Betta Stothart is not proud of stealing Donald Trump’s signs, and doesn’t plan on doing it again.

But the Falmouth resident says seeing so many of the Republican presidential candidate’s signs lining Route 1, in her hometown, made her angry. Not just about Trump and things he’s said about women, but about our divisive political climate.

“It felt to me like there was a small group of people really trying to impose their political ideology on the community. It felt like an affront, and a little disrespectful, to have so many there,” Stothart, 52, said of the hundred or more signs. “The day after (stealing the signs) I was still fuming, and I decided I had to write something.”

What Stothart started as an exercise to get sign-stealing experience “off my chest” ended up as an opinion piece scheduled to appear in Tuesday’s Washington Post. Stothart said she never intended the piece to be published when she wrote it, but friends encouraged her to try to reach a wider audience. Stothart, a writer and editor, submitted her work to The Post and it was accepted.

Stothart did not want to divulge too much about the piece until it is published. She said Monday that she intends to apologize to David Jones, chairman of the Making Maine Great Again political action committee, which distributed the signs to supporters. And she hopes that other people, including youngsters and her own daughter, won’t follow her lead.

“I know a lot of people are out there this year pulling down signs, but there are better ways” to express one’s opinion, Stothart said. “Please just vote.”

Stothart says she’s not “intensely political” but is supporting Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic rival. She said she has one Clinton sign in her yard.

Stothart’s sign theft comes during an election year when signs across the state have been stolen or defaced, and when many Mainers are complaining that signs are more numerous and more closely packed together than ever before, creating a political gantlet for commuters. People driving along Route 1 in Falmouth and Scarborough say the throng of signs – hundreds of them – is especially overwhelming this year.

Stothart, and two other women she won’t name, were caught stealing Trump’s signs by Falmouth police shortly after midnight on Oct. 15. They had been pulling up Trump signs for about 20 minutes on a section of Route 1 north of the Gilsland Farm Audubon Center when police arrived. Stothart said she’s not sure how many signs the three women pilfered. She was charged with theft and given a summons to appear in court Dec. 15, she said.

The stolen signs were blue with the words “Trump” and “Pence” (for Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence) and the slogan “Making Maine Great Again!” The signs can be purchased for $10 on the committee’s website.

Falmouth police Monday did not release details of the theft of Trump signs by Stothart and the other women but said they would do so Tuesday.

Jones, of Making Maine Great Again, said he was told about the theft of the signs by Falmouth police and that he signed a complaint against Stothart and the other women. He said police told him the three women had a “carload” of signs. Jones said his group purchased and distributed 5,000 Trump signs to people in Maine’s 1st District. He said he asked the Maine Department of Transportation to inspect sign areas and notify of him of any problems, but no one did.

State law requires that political signs in a public right-of-way, with the same message, be placed 30 feet apart. Gov. Paul LePage’s office has said that it has received many complaints this year about signs not being far enough apart.

State law also allows a fine of up to $250 for stealing signs.

Jones said he’s been made aware of several other incidents of police catching people stealing political signs. Amos Goss of Scarborough was issued a summons Oct. 17 after police found him in possession of 14 signs. Goss, 37, said his actions weren’t politically motivated. He said he didn’t like seeing so many signs posted along a scenic marsh. Goss is scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 30.

“I’m really shocked that people are behaving this way,” Jones said of the sign stealing. “We all have the right to free speech, but apparently some people have a problem with that.”

The theft of the Falmouth Trump signs was not planned. Stothart said she and several other women had gathered at one of the women’s homes on that Friday night, and talk turned to the Trump signs. Stothart said the sign discussion took place just days after Trump made news because of video that captured him making lewd remarks about groping women. He later downplayed his comments as “locker room talk.” Stothart said Trump’s comments helped fuel the women’s actions.

“A group of us, a bunch of moms, had gotten together and were talking about (the mass of signs). We got angrier the more we talked about it and decided to do something. I’m not proud of what I did,” Stothart said.

 


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