Buddy MacKay is one of the most influential and underrated figures in Florida’s development from backwater to thriving mega-state. His impact has been under-appreciated by Democrats many of whom undercut his Gubernatorial campaign in 1998 in an attempt to selfishly preserve individual political influence both within a post Chiles/MacKay Democratic Party and in a Bush administration. These Democrats played a large part in producing one of the most disappointing and damaging election results in the modern history of the state we love.
The political autobiography MacKay has written with the assistance of Rick Edmonds, “How Florida Happened” is a must read for anybody interested in Florida politics and public policy. From his days as a “doghouse Democrat” opposing Dempsey Barron’s control of the State Senate to becoming the most important and influential Lieutenant Governor in Florida’s history, the book is an eloquent look at the state’s changes and the politics behind them.
Challenges such as the blocking of the Cross Florida Barge Canal (which would have run right through MacKay’s Ocala based sprawling rural district), managing explosive growth and a general transition from rural, agrarian economy to a culture of innovation and economic development around urban areas are all discussed at length in the book. MacKay was one of a group of reformers in the State Senate that worked hard to cull the excesses of the conservative leadership of the Democrats led by Dempsey Barron in the chamber.
MacKay delves into his campaign style and how he learned to appreciate “vertical counties” in his statewide campaigns- those large condo complexes in southeast Florida that had more voters than many of the counties in his State Senate district. In time he would become exceedingly popular in southeast Florida, though his political positions would cause him problems in the areas he formerly represented in the State Senate. MacKay went to Congress in 1982 after redistricting split Bill Chappell’s district. Two years earlier MacKay had lost statewide in the Democratic Primary for US Senate. His voting record in the House was left of center but his focus was on Florida and promoting the state’s interests- sadly this is something many members of congress in BOTH parties no longer use as a guiding compass.
Any reader of this book will quickly understand and appreciate how MacKay applied his intellectual capacity and curiosity as well as his general interest in promoting Florida’s interests and protecting Florida’s citizens. Our state’s remarkable growth in the 1970s and 1980s owed itself largely to the selflessness of policy makers and the willingness of those leaders to risk political defeat in order to promote the state’s interests. When Buddy MacKay teamed up with Lawton Chiles to run for Governor in 1990 it was the culmination of an era of great leaders in the state. Chiles’ 1994 re-election victory over Jeb Bush in 1994 was the last hurrah’ for the leadership style that had made Florida the envy of the nation.
The defeat Buddy MacKay suffered at the hands of Jeb Bush in 1998 is one of the state’s modern tragedies. A man who had given his life to making Florida a better place, and had worked tirelessly to promote Florida’s interests in Washington and abroad was beaten by a carpetbagger whose sole interest in attaining Florida’s Governorship was to promote a personal ideological agenda that put national and family considerations above Florida’s. Our state still has not recovered from this election as an arrogant and entitled legislative majority enabled Jeb Bush’s agenda and continues to serve in the majority without distinction and largely without making a positive impact. It is a tragedy not only for Florida, but for the Republican Party which prior to Jeb Bush’s elevation in the mid 1990s was a more moderate party made up largely of political reformers and others who sought to preserve Florida’s unique qualities and promote the state.
I highly recommend this book which can be purchased on Amazon.com.