Oft-regarded as one of the greatest holders of Florida's highest
office -- the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard named
him one of the Top 10 American governors of the 20th century -- he
made a lasting imprint on civil rights, tax reform and financial
transparency for public officials.
Onetime governor Reubin O'Donovan Askew, 85, died early Thursday,
more than three decades after he held the state's highest office.
Yet his legacy remains very much a vibrant part of Florida's
Each year, public officials must disclose their income and
financial interests because Askew, a two-term governor who served
from 1971-79, convinced voters to pass a "Sunshine Amendment"
requiring financial disclosure.
Corporations pay more than $2 billion in taxes each year to
support schools, health care and other state programs because of
Askew. At the same time, he made sure Floridians wouldn't pay a
sales tax on residential utilities or long-term apartment rents.
Florida, as a southern state, has had a relatively harmonious
racial history in part because of Askew's willingness to embrace
issues such as busing to end school segregation, his appointment of
the state's first black Supreme Court justice and his decision to
pardon two African-American men who had once been condemned to die
for a crime they did not commit.
Askew -- named one of the top 10 governors of the 20th century by
John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University -- stood
out. He was willing to take on unpopular and difficult issues and
His critics derided him a straitlaced teetotaler. But he won
accolades for his unwavering principles and vision for the state.
Askew "was a man of conscience and conviction," Senate Democratic
Leader Chris Smith said.
"He never shied from a fight for a good and just cause," Smith
added. "Whether it was advancing the cause of civil rights, such as
appointing the first black Supreme Court justice and pushing for
equal education, or championing women's rights, or confronting an
unfair tax system, his unwavering commitment to 'the little person's
voice' never faltered."
Jeb Bush, another powerful and effective governor who served two
terms, said Askew "played a pivotal role in shaping the trajectory
of our state during a time of substantial growth and change.
"He led on contentious issues, fought for equality and did what
he believed was in the best interests of Florida families," Bush
said. "Governor Askew always put principle before politics."
The hallmarks of Askew's leadership style became clear quickly
after he took office in 1971, winning the election as a somewhat
obscure state senator from Pensacola.
Askew had promised tax reform, including imposing the state's
first income tax on corporations. Facing concentrated opposition
from the business lobby, Askew first convinced a reluctant
Legislature to place the corporate tax on the ballot. Then he had to
campaign for its popular support.
One of his most effective campaign tools was a shirt. His aides
bought a shirt at a Sears in Miami and another at a Sears in
Atlanta, with Askew arguing that the consumers were paying the same
price for the shirts although Sears had to pay a $500,000 corporate
tax in Georgia but only $2,000 in Florida.
The Sears shirt from Georgia "showed that the corporate tax
wasn't being passed on" to consumers, Askew recalled in a 1998
interview with a Florida State University publication.
Florida voters backed Askew's tax reform with a 70 percent vote
in 1971. Those two shirts are now in the state archives.
At the same time that he was confronting corporate interests,
Askew took on another controversial issue: busing students to help
integrate segregated schools. This was during the same era in which
Alabama Gov. George Wallace was building his legacy on a strident
Giving a commencement speech at the University of Florida in
August 1971, Askew threw his support behind busing. …