Saturday: St. Olaf professor confesses to stealing McCain signs

  • Article by: LAURIE BLAKE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 4, 2008 - 12:03 PM

The visiting professor at St. Olaf later admitted his antics were immature, illegal and disrespectful.

Stealing through the dark to yank three John McCain yard signs from yards along rural Hwy. 19 in Northfield was wrong but also thrilling and satisfying, a visiting instructor at St. Olaf College recently told readers of a national website.

Philip Busse, who teaches a class in media studies at the Northfield school, said he intended the posting to point out the foolish things people do in a highly charged political season.

But neither the McCain nor Obama presidential campaign was amused by his exploits, St. Olaf has condemned the prank and the Rice County sheriff is investigating.

In his essay "Confessions of a Lawn Sign Stealer'' on the Huffington Post, Busse wrote that although illegal and immature, "yanking out the (three) signs and running like a scared rabbit back to my idling car was one of the single-most exhilarating and empowering political acts that I have ever done.''

A veteran writer, political activist and failed mayoral candidate in Portland, Ore., Busse also serves as executive director of the Northwest Institute for Social Change in Portland.

Busse said he talked Friday with the Rice County sheriff and offered restitution for the signs. He expects to hear from the Sheriff's Office next week about whether charges will be filed.

"This was stupid. It was immature. It's illegal. I am taking responsibility for all of my actions,'' Busse said. "I regret it has brought some focus to the college, because they have nothing to do with this.''

Steve Blodgett, director of marketing and communications at St. Olaf, said Busse is on campus for one semester to teach a single class. "His actions ... are in direct conflict with the college's values and mission, and we do not in any way condone them.''

Tom Steward, regional communications director for Sen. John McCain's campaign, said: "No matter which side of the aisle you come down on, people should be able to agree there is no place in politics for what is really uncivil activity, not to mention illegal.''

More than 1,000 McCain-Palin signs have been stolen across Minnesota and "it actually has an impact,'' Steward said. "We are out of signs. We don't have any more to give to volunteers.''

Nick Kimball, a Minnesota spokesman for Sen. Barack Obama's campaign, also condemned sign-stealing, estimating that more than 3,000 Obama-Biden signs have been stolen and destroyed. Such antics, he said, distract from more serious issues.

That, Busse said Saturday, was the point. "In this politically charged environment we all say and do stupid things,'' Busse said. "I found it interesting that an otherwise very mature person like myself would have this impulse.''

Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711

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