13 things I underlined in the coverage of the death of Reubin Askew in today's paper
1. Reubin Askew, one of the most popular and effective governors in Florida history and a fiercely determined advocate for tax fairness, racial equality, managed growth and ethical government, died early Thursday in Tallahassee.
2. Historians generally regard Askew and LeRoy Collins (1955-61) as the two strongest governors in Florida history.
3. Askew's last campaign for an open U.S. Senate seat in 1988 ended abruptly when he walked away in disgust over what he said was the need to endlessly seek campaign contributions. Demeaned by having to constantly ask for money, Askew said he felt like a "panhandler" and a "professional beggar" ...
4. As Florida's 37th governor, Askew appointed the first black Supreme Court justice of a Southern state; appointed the first black member of the Cabinet since Reconstruction; integrated the Florida Highway Patrol; created five regional water management districts; made the Public Service Commission appointed rather than elected; called for rehabilitation rather than the jailing of alcoholics; and pardoned, along with the Cabinet, Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee, two black men wrongly convicted by an all-white jury and sent to death row in the killing of a gas station attendant in Port St. Joe.
In his last year in office, 1978, Askew led a statewide crusade to block casino gambling, as voters once again followed his lead.
5. A 1978 poll showed that Floridians thought more highly of Askew than the most trusted man in television, CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite.
6. After sweeping 57 of 67 counties in 1970, the tall, reserved Askew quickly set about fulfilling the central promise of his candidacy to modernize a regressive tax system by making businesses pay more taxes and give average Floridians a break by repealing sales taxes on household rent and electricity.
"The day is past," Askew said, "when the poor person's, the little person's voice is not going to be heard in Tallahassee."
7. Askew's greatest legacy may be summed up in one word: "sunshine," the term for his insistence on more openness in government and higher ethical standards for elected officials. He believed that public officials' decisions would have more credibility if people trusted the decisionmakers more.
8. "Reubin Askew became governor of a state that was run out of a smoke-filled room and turned it into a model of open government," said Senate President Don Gaetz, a Republican from Niceville.
9. Outwardly reserved, Askew appeared aloof from the political system. He had no interest in the Capitol's time-honored customs of hunting, fishing, chewing tobacco and drinking with good old boys in Tallahassee.
10. In his first campaign, for the state House, Askew encountered a heckler who called him a "n----- lover."
"The trouble is, I don't love them enough," he said. "The difference between you and me is that I'm trying to overcome my prejudices, and you're not."
This was in Pensacola, in 1958, long before there was a Civil Rights Act.
11. Askew won the Democratic primary and general election by hitching his campaign to a proposed new tax, something dared by no one else before or since. He argued that corporations weren't paying their share and ordinary people were paying too much.
12. His most recent successors haven't been so selfless. The nominating commissions have been reduced to patronage committees.
That was hardly the only major accomplishment that Askew lived long enough to see become compromised or undone.
The corporate tax has been eroded piece by piece; Florida's revenue base has become even more regressive. Growth management, which he pioneered, is being dismantled. Minority appointments to the bench, a point of special pride with Askew, are dwindling. Having limited his re-election contributions to $300 per person, he watched the sky become the limit due to Supreme Court rulings he deplored.
13. Florida needs more leaders like Reubin Askew.