By Sid Salter
When I think of Clarke Reed of Greenville, I think of two things – his irascible, talented writer daughter Julia Reed and his one unspeakably tacky sport coat.
I spoke briefly with him Tuesday by phone from his hospital bed at University of Mississippi Medical Center. He was upbeat, but somber.
Reed, 81, was seriously injured in a two-vehicle accident Monday morning in Greenville. Clarke’s injuries included a broken hip and a crushed pelvis. He faces some surgeries.
An Oklahoma man was killed in the accident and a passenger in his vehicle injured. My prayers remain with both Clarke and his family and with the Oklahoma family suffering as a result of this tragic accident.
Without hyperbole, Reed is one of the fathers of the modern Republican Party in Mississippi. For some 60 years, Reed has wielded significant influence in state, regional and national GOP politics.
It was at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York that I first saw Reed in all his splendor as he sported the oldest, tackiest sport coat seen within the confines of Madison Square Garden that stifling summer.
“This coat’s older than you are,” Reed laughed in his thick Delta drawl.
“I’ve had it about 44 years now. My wife Judy bought it for me.”
Reed’s jacket is a rather garish Black Watch plaid affair with gold elephants screened on it. During the 2004 convention, a photograph of Reed wearing the very same jacket at the 1968 Republican convention appeared in The New York Times illustrating a major convention feature story on the Mississippi GOP pioneer by Times political analyst R.W. “Johnny” Apple Jr. – who would die less than two years later.
Apple’s story reflected on Reed’s rather remarkable adventures in GOP politics at the highest levels.
After assuming the presidency following the 1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon in the depths of the Watergate scandal, President Gerald Ford began in 1975 to seek the 1976 Republican nomination for president that would culminate at the Kansas City GOP National Convention.
In Mississippi, Reagan had earlier won support from Reed, then-state Sen. Charles Pickering of Laurel and Jackson oilman W.D. “Billy” Mounger. Ford was supported by then-U.S. Rep. Thad Cochran, 1975 Mississippi gubernatorial nominee Gil Carmichael of Meridian and then-Jackson City Commissioner Doug Shanks.
But when Reagan chose liberal Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Richard Schweiker as his running mate, Reed defected to the Ford camp and other Mississippi delegates would follow.
Nationally, the Ford-Reagan battle for the nomination was almost dead even and both candidates began to scour the country for uncommitted delegates to the convention. Because of the so-called “unit rule” – which required that the candidate who had the support of the majority of the state’s 30 delegates got all 30 votes – a procedural vote on a Reagan-backed convention rules change was the showdown vote.
Mississippi’s 30 votes went against the rules change and Reagan’s bid for the nomination was effectively dead in 1976.
I met Julia Reed in New York through her father. After three books and a stint at Vogue magazine, she’s now a contributing editor at Newsweek – most recently speaking her mind on President Barack Obama’s reaction to the Gulf oil spill. Like her father, Julia takes the Delta with her wherever she goes.
Here’s wishing Clarke Reed a swift and full recovery. Politics in Mississippi will one day go on without him – but it won’t be nearly as much fun. I bet even Billy Mounger went into a closet and prayed for his old friend. Quietly, mind you, but still a prayer.
Syndicated columnist Sid Salter is Perspective editor at the Clarion-Ledger. Contact him at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.