My father owned a dry cleaning shop in a Chicago suburb. Before every election, about this time of year, he’d get visits from earnest-looking people bearing campaign signs for their chosen candidate.

They’d ask him to put their signs in the window of his shop that faced the busiest street in town, and he would decline every time. He was unfailingly polite in turning down their requests - they were his customers or potential customers, after all - but no political sign ever appeared in his window.

His reason was simple: If he put the sign of one politician in his window, he’d run the risk of alienating at least half his customers. He shared this wisdom with me, by the way, years before a reporter asked Michael Jordan why he didn’t endorse a Democratic office-seeker. Jordan famously replied, “Because Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

Whenever I get behind a service van with a political bumper sticker or see a campaign sign in a shop window I think about my father’s advice. Maybe someone slapped on the bumper sticker when the service tech wasn’t looking or the shop proprietor was too polite to turn down a request from a good customer, but why risk driving away business from people whose views are different?

I should add here that my dad voted in every election I can remember. When he owned his own business during the years I was growing up, he almost always voted Republican. Later in life, after he sold his business and went to work for a large retailer, he tended to vote more often for candidates in the Democratic column.

I never miss voting in an election either. On election night, I get discouraged when I see the number of people who are too apathetic, uninformed or lazy to exercise their freedom to vote.

So, while I would caution your use of campaign signs and bumper stickers, I do encourage you to vote. How you vote is up to you, of course, but you may want to take the time to find out where candidates stand on issues that could make an impact on your business.

On the national level, David Dugger, incoming president of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association, identified some of these issues in an interview last month in PM:

  • Permanent repeal of the estate tax;

  • Development of workforce guidelines for the EPA’s Weatherization Assistance Program;

  • A more workable Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule, also from the EPA; and

  • Tax credits and tax extenders along with a variety of regulatory matters.

Or, you can choose to look at the bigger picture when you cast your vote. The country certainly has broad choices to make on issues such as the economy, the federal deficit, health care, military spending and taxes.

Next month’s election will be a big one, no doubt about that. I’ll stop short of calling it the most important election of our lifetime because all national elections are important, aren’t they?

The other day I came across a column I had written for an audience of contractors in October 2004. Of particular significance to our industry in that election year was the issue of tort reform because so many frivolous lawsuits were hurting plumbing contractors.

The big-picture issues I identified then have a familiar ring. They were the economy, the war in Iraq, the nation’s health-care crisis, national security, taxes and education.

I went on to describe the fall of 2004 as “the most contentious political season that I can recall since 1968.” We still have a way to go before this year’s election, but I have a hunch that Obama vs. Romney may top Bush vs. Kerry in this department.

What surprised me most, however, was my mention of the recently ended recession. And this was in 2004. Even though economists were saying the recovery was going well by that time, contractors and manufacturers had told me they were not experiencing it firsthand. They compared their businesses to a roller coaster with one good month followed by a slow one with no real traction.

My column eight years ago mentioned bumper stickers, too. Updated for the current election, the bumper stickers that will start to pop up next year will say either, “Don’t blame me, I voted for Romney,” or “Don’t blame me, I voted for Obama.”

I only can hope we don’t see them on the bumpers of service vehicles. But, as was the case in 2004, we can blame you if you don’t vote at all.

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