Floyd Spence

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Floyd Spence
Houseportraitspence.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 2nd district
In office
January 3, 1971 – August 16, 2001
Preceded by Albert William Watson
Succeeded by Joe Wilson
Member of the South Carolina Senate from the 7th District
In office
January 14, 1969 – December 15, 1970
Member of the South Carolina Senate from the 22nd District
In office
January 10, 1967 – January 14, 1969
Member of the South Carolina House of Representatives from Lexington County
In office
January 8, 1957 – January 8, 1963
Personal details
Born Floyd Davidson Spence
(1928-04-09)April 9, 1928
Columbia, South Carolina
Died August 16, 2001(2001-08-16) (aged 73)
Washington, D.C.
Resting place

Saint Peter's Lutheran Cemetery

Lexington, South Carolina
Political party Democratic (c. 1946–1962)
Republican (1962–2001)
Alma mater

University of South Carolina

University of South Carolina School of Law
Profession Attorney
Religion Lutheran
Military service
Service/branch United States Navy Reserve
Years of service 1947–1988
Rank Captain
Battles/wars Korean War
Vietnam War

Floyd Davidson Spence (April 9, 1928 – August 16, 2001) was an attorney and a politician from the U.S. state of South Carolina. Elected for three terms to the South Carolina House of Representatives from Lexington County as a Democrat, in 1962 Spence announced his decision to switch to the Republican Party, as he was unhappy with shifts in the national party.

He lost a contested seat that year for United States Representative from South Carolina's 2nd congressional district to Democrat Albert W. Watson, who had the support of powerful senator Strom Thurmond. Watson shifted to the Republican Party in 1965 and was elected as governor in 1970. That year Spence won the congressional seat, and was re-elected for fourteen terms after this. He became ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee in 1993 and chairman in 1995. Spence died in office from cerebral thrombosis in Washington, D.C. in 2001.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, Spence spent most of his life in nearby Lexington County. Shortly after graduating from high school, he enlisted in the United States Navy Reserve, from which he retired in 1988 as a captain. He graduated in 1952 from the University of South Carolina in Columbia with a degree in English. Four years later, he completed his law degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law.

Political career[edit]

After law school, Spence joined the Democratic Party. He was elected in 1956 from Lexington County to the South Carolina House of Representatives. He was reelected in 1958 and 1960, but on April 14, 1962, Spence announced that he was switching to the Republican Party, having become uncomfortable with the national Democrats' increasingly liberal platform. He also opposed a loyalty oath required by South Carolina Democrats. On the same day, he announced that he would seek the Republican nomination for the state's 2nd congressional district, based in Columbia.

He had been urged by several friends to run before his switch, especially after the death of the previous congressman, John J. Riley, but declined to do so. Spence faced the Democratic nominee, fellow state representative Albert W. Watson of Columbia. Watson won his party nomination with 52 percent of the vote over Frank C. Owens, the former mayor of Columbia and the choice of party regulars. Watson defeated Spence with 53 percent of the general election vote, the closest congressional race in South Carolina in memory. The 2nd had a conservative bent; the area's old-line Democrats had begun splitting their tickets in national elections as early as the 1940s. Watson's win was helped by the support of U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, the former governor who had run for president in 1948 as the nominee of the one-election only third party, the States Rights Party, popularly known as the Dixiecrats.

Democrats had dominated state politics since the turn of the 20th century, when they passed a constitution that established barriers to voter registration, disenfranchising most blacks and many poor whites. Other southern states had passed similar constitutions and the Solid South was born. The Democratic primary became the only competitive contest in most races, and Democrats routinely won general election races with more than 80 percent of the vote.

In an example of the political realignment that began in the state and the South in the late 20th century, in 1964 Spence was the first Republican elected since 1902 to either house of the state legislature. In 1966, Spence was elected to the South Carolina Senate; he became the minority leader of a six-member caucus. He was reelected to the senate in 1968.

In 1970, Spence ran for the 2nd congressional district seat again. Watson had become a Republican in 1965, a year after Thurmond's own switch. Watson ran in 1970 for governor. He was defeated by the Democratic lieutenant governor, John C. West. Spence defeated another Democrat for a narrow victory for the US House seat that Watson had vacated.

Spence became the first freshman Republican congressman elected from South Carolina since 1896; he was the second Republican to be elected from the state since Reconstruction (Watson was the first, elected as an incumbent after his switch to the Republican Party.) Both he and Watson represented conservative whites, rather than the majority African-American Republicans in South Carolina who had supported the party of Abraham Lincoln. Spence was unopposed for reelection in the Nixon-Agnew landslide of 1972 and reelected fourteen times thereafter.

In 1974, Spence defeated challenger Matthew J. Perry, an African-American Democrat who had made his reputation in civil rights cases. In 1976 Perry was appointed as a federal judge, and in 1979 as the first African American federal judge in South Carolina, at the United States District Court in Columbia. In 1974 Republican James B. Edwards became the first Republican elected as governor of South Carolina since Reconstruction.

Spence faced no credible opposition again until 1980, when he was challenged by Democratic state senator Tom Turnipseed, an Alabama native and a lawyer from Columbia. Lee Atwater, a consultant to Spence, ran several push polls—a new tactic at the time—informing voters that Turnipseed was a member of the NAACP and had undergone mental-health treatments as a teenager. He told reporters that Turnipseed had been hooked up to "jumper cables," referring to electro-convulsive therapy (ECT). Spence won the election.

(Years later Atwater was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer; he sent letters to numerous people, including Turnipseed, apologizing for previous actions. Atwater wrote to the former candidate that his action during Spence's campaign was "one of the low points" of his career. This is covered in the award-winning documentary film Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story (2008).)

Aided by Ronald W. Reagan at the head of the Republican ticket, Spence was reelected in 1980 with 55 percent of the vote. After cruising to reelection in 1982 and 1984, Spence found his lead reduced to 7 percent in 1986. That year Carroll Campbell became the second Republican to win the South Carolina governorship since Reconstruction. Spence faced another tough campaign in 1988, but did not face major-party opposition again until 1998.

Congressional career[edit]

For his first eleven terms, Spence represented a relatively compact district in the central portion of the state. State redistricting after the 1990 census resulted in shifting most of Spence's African-American constituents to the majority-black 6th District. In the 2nd district they had long been a minority, unable to elect candidates of their choice even after enforcement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 removed local barriers to voter registration.

To compensate for this loss in population, Spence's district was enlarged geographically to take in population to the south and west, as far south as the resort city of Hilton Head Island and as far west as the fringes of the Augusta suburbs. The loss of most of the district's African-American voters, who by then comprised much of the Democratic base in the district where whites supported Republicans, was a likely factor in the Democrats not running a candidate against Spence for most of the 1990s.

In 1993, Spence became the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, having been a member of the panel since his first term. The 2nd District includes Fort Jackson. He became the committee's chairman in 1995 after the Republicans under Newt Gingrich of Georgia gained their first majority in the House in forty years.

Spence renamed the House Armed Services Committee the "Committee on National Security" when he took over as chairman. He focused on military readiness, calling it "the best insurance we have both for peace and freedom." Spence was also a strong advocate of missile defense.[1] He stepped down as chairman after the 106th Congress because of caucus-imposed term limits. He later served as chairman of the House subcommittee on military procurement.[2]

Death and succession[edit]

Spence died in Washington, D.C., on August 16, 2001, at the age of seventy-three, from complications following brain surgery. He had been admitted to St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi, three weeks earlier for testing and treatment for nerve pain in his face. In 1988, he had received a double lung transplant in the same facility.[3] He was buried at the Saint Peters Lutheran Church Cemetery in Lexington, South Carolina.[4]

Upon Spence's death, his former aide, Republican State Senator Joe Wilson, won the special election for the vacant seat.

References[edit]

External Links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Albert Watson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 2nd congressional district

January 3, 1971 – August 16, 2001
Succeeded by
Joe Wilson
Political offices
Preceded by
Ron Dellums
California
Chairman of the House National Security Committee
1995–2001
Succeeded by
Bob Stump
Arizona