Rep. Larry Haler shows passion for politics with button collection

By the Tri-City HeraldJanuary 26, 2014 

Haler Button Collection

Political button collection owned by Larry Haler.

MATTHEW BENOIT — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

OLYMPIA -- Inside a display case at the back of Rep. Larry Haler's office are the ghosts of political campaigns past.

There, in a wood-framed shadow box on the Washington legislator's wall, are more than 100 political buttons covering a suit jacket complete with a bowtie and a hat.

There are buttons from winning presidential campaigns, buttons from losing presidential candidates and buttons from gubernatorial races, initiatives and more.

The messages range from "I like Ike" and "Vote for Dave" to "Friends Don't Let Friends Vote Republican."

Haler, a Richland Republican from the 8th District, didn't pick that last one. A Democratic colleague got it for him in Washington, D.C.

The collection represents his passion for politics -- an interest stoked by his grandfather.

"When I was a kid, he would sit there with a newspaper and show me the good politicians and the bad politicians," Haler said.

Dwight Eisenhower was good, he said. Those running against him? Not so much.

Haler first ran for elected office in 1988, losing a bid for the state House of Representatives to friend Jim Jesernig.

Both their campaign buttons are in Haler's case, which includes just a fourth of the collection started for him by his father-in-law, Emil Leitz.

The buttons are from garage sales, second-hand stores and from Haler's personal political involvement through the years.

Leitz said he started giving Haler buttons as light-hearted Christmas gifts about 20 years ago, and continued giving a few each year.

Leitz picked up buttons on trips to various presidential libraries, and also gave Haler his mother-in-law's collection.

"I thought it was something I could give him that's unique," Leitz said.

Of the many buttons, Haler favors a prominent JFK piece that reads "The Man for the 60s."

Haler liked Kennedy, even from a young age.

When he saw an image of the candidate getting off an airplane in summer 1960, he told his grandfather that Kennedy would become president. Haler's grandfather disagreed, betting his 9-year-old grandson $50 against it.

Haler took the bet, but only until his mother informed him she wouldn't front him the money if he lost.

Haler's collection also features a handful of reproduced buttons going as far back as President Grant. The oldest authentic campaign button, Haler said, is from Warren G. Harding.

Haler also has several from the first campaign and inauguration of President Bill Clinton, whom he's met three times.

One button features Clinton during a 1992 saxophone-playing appearance on the Arsenio Hall Show, surrounded by a ringing endorsement: "He knows Arsenio, plays sax, married Hillary ... Clinton -- the best choice."

The significance of the buttons ranges from personal -- "I like Ike" reminds him of his father, a World War II veteran -- to the obscure. Haler is unsure who Dave was, or what office he campaigned for.

Leitz said party affiliation doesn't factor into the buttons he gives his Republican son-in-law.

And Haler doesn't seem to mind, owning buttons that say "Elect Ross Perot" and "I like Bimbah," a dig at conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.

"My father-in-law is very indiscriminate on what kind of buttons he buys," Haler said with a laugh.

-- Herald legislative intern Matt Benoit is a Washington State University student: 509-947-9277, mbenoit@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Matt_Benoit_

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