September 17, 2021

Florida Icon

Icon: Reubin O'D. Askew

Governor, 1971-1979, U.S. Trade Representative, born 1928

Cynthia Barnett | 4/1/2006

It's a big year for me. Donna Lou and I will celebrate our golden anniversary in August, and I celebrate 50 years as a lawyer this year too.

I was in the trenches long enough. When they put my name on this institution (Florida State University's Reubin O'D. Askew School of Public Administration and Policy), when they put my name on the one in Gainesville (the University of Florida's Reubin O'D. Askew Institute on Politics and Society) I could see what was happening. I didn't want my being a Democrat to become a disadvantage for them. I'm careful to bring a lot of Republicans into my institute.

Reubin Askew [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]

I've enjoyed teaching more than any other business pursuit in my life.

When I ran for president in 1984, I didn't take PAC money. I wanted to change the system. How you run determines how free you're going to be to govern after you get elected.

If you ever had the constitutional ability to limit (campaign) spending, I think you could change the system overnight.

In Oklahoma during the Great Depression of the 1930s, my mother, at age 33, with a fourth-grade education and six children, divorced my father, who had a very serious drinking problem. He really wasn't helping much to support us. I can't imagine how hard it must have been.

I have kept my double middle initial to honor my mother. Her maiden name was O'Donovan.

One of my greatest moments of satisfaction was being able to appoint Joseph Hatchett to the Florida Supreme Court. It was great to be able to bring people not just into judgeships but to bring them into all parts of their own government. I remember the day we appointed him, all I could think about was his mother. How hard she had worked for him, just as my mother had worked so hard for me.

A lot of laws women don't like were usually passed by men. And how do you convince a young minority to accept the laws of a particular body when they see so few in government like them that they can relate to?

I took unpopular positions on civil rights and reapportionment when I ran for the Legislature. But I was elected and re-elected in Pensacola. You've got to love that place. It will always be my hometown.

You have some low points. I had a low point when I was running for president and the results came back in the Iowa caucus. I felt like I got to go all the way up to the diving board but I didn't get a chance to dive in.

I didn't just have a father with drinking problems. I had two brothers who developed serious drinking problems.

We served no alcohol for eight years in the Governor's Mansion. I always laughed and said you'd be surprised how early people go home when you don't give them any alcohol. Our parties did end early, and people said that stifled the social agenda in Tallahassee. But that wasn't true. People caught on, and there were often pre-receptions and post-receptions somewhere else. So in that way it was doubling and tripling the social agenda.

One of my biggest jobs as I perceive it is helping the students appreciate their own worth and what they can give.

I spend six hours, two class periods, on the evolution of American Federalism. I don't think you can understand state government unless you understand the genius of the system in which it operates.

There is a responsibility on the part of those who get an education to assume leadership.

I believe partisanship is very important to the process. The very fact that you have separation of powers encourages conflict. That's what it's intended to do. When you hear that the House and Senate are bickering again, remember it's the system that encourages them to bicker. You may not like some of that. But if everyone gets along sweet and roses, you wonder how much is going on behind closed doors.

I went into the paratroopers when I was too young to know better, at 17. When you go to land, and you're coming down, you never look down at the ground or you'll hurt yourself. You keep your eye on the horizon and let the ground come up to you. One of the things you have to do is to have a long view and not feel that every time something bad happens and you don't like it -- that it amounts to a crisis.

On the question of ethics, I look at life as a continuum on which one side is dark and the other side is light. What happens to a lot of good people is that they get marginalized. They will rationalize that one decision in the very lightest gray. The next time it's a little darker. Then the next time it's imperceptible. Then one day they wind up in the dark, and they don't know how they got there.

I tell my students that the one indispensable ingredient to public service is integrity. That same thing should guide all of life.

People used to tell me, "You're too honest to be in politics." That used to really bother me and puzzle me. People can expect that you'll be competent, but they also have a right to demand that you're honest.

My mother always used to tell me, "You're too serious." And she used to say, "God gave you such a beautiful smile. Why don't you use it?" When I was running for president, I used to have a card I put behind my nameplate that no one could see. It said: "R/S." That stood for "relax and smile."

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

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