At UF, 5 ex-governors fret over Florida's direction
Published: Friday, October 12, 2012 at 5:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 12, 2012 at 5:23 p.m.
Five former governors assembled Friday at the University of Florida to discuss legacies they described as being under attack, including by the current holder of the office.
Former Florida Govs. Reubin Askew, Charlie Crist, Bob Graham, Buddy MacKay and Bob Martinez came together for a panel on the state's future as part of a legal education series.
They reflected on state regulations of growth and water use that they helped implement, warning about recent efforts to dismantle those laws.
"We've got a governor now who believes in the hidden hand of the marketplace … Some people think it's a fist," MacKay said. "Other people think the hidden hand is a fist with the middle finger sticking up."
Nearly 500 people attended the event, held at UF's Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
MacKay is a former Democratic lieutenant governor who held the top job for three weeks when Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles died in December 1998, while the others had about two dozen years leading the state between them.
Crist is the youngest of the bunch at age 56, with the others ranging from 75 to 84 years old. Crist's political future has been the subject of speculation with his recent conversion from Republican to independent and his endorsement of President Barack Obama.
Crist, who served as governor from 2007 to 2011, was late to the event because he was coming from an Obama campaign event the previous night in Miami. He wasted no time condemning oil drilling off the Florida coast, declaring the BP oil spill to be "the greatest wake-up call of all time.
"There are just too many other ways to produce energy — solar, wind, things that the Sunshine State of all places should be leading in," he said.
Askew, a Democrat who served from 1971 to 1979, defended a merit selection and retention system for judges that he established. The state Republican Party is making a "terrible mistake" in its efforts to unseat three Florida Supreme Court justices who are up for retention elections this year, he said.
"I personally believe that it is critical that we insist on keeping the judicial branch out of partisan politics," he said.
Graham, a Democrat who served from 1979 to 1987, and Martinez, a Republican who served from 1987 to 1991, discussed a growth management law they both helped implement but recent legislative changes have gutted. Martinez said it was a mistake doing away with the law, arguing it would have been better to just eliminate redundancies.
Graham warned that the state is being short-sighted in decisions about the environment.
"We're more focused on avoiding having to make any sacrifices today, regardless of what sacrifices we're going to have to impose in the future," he said.
Later, Melissa Sellers, communications director for Gov. Scott, released a statement in reaction to the governors' comments.
"Gov. Scott came into office to turn around Florida's economy and create jobs," said the statement emailed to The Sun. "He inherited an unemployment rate of 11 percent. Now Florida's unemployment rate has seen the largest drop of any state in the country, and the private sector has created more than 150,000 new jobs. Until every Floridian who wants a job can find one, there is still more work to be done, but we are making incredible progress."
The Florida Law Review sponsored Friday's event at the Phillips Center, moderated by former law review editor-in-chief and UF law alumnus Ben Diamond. It was part of the Allen L. Poucher Legal Education Series.
Martinez said the governors at the event had done well facing a similar set of challenges.
"I think Florida has been blessed with good governors," he said.
Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.thecampussun.com for more stories on the University of Florida.