All buttoned up
An interest in politics and history motivates two local men to keep a sharp eye out for political buttons to add to their collections
Marty Seifert and Cory Becker both have a keen interest in Minnesota’s statewide political scene, an interest which is at the root of their political pinback button collections.
Seifert, a former Minnesota House of Representatives member whose district centered around the Marshall area, has a collection of several hundred pinbacks. Becker is off to a good start toward a similar number. As a freshman at Southwest Minnesota State University, he already has about 100 buttons mostly mounted on a bulletin board.
Seifert, originally from eastern Redwood County, began his collection as a teenager who was starting to take an interest in politics.
He earned his four-year degree at Southwest Minnesota State University, and has professional experience as a high school social studies teacher, an SMSU admissions representative, and a foundation fundraising coordinator for Avera Marshall. He has remained a Marshall resident since his college days. He, his wife Traci and their children live in Horizon Addition.
He now has a new role at the Minnesota State Capitol as a government affairs (lobbying) coordinator for both the Greater Minnesota Cities Coalition and the statewide Centers for Independent Living.
“I took a break from the button collection during my terms in the Legislature,” said Seifert, who is also a coin collector and a classic car owner. “I then went back to having more interest in them. I’ve always enjoyed history and antiques, so the button collection is a natural part of that.”
His specialty is Richard Nixon political buttons. He chose Nixon for several reasons; including the fact that he was featured on nine different occasions when he ran for major offices.
Nixon was the Republican presidential candidate three times in 1960, 1968 and 1972. He was Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president after the 1952 and 1956 elections. He also ran for Governor of California in 1962, for U.S. Senate in another election, and twice for the U.S. House.
“He was a major part of political history for many years,” Seifert said. “That’s lended itself to collecting his political memorabilia. One of my collecting goals is to build up my Nixon buttons whenever there’s an opportunity.”
He already has a nearly full bulletin board featuring Nixon. It includes two of the very last examples of Nixon collectibles, both of which grew out of how supporters stayed loyal during the Watergate scandal centered around a break-in at the Democratic headquarters in 1972.
The Watergate incident prompted an investigation conducted by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Their efforts formed the basis of the 1970s book and movie “All the President’s Men.”
One of the buttons worn by Nixon loyalists is a simple expression of support. The other is more politically charged with the statement that “no one drowned in Watergate,” a reference to Edward Kennedy’s car accident at Chappaquiddick in Massachusetts that led to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.
President John Kennedy is the second most-represented politician in Seifert’s collection. He also has several of the oldest U.S. political buttons which date back more than 100 years. One example is a Theodore Roosevelt presidential campaign button from either his Republican campaign in 1904 or his Progressive “Bull Moose” effort in 1912, in which he placed second out of three candidates in Electoral College votes behind Democrat Woodrow Wilson but ahead of Republican incumbent William Howard Taft.
Another of his favorites features former Minnesota Governor and Rochester area First District Congressman Al Quie. He considers Quie one of the most under-publicized political figures in American history.
He and Becker had the opportunity to interview Quie for research and publishing possibilities this winter at his residence, an assisted living care center where he lives at the age of 95. Quie’s political service included staunch support for national Civil Rights legislation, being summoned from a prayer group meeting at the nation’s Capitol minutes after Nixon announced his resignation in 1974, and making the short list of potential vice president nominees for both Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.
Seifert added that Quie, regarded as a moderate Republican, has often been asked about the long-term direction of his party. To illustrate his longstanding support for the party, he has at times pointed out that his grandfather was a veteran in the Union Army during the Civil War.
In recent interviews Quie has endorsed President Trump’s efforts to spearhead the construction of a border wall with Mexico. Seifert said that stance has caught the attention of conservatives, moderate Republicans and experienced political reporters who’ve known Quie for many years.
Becker’s interest in politics and his corresponding hobby of collecting political memorabilia took shape through his experiences as a high school student at Gibbon Fairfax Winthrop (GFW) Public Schools.
He has considered a variety of career paths. The options have included Lutheran ministry and high school or college level social studies teaching as well as employment in the sphere of politics.
He has recently leaned strongly toward politics following an experience working at the state Capitol. He served for a week as a Sergeant At Arms Department page. The internship program provides week-long firsthand views of the daily routine at the Capitol to about 30 teenagers from throughout Minnesota each year.
“The Capitol has an atmosphere that’s always buzzing with excitement,” Becker said. “Everyone notices it the first time they visit, even if they’re just there as tourists.”
He said he might be interested in serving his home district in the Legislature if an opportunity to run presents itself. Otherwise he’s likely to consider a job at the Capitol such as a legislative assistant. He is employed with mostly summer hours as assistant director for the Minnesota Historical Society’s visitor center located at Fort Ridgely State Park, and wouldn’t mind building on that experience with a position that would involve the Capitol’s history and architecture.
He listed several of his favorite finds that have enhanced his pinback collection. His best one is an assortment of Hubert Humphrey presidential buttons from 1968, which he bought from a former Humphrey campaign worker.
Others high on his favorites list are an old classic that features John Johnson (Minnesota’s governor from 1905-1909 who became the first governor to be born in Minnesota), a “Whistle for Whitney” button attached to a working whistle worn when Wheelock Whitney campaigned for a Minnesota Senate seat against Democrat Eugene McCarthy, and an “I’d Vote for Goldwater If I were 21” button from 1964 that shows a connection to how Hillary Clinton began her political career as a young supporter of conservative Republican Goldwater.
Becker said he’s likely to specialize in Reagan memorabilia. Two examples from his Reagan buttons are a 1967 item generated by Reagan’s presidential exploratory committee that met less than a year after he was first elected Governor of California and a “Let’s Make America Great Again” button from the days when Reagan used the phrase as a campaign slogan long before it became a motto for Trump.
“Sometimes I’m surprised by what I find through collecting,” Becker said. “I had no idea Reagan had also used a slogan about making America great again. I’d like to collect as many buttons and books about him as I can find.”
His button collecting has included support from his girlfriend, high school classmate Kaitlyn Unger. She’s a freshman at the Hutchinson campus of Ridgewater Community College, and is interested in becoming an elementary school teacher. She’s often his scout at antique stores and on the Internet, spot checking button possibilities before he looks at them in greater detail.
Both Seifert and Becker said they like how political buttons are mostly affordable to collect. Another advantage is that it’s easy to tell an original from a reproduction.
“Many times a reproduction sponsor such as the Kleenex company disclosed that it’s a reproduction as part of the advertising effort,” Seifert said. “That leads to interest among advertising collectors as well as those who collect political items. Someone can build a nice collection filled with political history and still stay within a limited budget.”