TALLAHASSEE — Jim Krog, who managed both of Lawton Chiles' winning campaigns for governor in the 1990's and was a sought-after lobbyist and political strategist, died Thursday. He was 60.
Krog, a Tampa Bay native and graduate of the University of South Florida, had battled skin cancer over the past year and was undergoing chemotherapy before suffering a heart attack Wednesday. He died surrounded by family and friends at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.
Blessed with keen political instincts and a sense of humor, Krog was an old-school operative with a back-slapping style who became a Tallahassee fixture. He could battle rivals in the Capitol and share drinks and laughs with them afterward at a nearby bar, where he held court during sessions of the Legislature.
"I opposed him a lot of times and he was always just a really nice guy," said Guy Spearman, a lobbyist who worked with Krog under Democratic Gov. Reubin Askew in the early 1970's and remained one of Krog's closest friends.
Friends said Krog took politics seriously, but he saw the absurdity in it, too.
"He saw humor in almost everything," said Elvin Martinez, a senior Hillsborough judge who worked with a young Krog in the Florida House nearly four decades ago. "He had a way of pointing out a person's shortcomings in a very humorous way, and he wouldn't insult people."
After working for a legislative committee, Krog became legislative director for Askew and later joined the law firm of Steel, Hector & Davis. Though not a lawyer, he was among the first strategists to be an in-house lobbyist at a law firm with a lobbying practice.
The same firm employed Kenneth "Buddy" MacKay, who helped lure Chiles out of retirement to run a populist campaign for governor against Republican Bob Martinez in 1990.
Krog served as Chiles' chief of staff for two years, went back to lobbying, and came back to manage a razor-thin Chiles-MacKay victory over Jeb Bush in 1994, a strong Republican year in which Newt Gingrich became speaker of the U.S. House.
But Chiles' re-election was tarnished by a last-minute barrage of phone calls designed to scare older voters into believing Republicans would abolish Social Security and Medicare.
Krog ultimately accepted responsibility for the tactic as the campaign was being investigated in 1995 by a legislative panel headed by then-Sen. Charlie Crist.
Returning to lobbying and political strategy in 1996, Krog helped the sugar industry in its estimated $25-million campaign to kill a proposed penny-a-pound tax to clean up the Everglades. That still ranks as the most expensive referendum campaign in the state's history.
Krog's last position was as a legislative consultant for the law firm of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey where his clients included Coca-Cola, General Electric and the property and casualty insurance industry. He was a founding member of the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists, a group that seeks to improve the public image of lobbying.
Every college semester, Krog returned to his alma mater, USF, to nurture students interested in careers in government or politics.
"What Jim exemplified is that you can be passionate about your cause and still be friends with people on the other side," said USF lobbyist Kathy Betancourt. "Everybody loved being around him."
In an interview last fall, Krog, who began working for Askew at the age of 27, said youth is not a drawback as a high-level advisor to a governor.
"The day-to-day test of management is, can you deal with it? Fix the problem and go forward. It's just another day at the ranch," Krog said.
Services were still being planned.
Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.