Jefferson W. Speck (December 24, 1916 – January 30, 1993) was a planter and businessman from Mississippi County, Arkansas, who was the Republican gubernatorial nominee in 1950 and again in 1952. He was a leader in the Dwight D. Eisenhower faction of the Arkansas party during the early 1950s.
Speck was from Frenchman's Bayou, located near the Mississippi River in eastern Arkansas. He graduated in 1939 from Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia, with degrees in electrical, mechanical, and civil engineering. He later completed his Master's degree in Electrical Engineering at Purdue University.
Prisoner of war
In the fall of 1944, as a 27-year-old United States Army captain during World War II, Speck was among more than 1,600 prisoners captured and taken aboard the Japanese passenger ship Oryoku Maru, a Hell ship. At that time, he had been a POW for about 3 years. The men as a whole suffered from dysentery and other tropical diseases as well as hunger from the meager rations provided by their captors. The thirst and hunger caused many to undergo fits of insanity. Some even bit the fingers of other prisoners for a taste of blood to satisfy thirst. The men were forced to swim from the Oryoku Maru to the POW camp at Olongapo Naval Base, where they endured the last months of the war.
Election of 1950
At thirty-three, Speck in 1950 challenged the reelection of Governor Sid McMath, a partisan of U.S. President Harry Truman. The former Arkansas Gazette said that Speck waged "an extensive and vigorous campaign for a Republican in historically Democratic Arkansas." Speck's repeated calls for a debate with McMath went unanswered.
A Republican advertisement blamed the one-party system in Arkansas for the continued population losses in the state. "Our state government is loaded with cheap -- wanton waste. We have a real mess on our hands that can only be cleaned up by voting for Mr. Speck," declared a GOP advertisement. Speck claimed that every vote McMath received would be interpreted as a "green light to Truman socialism."
Most voters paid little attention to the McMath-Speck contest, with attention instead focused on a state constitutional amendment. McMath polled 266,778 votes (84.1 percent) to Speck's 50,303 (15.9 percent). In spite of Speck's meager showing, his total was the largest raw vote ever polled to date by a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Arkansas.
In 1952, Speck faced Francis Cherry of Jonesboro, who had unseated McMath in the Democratic primary. Cherry was an active campaigner for the Democratic presidential nominee, Adlai E. Stevenson, of Illinois. Cherry described Stevenson as "the ablest and cleanest candidate for whom I have had the privilege to vote in my lifetime."The Arkansas Gazette endorsed Stevenson and warned that a Republican victory could cost the southern states congressional committee chairmanships. The newspaper also claimed that Eisenhower was not politically independent but "irrevocably chained to the Republican Party and to its powerful leaders, most of whom follow the line laid down by Robert A. Taft."
Speck's name was omitted in most party literature, which stressed the Eisenhower/Nixon ticket. Speck launched his campaign in Paragould but made only sporadic, unpublicized appearances. After Eisenhower was nominated at the 1952 Republican National Convention over the U.S. Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, Speck was quoted as having said that he would be the "real governor" if Eisenhower were elected because he could then as titular head of the Arkansas party made patronage recommendations. Such party stalwarts as chairman Osro Cobb and national committeeman Wallace Townsend criticized Speck for his comment, reflecting lingering Eisenhower-Taft divisions within the state party.
An early Eisenhower supporter, Speck was nominated for governor at the state convention in Little Rock when a more prominent Republican declined to step forward. The Arkansas Gazette remarked that the "slam-bang presidential campaign in the state still failed to raise the gubernatorial contest from its usual lethargic tempo in Democratic Arkansas." Two other Republicans ran with Speck, Lee Reynolds of Conway and George W. Johnson of Greenwood, who sought the positions of lieutenant governor and attorney general, respectively.
Speck received 49,292 votes (12.6 percent), compared to Cherry's 342,292 (87.4 percent). He ran nearly a thousand votes behind his 1950 showing against McMath.
Few Arkansas Democratic leaders openly supported Eisenhower, but Mrs. John Hackett, a member of the Democratic State Central Committee from Little Rock, endorsed the presidential ticket. Republicans relied heavily on the "Democrats-For-Eisenhower" committee in view of the small GOP organization. Chairman Osro Cobb predicted that Eisenhower might come "within a few thousand votes" of victory in Arkansas. An Arkansas Republican advertisement claimed that an Eisenhower victory would mean the end of the Korean War, the "restoration of honesty" in Washington, D.C., and the recovery of "international respect." The GOP urged voters to "put loyalty to country first and vote Republican."
Speck in retrospect
After his defeat, Speck resigned from the Arkansas Republican State Central Committee, having deplored that the party offered him only $1,400 in campaign assistance in 1952. Speck analyzed the still bleak Republican prospects in the South even though Eisenhower won in Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, and Florida:
"I have made two races for governor against overwhelming odds and with practically no support from the leaders of the Republican Party. In my opinion, the Republican Party will never fully develop and take its place in Arkansas politics under its present leadership [Cobb and Townsend]. . . The same tired old men -- old in ideas, old in hopes -- will still keep a death grip on southern Republicanism."
Speck called upon Cobb and Townsend to resign their party positions. Cobb labeled the call "an impulsive move in the aftermath of defeat." Speck's hopes of serving as a "patronage governor" under Eisenhower never materialized, as Townsend served as the Arkansas patronage advisor to the national administration.
In 1954, though still a Republican, Speck refused to support the party's gubernatorial nominee, Little Rock Mayor Pratt Remmel and instead urged the election of the Democrat Orval Faubus. Remmel polled the largest Republican vote for governor of Arkansas since Reconstruction.
Speck was married to the former Kilene Davies (February 23, 1921 – February 27, 1988), daughter of the former Aline Lower and Fulham Fairchild Davies (February 22, 1890 - February 18, 1973), a stockbroker who in 1923 opened the original Merrill Lynch office in Little Rock and subsequently retired to Plant City, Florida.
Fulham Davies, Speck's father-in-law, was born in Helena, Montana, to Robert Geddes and Margaret Fulham Davies. His paternal grandfather, Anthony Harpin Davies, was a plantation owner in Lake Village, the seat of Chicot County in the southeastern corner of Arkansas. Anthony Davies was also the president of the First Arkansas Bank and a member of both the Arkansas Territorial Convention and the first Arkansas General Assembly, formed at statehood in 1836. Robert Davies incorporated Hot Springs, the resort city and county seat of Garland County, and served as the first city attorney there.
Davies launched his career in Oklahoma as a telegraph operator in the stock brokerage business. Before he opened the Little Rock Merrill Lynch office, he had operated a Fenner and Beane branch in Hot Springs and earlier he had been a telegraph operator at Ottawa, Canada, during two sessions of the Canadian Parliament. Davies was involved in community theater, his original interest sparked by an Elks Club production. In the early 1950s, Davies made his last appearance on stage at a Kiwanis International minstrel show. He was involved in a motion picture venture with a partner in Hot Springs; the pair produced a silent documentary entitled The Human Shield. Davies directed the film and played the lead role. During the production, he met Aline Lower, whom he married thereafter.
Jefferson and Kilene Speck moved to Florida in 1961 and resided in Grant, Florida, from 1975 to 1988, having previously lived in Satellite Beach, both in Brevard County.
Speck was an engineer in the Apollo manned space flight program. He was named director of the tracking station on Ascension Island. Speck was residing in Kerrville, Texas, at the time of his death at the age of seventy-six, some five years after his wife's death in Grant, Florida. The couple had three children, Jefferson D. Speck, Russell M. Speck, and Rose Aline Roach. Rose, a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and hypnotherapist in Brevard County, is married to James T. Roach, a documentation engineer with Lockheed Martin.