Post # 192, Bob McKnight's Florida Commentary
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself."
Florida Governor Reuben Askew to Freshman State Rep. Bob McKnight, 1974
I am often asked to rank public servants that I met in my government service--the very best and the very worst. I will not opine on the second, but in my book, The Golden Years...The Florida Legislature '70's and '80's, I talked about the first superlative and very best public servant I ever worked with---Florida Governor Reuben Askew.
I had never met the Governor until after I was sworn in as a member of the Florida House of Representatives representing District 116 (D., Southwest Miami) in 1974. After being sworn into office, the Speaker of the House called the full House into Special Session for some technical corrections to laws, a common practice.. Earlier in the day, I was appointed by the Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee to the Select Committee on Water Management Districts. This was a major appointment, especially for a Freshman. That same day, we were called into an important Committee meeting in the Lower Level Conference Room. At issue was a very controversial bill about transferring some of the water management responsibilities from the Governor's office to one of the other Cabinet members, who were not supportive of Askew. It was widely known that developers were behind the bill. Since this was the first test vote in the Legislature on Askew's support in the legislature after winning an overwhelming re-election, it was closely followed by the Florida Press Corps. The Committee Room was packed.
Askew's legislative lobbying staff was outstanding, but they failed to meet with me before the vote. The Majority Leader Dick Clark, (D., South Miami), a fellow Miami legislator, approached me at the meeting and said the Speaker wanted me to support his efforts to oppose the governor's position. He described the Speaker's request as a courtesy request, and emphasized that I could vote however I wanted on the bill on the floor.
Since I was just starting my political career, I was looking forward to working with as many members as I could and the Majority Leader described his request as a "win-win." I voted with the Majority Leader and the Speaker, thinking Governor Askew would certainly understand.
Later that day on the floor, a page brought me a hand written note with the Florida State Seal embossed on the cover. The note said, "I want to see you in my office right now. Rube" I read it several times to try to understand it, and asked my seat colleague on the floor, Rep. Tom Gallagher (R., Coconut Grove) what it meant. He said, "The Governor wants to see you in his office right now. He doesn't sound happy." I thought to myself this note might be a good keep sake, not thinking of any negative possibilities.
I went quickly to the Governor's office at Entry Level on the first floor. His receptionist said that the Governor's was waiting for me, and she ushered me in. His office was large and dark and we were the only people present. As I looked around the office, he slammed his fist on his desk and said, "You should be ashamed of yourself." He proceeded to argue the merits of opposing the bill I had just voted for in the Special Committee. He later acknowledged that his staff never brought me this message before my vote. But, to be certain, none of the Governor's legislation got my vote after that day, without a discussion among the lobbyists in his office.
That was the start of my relationship with the greatest public servant ever.