Former Florida Governor Reubin Askew passed away Thursday morning at the age of 85. Askew was part of a moderate political movement known as the “New South”, and he served as governor from 1971 to 1978. His administration passed a slate of progressive reforms to ethics and environmental law, the process of judicial appointments, and the tax code. But Askew is probably best remembered for shepherding Florida through the end of segregation. He memorably supported a controversial system of busing to integrate public schools. Askew appointed African-Americans to key state positions, including naming the state’s first black State Supreme Court justice, Secretary of the Department of Community Affairs, and Secretary of State.
Two of Reubin Askew’s former advisors, Jim Bacchus and Eugene Stearns, longtime Capitol reporter Bill Cotterell, Florida Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, and the Dean of Florida State University’s Askew School of Public Administration and Policy David Rasmussen shared their remembrances.
“Thanks to governor Askew I’ve had the chance in my own public service to meet presidents, prime ministers, and political potentates from all over the world and I have yet to meet anyone, anywhere who begins to compare with him,” Bacchus said.
“He was one of a kind, and sadly we just haven’t had that kind of leadership since then. We’ve had good people, we’ve had honorable people, but nobody who put together the combination of character integrity courage and brains, that Reubin did,” Stearns said.
“He was a man of great personal integrity and honesty, nobody – even his opponents – nobody ever questioned his personal decency,” Cotterell said.
“One of the most decent honorable caring human beings I think we’ve ever had as a leader in this state,” Stearns said.
“He was also one of the “New South” governors, the term we used at the time, Jimmy Carter in Georgia, Dale Bumpers in Arkansas, John West in South Carolina. Governors who turned the South’s attention away from segregation and the past, and looked toward the future of tax reform and education things like that. A more modern South,” Cotterell said.
“He was a very progressive governor, and I really, really respected him, I met him a couple times, at different functions, and he actually taught my wife government at FAU. Florida lost a true champion today,” Smith said.
“He spent more time after he left public office teaching in the university system, than he had spent in public office, that was a very big part of his life. He was a teacher,” Bacchus said.
“Teaching the future leaders, I think, is his extraordinary legacy. He was always cooperative in issues of the university and trying to move keep us moving forward, but I think the big thing was his teaching and shaping the careers of many students in public administration,” Rasmussen said.
“I think that Askew will be remembered mainly as a man who gave up some of the powers that he could’ve kept for himself, like he created the judicial nominating commissions to have judges screened for professional credentials rather than patronage by a governor, a man who did things that he could’ve remained silent and avoided doing, that were not always to his advantage politically. And that’s something you really don’t see in today’s political world,” Cotterell said.
“His last message to me was that he wanted me to speak at the memorial service but he wanted me to keep it short. And there’s an irony and a joke in that, he well knew, because those of us that followed him and served him were forever telling him to keep it short, and he never did. He would be forever digressing because there was so much he wanted to say, and so much he wanted the people to know,” Bacchus said.
“I would show up at the mansion in the morning, and we’d play ping-pong. You know those memories are always real, talking about Florida government and the future while playing ping-pong at the mansion,” Stearns said.
“He was simply an exemplar of what public service and public citizenship is all about,” Bacchus said.
“He’s been missed since he left office and he’s certainly going to be missed in his passing,” Stearns said.