Campaign matter turned into 1960 fiasco

By Don McAlavy: CNJ columnist

Back in 1960 I was a bachelor, age 29, and I moved into the the downtown building where Dr. Dean Merrritt had his medical practice. He also had an empty “art room” upstairs, where he used to paint. He rented it out to me, and I had my own art studio, with a bedroom.

Well, one morning I woke up with a superb idea. It was an election year and a gang of Democrats was coming to town to solicit votes. The Democrats had their headquarters in Merritt’s building, right under my upstairs bedroom. The newspaper said the Democrats were coming to Clovis the next day.

I got busy that night painting a 2-foot by 4-foot campaign placard. It said: “Vote Republican,” in big red letters. That night I hung it out just below my bedroom window and nailed it down for the whole world to see. I didn’t tell anybody about it, but did they see it. Under my placard was “Democrat Headquarters” in big words on their window.

I went to work at the print shop the next morning. I soon got a phone call from the owner of the building, telling me in no uncertain terms to take down that placard. I then got a phone call from my brother, a died-in-the-wool Democrat, telling me in no uncertain cuss words to “get that damn placard down.”

Well, then I got a bevy of phone calls from the Republicans telling me to keep that placard up. I was a true Republican myself, got to be the second in command of the Curry County Republican Party later. Then Fanny Bliss, the dedicated chairman of the Republican Women, called me, telling me the photo of the front of the Democrat Headquarters with the Vote Republican placard was in the newspaper.

“Don,” she said. “Leave it up. Don’t take it down. You have made us proud and kicked off our own voter campaign.”

Then Merritt called me, telling me that his mother, who owned the building, asked me to immediately take down that placard or she would have a heart attack.

I told Merritt, “I can’t take it down; I’m committed to my placard.”

Well, I did take that placard down after the gang of Democrats left town. Merritt and I continued to be good friends, both of us being artists.

That year I was called by Hoyt Pattison, a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, to come to Esther Van Soelen’s office. I rushed over and was told that Mr. Patterson, who had signed up to be the Republican sheriff candidate, said he had to step down. Now the whole bunch of them said, “Don, you are going to be the Republican sheriff candidate.”

“I’m not a politician,” I told them, “just a printer (and artist). “I’m not qualified.”

Well, they said, “You were in the Army. That’s all the qualification you need.”

I went over to my dad’s house and told him the Republicans wanted me to run for sheriff in the upcoming election. My dad said, “Well, come follow me. I’m going to buy you a big cowboy hat.”

And he did, a big white cowboy hat. About a week later Mr. Patterson said he had changed his mind and would run for sheriff. I was relieved.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: