Few Floridians know the state as well as UF Professor David Colburn and FSU Professor Lance deHaven-Smith. In 1999, Republicans took complete control of state government for the first time since the Reconstruction era- that same year during Legislative Session Government in the Sunshine State: Florida Since Statehood was released and delivered to every Legislative office.
The book is the easiest read you will find about Florida’s Political and Governmental History covering the entire period from 1845 until 1999. Colburn and deHaven-Smith cover each Governor’s tenure closely and tackle the challenges Florida’s leadership felt due to growth, racial tension and outside factors. The book discusses the gradual evolution of Florida government and directly confronts racism and the use of institutions to maintain racial segregation and protect white supremacy even via violence.
As the book progresses more emphasis is put on the legislature and the tension between urban and rural Florida. This of course is the narrative of Florida History in the 20th Century, one that was already being fleshed out by V.O. Key’s timeless Southern Politics in State and Nation which was published in 1949. As we have discussed in a previous edition of Thursday Bookshelf, racism and segregation as well as the urban/rural split were the overriding factors in Florida politics during the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s.
As the 1970’s arrived, Florida entered a golden age of government, and this book goes into great detail regarding the impact of the 1968 Constitution and what followed in the next decade. The book covers the 1980’s and 1990’s exceedingly well giving a quick narrative of the important points of government in that period.
Given the lack of institutional knowledge many Republicans who came into office in the late 1990’s possessed, my hope was that this book would impact governance going forward. I firmly believe that some Republican leaders who were intellectually curious read this book and understood the responsibility that had been thrust upon them. Others probably simply threw the book out or gave it away.
Today, fifteen years after publication the book remains a timeless guide to the challenges that Florida faced and how they were overcome. It tells an important story that anyone interested in Florida Government or History should read. And yes, every public official in the state should read it as well.