The post had become vacant when Sen. Richard Webster, R-Carthage, died. Dr. Marvin Singleton, who if memory serves correctly was head of the Jasper County Republican Central Committee at that time, was appointed to fill out the final few months of Webstet's term until the November election.
But Singleton, despite the appointment and the incumbency it brought him, did not have clear sailing to a four-year term. Jim Spradling, who had served as the state's Director of Revenue in the '70s and had a law practice in Carthage, challenged him for the nomination.
It was a matchup of two qualified, but very different gentlemen, and I had a chance to see that firsthand when KDMO held a debate at its studio shortly before the election. That encounter, which I wrote about in my book, Newspaper Days, is recounted below:
When Carthage radio station KDMO agreed to hold a forum between the candidates, I was there to cover it and that became my first opinion page column for The Press on August 4, 1990, even though that was not originally what it was supposed to be.
Since it was the only forum for the candidates, it also drew coverage from the local television stations. Singleton, as always, was nattily attired, and kept his suit jacket on at all times, while the rough-and-tumble Spradling slung his jacket across the back of his chair, rolled up his sleeves, and was ready for battle.
Singleton kept a large black notebook in front of him containing newspaper articles, statistics, and facts that he occasionally could inject into the conversation. Spradling carried only a wrinkled newspaper article outlining Dr. Singleton’s views.
Those who only heard the debate on KDMO missed out on most of the fun.
They did not get to see the smile playing at the corners of Dr. Singleton’s lips when he thought Spradling was wrong, or the more theatrical Spradling, who sometimes rolled his eyes at Singleton’s statements.
The only people in the studio, for the most part, were the candidates, station personnel and reporters from the area media. Outside, reminiscent of blues great Big Joe Turner’s line about one-eyed cats peeping in a seafood store, was a small legion of Spradling supporters.”
The column was Neil Campbell’s first exposure to my political reporting and I am not sure he was ready for my irreverence. Normally, the story would have been squarely on page one, but when he saw the previous paragraph and those observations, Neil moved it to the opinion page. It took a while for him to get used to my reporting style. It was the first time in his nearly two decades at The Press that he had come across this kind of reporting.
Some of my other observations from that debate:
Singleton, on the other hand, stressed his incumbency using the phrase “as your state senator” at least a half dozen times. He said he had “current” experience in legislation, an indirect reference to Spradling, who served as state director of revenue in the mid-1970s.
Singleton made numerous references to bills that “we” had passed in the legislature, even though he was elected in a special election in June and the Legislature has not been in session since May.
And this one:
“When the forum ended, the two made eye contact for the first time, then shook hands with neither looking at the other. Spradling carefully folded the worn newspaper article and replaced it in his billfold.
The hour, like the campaign itself, had been a long one…both for the candidates and for the public.
Singleton won the election by only a handful of votes, but what I most remember about that day, that election, and about Jim Spradling was how much fun he had with politics and with life. Watching Jim Spradling in action you always had the idea that while he took the process seriously, he was not going to let it stand in the way of his enjoying the ride.
And Jim certainly had a great ride.