A headline on a column written by Rick Foster for The Sun Chronicle and published in the Maine Sunday Telegram grabbed my attention: “Political buttons sew up votes.” “From ‘We Want Willkie’ to ‘I like Ike’ and beyond, political buttons have played a major role in almost every presidential election campaign since the early 20th century,” wrote Foster.
My collection doesn’t go back quite that far, even though I’ve always been fond of political buttons and signs and have quite a collection. They trigger many good memories (OK, some bad ones too).
Let’s dig into the boxes and see what we find.
I’m looking first at a stack of Richard Nixon memorabilia. As a Republican activist from high school age on, I actually taped Nixon’s acceptance speech, the “Let’s win this one for Ike” speech. Still got the tape too. I also have a belt featuring the words: “President Nixon. Now more than ever.” Linda’s never let me wear it though, or my white hat festooned with dozens of “Nixon Now” circles in blue and red.
The figurine of Nixon, dressed as Superman, is really something, and of course I have lots of Nixon/Agnew buttons.
The Nixon Yearbook of 1968 is a real collector’s item. It includes photos of the Nixon family taken by his daughters Tricia and Julie. Right underneath that book is a paper doll and cut-out book of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, featured in their underwear on the cover.
And here’s a cut-out of Nixon’s smiling face, which I used to wear to parties. I’ve also got a collection of Nixon coasters. It’s always fun to put them out at parties.
Truth be told, by 1972 I despised Nixon, and participated in the biggest anti-war march in our nation’s history in Washington, D.C.
Oh, here’s a Gov. Reed bumper sticker alongside an Ed Muskie brochure.
Over here in a corner of my workshop is my collection of posters, including a massive one that I got at a Baltimore rally for Jerry Brown when he was running for president in the 1970s.
And here’s one of my favorite items, a tiny billboard featuring “Speers Governor” — back in the day when my friend Jerry Speers ran for governor.
And of course, over here in another box, is my own political stuff, with a bumper sticker featuring an elephant and the words: “Republican and Proud Of It,” which I printed and distributed as a candidate for Kennebec County commissioner.
I put up road signs modeled on the old Burma Shave rhyming signs. One of my signs said, “For it’s job, County Governments in tune, With an oxcart, For a trip to the moon.” The series of four signs were put up all over the county and got quite a response.
Some of the signs were stolen, so I came back with a new series: “His campaign signs, They stole and tore, But George Smith comes back, With more and more.”
And then there was my favorite: “With George Smith, On the County Commission, Our taxes, Will not be Increasin.” My campaign brochure featured a front-page photo of my dog, with a headline: “Has County Government Gone To The Dogs?” People mentioned that brochure for years afterwards, remembering the dog.
Not all my collection is political.
Here are the signs I held up while attending the 1975 World Series in Fenway Park.
And underneath those is this one: “Nags Head NC,” which I held up as I hitched rides one time from Washington, D.C., to Nags Head, North Carolina. Boy, I could write a book about that trip!
And here’s an orange poster a friend made up that says: “Maine Lobbyist 1995-1996, George Smith,” with the SAM logo in the middle and a bull’s eye covering the poster.
I’ve got quite a few of Bill Cohen’s brochures from his first campaign for Congress in 1972. The front-page photo features Bill and me on the front steps of the Bangor library. He’s pointing toward downtown Bangor, and the joke was that he was telling me to head that way and never come back!
Actually, Bill gave me my first paid political job, as his driver. It was a really great experience.
By 1974, I was managing Dave Emery’s first campaign for Congress, so of course I’ve got lots of Emery memorabilia.
I was a major collector of buttons, and here’s a bag full of “Jim Erwin for Governor” buttons, must be a hundred.
My entire political history is in this box. “McCloskey: The Only Republican Left,” brings back great memories of my work for Congressman Pete McCloskey, who ran in the presidential primary against Nixon.
And here’s another favorite, a big bright red button: “Don’t Blame Me — I Voted For Perot.” And I did.
And look at this one: “Clean Up Congress.”
Hey, maybe I’ll start wearing that one now!