Sign stealing strains sheriff’s race

By John Miller
jmiller@taosnews.com
Posted 10/25/18

If you’ve noticed a campaign sign for a Taos County Sheriff candidate appear and then disappear, perhaps with the sign of an opposing candidate taking its place, it might not be because your …

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Sign stealing strains sheriff’s race

Posted

If you’ve noticed a campaign sign for a Taos County Sheriff candidate appear and then disappear, perhaps with the sign of an opposing candidate taking its place, it might not be because your neighbor changed their mind as to how they plan to cast their 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 where they were 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 that 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 of that sort, 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 thought 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 Hogrefe the driver of the vehicle was retrieving the sign from a homeless person who had drawn on it to beg for change.

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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