Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Former Gov. Lawton Chiles' son repeats his father's famous walk

Nearly 11 years have passed since the death of former Gov. Lawton Chiles. He was the last of three Democrats — the others being Reubin Askew and Bob Graham — who dominated this state's politics for 30 years, and who generally stood for the idea that government could make Florida better, and do good for its people.

Of course, this is no longer our prevailing philosophy. The modern question has been how much we can reduce the role of government. In some ways this pullback has been a healthy correction. In other ways, less so.

There's a definite family resemblance in the face of Lawton M. Chiles III, known as "Bud," one of the late governor's four children. Now the son is patterning himself after the father in another way:

By walking.

The older Chiles made his reputation in 1970 as a long-shot candidate for the U.S. Senate by walking the state. The nickname "Walkin' Lawton" stuck with him the rest of his career.

Almost 30 years later, the son, 56, is in the middle of taking "One Million Steps," or about 600 miles around the state, to publicize Florida's low ranking in a variety of categories concerning children. The rather optimistic title of the effort is "Worst to First" (

"This campaign is designed to get the people of Florida to be aware of where we stand," Chiles said the other day.

According to the group, citing a variety of sources, Florida ranks:

• 49th in the nation in health insurance for children, with roughly 1 million who have no coverage at all.

• 43rd in high school graduation rates. (I know this is a contested statistic; I'm just sayin' what they're saying.)

• 48th in preparing high school students for college, based on exam scores.

• Among the states most likely to have juveniles in prison.

• Low in spending on education, while ranking 16th in spending on corrections.

• Worse than average in infant mortality, high in low-birthweight babies, high in the percentage of pregnant women who get no prenatal care at all, high in teen birth rates, and high in single-parent families.

So Bud Chiles walks, sometimes alone, sometimes with company. He reports he's been endangered a few times by a threat his father never faced: texting drivers.

I asked him what he hoped to accomplish, since his stated goal is to finish before the spring session of the Legislature. Does he really expect major action?

"Heck, no!" he laughed. "We're going to get zip out of them." He called the Legislature "a plutocracy of corporate interests." He remains bitter that Gov. Charlie Crist and the Legislature raided the trust fund established in his father's name with tobacco-settlement money for short-term needs.

Instead, he said his goal is to raise public awareness and to remind Florida that there is a common good and a nobility to advocating that good.

"Who," he asked rhetorically about the current crop of state politicians, "is inspiring? Who is being inspired?"

I asked whether this was about a political campaign. He had thought of running for governor in 2006. More recently, he has been mentioned as a Democratic candidate for chief financial officer. But he again replied, "No, heck no!" when asked whether he would run.

Maybe what he is doing is political, or a stunt, or just out of fashion. But I left with memories of his father and, I admit, a touch of inspiration.

Former Gov. Lawton Chiles' son repeats his father's famous walk 11/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 14, 2009 6:14pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bill Nelson knocks Rick Scott over Senate health bill


    Sen. Bill Nelson attacked Gov. Rick Scott, his likely 2018 rival, over today's trip to Washington.

  2. For starters: Rays at Pirates, with Hechavarria active, Robertson sent down


    UPDATE, 3:09: Rays have activated Hechavarria and sent down Robertson.

    Also, C Derek Norris was released; he had been DFA'd last week.

    The stellar view from the press box at PNC Park.
  3. LaVar Ball appears at WWE event, son LaMelo uses slur


    LOS ANGELES  -- LaVar Ball has brought his Big Baller Brand from the basketball court to the wrestling ring. 
    The outspoken father of NBA Draft No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball showed up with the newly-minted Los Angeles Laker and another son, 15-year-old son LaMelo, for a live segment on Monday's "WWE …

    LaVar Ball took off his shirt during a WWE broadcast.
  4. Facing defections, Senate GOP leaders delay health care vote


    WASHINGTON — In a bruising setback, Senate Republican leaders are delaying a vote on their prized health care bill until after the July 4 recess, forced to retreat by a GOP rebellion that left them lacking enough votes to even begin debating the legislation, two sources said Tuesday.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., center, talks with his chief of staff Sharon Soderstrom, right, and communications staff director Antonia Ferrier, left, as they walk to his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, June 26, 2017. Senate Republicans unveil a revised health care bill in hopes of securing support from wavering GOP lawmakers, including one who calls the drive to whip his party's bill through the Senate this week "a little offensive." [Associated Press]
  5. U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and estranged wife Carole put Beach Drive condo on the market

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and his estranged wife, Carole, have put their Beach Drive condo on the market for $1.5 million.

    Former Florida Gov. and current U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and his estranged wife, Carole, have put their condo in downtown St. Petersburg on the market for $1.5 million. [Courtesy of Rhonda Sanderford]