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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Political Career of Charles Sullivan

This is a copy of an email that I sent to a group of political junkies in other states.


In 1960, Charles Sullivan of Clarksdale, Mississippi was the presidential nominee in Texas of the Constitution Party and got some 18,000 votes. His running mate was the party's presidential nominee in Washington state, the only other state in which the CP was on the ballot. Sullivan, a former district attorney, was simultaneously a candidate for presidential elector on a slate of unpledged electors in Mississippi, which won the state with 39 percent of the vote.

My understanding was that the strategy was that, if neither the Democrat John F. Kennedy (JFK) nor the Republican Richard Nixon had an electoral majority, the unpledged electors would bargain with both candidates and give their votes to the one who promised to "go slow" on civil rights legislation.

Nixon was age 47, JFK 43, and Sullivan 35. A couple of years ago, former Governor William Winter (now age 87) told me in an email that he debated Sullivan in 1960 and chided him for "wearing two hats" in the campaign. Winter, Senator James Eastland, and former Governor J. P. Coleman backed JFK, who finished a close second in the state. Winter was then state tax collector, whose job it was to collect the black market tax on liquor; it was a fee-paid position (the unpledged electors, all of whom are now dead, wound up voting for Senator Harry Byrd Sr. of Virginia, as JFK had won a majority of the electoral votes).

In the 1963 governor's race, Sullivan, who had first run in 1959, had an audiotape of Coleman praising JFK in '60, which he played on TV ("This Irishman from Boston, who wears the scars of battle!"). JFK, of course, was very unpopular here, and Coleman said that Eastland had asked him to back the Massachusetts senator. After finishing third in the Democratic primary, Sullivan endorsed Coleman over lieutenant governor Paul Johnson Jr. in the runoff. I later learned that Johnson's minions had spread rumors that Sullivan, who advocated ending Prohibition, had a drinking problem (Mississippi, of course, legalized local-option liquor sales in 1966, twelve years after Oklahoma had become the next-to-last "dry" state to legalize liquor).

In 1967, Sullivan ran for lieutenant governor. Governor Johnson, unable to succeed himself and seeing this as an opportunity to knock Sullivan out of the '71 governor's race, also ran for lieutenant governor. In what turned out to be Johnson's last campaign, he missed the Democratic runoff by a little over 300 votes. Sullivan beat state representative Roy Black of Nettleton in that runoff, which was tantamount to election.

In 1972, Sullivan, who ran all of his Mississippi races as a Democrat, endorsed the Republican Gil Carmichael over Senator Eastland, who had helped to defeat Sullivan in the '71 governor's race. (And Rubel Phillips [age 85 this year], the '63 and '67 GOP nominee for governor, backed Eastland-- go figure!) President Nixon tacitly supported Eastland in '72. Vice President Spiro Agnew headlined a GOP campaign rally here in Jackson, which I attended. All the GOP candidates down to dog-catcher were seated on the platform-- except for Carmichael (age 83 this year). [In the first-ever statewide GOP primary, Carmichael had beaten civil rights activist James Meredith, 79 percent to 21 percent.]

In 1978, the year that the Republican Thad Cochran was first elected U. S. senator, Sullivan finished third in the Democratic primary for the Senate. Former governor Bill Waller Sr. (now age 83), who had defeated Sullivan in '71, ran fourth. Maurice Dantin of Columbia beat incumbent Governor Cliff Finch in the Democratic runoff.

Sullivan was acquainted with tragedy, as two of his children predeceased him. An experienced military pilot, he had flown a number of supply missions to Vietnam. One spring day in 1979, he was having trouble with his landing gear, and the Memphis airport offered to let him land there, but he decided to fly on home. While trying to fix the landing gear, he didn't realize that he was losing altitude, and he crashed into some trees. He was age 54.

Prior to his death, there was talk of Sullivan running in '79 for governor or attorney general as a Republican.


Blogger Peter said...

I'm one of those "political junkies" Steve mentions - his contributions to our discussions are always filled with good stuff. I look forward to reading his facts and opinions ... I know this sounds like an ad, so to clarify my position: do not send this man any money.

~Peter Gemma

Thu Feb 25, 11:04:00 AM CST  

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