Billboard near Vega, Texas urges liberals to leave the state
UPDATE: Since this story was first published, the billboard owner responded to a request for comment, saying that the billboard would be taken down and the client reimbursed, after media coverage and social media backlash to the sign's message.
"Howdy, y'all," is the folksy, welcoming greeting that has made Texas known for a relaxed, down-home charm over the years.
But that's not the message motorists are getting from a billboard causing a stir on social media.
"Liberals," the billboard reads. "Please continue on I-40 until you have left our GREAT STATE OF TEXAS."
At least that's what it will read until sometime Wednesday. Randy Burkett, who owns Burkett Outdoor Advertising and the sign, told McClatchy that after all the backlash and media attention the sign got on Tuesday and Wednesday, it would be taken down immediately.
"I was shocked that it traveled that fast," Burkett said. "I believe in free speech, but this country is divided enough as it is. I've spoken with the client, and he's agreed that it should come down. We'll be reimbursing him."
He said that the client who bought the advertising space was an individual, not an organization. The sudden surge of web traffic crashed the Burkett Outdoor Advertising website Wednesday morning.
The billboard is visible, at least for the time being, to eastbound drivers on Interstate 40 outside the small Panhandle town of Vega, which is about 30 miles west of Amarillo.
Texas is one of the most politically conservative states in the U.S. Texas has had two Republican U.S. senators since 1993, and voters have elected only Republican governors since 1995. Texas' electoral votes in presidential elections have gone to the Republican candidate in every election since 1980, according to the Texas secretary of state.
Kyle Mccallie, who lives in the small town of Fritch, took a photo of the billboard Tuesday and posted it to Facebook. His photo had been shared more than 14,000 times as of Wednesday morning and had gotten nearly 1,800 reactions on Facebook.
"I like it!" Mccallie wrote in the caption to his photo.
Fritch has a population of just over 2,000, according to U.S. Census figures. Vega had a population of 906 in 2016. The state motto in Texas is "Friendship."
"I am riding the TRUMP TRAIN all the way across the great country of the USA," Mccallie told McClatchy. "The reactions have been crazy. I had no intentions of it getting like this, blowing up in a few hours. All kinds of hate mail and all I did was take a picture."
Response to Mccallie's photo has fallen along political lines.
"I'm a far-left liberal who fairly regularly travels out west from Tennessee in an RV. Many trips have taken me through Texas where I've spent hundreds of dollars on diesel, campgrounds and restaurant[s]," one commenter wrote in response to Mccallie's post. "I can easily bypass the state by going back and forth on I-70 instead of one of the Interstate highways through Texas."
But many others supported the points of view of the billboard and Mccallie.
"While this billboard is hilarious, I wish it was not directing people to Oklahoma. It needs to direct them west to California!" another commenter wrote.
A GoFundMe campaign to pay for a billboard with the message, "Texas is for everyone — except bigots" had raised just over $1,000 of its $1,800 goal as of noon Wednesday. The organizers said they wanted to put that billboard up within Amarillo city limits, and the $1,800 would pay to keep it up for four weeks.
Burkett said his billboard would be replaced with one from the Big Texan Steak Ranch, a local restaurant, or from the Amarillo Convention and Visitor Council.