Republican-dominated Florida offers little room for liberalism
Pepper evaluates the state of Florida politics at the time of the interview and gives some thought to the state's political future. He describes much of the state as conservative and that Democrats will struggle to win elections there. He thinks that Democrat Lawton Chiles (elected senator in 1970) earned his seat by avoiding strong positions and staying centrist.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Claude Pepper, February 1, 1974. Interview A-0056. 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:
How do you view the state of politics in Florida at this time? And what direction do you see it heading?
- CLAUDE PEPPER:
Well, Miami is . . . Dade County is the most liberal county in the state, I guess. While I always say that my hometown of Leon, where I lived up until '52 and then I moved to Miami, the liberal . . . some reasonably liberal candidates like Askew have been elected to state office, the cabinet . . . but right now in the Senate race, it's generally believed and regretted by a good many of his friends, that Pettigrew, the former speaker, is going to be regarded as too liberal by the people in central Florida, which is very conservative. And by north Florida, which is basically Democratic, but they vote Republican in general elections and presidential campaigns and is pretty conservative in its voting pattern. Generally speaking, you see, you've got a large Republican vote in Florida now. All the way up the east coast, after you pass Miami, it's basically conservative. Palm Beach is largely Republican, although Paul Rogers has to vote very conservatively to remain a representative from that area. In the Florida delegation here, we've got eleven Democrats and four Republicans. Among the Republicans, of course, none of them is a liberal, Bill Young from St. Petersburg and Burke from Ft. Lauderdale and Bafalis from Palm Beach and there's another one somewhere, there are four of them . . . none of them, of course, is a liberal. Among the Democrats, about the only liberals are Gibbons of Tampa, Fascell of Florida, he's just south of me, Pepper and Lehman. There are four of us who generally vote pretty liberally, usually vote together most of the time. The rest of them all vote . . . like Sikes and Fuqua and Chappell and Rogers and all of them generally vote very conservatively. Because Haley, his county . . . the southwest coast of Florida, Bradenton, Sarasota and Ft. Myers, I used to carry all that in the early days as a Senator. It was a good liberal Democratic area, now it's Republican. If Haley gets out, it is generally assumed that no other Democrat can win, because he has voted very conservatively. And he was married to a Ringling, so he can stay in, I guess, as long as he wishes. But basically, I would say that Florida is conservative today, with liberal spots like Dade County. But it is very difficult for Dade County people to get elected statewide to a governor's office. We haven't heard of anybody getting elected statewide to a governorship from there. We do have two men in the cabinet, two Jewish fellows, Shevin and Stone. Stone is secretary of state and Shevin is attorney general. And Stone is now running for the United States Senate, for the Democratic nomination. I guess therefore, you would describe Florida as a relatively conservative state now.
- JACK BASS:
You said that Chiles has gotten more conservative since he has gotten up here?
- CLAUDE PEPPER:
Yes. Chiles . . . you see, he won his race largely on his walking and that was the great projection. And he pussyfooted . . . I don't mean that he pussyfooted, but he didn't take any extreme position in anyway on anything. So, he sort of took a middle of the road position and he beat Cramer and he beat Bryant. But as I said, he started off here a little bit liberal and he got a repercussion apparently, or thought he did, from home, and he switched back, as a lot of the columnists pointed out. Switched back to a very much middle of the road position in his voting record. So, I don't know. I would suppose that a man with money who takes more or less the middle of the road position will have more or less the best chance of winning the Senate nomination.