Florida Profiles in Courage


Readers of my book, The Golden Years...The Florida Legislature, '70's and '80's, are aware that in it, I identified a number of extraordinary Floridians in public service. As I continue to watch the deterioration of integrity of so many of our elected representatives on both sides of aisle, I compelled to single out the very best, as examples. It was not always this way.

Reuben Askew was a young attorney from Oklahoma who set up a law practice in Pensacola. He was a Paratrooper in the U. S. Army and graduated from both Florida State University and the University of Florida. He won a surprise seat in the Florida House of Representatives in 1958 and moved on to the Senate four years later. Democrat Governor Askew ran for Governor in 1970 and unseated Republican Claude Kirk by a large statewide vote.

In 1972, Alabama Governor George Wallace tapped a raw political nerve in the country, much like Donald Trump has done today. Federal courts had pushed the states to implement integration plans, including in some cases, busing students to schools achieving racial balance. A public straw ballot on the issue was scheduled for March in Florida. Wallace and his Florida surrogates had driven the polls to a certain victory opposing busing. In-spite of those odds, the new Florida Governor staked out a courageous position favoring busing as a last resort, to achieve integration.

The anti-busing forces won the straw ballot with ease, and many in Tallahassee predicted a certain re-election loss for Askew. In 1974, Askew told the electorate he did what he thought was right on busing, and would do it again. The electorate respected his candor and courage. Governor Reuben Askew overwhelmingly won re-election, and according to Harvard University, was one of the country's five greatest governors, ever. Governor Reuben Askew, a Florida profile in courage.


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