In 1966, Claude Kirk became Florida’s first post-Reconstruction Republican Governor while his party surged with increased seats in the legislature. Kirk’s flamboyance and ability the state’s racial backlash allowed him to break Democratic dominance of the state for the first time in a century. We discuss the Kirk legacy in this week’s edition of the Florida History Podcast presented by The Florida Squeeze.
Krik was also aided by the growing power of the left in Florida politics – based around Miami. The Democrats had ousted incumbent Governor Hayden Burns a conservative from Jacksonville who had strongly opposed Civil Rights in the primary and nominated Miami Mayor Robert King High. High, one of the most liberal officeholders in the state was openly supportive of Civil Rights and African-American Voting Rights. Democrats from outside Dade County defected en masse to Kirk who became Governor.
But Kirk’s election may have set the GOP back for a decade. Infighting and personality clashes dominated the party who were in the late 1960’s on the precipice of taking over the state. Instead, an era of Democratic dominance was ushered in and unlike the previous eras when the Democrats controlled Florida politics, these Democrats tended to be more progressive and forward-looking.
Not until the Jeb Bush-driven party would change the trajectory of the GOP almost thirty years later by appealing to voters of all incomes and races, would the Republicans finally control Florida.
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