Patricia Lasche Clements who is one of the foremost female historians in the state and was long an active figure in Tallahassee wrote a book in 2005 tying together all the inagural speeches of Governors from William Moseley to Jeb Bush. By perusing the pages of this book you get the sense of how Florida evolved and the issues that dominated the thinking of the state’s leaders changed.
Legacy of Leadership: Florida Governors and Their Inaugural Speeches is a one of a kind collection of speeches and photographs that give you a sense of how executive leadership and government has evolved in the Sunshine State. Each entry includes a biography of the individual Governor discussed.
Even from reading the inagural speeches you get the sense visionaries such as Leroy Collins and Reubin Askew differed in the seriousness of their approach from buffoons like Sidney Catts, demagogues like Claude Kirk and excessively politicized figures on both sides of slavery and racial divide like those during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. It is also refreshing to see that while Florida continued to elect segregationists to high office in the 1950s and 1960s, race was not a major factor in any of the speeches of that era unlike what took place in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia where race became the focal point of many inaugural addresses and governor’s elections. While Florida was certainly not progressive when it came to race relations at the time it was clearly not as bad at least from the the top of state government as our neighbors were. (This having been said we have chronicled in the past the Florida Legislature’s then Democratic leadership and its obsession with race during that time and the difficult position it put the state and Governor Leroy Collins into).
The book also reminded me how Jeb Bush, a potential 2016 Presidential contender balanced feel good stories with conservative rhetoric in soft way in his first inagural speech. Of course, Bush’s first team, in fact his first legislative session was dominated by ideologically driven goals and also the odd desire to go to the left of the Democrats on pension reform, something Republican lawmakers have now had to grapple with the past few years.
This book is highly recommended for any fan of Florida History or someone who simply wants a quick reference book to use in a pinch.