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`Polite People' Spar Over Signs

In South Carolina, Confederate flags, bumper stickers, and campaign posters draw fire

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A CLOSE observer of political signs in Charleston, S.C., will have noticed that the Mendel Rivers posters along the state highway have disappeared.

That name has a ring in Charleston. Longtime Republican Congressman Mendel Rivers, as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee from 1965 until his death in 1971, presided over a military buildup in the city's naval and air bases that once accounted for one-third of local wages.

His son is still very much in the Republican primary race for the First Congressional District. But the state highway department determined that his campaign signs were too clever, hence distracting. Moreover, in a state right of way, they were illegal.

Illegal? said the Rivers campaign. Then the six other GOP hopefuls should remove their roadside signs as well. In fact, after removing its own signs, the campaign nudged the process along by tearing down 700 rival signs. The signs went right back up. So on Tuesday, the Rivers campaign filed a lawsuit directing the state highway department to do its job and enforce the law.

``At 30 days in jail and a $100 fine for each offense and, say, 500 signs up, that's 40 years in jail and $100,000 in fines,'' says Rivers campaign manager Arthur Rashap. ``In a sense, it's not about signs, but about the integrity of people who know the law.''

It's also about a campaign in which there are yet no deep disagreements over values. All seven GOP candidates support term limits, less government, conservative values. Hence the flap over signs - a bid to claim even slightly higher moral ground.

Elsewhere in the city, the signs speak louder. Take the competing bumper signs you'd notice if not too distracted by roadside campaign posters: ``Save the Males'' and ``Shave Shannon's Head.''

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