Posted by: sweeneyblog | October 10, 2013

Whatcom County Yard Signs of 2013

Mention the phrase “yard signs” to any serious campaign manager and they wince. Whether it is the long hours trying to secure good locations, the tedious labor of installing them, or the constant hassle of replacing stolen signs, campaign managers almost universally loathe yard signs.

The data on their effectiveness is mixed. While many modern (post-2006) campaigns claim that yard signs do not provide votes or persuade, some local leaders swear by their usefulness in a rural county such as ours. No matter how you feel about the effectiveness of yard signs, we can all agree that solid design is essential. Two years ago, I did an analysis of local political mailers, this year, I’m going to take a swing at  yard signs. So, in spaghetti western style, here is the Good, the Bad and the Ugly:

The Good

Clayton Petree

Clayton Petree for City Council

Clayton Petree has a challenging race. He is a fiscal conservative running for council in a city that voted for Barack Obama by 73%. With his opposition to the Reconveyance and his hearty support for more housing construction, he needed to showcase his environmental support to our green-leaning city. Naturally, he used his yard sign to convey an outdoorsy feel. Taking the view of Lake Whatcom as you crest Alabama Hill (and enter the 4th ward – the seat in question) and turning it into a simple visual – the sign draws attention to his unique first name (“Clayton”). In a town where EVERYONE seems to use Mt. Baker as part of their logo, this manages a fresh spin on an old concept. Well done.

Ben Elenbaas

Ben Elenbaas for County Council

While I might have poked a little fun at Elenbaas supervillainy I do appreciate good work when I see it and this yard sign is top notch. The name is clearly visible and the visual elements immediately reinforce his theme (“I’m a farmer”). He also manages to tie in his slogan, Vote Local, without it interfering with the name.  Tip of the hat to you, Ben.

The Bad

Renata Kowalczyk

Renata for Port

Do not look directly into the sign! Okay, I understand the desire to use neon colors (they are bright and eyecatching!) but the eyeball-jabbing can undercut their effectiveness. Renata does a great job of just conveying the essential information (port and her first name) but the blaring colors make it tricky for me to see this sign without wincing.

Kathy Kershner

Kathy Kershner for County Council

The main flaw with this yard sign is spacing. With both “Kathy” and “Kershner” being the same size, the sign comes off a bit crowded. The all CAPS for the “County Council” continues to clog the visual space. And then there is that heart. It is supposed to convey compassion and health, since her central campaign themes revolve around healthy communities. But seeing it in that color with that design, I can’t help but think it looks a little elementary school doodle-esque. All and all, a little too cluttered.

Neither Renata’s nor Kershner’s are nearly as terrible as . . .

The Ugly

Bill Knutzen

Bill Knutzen for County Council

Combine all the eye-jabbing power of neon yellow with the color choices of a Packers fan and this is what you get. Knutzen’s sign manages the difficult task of being both boring and glaring at the same time. The giant block letters convey the name alright but with two Knutzen’s the ballot (yes, spelled differently but still), making the “Bill” really small does not help.

Ken Bell for Port Commissioner

Ken Bell for Port Commissioner

Okay, the color scheme is not bad and the name is clearly readable. So what is so wrong with Ken Bell‘s yard sign? Simple, the compass rose in the middle. Yard signs with overly complex images rarely work because you are only seeing these images for a moment on your way to your next destination. Every time I see this image, I think it is something else. A bullet hole? A gun sight? A time vortex? All I know is that it is dead center of the yard sign and it is all I see. In this case, the image detracts from the surrounding words.

That is all for now. Share your thoughts on these yard signs and others in the comments below. Next week, as the political mailers start flooding our mailboxes, I’ll be doing a similar article about campaign materials.

As always, you can support local journalism and commentary with a donation to The Political Junkie by clicking here.



  1. Fun piece. Bell won the Stephanie/Dave SIGNDISASTER award for this year’s season! Another confusing thing about the compass rose–I know it’s supposed to signify the port, but his name is BELL–so there’s some serious mental disambiguation there that can surely cause someone to plow into the Prius in front of them while trying to figure it all out.

    Interesting that you’d criticize Kershner’s sign while complimenting Elenbaas. Showing his graphic right after Petree’s makes it look even more clunky. Also, is that a red sun? Bullet hole? Bingo blot? Finally, the italics/font clash is so glaring it made me forget to vote local [sic.]

    Speaking of which, does voting locally mean not voting for someone whose campaign funds come from far, far away? Just curious, Farmer Ben.

  2. Clayton’s is the only great one, for sure!

  3. Heh. Does Ken Bell’s “Time Vortex” logo mean he wants to add a Bellingham Time Portal? 😉

    • I want to go on the record saying I will support any candidate who promises to build a time machine.

      • Oooh! Oooh! I know! Let’s Kill Hitler!

      • Spoilers, sweetie.

  4. I believe the most clever thing about Clayton Petree’s sign is the way he managed to get people to focus on his first name so that the attention to his last name would then be minimal, which is helpful for Clayton because his father, Jack Petree’s name is very well known in the county for his right-wing slant and active in GMA issues–on the non-compliance side of things. So, whoever designed that sign is very good at their job.

    But, having clever well-designed campaign signs doesn’t take away from the fact that the individuals and groups that Clayton’s father rubs elbows with such as property rights die-hards, are listed on the endorsers/contributors to Clayton Petree’s campaign. Even though Clayton’s campaign signs make it harder for some who are unaware to connect the dots, the endorser list does the connecting.

    Clayton seems like a nice guy, and I like that he seems to want a strong level of environmental cleanup for the Bellingham Waterfront, which I am glad to hear from him, however the bulk of names and groups on his endorsers’ list reads like a laundry list of our county’s ultra-conservative, pro-property rights, anti-GMA, anti-environmental protection ideologues, and to me, that is possibly, not a good sign.

  5. You forgot the best one. Pinky Vargas’ sign. It’s simple, colorful, fun, and definitely not the same old.

    • It is a very striking sign. 🙂

      • Is Pinky Stinky?

  6. […] biggest surprises for me was how poorly Clayton Petree did. I thought that with the combination of his enviro-friendly imagery, name recognition from a previous run and successful fundraising however when the votes were […]

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