In documentary, Spratt recalls family's distaste for politics

S.C. ETV's 'The Big Picture' to air Thursday, Sunday

John Spratt's father hated the idea of his son becoming a politician. More than two decades later, a former GOP opponent calls Spratt unbeatable, and the 13-term U.S. Congressman would like to finish his career as chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

These are among the points of interest unearthed in "Spratt of South Carolina," a half-hour documentary premiering statewide Thursday night on the S.C. ETV education network. Producer John Bullington of Rock Hill interviewed a dozen people, from retired U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings to Oakdale Elementary School teacher Paulette Hallman, whose second-grade class gets a visit from Spratt every Thanksgiving.

The documentary paints a flattering portrait as it chronicles Spratt's rise from his York hometown to Washington, D.C., where he chairs the House Budget Committee.

"It's a little much to have all that praise heaped on you," Spratt told The Herald on Tuesday. "But he (Bullington) told the story, and he told it well. It's something I hope people can watch and enjoy."

Long way from York

In the film, Spratt, D-York, says he would enjoy chairing the powerful Armed Services Committee, which wields influence over a wide range of military issues. The current chairman, Ike Skelton of Missouri, is 75 and might retire before Spratt, 64.

That possibility exemplifies how far Spratt has come since his days as a young lawyer at his father John Sr.'s firm in York. Back then, a career in elected office seemed unthinkable. Spratt recalls a conversation between his grandfather and father.

"His father turned to him and said, 'You mean to tell me we mortgaged Grandma's house to send you to law school, and you're going to become a (darn) politician?'" Spratt said. "That was the end of my father's career in elected politics."

But the younger Spratt did run for office in 1982, and won a four-way primary during the era when Democrats dominated South Carolina politics. His daughters are grown and have long since moved away, but in the early days, they tagged along with their dad to Washington.

"I could write a book about going back and forth in the car with three children, three cats and a dog," said the former Jane Stacy, now better known as Mrs. Spratt. "John gets an allowance to fly home. There's no way we were going to fly with that many people. We would get in the car, and it was like an adventure."

Hollings called Spratt "probably the most able fellow" in the House and said it was "to my despair" that Spratt never ran for the U.S. Senate. Maybe the most candid comments come from Carl Gullick, who ran unsuccessfully against Spratt in 2000 and now serves in the state General Assemby.

"He can't be beat," said Gullick R-Lake Wylie. "John's got that seat as long as he wants it. I've had people come to me and say, 'We're thinking about running against John.' And I've said, 'That's the end of your career. You will not win. Trust me, I've been there.'"

Bullington, former station manager at Rock Hill's WNSC-TV, says his goal is to give the casual viewer a better understanding of a man they may have heard of but know little about.

"People in the 5th District know who John Spratt is," he said. "My thinking was, you've got folks in other parts of the state. To them, who is he? I'm trying to give them a picture of who John Spratt is."

"Spratt of South Carolina" debuts at 7:30 p.m. Thursday on S.C. ETV, cable channel 15 in Rock Hill. The program will be replayed Sunday at the same time. It's part of ETV's weekly "The Big Picture" program.