Tuesday, September 17, 2019

not cottoning to politics in my mother's garage

Change comes in increments.

When I sold my house in Salem in 2013, I pulled a St. Francis and gave away most of the goods I had accumulated over the past sixty-something years. Almost everything either went to the dump, Goodwill, or the Salvation Army. Clothes. Furniture. Books. Vinyl records. Electronics. Stalin conducted lighter purges.

But not everything was sent off to the Gulag. Of course, there was the Escape-load of personal items that I took to Mexico in 2009. And there were several boxes of items that managed to escape destruction. Most, for sentimental reasons.

Sentiment is an odd thought pattern. I realized that this week when I moved some boxes that I had stored at my mother's house.

I am not certain why I did not throw out the contents of those five boxes. This month, I decided it was time to move those boxes south. There are too many to ship by air. I can take a few items in my suitcases on this trip back to Mexico. But I will need to return with my current Escape to move the remainder south.

That meant it was time to triage the contents with a fresh eye.

I suspect everyone falls into the trap of nostalgia when sifting through possessions they have not seen in years. I had kept a lot of loose photographs that created a rather manicured thread of my life. Grade school. High school. College. Air Force. Politics.

Some of you know that I ran for an Oregon legislative seat in 1988. I have been involved in politics all of my life. In high school, in addition to being conversant with major league baseball statistics, I could recite the names of every person in the United States Senate and House -- by state, sometimes by district. I was a regular reader of The Congressional Record. It was merely a matter of time before I would run for office.

In 1988 I lived in a House district in suburban Portland that was represented by a two-term incumbent. That would usually be a warning signal. Incumbents tend to win. But he had won both times by extremely close margins.

Before I could meet him in the general election, I had to win a primary against an opponent who was over 20 years older than I. (I was 38 at the time.) He was also far to my right. Both factors made it a very close primary election. I won by 111 votes. Awarding me the sobriquet: "Landslide Cotton."

While filtering the boxes, I ran across one of the many mailers the campaign sent to voters. The issues I ran on seem quite familiar: crime, property tax relief, jobs, workers' compensation reform, public school funding.

I will confess that other than fund-raising, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. There is something exhilarating when friends, family, and total strangers get together with the common goal of improving governance.*

If you already knew I ran, you also know how the tale ends. On election night the race was too close to call because of a large number of write-in ballots for an Oregon Supreme Court seat. Only a couple hundred votes separated my result from my opponent's. We had to wait almost a full week to discover that my opponent had once again pulled off a victory in the closest race of the 60 assembly seats.

I did not run again -- for a number of reasons. But my box-rummaging Reminded me just how professional the campaign was. Most of us were volunteers, but we also had professional advice. That distinctive green and white graphic in the photograph art the top of this essay was borrowed from a candidate who had run for governor.

When mistakes were made, they were the result of good intentions gone bad. The worst one involved a campaign button.

In 1965 a state representative (later US Senator) by the name of Bob Packwood started the Dorchester Conference. It was originally designed as a forum to discuss how Oregon Republicans could re-build their party after the 1964 Goldwater election. Because of it genesis, it was long-viewed as a liberal Republican conference.

The conference always attracted politicians interested in election. My campaign was there in the winter of 1988.

My campaign manager told me she and our campaign consultant had cooked up a surprise. When I arrived, the two of them had set up our booth in the foyer of the Seaside convention center. Our green-and-white lawn signs, buttons, brochures, and bumper stickers were tidily displayed.

Then, I saw the surprise. And here it is.

I was dismayed. For two reasons. The less-important reason is that "pick Cotton" was something you might see on a construction paper poster for a candidate seeking the class treasurer position of his high school class.

The more-important reason is the obvious one. "I'm a Cotton picker" sends exactly the wrong message on my stand concerning racial equality.

There was only one button left on the table. I took it. All the rest had been sold and were being worn by delegates. I tried to buy them back. No one would give up theirs.
In the end, it all blew over. It did not become an issue in the campaign. But it is a reminder to me every time I see it that even the best-run project can go astray.

I will now give you a warning. When I get back to Mexico, I will undoubtedly stumble down nostalgia lane with a few of the odder pieces I have discovered in my mother's garage.

It appears I will be heading back to Barra de Navidad on Friday with my business in Oregon unfinished. We will talk then.

* -- That sentence made me chuckle. The Economist recently reviewed a series of presidential political campaign books. My very earnest sentence seems to be akin to the reviewer's summary of Bernie Sanders's writing style.
Each chapter in Bernie Sanders's book, for instance, is headlined with a date. Where We Go From Here reads as though, on those particular dates, he turned on the recording function on his smartphone, shouted into it for a while, and then got an intern to transcribe everything.

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