Reubin Askew, the Democratic Governor who helped bring Florida into the modern age, died early this morning at the age of 85. Rated as one of the top ten governors of the 20th century by Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, Askew's legacy still resonates throughout the state. He supported school integration through busing, championed openness and transparency in government, and left a strong legacy of environmental protection.
As Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist each seek a second term this November, there are certainly several lessons they can take from Askew's legacy.
Don't Be Afraid to Stand on the Right Side of History
The idea of busing students from several different neighborhoods into a single school to achieve true desegregation was a deeply unpopular idea in the South in the '70s. Voters approved of a ban on busing by 72 percent in 1972, but Askew prevailed in placing another question about equal education on the ballot that passed by an even higher margin that essentially voided the busing ban. He also integrated several state agencies starting with the Florida Highway Patrol.
As America finds itself in the midst of a new civil rights battle over LGBT rights, both Crist and Scott find themselves in precarious positions. As governor, Crist supported a ban on gay marriage, while Scott has maintained an anti-LGBT position. This despite the fact that a majority of Floridians do support some legal recognition of same-sex unions.
Don't Be Afraid to Do What's Unpopular
In addition to his support of busing, Askew also managed to institute a corporate income tax while lowering taxes on regular Floridians (Rick Scott, by the way, wants to eliminate that corporate tax). He wasn't afraid to pursuit unpopular ideas.
Scott, for better or worse, has had no problem making unpopular decisions though often without Askew's wisdom and political shrewdness. Crist is often faulted as an opportunist who sways whichever way the public opinion winds blow.
Maintain Florida's Transparency in Government
Askew waged a long and ultimately successful war against the legislature to require that all Florida public officials file financial disclosures. He put together a successful ballot initiative to take the issue to the voters, the first time Florida's constitution was amended by voter action. The amendment also banned gifts to legislators, and bans all officials from lobbying for two years after leaving office.
Scott in particular has had a hard time personally maintaining such ideals of transparency. Scott made a big show of putting his email online for all the public to see, but never actually uses email as a primary form of communication. By using his own private jet for state business, the multi-millionaire governor is also able to hide much of his travel itinerary from the press.
Take a Firm Stance on Casinos
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This isn't the first time in history when gambling interests tried to pursuit the construction of flashy casinos in Florida. In 1978 Askew led an effort to defeat a proposed overhaul that would have legalized gambling in Florida. Flash forward nearly four decades later and Tallahassee is now wondering whether to allow the construction of two destination casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.
Either for or against, both Scott and Crist's view on the matter are murky at best. Scott ran against casinos during his initial campaign, but has since says he's cautiously "open" to the idea. Crist supported a similar plan in 2010, but since his reinvention as a Democrat his current stance is unknown. Come on gentleman, take a stance.