September 30, 2014

Florida Icon

Icon: Claude R. Kirk Jr.

First Republican governor since Reconstruction, 1967-71; Born 1926; Died Sept. 28, 2011 at age 85.

Mike Vogel | 5/1/2010

Claude R. Kirk Jr. [Photo: Ray Stanyard]

» I want to get buried on the Capitol grounds. I was the first Republican, and I did change government. Nobody knows why government changed in Florida. If one guy is buried here, it causes you to think about it. ‘What did he do? What did he say? What has happened since then?’

» We live in West Palm, a cookie-cutter kind of house, three bedrooms, two baths. If you don’t steal while you’re governor, it’s a lousy job.

» I had come to Florida in ’56, built a life insurance company, obviously with the help of big shots with the financing. As a businessman, I got into an organization called the Young Presidents’ Organization. We had a thesis: Businessmen ought to be in government.

» I was disgusted with the fact that we business guys in Florida were paying for these cruddy ... politicians that were doing bad things, maybe not crooked — yeah, they all were crooked — but there was no drugs, none of that.

» The future leaders are Marco Rubio, Frank Brogan — he’s going to come back — Adam Putnam. All these could one day be governor.

» The big problem of today is one I attacked that nobody cared about, water. Water is in shortage, is it not? The need for water is quite clear, and I will be pushing that.

» Politicians kind of stayed in their own vapor so to speak. I don’t know if that’s clear, but you didn’t have to be so close to people. The truth of the matter is (Nixon) — I don’t know how to describe it — he was kind of a cold turkey. There were things about him. He just couldn’t stand people to touch him personally. Certainly, putting my arm around him, he’d flinch.

» I’d like to be remembered, period. I would hope as somebody who saw the opportunity to change government if it needs to be changed.

» You know who Nat Reed is? He taught me how to spell environment. I got good people in this state. Environmental legacy: Putting the right people in the right place. All the environmental laws of the United States were created in the following way. Nat Reed explained it to me, and we created what is now our DEP. When Nixon came in ’68, Nat Reed and I explained to him the environment and from that was created the President’s Council on the Environment ... and from that came the EPA. We’ve got a lot more work to do. The environmentalists are getting lost by some hustlers in some situations, not the least of which is the U.S. Sugar deal.

» When you become an executive, you become a leader. When you’re a senator, you become a legislator. The two are different.

» It’s amazing — I’m not being negative — that the Legislature has stayed in the Republican power all this time. You would think the Democrats would have done much better.

» I maintained peace and quiet while I demanded equal opportunity. Everybody else was burning around but not in Florida — because I was showing up and stopping it because I was there. Government’s got to be personal.

» As a student of history, when I heard he was coming (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee activist H. Rap Brown who came to Jacksonville in 1967) ... I said call our National Guard and find me a black officer. I said I don’t want any police anywhere near that ballpark, all security away. We drove up and walked to the third base. When you have a riot, people wait until the sun goes down. He’s on the pitcher’s mound. He was pretty good to start with. When it got dark is when he started making noise. So I got up and walked up to the microphone and took it away from him. It became one-on-one. He didn’t know what the hell to do. Neither did I. Everyone’s pressing around on us. And one black man whispered in my ear in this crowd, ‘Don’t worry, governor, nothing will happen to you.’

» I cleaned up all the cheap, crooked politicians. If you allow me the ego ... I not only cleansed the state when I started, but I then cleansed the Democratic Party for all intents and purposes to where they created some real talent. Reubin is real talent. Philosophically he’s who he was. The first thing he did, which as far as I’m concerned did terrible damage to the state, was to allow for the teachers union to exist and then to go allow the public service unions to exist. The problem is the school teachers have a union created by Reubin Askew and that union is a power in and of itself, not for education, but for protecting itself.

» I coined the phrase ‘push-outs, shove-outs and drop-outs.’ Forty percent of our children don’t finish the ninth grade and, of course, 80% of those 40% are black. That’s not making sense.

» Talking about the legacy, serious problem. When Crist stops being governor, my little picture in the hall gets pushed off into the drink. They don’t have any more room. Now, the problem is MacKay and Wayne Mixson have the biggest portraits in the world’s history for their 36 seconds in power, which is pushing me out. There’s no space. And, of course, you know, that’s a tragedy. Because here I got the little Republican portrait that I paid for and the rest of these bastards have these tremendous things. Nobody else (paid for theirs). I philosophically thought that was right. So you ask me about my destiny. I guess my destiny is out the door.

Tags: Politics & Law, Florida Icon, Government/Politics & Law

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