Monday, July 17, 2006

Everyone likes it except the fee agents

State Auditor candidate Mark Wright, a state representative from Springfield, was among the candidates attending the Lincoln Ladies Ice Cream Social tonight at Memorial Hall in Carthage.
In recent weeks, Wright has been in the news for his willingness to join with other Republican legislators, including Ryan Silvey of Kansas City, to present a plan to reform the way license fee offices in Missouri are awarded.
"Everyone likes it except the people running the fee offices," he told The Turner Report. I didn't arrive in time to hear Wright's speech (I did get there in time for some ice cream, however), so I don't know how Jasper County Republicans reacted to the plan.
Among the other tidbits I picked up at the social:
-Presiding commissioner candidate Jim Spradling is challenging incumbent Chuck Surface and John Bartosh to a debate. The Carthage lawyer was at one time the state's Director of Revenue and is also an excellent debater. I can recall his clash with Marvin Singleton at KDMO in Carthage when both were vying to replace the late Dick Webster as state senator. Those who were in attendance will tell you Spradling bettered Dr. Singleton in the debate (even Spradling's detractors will tell you he held his own). Singleton won that election by a razor-thin margin.
-The timekeeper, as has been the tradition the past few times this event has been held, was Mary Lou (Newman) Teel, who for a short time worked for me as a reporter for the Lamar Democrat in 1988. She works in the county collector's office for Jeannie Wells.
-While going through the archives, I found a long, rambling dissertation from the July 13, 2004, Turner Report, in which I related the tale of the most fascinating Lincoln Ladies Ice Cream Social I ever attended. That was in July 1992 when Attorney General and Carthage native Bill Webster faced off (sort of) with Secretary of State Roy Blunt as they both ran for governor. Unfortunately, at that time, I was still mixing up my stories and not using separate headlines, so instead of linking to it, I will repeat it below, removing the extraneous information:

And that brings me to my first visit to the Lincoln Ladies Ice Cream Social. The 1992 gubernatorial race was the most interesting state race I can remember. Three state officeholders, Secretary of State Roy Blunt, Treasurer Wendell Bailey, and Attorney General Bill Webster were running on the Republican ticket, while Lieutenant Governor Mel Carnahan was the only viable Democratic candidate. I had a chance to interview all four men. Carnahan's last visit to Carthage came on March 30, since Democrats traditionally have not done well in southwest Missouri. All three Republican candidates were invited to the Lincoln Ladies Social held only one week before the August primary. No one really wanted Roy Blunt or Wendell Bailey there. The event was designed as a coronation for Carthage's native son, Bill Webster.
I was never a big fan of Bill Webster. To me, he has a lot in common with the current president, George W. Bush. Both are Republicans who were elected to office because they had powerful fathers. Neither of them ever showed me anything that would indicate they deserved their high offices. Richard Webster, at one time had been Speaker of the House in Missouri, then later served three decades until his death in 1989 as the top Republican in the State Senate.
About six hours before the ice cream social, I had the opportunity to interview Roy Blunt at the radio station in Lamar. After the interview I was talking to the woman he was married to at that time and asked her if her husband was going to brave the lion's den that night. She said he had an engagement at Aurora and probably would not be able to make it.
At that moment, Roy Blunt, who had been talking to another reporter, showed that he had been following our conversation. "You know," he said, "I might just brave the lion's den after all."
It was probably the greatest act of political courage I have seen in this area. No one wanted Roy Blunt in Carthage that night.
When I arrived at Memorial Hall, the place was decorated in red, white and blue. Of course, I went straight to the ice cream before I examined the decor very much more. Candidate posters lined the wall. Cute young women in red, white and blue outfits wore their Webster for Governor buttons proudly.
Candidates for county office and state representative and senator worked the crowd, shaking hands, kissing babies, doing whatever they could to persuade people to support their candidacies.
Bill Webster, who was also at that dinner in Aurora, had not yet arrived. Shortly before the candidate speeches began, as I watched the parking lot to see when Webster would show, a small car pulled in. Roy Blunt had arrived.
I stationed myself by the door. I wanted to capture the reaction the Carthage faithful would have when this infidel crossed into sacred territory.
The secretary of state walked through the door as if it were just another political event. A few gasps were audible. I heard one older woman say, "What's he doing here?" making it seem as if an ex-con had just entered the church.
Other similar sentiments were expressed everywhere I went. One man said, "I'm not going to vote for him, but I'll give him credit. He's got guts."
After shaking a few hands, Blunt made his way to the stage and sat down on a folding chair to await his turn to speak.
Still near the door, I heard the sound of a helicopter approaching. It didn't take a genius to figure out that Bill Webster had arrived.
The chopper landed in the parking lot by Memorial Hall and Webster climbed out. He made no move to enter the building.
Since the big story was Webster and Blunt, I left Memorial Hall and tried to get a brief interview with Webster. I was successful, but as usual he didn't say much and what he did say was not very impressive.
Inside, the speeches continued through the candidates for county office, then state office, until finally it was time for the governor's race. Since Wendell Bailey was a no-show, Roy Blunt went first. He made a joke about Webster offering him a ride on his helicopter, but he decided to take his car instead of being strapped to a blade. It didn't even receive polite laughter, though I have to admit I was amused.
After that, Blunt gave his stump speech. It was a good one and the Jasper County audience gave him a polite, though definitely reserved response. They gave the secretary of state time to leave the building, then the big show began.
The lights were turned off except for one big spotlight trained toward the back of Memorial Hall. A tape player began playing Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA." The applause began and everyone stood as Bill Webster finally entered the building. As far as I was concerned, all he had shown was that he (and his supporters) thought he was too good to sit with the rest of the candidates. Besides, that would have spoiled the coronation.
Red, white and blue balloons were released from the balcony. As Webster strode down the aisle, he removed his dark blue jacket and for a moment, I really thought he was going to toss it into the crowd. It was like he was some kind of a god, or even worse, a rock star.
It was the same speech I had heard him give elsewhere and Bill Webster was not a particularly good public speaker, but his fans ate it up. This is what they had come to see.


Anonymous said...

Well, think about it for a moment. Spradling's a lawyer, a professional speaker of sorts. Singleton was a physician--not known for his debating skills.

I'd like to hear that Spradling, Surface, Bartosh debate.

Bill Webster is FROM Carthage, grew up there. I'm sure he knew 99% of the people there by name and most from childhood.

It's as if Blunt had grown up in a smalltown, decided to make a splash where people knew him best and Bill Webster came to "brave the lions" (all Republican lions, though).

Was it wrong for Blunt to be there? No. Did it truly "show guts?" No.

And I've never noticed Blunt making any awrd-winning speeches, either.

Anonymous said...

Anyone know where Bill Webster is now?