As fast as supporters of President Donald Trump erect signs promoting his re-election bid in this GOP-dominated county, presumed opponents are destroying them.
“Ever since we started putting up 4-by-8 (foot) signs, they’ve been immediately vandalized,” said Mick Bates, chairman of the Teller County Republican Central Committee.
On Sept. 5, members set up four pro-Trump signs in high-traffic areas in Woodland Park, using stakes to pound them in the ground.
By the next day, several were ripped apart, Bates said. Similar damage was inflicted the previous week.
“It’s a horrible thing,” Bates said, clearly frustrated. “There’s no cause or justification for vandalizing signs.”
Bates is puzzled about the ongoing vandalism. “We’ve never seen anything like this in Teller County,” he said. “Yard signs have been removed and stolen. This is a serious situation.”
Other campaign signs have been marked with obscenities and vulgarities.
Someone ignored the “High Voltage” warning that indicates an electric fence surrounds Michael Slivka’s ranch outside of Woodland Park, walked some 350 feet through a pasture with several horses and painted over a giant Trump/Pence sign on the barn, transforming the words to make a lewd reference.
“It’s an infringement of my First Amendment rights — they stifled my free speech,” said Slivka, an attorney. “It’s reprehensible and something I’ve come to expect from Democrats,” he said. “I don’t think a Republican would do this.”
Leaders of the Teller County Democrats posted a message on social media last week, saying the group “condemns the recent damage and destruction of Trump campaign signs” and “does not support or condone damaging or destroying any campaign materials including any signs, placards, literature or vehicles supporting any candidate from any party. Period.”
The message went on to say, “In our democracy, we put forward candidates and ideas and we decide on the first Tuesday in November. That is how our democracy works.”
Misdemeanor charges of trespassing and criminal mischief can be filed against those responsible, said Cmdr. Ryan Holzwarth, a spokesman for Woodland Park police. People who deface signs also can be held liable for damages.
Police have received complaints and are looking for surveillance video of the areas where signs have been damaged, Holzwarth said. They’ve also increased patrols.
The large signs the GOP committee installed cost at least $155 apiece, Bates said.
People move to the small mountain community to get away from “the levels of crime and unrest they see on TV that exists in the cities,” said Teller County Commissioner-elect Erik Stone.
“There’s a quality of life, including freedom of speech and respect of property rights, and we don’t like it when the influences of the bigger cities come up here.”
But the illegal activity is not unheard of.
The Teller County Sheriff’s Office caught a man spray-painting swastikas on several candidates’ signs for primary races earlier this year, said spokesman Lt. Wes Walter.
“That’s what we’re hoping happens with these guys,” Stone said. “We’re hoping highway cams or security cameras in front of businesses perhaps caught them on tape.”
Vandalism affects both conservative and liberal causes, said an office volunteer with the El Paso County Democratic Party.
Signs supporting Gov. Jared Polis in 2018 and former President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 were stolen, slashed with a knife and otherwise ruined, the volunteer said.
Bates said he wasn’t aware of similar vandalism in past election cycles.
“We didn’t have any problems in 2016,” he said. “There may have been yard signs stolen but not vandalism like this. I’ve never seen this kind of thing before.”
No matter what candidate residents support, Bates said such action infringes on personal rights.
“We need to respect one another’s freedom of speech and political beliefs, whether we agree with them or not.”
As of late last week, Bates estimated the loss of the Trump/Pence signs to be around $1,000. “People who damage private property can be held liable for criminal offenses under Colorado Law,” said Teller County Commander Greg Couch. “Punishments depend on the amount of damage done.”
While Slivka hadn’t filed a report yet with the sheriff’s office as of last week, Bates filed one with the Woodland Park Police Department. Most of the signs are in the city limits, including a defaced one in front of the sheriff’s interim office in Woodland Park.
The Courier’s Pat Hill contributed to this report.