Photo: Jeffrey CampGov. Reubin Askew in a photo from 2006.
In memory of Reubin Askew
The late Gov. Reubin Askew epitomized character, conscience and courage.
I first met Reubin Askew when I was a 20-year-old newspaper reporter. He stood in the sunshine and spoke straight and true to the heart. When I was 24, I became Gov. Askew's youngest aide. My father had died a few months before, and soon the governor became a second father to me.
How best to convey his unique combination of character, conscience and courage?
Thanks to him, I have served alongside presidents, prime ministers, other leaders of all kinds all over the world. Never have I met one to equal him.
Askew was a man of faith. His faith was the very center of his being. He took seriously the biblical instruction to "love one another. " I heard him say many times, "Love is the overflowing of ourselves into the lives of others. "
He took seriously, too, the biblical edict that those who have been given great abilities must use those abilities for others. God gave Askew great abilities, and he believed God expected him to use those abilities to serve others. Especially, he loved and served Florida.
The message of Askew's service, then and now, to all who love and would serve Florida, is simply this: Florida is a special place. It can become as special as any other place in all the world if we come together and work together as one state. So bring people together; don't pull them apart.
Know that government belongs to the people. As he said in the opening words of his Sunshine Amendment to the Florida Constitution, "A public office is a public trust. "
Lead. Askew didn't need to put his finger in the wind to find out what he believed. He led.
What good does it do you to be in office if you don't lead, if you don't take a chance, if you don't tell people what they need to hear and not just what they want to hear? If you don't try to lead the people, you will not truly serve them.
Yes, in serving the people, limit government. This is America. We want limited government. But remember, it is the people's government. Use their government to help the people where you can and should. Help those especially who can't help themselves.
Invest in children, education, innovation, basic public facilities and free private enterprise. Seek smart, sustainable growth that adds value, jobs and futures. And understand that our future economically cannot be separated from our future environmentally.
Above all, give "every mother's child" an equal chance to share in the full measure of a flourishing bounty of freedom for Florida. Askew taught me that none of us is truly free until each and every one of us is fully free.
Then, together, with the shared strength all of this will give us, reach out to the wider world for trade, investment, talent and opportunities untold and unforeseen. Make Florida a crossroads for all the world, and an example to all the world of all that the American dream can do.
My own test in my own life of service has always been – could I look Askew squarely in the eye and explain to him why I did what I did? The test is not, would he have done the same thing? The test is, have I been true to my own convictions about what ought to be done? Have I proven worthy of his example?
This is not an easy test. Askew could see straight through you. He knew if your finger was in the wind. He knew if you were failing to lead by failing to be true to your own convictions.
I believe this test of mine is the right test for all of us in Florida who want to be worthy of the example of Askew. Our best tribute to him is not what we say. It is what we do. It is what we do to be true to our conviction that his message remains the right message for Florida.
Some may say that it is too late for us and for Florida. There is too much money, too much partisanship, too much anger and acrimony. There is too much that is past us and beyond us.
But what would Gov. Askew say? He would say, there is too little of us in all that is happening in Florida. There is not nearly enough of us, and not nearly enough of our shared and abiding conviction that tomorrow can, despite all, be better than today.
The governor would tell us never to underestimate the people. He never did. That's why they loved him so. He would tell us, too, never to underestimate ourselves.
If we listen, we can still hear him speaking, straight and true, to our hearts. So long as we hear him, so long as we heed him by following his example of service, it will never be over for Florida.
Jim Bacchus worked for many years alongside the late Gov. Reubin Askew. He is a former chairman of the appellate body of the World Trade Organization and a former member of Congress from Florida.
In His Words
"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 confict. 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. "
"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. "
"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. "