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PRO: Businesses provide a 'public service' through political signs

By Melissa Crowe
Sept. 30, 2012 at 4:30 a.m.
Updated Oct. 1, 2012 at 5:01 a.m.

Political signs in front of The Corral restaurant on Houston Highway in Victoria. Do political signs in front of local businesses give politicians an avenue to get their names out there or do they alienate potential customers?


In an election season, major thoroughfares can be a candidate's best bet for generating name recognition.

It's also a chance for business owners in high-traffic areas to offer a public service and loan their corners to campaign signs.

A smattering of election signs overshadow the flashing Native American neon sign at The Corral, a 60-year-old mainstay restaurant on Houston Highway.

Albert Totah, who owns the business, said he allows those seasonal advertisements "as a courtesy" to all office-seekers.

"I don't endorse anyone," Totah said. "I may support some; others I don't."

So long as the sign is gone at the end of the election season, there is no problem.

"Sometimes they're lax about picking them up," Totah said.

All the same, signs and slogans for Republican and Democratic candidates mingle side-by-side on his empty lot neighboring the restaurant.

The presidential election is his only caveat; he supports the Republican candidate.

Other than that, Totah stays under the radar, avoiding any political conflicts.

"I've generally been nonpartisan," Totah said. "I don't think it has any bearing on the business."

Tony Mallette, the Republican candidate for Victoria County Commissioner Precinct 1, said it all comes down to personal preference.

Businesses that allow campaign signs on their property do a service to the community, Mallette said.

"It's aiding in getting the name out, it's not necessarily an endorsement of a candidate," he said. "Those who decide they don't want to do that, I think they're intimidated that maybe some of their customers would feel like they're endorsing a candidate."

Mallette said he is a proponent of getting people involved in politics and campaigns.

"If (a business) only allows one particular person's sign, then that kind of ties to an endorsement, but what's wrong with that?" Mallette said. "It's their business decision."

Steven Filla, a manager at Discount Tire near Victoria Mall on Navarro Street, said their property is fair game, so long as candidates ask for permission.

"Recently my store got into trouble for having too many signs," Filla said.

At the time, he had about 15 signs in front and the district manager intervened.

Other Discount Tire locations, such as the one he managed in San Antonio, avoid participating politically, Filla said.

"I don't know if it matters to customers," he said. "I don't know a whole lot about politics."

Jack Marr, the Republican candidate for District 24 judge, said the signs he has in front of businesses are typically endorsements.

"I don't know that it has any impact at all" on a business, Marr said. "If a business owner decides to allow any candidate to put up a sign, I assume that business owner has decided it will not have an impact on their business. ... It's certainly an act of free speech."

What it comes down to is getting the message out.

In Houston or larger urban areas billboards are more effective than individual yard signs, Marr said.

"Campaigns change as geography changes," he said. "In rural markets, campaign signs are the primary means."



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