Signs of the times attracting ‘eyeballs’
Opposing candidate signs face off: Political signs a given for homeowners with prime visible locations
Living on one of the busiest corners in Maui County had been a nightmare oftentimes for Kehau Filimoe’atu.
Entering or leaving her home at the corner of Puunene and Wakea avenues in Kahului has always been difficult, especially with a stoplight within 100 feet of her driveway. Even on red lights, drivers regularly ignore her family’s attempts to reverse into the driveway to make it easier to exit the next morning.
“I don’t really like living there,” Filimoe’atu said Wednesday. “It’s really rough. People are not like before when I’d be slowly reversing back and they would let me in. Now, they would stop right in back of me right as I’m reversing in.”
While the corner house is less than desirable to navigate, the property’s reputation during election season has grown to be arguably the most enviable political sign spot in the county.
Every year, dozens of candidates across the state plaster their signs and banners on the fence of the home near Christ the King Church. About 30 signs could be seen Thursday along the fence, although, several more had been in place before last month’s primary election.
“I guarantee that corner gets 40,000 eyeballs within a day,” Filimoe’atu said. “We let everybody and anybody put their signs up. Green, purple, Democrat, Republican. Not every person has, but a lot of the new candidates do because they don’t have much money so it’s cheap advertising.”
The home, known as the “Lum Ho House,” began welcoming signs in the 1990s with permission of Filimoe’atu’s father and former Maui police detective, Quong Gee Lum Ho Jr. The fence grew more and more popular over the years with candidates stopping by to ask the family if they could post their signs.
“I think people realized that it is a prime location,” Filimoe’atu said. “Especially if you’re a candidate doing a countywide race, that’s a good location because everyone who passes there can vote for them.”
“Half of them (candidates) I grew up with and the rest are my kids’ friends,” she continued. “It’s generational now so they know to ask my son and daughter, ‘Try ask your mom if we can put one sign.’ “
Filimoe’atu has since moved out of the house, but her son still lives on the property, which is in the middle of a renovation. She said her family has never directed people where they can put their signs and only asks that they be respectful and pick them up after the election is over.
“Sometimes get five signs that say ‘Victorino’ so I tell them, ‘No take my whole wall and put them next to each other,’ “ she joked. “I tell them to be respectful and no be ‘hoggy,’ but it is first come, first serve.”
Another homeowner accustomed to candidates jockeying for position on her lawn is Ann Igarashi, who lives on the corner of South Papa Avenue and Kea Street near Lihikai Elementary School.
Igarashi, 85, and her husband, Mino, 89, recalled Wednesday moving into the first home on the property in 1962. The couple’s large, bright-green lawn has displayed political signs for decades and on Wednesday had eight.
“They put every election,” she said. “My friend said, ‘Are you charging them rent?’ I said, ‘Are you crazy? If I charge rent, they no put.’ “
Ann Igarashi said the tradition began with her relative U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink and continued with other friends and family. From there, she said the popularity of the house grew along with her husband’s inability to say “no.”
“I never voted for Ige,” she said pointing to Gov. David Ige’s sign in her yard. “Hanabusa didn’t put any, and yet the people who worked for her are all my friends. My friend said, ‘We no like ruin the yard.’ “
Igarashi’s daughter, Patti, said most candidates and their supporters ask her family if they can post their signs, but not all of them. She said it can be overwhelming for her parents sometimes, and they do not always know whose signs are in their yard.
“It’s gotten to the point where everyone keeps coming. They’re getting hard of hearing, and they don’t even know whose signs are going up,” the daughter said. “I come home from work, and I’m like:
” ‘Who’s that?’ “
“I don’t know.”
” ‘Were you guys home today?’
” ‘Did you hear anyone pounding?’
“I don’t know.”
“We kind of leave them. We just let it go because it’s not hurting anybody,” she said.
The two homeowners said they do not ask for any favors from the candidates, though some have replaced their fences or filled in the holes left by ground stakes. They said others bring food, gifts and tickets to their dinner fundraisers, which Igarashi said she rarely attends.
“They all come and give you a ticket to dinner, but you got to give a donation so I don’t bother to go,” she said laughing.
Filimoe’atu said she has never charged candidates for space on her fence and does not feel like it’s a burden. She said sees it as a public service to politicians willing to put their “a–es on the line.”
“It’s all with aloha. That’s really what I try to do,” she said. “It’s unconditional, but we hope to be reciprocated, not compensated. I aloha them for stepping up and doing the policymaking that will help all of us.”
For Maui County candidates, putting up signs and talking to residents has remained one of the most effective ways of spreading their message.
Kauanoe Batangan, a political newcomer, challenged Democratic state Rep. Justin Woodson in the primary and used signs and door-to-door visits to increase his visibility among Central Maui voters. He started off by asking friends and family if they would put signs in their yards and then targeted the busiest streets to maximize his reach.
“Being a first-time candidate, I wanted to get my name out and have as much exposure as possible,” he said.
Batangan said most residents were respectful when he introduced himself and asked if he could place a sign in their yards. He said homeowners with signs already in their yards were more receptive than those without.
“For the most part, they were willing to have your signs in their yard, especially if you take the time to talk to them and say what you stand for and why you’re running,” he said. “A few chose to decline because they said if I have a sign in their yard, then others would ask and then their fence would be flooded.”
Batangan installed nearly all of his 112 signs and banners himself throughout his district. He said he built them in the garages of friends from Boy Scouts to withstand Kahului’s strong winds.
“I put up almost all of them by myself,” he said. “In hindsight, I’d probably enlist help to do that so I could dedicate more of my time knocking on doors and talking to people. But I liked showing I was willing to go out and do the difficult manual labor on my own.”
Longtime West Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey is well known around the island so he does not need to rely on signs to familiarize voters. He said he tries to be “very strategic” with the few banners and signs he puts up on the west side.
“Thing about it is we’re still trying to get our message out, but focusing on just a few key places that are important,” McKelvey said.
McKelvey recalled a time when candidates were only allowed to begin putting up signs on a certain date before the primary election. He said the next day signs would be all over the island.
In the past, signs outside a home signified support for that particular candidate, McKelvey said. However, that changed as more and more homes displayed both candidates side-by-side.
Maui County Clerk Danny Mateo, a former County Council member from Molokai, said campaigning on Maui has become more “Mainland style” where people are “a little more confrontational and a little more nasty.” He said that, during his time as a candidate, there were no large banners, and he only used signs 3-by-3-feet large, at most.
“Times have changed so much that now, in order to be recognized, you need the banner, you need your face on the banner, and it becomes more costly,” Mateo said, adding that candidates also need to put out more signs. “You go to the landowners and ask for permission, which can be awfully time-consuming, and you often forget where the hell you put your signs.”
Mateo said it is difficult for Molokai and Lanai candidates to campaign on Maui without contacts on the island. He said he used as many family members as he could and would assign them to different districts on the island such as Kahului and Upcountry.
“We used to kind of flood the area with our signs at choice areas,” he said. “When you come from a Neighbor Island, you don’t really know a lot of people at the beginning. You hope the contacts you have know where to put your signs and post them and you drive around and look for locations that are lacking and call the captain in that area.”
Mateo said he would always make sure to take his signs down a couple days after the general election; otherwise residents might not be so willing to display them next election season. Mateo said he’s grateful for never losing an election.
“The good part is putting them up; the hard part is taking them all down,” he said. “If you win, it’s all nice. If you didn’t win, it must be more of a difficult task.”
As candidates look to possibly add more signs to areas throughout the county, they may also need to revise existing ones.
The state Campaign Spending Commission began enforcement of advertisement disclaimers on all campaign committees’ signs and banners on Aug. 20. That means all signs and banners must identify who paid for and authorized the advertisement.
In July, the commission voted unanimously to require the disclaimers after Gov. Ige vetoed a bill that would have exempted political signs and banners. The commission opted to allow candidates a grace period after the Aug. 11 primary.
Commission Executive Director Kristin Izumi-Nitao said enforcement of the law has not been an issue, but she admitted that policing signs across the state is difficult for her office. She said her office consists of five people overseeing 600 campaign candidate committees, and she does not have any satellite offices on the Neighbor Islands.
“We don’t have a budget to go look. We don’t have investigators on staff,” Izumi-Nitao said. “Ultimately, commissioners decided they were going to enforce the law. It’s really about transparency, and I give it to the commissioners for being thoughtful.”
Banners or signs without a disclaimer may be fined $25 per advertisement fine for the first violation, $100 per ad for the second violation and $500 per ad for the third violation. The fourth violation results in a complaint to the commission.
To contact the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, call (808) 586-0285.
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.