Roadside political signs are an intriguing part of Maine’s electoral process. You can tell a lot about the financial health and popularity of a campaign from its signs.
If the campaign is short of cash, the signs will be few and far between, probably constructed of old spray-painted plywood and have an overall disheveled look. If the campaign is flush, the signs will be tidy, feature modern graphics and be located on every corner and key intersection in town.
Some political signs are huge, like the pro-Trump signs erected last year. Some are tiny, made of flimsy paperboard and spindly wires that are easily toppled by a slight gust.
If the candidate or cause has strong support, roadside signs will be placed on private property, such as in front of a supporter’s home or business. If the candidate or cause has little support, the signs will only be found on public property.
You can almost predict whether a candidate or referendum will win or lose just by traveling the roadways observing this electoral bellwether.
When I see the Yes on 1 roadside signs urging voters to approve a York County casino, I can tell the campaign is in trouble. The ubiquitous signs are like the man who protests too much. On stretches of road I frequent, the Yes signs are situated about 100 feet apart for a mile at a time, on both sides of the road. It’s an impressive sight to behold. A little annoying, but impressive nonetheless.
But while the Yes on 1 campaign obviously has the cash to fund these zillions of roadside advertisements, I never see the signs on private property, which would indicate genuine public support. I’ve seen some No signs on private property, but I’ve yet to see a Yes sign, and I think that’s telling.
The Yes on 1 campaign has come under scrutiny by the governor and others for being an out-of-state “phony deal” for Mainers, and their signs, as well as their TV commercials, reveal this to be the case. Their signs and commercials never mention a casino; they only mention that if Mainers vote yes on Question 1 the net result will be “jobs, schools, tax relief.” There’s no mention of a casino. Strange. It’s as if the Yes on 1 campaign believes they should avoid all mention of the word “casino.”
I agree with the No on 1 campaign that says the York County casino effort is a “wicked shady” deal for Mainers. If Yes on 1 can’t even be straight with us now, how can we trust them to usher in a third gambling venue to the state? Can we trust the backers of this referendum when they can’t even come clean on what they’re campaigning for?
Besides the shadiness of this particular referendum question, Mainers should be wary of any expansion of gambling. I know many don’t mind gambling, but I’m not a fan. I think it degrades what makes Maine – and Mainers – unique. Our hard-working and outdoorsy culture runs counter to the allure of a casino’s siren song of easy money. A casino is a place for the uninspired, the lazy and unenthused to go and spend a day. Real Mainers have better things to do.
If you’ve ever visited a casino, you’ve noticed how people stare sullenly and seriously into their slot machines as they pray for a bunch of 7s or cherries. It’s the opposite of the Oxford Casino’s TV commercials where beautiful, stylish people are whooping it up.
Casinos are in fact anti-social outlets for money-loving individuals to drool over the promise of big payouts. People compete against each other, not the house, to win money. Funny, but it’s everything Maine isn’t. We pride ourselves on having strong communities willing to help each other, but casinos are filled with miserly transients coming and going with only one thing on their mind – making money for Numero Uno.
The bells that sound when someone wins remind me of a Pavlovian dog experiment that convinces all gamblers within hearing distance to keep going in hopes of winning and witnessing their own machine’s bells and lights. Casinos are among the loneliest, unhappiest and most frustrating places on earth.
Question 1 is shady because its backers aren’t being upfront about their aims, but I’m more generally opposed to Question 1 because Maine already has enough of these soul-sucking institutions to satisfy the money-grubbing among us. How many more do we really need?
John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.