“Politics are many things to many people,” writes William Peart in his Capitoliazations column in the Jackson Daily News in 1963, “To some, they’re fully serious – a way of life, to phrase it tiredly. To others, they’re a part time circus – intriguing, of course, but comical, too.”

The circus aspect of elections - particularly thinking of Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump running for President of the United States – got me thinking about Robert F. “Blowtorch” Mason, a welder from Magee who ran for the Democratic nomination for governor in Mississippi in 1959 and 1963. Blowtorch was the subject of that particular column by Peart.

Peart writes, “Mason says he believes in a free press. ‘Up there in Washington,’ he says, ‘They’re turning out the money on those free presses. And that’s good. Let’em keep turning some of that free press money to Mississippi. Elect me your governor and I’ll see that we get it. If Kennedy has got it to give away, then elect me – because I’ll get along with him and see that he gives some to Mississippi.’”

Blowtorch enjoyed making speeches. Neither of his gubernatorial campaigns was a particularly serious effort to win. He explained his motivation to the Jackson Exchange Club meeting at the King Edward Hotel, “Every two or three years I save up enough money either to take a big trip or do this. This time I left the decision to my wife, and she decided I should run for governor…summertime is a good time to take time off and go politickin.”

He didn’t shy away from looking at fiscal or social issues.

To keep the Mississippi treasury full, he explained his solution: “The government takes Mississippi pulpwood to make paper to print money on, so, when we run out of money we’ll just chop down another tree and send it to them.”

He promised to exempt preachers from paying income tax and wanted to equalize teacher pay to the same level as surrounding states. When it came to infrastructure he said he wouldn’t interfere with the State Highway Commission, “I’m just going to get them the money when they ask for it. When they say ‘here’s another grant we can get,’ I’m going to get it for them.”

During his 1959 campaign, Blowtorch, campaigning at Sturgis said, “[Charlie Sullivan] wants to legalize whiskey, then vote it out. I believe that legalized whiskey and houses of prostitution go hand in hand. They say as long as a Mississippian can stagger to the polls, I’m going to vote prohibition. Let’s hope we don’t get so drunk that we can’t stagger to the polls.”

Blowtorch said his platform was “taken from the King James version of the Bible and the U.S. Constitution.” But like his contemporaries, he campaigned on a commitment to white supremacy and segregation.

Blowtorch received 2724 in the Democratic Primary in 1959 and 3257 votes in 1963. In between those two gubernatorial runs, Blowtorch corresponded with reporters from his vacations including a trip to New England and Canada: his way of beefing up his foreign policy credentials. He also encountered a bit of legal trouble. In 1961, Blowtorch was taken to jail for pulling a gun on his relatives. The Justice of the Peace ordered Blowtorch to post a $1,000 peace bond but he refused and went to jail. A UPI report says his sons told officers that Blowtorch drew his weapon “while opposing their plans to take his wife to a doctor, officers said. They said he wanted to wait until she could be treated by his doctor, who is ill.”

Blowtorch didn’t run in 1967, to the disappointment of many in the press who enjoyed his antics. Charles M. Hills recounts a visit by Blowtorch in his 1961 Clarion Ledger column, “Affairs of State.” Hills writes Blowtorch visited the newspaper office and was “bearing a newspaper wrapped gift that was obviously a gallon jar. Aghast, we waxed outwardly appreciative, while inwardly cringing in the thought -’Has he actually violated the maw of our good Christian daily with a jug of moonlit corn-squeezin’s?’ When Blowtorch departed, we raced with jug from sanctum, only to be relieved by the sight of a gallon of honey in the comb. To this day, we harbor sweet memories of one candidate for governor.”

And Jimmy Ward writes in his 1963 “Covering the Crossroads” column, “With the deadline for qualifying passed, the political wars may now begin in full fury in Mississippi. During a recent visit to the office, Mr. Robert (Blowtorch) Mason, the Magee welder, solicited our help in his campaign. All right, Bro. Mason. You furnish the blow and we’ll tote the torch.”

Blowtorch would have been right at home campaigning to Make Mississippi Great Again, or stumping that Mississippi would be Stronger Together.





Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.