‘Nowhere Man’: Mid-1980s political mug and reminders of Goldschmidt gaffes

A friend my age recently commented that “by age 60, we should do more than collect.” He’s right.

My collection of desk items is only one part of that ongoing issue with this innate pack rat: An old A&W mug with a Charles Barsotti “man without a nameplate” cartoon is just one example (an outtake of a collection of hundreds of cartoons in a box at home.) Postcards I collect by the hundreds, and I used to have a big stack of beer coasters, but I got rid of most of them. I recently put the dozens of bumper and promotional stickers that once filled my work space walls into a drawer. And coffee mugs, I have collected them over the years.


Place for shortened pencils.

One mug I kept and, given current events, am glad I did: My Neil Goldschmidt for Governor mug from 1986, the year of the “middle of nowhere” debate.

For years I’ve kept my smallest pencils in the mug. (Another collection I’ve tried to get away from … but … haven’t … quite …)

One side reads, “It’s about work. It’s about change. It’s about time” — a line I’m not sure worked even in 1986. About time for what?

I’ve kind of ignored that the cup also has Goldschmidt’s face on it, a beaming mug-on-mug that is mostly faded out, in a kind of irony.

But some memories of Goldschmidt remain vivid and have bubbled up (tar-like, given his unsavory reputation) in recent weeks with the emergence of the debate over gubernatorial debates between Kate Brown and her Republican challenger, Knute Buehler, and the Independent hopeful, Patrick Starnes, with at least one debate happening in Bend.

You know, that central Oregon backwater?

How many of you remember Goldschmidt’s thoughtless remark about this time 32 years ago?

I remember three things vividly from the 1986 campaign, one involving the Republican candidate that year, former Secretary of State Norma Paulus, and two involving Goldschmidt. I was present as a reporter when Paulus formally kicked off her campaign and watched as her aides choreographed her grand entrance, smiles and high fives from Paulus, at some meeting hall in Salem. The self-described grandmother seemed ill-at-ease posing hand-slaps for cameras.

A few months later, Goldschmidt met with local farmers in Polk County, where I was editor of the Dallas paper at the time. He took a tour of a grass seed storage building and I remember at one point, after the photo opp was done and there was a lull in the action, Goldschmidt moved off to one side by himself, deep in thought. He looked depressed and lonely and he was virtually not present; his handlers seemed to know just to keep away and give him space. I wondered what he was thinking about and, when news of his sexual misconduct with a minor came to light years later, I backtracked the chronology and figured I had a pretty good idea what Goldschmidt was so preoccupied by in that grain silo in summer 1986.

And that was the year Goldschmidt referred to Bend as “the middle of nowhere” when Paulus challenged him to a debate there in addition to Portland and other west-of-the-Cascades locations. The remark nearly did in Goldschmidt, and from what I have read, the folks in Bend have never forgotten it. Bend was not then, and certainly is not now, anywhere close to nowhere.

He overcame the remark and got elected, but I wonder: If a Neal Goldschmidt said something like that today, would it raise any hackles at all?

After all, candidates from 2016 on can apparently say all kinds of insensitive things, geographically and otherwise, and still get elected.

And they might have flags, not just worn-out coffee mugs, to prove it.

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