TALLAHASSEE — Former Florida Gov. Bob Graham has been mostly silent about the proposals of men who have succeeded him in the office he left in 1987.
But Friday he openly criticized Gov. Rick Scott's plans to cut education funding, eliminate money for Florida Forever and dismantle the state agency that oversees growth management.
"This idea of selling Florida as the cheapest state — well that's what we've got now," Graham said in a lengthy telephone interview with the St. Petersburg Times. "To drive it (costs) down at the expense of young people's education is wrong.
"Florida is a wonderful place to live. But it is a fragile place, and we have to keep investing in the things that will retain that high quality of life."
Graham, 74, said he fears measures proposed by Scott and supported by the Republican-led Legislature will not only damage education and the quality of life for Floridians, but also hurt efforts to attract new business.
"We have to add other elements like places that provide quality education for their children," said Graham, one of Florida's most prominent Democrats. "The difference between Chapel Hill (North Carolina) and Fort Pierce (Florida) is where would I like to go for quality of life and opportunity for my kids."
Scott has proposed cutting education funding, zeroing out Florida Forever and dismantling the Department of Community Affairs, along with layoffs, pension and health care payments for state employees. The Legislature appears to be following his lead in most respects.
"I'm discouraged at a lot of things that are happening," he said. "It seems so shortsighted, the idea of cutting education by 10 percent seems unbelievable. To cut Florida Forever (the state's land buying program) to zero and cut down spending on the Everglades — it all damages education and the environment."
Of plans to force state employees to pay more for their pensions and health care, he said, "It's dismissive, like a head coach telling all the players they are lazy and overpaid.
As governor from 1979 to 1987, Graham actively promoted land use planning, environmental issues and education. He also faced his share of problems: the Mariel boatlift of more than 125,000 Cuban refugees who came ashore in 1980, riots in Liberty City, a statewide trucking strike and the collapse of the Sunshine Skyway into Tampa Bay. He supported a unitary tax on Florida-based corporations, never believing that taxes discourage companies from moving to the state.
Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986, his final year as governor, Graham retired from the Senate in 2007 and has since played elder statesman as chairman of a commission on weapons of mass destruction and one that reviewed the BP oil spill in the gulf.
He's also writing a novel that will be published in June called Keys to the Kingdom. It's about Saudi Arabia.
Lucy Morgan can be reached at email@example.com.