Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Sid Salter: Bill Spell was at the center of Mississippi’s most sordid, bizarre political campaign

 William E. “Bill” Spell, who died Oct. 12 at age 96, was the last major figure in what most Mississippians recall as the most sordid and bizarre political campaign in the state’s history back in 1983.


To say that Spell lived an interesting and impactful life is an understatement. A native of the tiny Copiah County hamlet of Georgetown, Spell graduated from the local high school in 1944 and then reported for duty in the U.S. Army Air Corps, where he served his country honorably during World War II.


After the war, Spell graduated from Mississippi College and later the Mississippi College School of Law.


His professional career was varied – he served as a radio announcer, newspaper reporter, energy trade association executive, was a staff assistant to legendary U.S. Sen. John C. Stennis, was an executive with one of the state’s leading advertising agencies, and eventually made a successful entrance into the private practice of law.


Spell’s media, trade association and governmental service brought him into the orbit of a number of players on the state’s political scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s.


It was from that vantage point that Spell – in strong measure at the behest of successful Jackson businessmen and Republican supporters Billy Mounger, Neal Clement, and Victor Smith – organized and implemented an investigation into then-Democratic Attorney General Bill Allain that shocked Mississippi politics and drew massive national attention.


Without question, the 1983 Mississippi gubernatorial campaign was the dirtiest campaign seen in this state before or since. The campaign between Allain, Republican nominee Leon Bramlett, and independents Charles Evers, Billy Taylor and Helen Williams was rocked when two weeks before the November general election, Allain was slammed with allegations of sexual liaisons with three Black male transvestite prostitutes.


Simply put, Allain was accused some 40 years ago of what was thought at the time to be conduct that no mainstream Mississippi politician could survive. Yet Allain did.

Allain - a divorced Natchez attorney and U.S. Army infantry combat veteran of the Korean Conflict - was leading Bramlett by 25 points in popularity polls before the Spell-led GOP group unveiled their allegation against him.

Allain vehemently denied the allegations. Bramlett challenged Allain to take a lie detector test and Allain eventually complied - releasing results that indicated that he was telling the truth.

The allegations set off a state and national media circus - bringing in an appearance by Geraldo Rivera - who interviewed the three prostitutes and aired a story in which all three recanted their prior accusations against Allain.

But after absorbing the allegations and watching the national and local media circus unfold, Mississippi voters simply didn’t buy the allegations. Not only did voters reject the allegations against Allain, but they also politically rebuked the Republicans who made them.

Allain won the election - carrying 74 of the state’s 82 counties - and went on to serve a productive term as governor despite complaints that he served the term somewhat cloistered in the Governor's Mansion after the raucous, raunchy campaign.

Was Allain guilty of the allegations or simply the victim of a vicious smear? As a journalist, I didn’t know 40 years ago, and I don’t know today. But I do know the majority of Mississippi voters had faith in Allain - faith enough to elect him governor and faith enough to reject the campaign tactics that threatened his election.

The Allain investigation changed Mississippi politics, campaign tactics, and attitudes about how far campaigns can or should go and what Mississippi voters would tolerate. There were also lessons for the media.

Spell, Mounger and others waging the 1983 campaign against Allain never wavered in their beliefs that they had a “duty” to bring the information forward. Allain died in 2013. Mounger, Clement, and Smith are likewise deceased.

An affable but intense figure who played to win in all things, Bill Spell was the last major player in this peculiarly Mississippi political drama.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at


Anonymous said...

Dang...Helen Williams ran for POTUS as well. She passed a few years ago I think. Quite the character.

Anonymous said...

"I am not saying he would ____ _ ____ but I guarantee you he would put it in his mouth and waller it around for a while".

Anonymous said...

He was not much of a lawyer in court, in my view.

Anonymous said...

12:05, you are either old as dirt or just a keyboard asshole looking for any outlet to spread negativity. Of course, you could be both. RIP Bill Spell.

Anonymous said...

Did left out that 60 Minutes, the most successful TV news magazine investigated and implied it to be true. For ember members of the JPD also say it was true to this day.

Anonymous said...

Bill was a good guy….probably was gay.

Who cares?

The owner of this site is a closet case…..

Don’t believe me? Listen to his pod cast…..he’s so nelly people think he’s the rapper.

Who cares?

Anonymous said...

Once again, Salter lobs a defused pipe-bomb and sits in the bleacher hoping to see an impact.

Anonymous said...

Bill Allain was a great governor.

Anonymous said...

I remember that bizarre election, but I also remember him as a fiscal conservative,

Anonymous said...

"Bill Allain was a great governor."

That is very true.

"Salter lobs a defused pipe-bomb and sits in the bleacher hoping to
see an impact."

That is also true, and funny as well !

Anonymous said...

My recollection is that Leon Bramlett ,to his credit,would have nothing to do with the allegations. Allain turned out to be a fiscally responsible governor.

Goober Patrol said...

What's this got to do with Bill Allain?

Anonymous said...

Other than the author, I have personally known all the people mentioned in this article. I met Billy Mounger in the late 60's, Bill Allain in the early 70's, Leon Bramlett in the early to mid 80's, and Bill Spell somewhere along the way, John Stennis in the early 70's. In their own way, they were all interested in the future of Mississippi. Spell got carried away with his politics. Mounger was a bull in the china shop but it was always good to have him as your bull in the china shop. Bill Allain was a dedicated Attorney General and Governor. Allain watched the state's money. He and Bill Waller were the most conservative Democrats who I have ever known. Bill Allain and I remained friends up until his death. I was never convinced that he had in any way participated in the accusations of Bill Spell.

I am a lifelong Republican but I always managed to befriend those on the other side politically.

I Hope that we never have a campaign for Governor as mentioned in this article.

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile - Salter continues to write and profit while on the state payroll accumulating PERS benefits to later cash in. More low-hanging fruit for Shadrack.

Anonymous said...

"I am not saying he would ____ _ ____ but I guarantee you he would put it in his mouth and waller it around for a while".

That's funny as hell. Who are you quoting?

Anonymous said...

At the time, I was an "active" Republican nearing the end of his experience and patience with the lunacies of the Monger/Reed crowd. Their #1 goal was always to have a governor who was a patsy for their exercise of power that carried forward all the way to recent years with their support of Waller.

During that campaign I organized a few "press the flesh" events for Bramlett and got to spend some one on one time with the man. My impression was that he was as uninformed about the political issues of the day as a sack of dirt. He didn't have a clue and didn't know where to look for one. Thank goodness he didn't get elected. Monger and Reed would have been the real co-governors.

There are still a few of that tribe still around. They can't die off fast enough to suit me.

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Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

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In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

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There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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