MODERN POLITICAL FLORIDA

A GOVERNMENT TO MATCH

The end of World War II meant the start of four decades of record breaking population growth and enormous economic and social changes. It was up to the politicians to catch up to all these forces and many would say Florida's political system is still running behind other events.

Florida was not exactly stagnant in the 1940's with a growth rate three times the national average, but as Spessard Holland, a Bartow born World War I veteran, started his first peacetime year as Governor in 1946, Florida was beginning to explode in economic activity. The thousands of soldiers who lived and trained in the Sunshine State during the War had fond memories of settling in the state. The United States population was on the move after World War II, and many people had Florida penciled as a place of opportunity.

By the time Holland was succeeded as Governor in 1948 by Milton resident Millard Fillmore Caldwell, who had served in the United States House from 1933-1941, Florida was booming. While Caldwell was part of the conservative Democratic rural wing that dominated Florida politics prior to World War II, Caldwell supported such important projects as road construction and the Educational Minimum Foundation Program, which attempted to boost educational funding in poor, rural counties.

North Florida supported Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond over President Harry S Truman in 1948, showing the growing division between rural Florida and the growing towns of South Florida. Lurking just below the political surface was the emerging presence of a Republican Party in counties where large numbers of retirees and Northerners began to congregate. They would soon be joined by Florida natives seeking an alternative to the forces of status quo in many Florida communities.

In 1948, Floridians selected Blountstown born lawyer Fuller Warren over reforming cattleman Daniel T. McCarty of Fort Pierce. It seemed another victory for the Northern Florida backed coalition of rural politicians. Warren, however, maintained his flamboyant style but backed many projects desirous to South Florida, including a 3% sales tax to finance new public construction. Warren's associations with organized crime figures undermined his activism and he almost faced impeachment in the state legislature. He lost most of his political influence among conservative groups and left Tallahassee a disillusioned and impoverished man.


In 1950, Florida still trailed Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia in population, but the state was not only growing much more quickly than the rest of the country, Florida was rapidly emerging as an urban society, much to the chagrin of Florida's rural politicians. Tourism replaced agriculture as Florida's top industry. Generations of future farmers were turning to jobs in construction and hotel management when they used to consider agribusiness as a career.

Florida hotels and motels got bigger and bigger, symbolized by the 500 room Fontainebleau in Miami Beach. Television and motion pictures captured the booming prosperity of South Florida as automobiles and airplanes replaced railroads and boats as the mode of transport for the visitors.

Massive highway projects started in the 1950's, including the Sunshine Skyway Bridge spanned Tampa Bay, ending of St. Petersburg-Bradenton ferry, and the Florida Turnpike (originally Sunshine State Parkway). The growth of roadways could not keep up with the traffic. The 1950's were "Florida's Golden Years" in the sense the entire land assumed Florida's growth who pay for the rapid construction of roadways and public facilities. 


POLITICS OF DECENTRALIZATION

Florida politics may have been modified by the influx of Northerners moving south and by the need to lure tourists, but politics was also shaped by geography. Only Texas and California have as many urban centers separated by miles of terrain. Jacksonville is 300 miles north of Miami and 300 miles east of Pensacola. A statement that gets votes in South Florida, will be rejected by voters in the Panhandle. To run a statewide campaign requires expensive television coverage of some twenty media markets. No one metropolitan area can dominate Tallahassee politics.

New industries created new political coalitions. In 1950 a 56 foot WAC Bumper missile was launched at Cape Canaveral and Florida became the destination of future technology and skill. Soon aviation and engineering firms were looking at Orlando, Cocoa, and Titusville as business friendly sites with wonderful climates.

The 1950's was a conservative era and in Florida, it led to one of the most controversial and brutish campaigns in state politics when Congressman George A. Smathers of Miami, with the backing of Ed Ball and other big business groups, ran against his old mentor Senator Claude Pepper.

Branding the liberal New Dealer a victim of Communist and socialist forces, Smathers showed a low brow campaign could win elections. Pepper eventually showed up as Miami's Congressman while Smathers roamed the Senate from 1951 to 1969.

On the state level, Florida elected reformer Daniel T. McCarthy of Fort Pierce on a ticket of turnpikes, centralized purchasing, and modernization. Unfortunately, McCarthy, who was elected in 1941 Speaker of the House at age twenty-nine, suffered a stroke, putting President of the Senate Charley E. Johns of Starke into the governorship. Johns was a throwback to rural politics with a touch of Joe McCarthy-istic tactics as he combed the state university system in search of left-wing subversives.

Johns' actions mobilized reformers and moderates who found a hero in LeRoy Collins of Tallahassee, a twenty year state legislator and a man, despite historic roots in Old Florida, promoted new ideas. Collins' election helped the Southern half of Florida to promote legislature reapportionment and a moderate approach to the most significant Supreme Court decision in the twentieth century, Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), the end of segregated public institutions in the land.

It would take the later Baker vs. Carr decision to establish one man, one vote districts, but Collins would provide Florida with a policy of moderation and leadership as the struggle over integration took place. As chairman of the National Governor's Conference, Collins presented to the outside world, the image of Florida as the leader of the New South.

 Johns


THE TURBULENT SIXTIES

The 1960's was a decade of social conflict over civil rights and Vietnam. The 1950's was a period of boom and growth (78.7% in population); the 1960's had almost as much growth but the turmoil and change of events dominated people's image of the decade. The civil rights movement boomed in Florida at a time when Ferris Bryant, a more conservative, methodical leader took over as Governor. Florida had its share of demonstrations and embarrassing confrontations with little successful management from Bryant's people.

More than ever, Florida's image of modernity and openness contrasted with the state's political apparatus which included a part time legislature, a Constitution designed in 1885 when cotton planters and steamboat owners ran the economy, and a Governor who shared executive power with an elected Cabinet with more stability and experience than the Chief Executive. When an undynamic leader like Bryant was in office, state government resembled a tribe of chiefs in search of Indians to control.

Floridians, many from the Northeast and Midwest, operated under the illusion that Florida did not have the racial problems of Southern states. Many transplanted Yankees lived in highly segregated developments, often in counties where the influx of newcomers limited greatly the role of African-Americans, who didn't identify with traditional Southern Democrats or the newcomers and retirees.

Bryant's successorHaydon Burns, a former Jacksonville mayor, seemed unoriginal in handling not just the issue of civil rights and racial tension, he appeared overwhelmed by the crisis of thousands of Cubans pouring into Dade County to escape Fidel Castro's politics. The Cuban influx diluted the employment goals of African-Americans ready for economic and political change.

Yet, Florida was changing as far as its electorate was concerned. This became evident when a liberal Miami Democrat Robert King High won his party's nomination, but lost to colorful Jacksonville insurance man Republican Claude R. Kirk Jr, the first Republican Governor in Tallahassee since Reconstruction.

It showed the influence of transplanted Northern Republicans, conservative retirees and Panhandle regulars, and an acceptance to look at the Republicans as an alternative to rule. In 1968, Florida elected Edward Gurney as the first Republican Senator from Florida since Reconstruction.

Burns Kirk

The 1960's was a time of great changes in Florida. Thespace program put Florida on the global map, and on July 16, 1969, Florida became the home port for the first landing on the moon, just as French writer Jules Verne a century earlier.

More significant to the daily lives of most Floridians were the Supreme Court decisions forcing the reapportionment of the state legislature and the end of the rural coalition called "the Pork Chop gang" by Miami newspapers. The shift to an urban legislature meant the development of the Constitution of 1968, creating a more efficient state government while giving counties and cities the home rule authority needed to solve modern problems quickly.


THE 1970'S

In 1970 Pensacola state senator Reubin Askew defeated Kirk and headed Florida toward moderate urban change. Important to Florida's national political image was a Sunshine Law requiring financial disclosure and meetings open to the public. In 1971, Florida gained an even more lasting identify when Walt Disney opened his Magic Kingdom theme park. New tourist facilities sprung up like mushrooms and so much ink was spent on the tourist boom, that few noticed that Florida's more traditional industries were diversifying and using new technology to modernize operations. Despite the political promotion of Florida's new plants, Florida's state government seemed an obstacle to growth.

The election in 1979 of moderate Miami land developer Robert "Bob" Graham was in a sense an approval vote for the platform of moderation and change advocated by Askew. It also indicated that the state would no longer gang up against Dade County candidates Graham found the serious problems facing Florida in the 1980's to be a blend of Northern type problems such as urban poverty, pollution, crime, and deteriorating roads and bridges, and typical Florida problems such as serving huge numbers of retirees, immigrants, and political refugees, surviving oil wars and bad economies that hurt tourism, and unifying a multiethnic, multiracial populace.

Minorities played a bigger part in Florida politics. Reapportionment of the legislature gave more power to large cities, where 80% of Florida's African-Americans lived. The black population may have declined percentage wise nearly every decade since 1860, but concentration of black voters in urban areas meant African-Americans would be elected to Tallahassee for the first time since Reconstruction.


The Civil Rights Era in Florida meant slow but marked changes. While Florida ousted the poll tax in 1937, most Florida voting laws resembled the South. In Panhandle Florida the black vote was still minimal in the 1950's. In 1950 Madison County (48% African American) had no black voters.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, coupled with reapportionment toward the urban centers, opened the political door for black leaders. By 1992, Carrie Meek, Corrine Brown, and Alcee Hastings would become the first black Floridians to serve in the United States House of Representatives since Reconstruction.

The Cuban migration to Dade County not only turned Miami into a more international city, it made Miami a gateway to Latin America attracting economic and political refugees from the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. The Florida lifestyle and climate began to attract large migrations of Asians by the 1980's. The Seminoles, only 2,000 strong, used the courts and some old treaties to gain a corporate foothold in the tourist trade of Hillsborough and Broward Counties.

Neither Bob Graham or Republican Robert "Bob" Martinez, a former Democratic union leader and later Mayor of Tampa, could find the addition needed monies to fund the increasing needs of the state. Martinez was the state's first Hispanic Governor. It was once assumed that Florida's tourists and growing population would offset the increased costs of needed services. What was not understood was the rising cost of Federally mandated entitlements in the areas of medical, educational, and social services to the retired poor, immigrants, the native poor, and others that constitute large groups in Florida.

Florida's fragmented and diverse political society, each with its own agenda and supporters, makes it increasing difficult to develop a statewide consensus for new taxes. Large groups, such as the retired, provide powerful lobbies against raising taxes. The rising cost of these services have reduced the percentage of state funds available for education, the environment, and public construction. This has added to the confusion of problems never resolved despite increases in funding.

The election of LakelandU. S. Senator Lawton Chiles in 1990 verified the domination of the urban areas or moderate candidates that have won major Florida races in recent years. The election did not assure any solutions, however, to Florida's political problems. The rise of the Republican Party in Florida by adding Northern transplants and conservative Democrats angry with the National Democratic Party made Chiles' platform moderate and fiscally conservative.

The rising cost of education and health care were major issues which crossed party lines. Chiles and his lt. governor Ken MacKay Jr, a six term Congressman from Ocala, was reelected for second and final terms in 1994. On December 12, 1998, Chiles suddenly died just thirty days from the end of his administration. MaKay served as forty-second Governor.

In 1998, John Ellis "Jeb" Bush, son of a former President and soon to be brother of another was elected Florida's third Republican Governor. His election marked a drastic shift in Florida politics since he was from Miami, now a source for GOP votes from Cuban voters who backed the Spanish-speaking realtor with the Mexican wife and Latin American studies degrees. Carrying the Panhandle, the Gulf Coast, and much of the I-4 corridor, the Republicans held sway in both houses of the legislature as well as the Governorship, the first time since Reconstruction. Fort Lauderdale, once a Republican area, became the most powerful liberal Democratic stronghold.

Governor Bush was reelected and as the first Florida Governor of the twenty-first century discovered that the booming, diverse state had all the major problems facing the nation. Crowded schools beset by problems often related to changing family issues, rising health costs in the most elderly of states, and an economy sensitive to oil prices, foreign affairs, and transportation demands. Florida was still viewed as a Rich Child to outsiders, but local residents found living in paradise had its problems and prices.

The election of moderate reforming Republican Charles“Charlie"Crist of Saint Petersburg showed the new dominance of Florida’s urban areas in the politics of the Sunshine State.