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My Secret Advisor

Post # 197, Bob McKnight's Florida Commentary

In 1972, an unknown IBM Representative was taking on an entrenched incumbent in a new town, secretly aided by the candidate for Governor from another political party.

I mention in my book, The Golden Years...The Florida Legislature, '70's and '80's. when I made the decision to run for public office.

I had been involved in student elections during high school and college, so you can say I was 'nibling on the hook,' then. But between college and the start of graduate school, I spend the summer break staying with a fraternity brother, Billy Lam, living in the Shenandoah Valley. The scenery was breath taking, but also important to me, it was just outside of the Washington D.C. During the time available for making a trip into the Capital, I made it a point to visit the Senate and House Chambers to watch lawmaking, real time. I also followed a number of individual members with which I was familiar, particularly from Florida. In a word, I was hooked. As I point out in my book, I grew up as a competitive youngster who loved sports, and I found the strategy and implementation of actual campaigns great competition. The year was 1966 and I followed with great interest the major upset election in Virginia of incumbent legend Senator Harry Byrd, Jr. by a new face, Senator William Spong. The strategy in his upset election, and execution is something I still remember well.

After graduate school and my 2 year military stint, my employer IBM, transferred me from Huntsville, Alabama back to my home state Florida, in Miami. In 1972, IBM announced for the first time, employees could run for office, if it did not interfere with their job responsibilities. Two of us responded--me and to become Michigan Don Reigle. That was a re-apportionment election year, so the district boundaries were all new. I decided to run for a seat held by an incumbent, Rep. Jeff Gautier (D.,119) who I had hoped might retire. He did not, so I had an uphill battle to beat the incumbent as well as another well known candidate, conservative community organizer Clark Merritt.

The secret admission in the title of this post is that although I was a Democrat running for the House against a well known incumbent Democrat, I was aided in my race by former Senator Jerry Thomas, who was a Democrat, but was in process of becoming head of the Florida Republican Party. My meetings with the Senator, an old family friend, were held in secret in his Riviera Beach offices. He knew my opponent, but not well. His reason for offering advice and counsel to help me in the race was primarily a favor to our family. As the campaign developed, it became a little personal to the Senator. Republican Senator Thomas went on to challenge incumbent Democratic Governor Reuben Askew for Governor, but lost. He ultimately joined me on the floor of the Florida Senate as I was sworn in joining him as a member of the upper body, which was special for both of us.

If you are reading this post, you might wonder who won that race. I will say that Rep. Gautier led the first primary with me close behind, and Mr. Merritt was eliminated. I got Merritt to endorse my and the major organizations in Miami--the Miami Herald, The Miami News, and the AFL-CIO all had endorsed me over Gautier in the run-off.

My publisher would like me to encourage readers of this post to obtain my book through to get all the details of that final election--my very first run for elected office.



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