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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Reubin Askew, July 8, 1974. Interview A-0045. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Striking out positions on principle rather than expediency

Askew recalls his decision to run for governor and some of the idiosyncratic positions he adopted during the election. Askew saw himself as a member of a new political generation that boasted confidence in their constituents and a willingness to take non-traditional positions on issues.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Reubin Askew, July 8, 1974. Interview A-0045. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACK BASS:
I want to ask you this: when you ran for governor, did you think you could win? A lot of people said they . . . .
REUBIN ASKEW:
Oh, I had a feeling that I had a good chance if I properly presented myself to the people, but I was certainly not what you would call confident at the very beginning.
JACK BASS:
Were you in that situation that many people with leadership in state legislatures find themselves when they either want to be . . . to go into politics full time or either get out . . . .
REUBIN ASKEW:
Yes, I had made up my mind that I get all out or all in. Because it became a very difficult strain economically to stay in the legislature and to continue assuming the responsibilities I had. And I had to make up my mind to get all out or all in. And the day that I turned in my resignation, with the possibility for running for governor, I was much . . . my mind was much more made up on resigning than it was necessarily in running for governor. Although, it was my clear intent at that time to move toward it. But I asked Senator Scott Kelly, who had run for governor a couple of times in Florida several years ago, I asked him if he ever wanted to quit. You know, because a campaign has its high points and its low points. He said, "I quit a thousand times." And it really, I think, was one of the things that really put it in proper perspective for me. There was a tremendous challenge to me in running. My ambition and desire was not to be elected governor, but to be governor and yet I had so many people say, "You can't run in the way that you are talking about." Because, you know, I made not the first commitment on the road anywhere in Florida. I made no commitments, any type of commitments as such. Oh, I backed into one commitment, probably, to appoint somebody to a board from a certain area, but not a person. And I regretted that I even did that, but I sort of got backed into it on the run, but that was just an area that I felt should have been represented and wasn't ever represented. But I really didn't promise anybody anything. I turned down money in the early parts of the campaign and that upset some of my supporters. But I felt like it was important that if I were to win, I would be absolutely free to do the type job, because you simply couldn't have taken some of the stands that I've taken and be committed to the very people that you have to oppose. You take for instance Associated Industries, which is a very influential body in Florida. You couldn't go down like we did and confront them on the issue of the corporate profits tax if you really had taken substantial contributions, you know, from their key leadership. So, I tried to remain free. But I was hopeful and as the campaign progressed, I got to feeling more and more that I might have a chance. And then when I came out with the tax reform program and actually advocated the tax, why then, a good portion of the capital press corps, and I think that we have one of the more perceptive and hard working press corps in the entire nation, certainly one of the strongest. And I had some of them say, "You know, that's political suicide." But I really felt like the time had come that if a person was honest with the people and not go this same old route of "no new taxes," and then after you were elected, lower the axe. I just decided that no, I knew we were going to have generate additional revenue for the tax base in Florida. I had been chairman of the appropriations, I knew what was ahead and I really tried to tell it as it is, and it was that, I think, that played a large part in the election.
WALTER DE VRIES:
Didn't Claude Kirk have something to do with that? Four years of Kirk. Considering the environment, reapportionment occurring, Kirk occurring . . . .
REUBIN ASKEW:
I think that probably that my election required several circumstances, one of which if it had not come into place, I could not have gotten elected. I think my coming along behind Kirk, you know, who was described as flamboyant. I was described as serious. Well, I have worked since I was nine years old, and I am serious. And I used to say, you know, in the campaign, "Don't you think it's time to have some seriousness in the governor's office?" And you could feel the pulse of the people. But coming along behind him, you know, I think played an important role in my winning. Because obviously, the contrast was substantial. I think the fact that we limited the amount of money that could be spent, played a factor. I had other people saying, "You know, that's an incumbent's dream. You can't get enough to get the necessary exposure to win." I didn't agree with that, because I had no intentions of going out and trying to get large contributions from additional sources. I think that having the primaries in the fall as opposed to May played an important role in the election.
WALTER DE VRIES:
Well, didn't the fact that in a sense you took the nomination away from the old party pros, that you did it the way it wasn't supposed to be done, set the climate for the next four years in terms of the leadership in the Democratic party?
REUBIN ASKEW:
Yes. And I think that Lawton Chiles did the same thing. You know, I can recall the most, what I would say electrified gathering politically I've ever been in in my life, was when Lawton and I came together at a joint meeting shortly after we both won the nomination. In a meeting in Miami, and when we came in together, you know, in that group, you could just feel it in the air. Because I think, really, that both of us represented in a different sort of way, a new attitude in politics and a new confidence in the people. You know, if a politican was willing to be honest with them and to try to properly motivate them, they would respond. And I think that Lawton did this by his walk. And I think that we did it essentially by the type program we had, on a willingness to take on a lot of the "sacred cows" frontally, you know, and to set really a new tone. Because, if any one thing motivated me to run for governor, it was the desire to try to establish a new tone in the office. Because, you know, it had gotten to be sort of a . . . well, Florida itself, you've travelled around the nation, and Florida has gotten to be sort of a laughing stock. My predecessor had had his battles with the legislature, and he wasn't always wrong with them, and yet his lack of understanding of the process caused him unnecessary problems. I think that when Lawton and I got elected, I think it gave a lot of people hope that you could fight special interests and that you didn't have to join the club, you know, in order to float along with the rest of them.
WALTER DE VRIES:
If you were assessing your contributions to the state now, would that be one of them, one of the most important? That you did prove that?
REUBIN ASKEW:
Yes. And I think also that our compaign demonstrated that you could get elected without making all of the traditional commitments and promises that had been characteristic of gubernatorial campaigns. Not always characteristic, but generally characteristic.