The greatest Governor of this state or perhaps any southern state has ever had passed in the early hours this morning. Florida became the envy of the region and nation largely due to the efforts of one man – Governor Reubin Askew. It would not be an exaggeration to call him the greatest to ever hold any high office in this state. His vision for Florida and willingness to challenge the entrenched powers in the Capitol and halls of the legislature made him a unique individual in the development of a “new south,” which was forward and progressive looking.
For those of us who have been Democrats in this state for a long period of time, the Askew legacy was the benchmark we lived by and sought to see emulated in our public officials. Today is not the time to discuss how so many have fallen short of the high standards Governor Askew set but to hope that with his passing many newer elected officials will understand perhaps for the first time why he was so important to this state.
The 1970s were a golden era in Florida politics and the development of our state as an attractive destination for new residents, tourists and businesses. Our commitment to environmental protection and a high quality of life were second to none. Florida was a place so many around the country wanted to mimic, unlike today when our state is so often the butt of cheap jokes.
Florida throughout much of the 1950s and 1960s was under the influence of reactionary and corrupt political forces. Askew aggressively changed that turning Florida into one of the most open and forward-looking states in the union.
When Governor Askew choose not to run for the US Senate in 1988 because he did not want to raise the money modern politics entailed, an era of good government and honest public service began to pass. By the time the year 2000 arrived, Florida politics had chanced away from the greatness of the Askew era to something far less desirable.
All of this was due to Governor Askew’s leadership and courage. For more on the Askew legacy here is a review of two books about the 1970s in Florida politics that I wrote six weeks ago.