates she’s lost be­tween 100 to 200 signs, which are ex­pen­sive for a can­di­date to cre­ate and re­pro­duce.

The size of her ban­ner sig­nage has also proven prob­lem­atic for the Repub­li­can.

She said the county made her take down her 4-by-8-foot ban­ners that had been placed on pri­vate prop­erty. Davis said the county al­lows noth­ing over 2-by-3 feet, but ar­gues that signs for can­di­dates in­volved in state races that seem to ex­ceed the limit have re­mained posted.

Davis says her sup­port­ers, a base that has bloomed since the June pri­maries, in­clud­ing a group from across the aisle, “Democrats for Davis,” have been “very up­set and an­gry about it.”

While the size of his cam­paign signs haven’t been an is­sue, Ho­grefe says his sup­port­ers have re­ported his signs have also been pulled down and re­placed with the “Vote Davis” star.

“In each elec­tion there are cer­tain amounts of signs that sim­ply dis­ap­pear (or are) dam­aged,” Ho­grefe said.

He says he lost about 100 signs when he made his suc­cess­ful bid for sher­iff in 2014, but seems to be los­ing more dur­ing his run for re-elec­tion this year, find­ing many that have been marked in a clearly ma­li­cious man­ner, he said.

In the June pri­maries, he and Jake Cor­dova, a deputy at his of­fice who ran against him, would con­tact one an­other when they found signs dis­carded or dam­aged, and would even re­turn them to one an­other as a cour­tesy, he said.

“This cur­rent elec­tion cy­cle is way dif­fer­ent,” Ho­grefe said. “I’ve had signs dis­ap­pear from past cam­paigns, too, but not any­thing like this.”

He says he’s found more than one of his signs spray painted with a cir­cle around his name and a line cross­ing it out.

Ask­ing Davis about the sign med­dling via text, he said his op­po­nent ac­knowl­edged that some of her sup­port­ers were “pissed off,” and had thrown Ho­grefe’s signs “in their trash or burned them,” the sher­iff said this week, show­ing The Taos

News the texts.

While he says he can’t be sure if his own sup­port­ers have done any­thing sim­i­lar, he has en­cour­aged them to just “let it go” if signs they’ve posted are tam­pered with, to not re­spond in kind.

He says he’s tried to do the same.

Last week­end, Ho­grefe said he stopped at the in­ter­sec­tion State Roads 522 and 150 (the “old blink­ing light”) when he saw a driver get out of their ve­hi­cle and steal one of Davis’ signs.

The driver left the area be­fore he could get a clear view of the li­cense plate, Ho­grefe said, but he still took a photo of the ve­hi­cle as it drove away.

He sent it to a deputy and also to Davis, who later told him she be­lieved the per­son was home­less and in­tended to write a mes­sage on the sign ask­ing for money.

What­ever their in­tent, those re­mov­ing or de­fac­ing cam­paign signs are com­mit­ting crim­i­nal of­fenses: petty theft and van­dal­ism, re­spec­tively.

Un­der­sh­er­iff Steve Miera con­firmed that sup­port­ers of both can­di­dates have sub­mit­ted com­plaints in re­cent weeks, which are be­ing di­rected to ei­ther New Mex­ico State Po­lice or Taos Po­lice Depart­ment.

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