My father worked for the Department of Defense on the civilian side as an engineer, then an economist, then a supervisor of economists. He was purely civil service and in fact rose as high in the ranks as he could without losing civil service protections. One more promotion and he would have been part of the staff of a political appointee. For the longest time, being a ranking civil serviceman in the DoD meant that he was prohibited from publicly expressing support for a political candidate. No bumper stickers, no yardsigns, and no political donations.

Though a reliable voter, Dad isn’t particularly outspoken about his politics and this limitation meant that he had a built-in excuse any time a politician asked for money or someone wanted him to put up a yardsign or something. He did resent the fact that he had to remain apolitical while people above him could not only express support for candidates, but could even have their support bought and paid for as “campaign consultants”. Eventually, and I’m not sure when, the courts stepped in and said that the government couldn’t prevent people from publicly expressing their views so long as they did not represent their own views as the views of the government organization that they work for. Even after that ban was lifted, he continued to try to hide behind the no-longer existent regulations.

Last weekend I flew back to Colosse to visit the folks and go to my former roommate Hubert’s birthday party. It’s election season in East Oak, the little burg that I was raised in. The election seems to be hinging on a new condominium project that threatens to bring in all sorts of tax dollars. Oh, the horror.

Okay, so it’s a little more complicated than that because it’ll result in more traffic and yet more backyard views of skyscrapers. But the long and short of it from my point of view is that the thing is going to get built, the traffic will get worse, and the only question is whether East Oak wants to at least get a great deal of tax revenue out of it.

My folks see things the same way that I do, so you can imagine my surprise when I drove into the driveway and saw yardsigns of the candidate slate that’s trying to keep the condo out. Particularly since they’ve never put up yardsigns, ever, even after the ban was lifted.

I brought it up under the pretense of asking whether the candidates were really against the development (though I already knew from the yardsigns that they were). He said that they were and that he would be sure to vote against them. So naturally I asked, “Why the yardsign?”

They were asked to by the woman in the house across the street and everyone in the neighborhood knows that is not the person you want to make an enemy of for social reasons. “So wait, what you’re saying here is that you’re caving to peer pressure?” I asked.

Sheepishly, Dad said, “Well yeah, I guess.”

“Too bad I didn’t know about this back in high school when you were telling me to resist the evils of peer pressure. I could have done a lot of drugs, Dad!”

He didn’t entirely get my joke.


Category: Statehouse

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2 Responses to Yardsigns

  1. Linus says:

    Actually, I the Hatch Act (1939) allows almost all civil servants to have bumper stickers on their personal vehicles, yard signs, etc. – just not buttons on their official uniform or other forms of advocacy that imply connection with their agency or what have you. Your dad may have been a member of the Senior Executive Service, which is a little bit more limited that the rest of us, but I think yard signs are still allowed on your personal property.

    Of course, one’s supervisors’ interpretation of the Hatch Act may differ from a congressional lawyers’…

  2. Barry says:

    They were asked to by the woman in the house across the street and everyone in the neighborhood knows that is not the person you want to make an enemy of for social reasons.

    Why would someone be afraid of pissing off the old lady across the street for “social reasons”? Are they afraid she’ll boot them out of the country club? Spread rumors they once attended a march in Berkley? Buy foreign-made TV’s? Or is she likely to have them shunned from the annual neighborhood cul-de-sac Fourth of July barbecue and chili cookoff?

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