|Name||Claude Roy Kirk, Jr.|
Palm Beach, Florida , United States
|| January 07, 1926
|Died||September 28, 2011
Jan 07, 2020 05:58pm
|Info||I worked at one time for a Florida governor who had three qualities very unusual for a politician: He was honest, he was courageous and he had a great sense of humor. |
It was his sense of humor that caused me the most headaches, because part of my job was to be concerned about his relations with the press. But he refused to cater to the press, and I loved him for it, despite the damage it caused him.
This former governor's name is Claude Kirk. He's retired now and to my knowledge is the only Florida governor since the War Between the States to leave office poorer than when he went in. Most Florida governors, like most politicians these days, have remarkable good luck with their investments and job offers after leaving office. But in politics, honesty is definitely not the best policy in a monetary sense. You get my drift, I'm sure.
One liberal editor of a major paper was particularly malicious in his constant attacks on the governor. I once told the governor, ''Most of these guys are all ego and easy to flatter, so why don't you call (name excluded) now and then and ask his advice on some subject?''
''Why should I call (the editor)?'' the governor replied. ''I don't even like the (expletive deleted).'' And that was the end of that topic.
Florida has a cabinet form of government, and the cabinet meetings are usually long, routine and dull. It was the custom at that time for The Associated Press or the United Press guy to sit through them and then share the story with the rest of the press corps.
Kirk, however, was unpredictable, so when he instructed me to inform the capitol press corps that he would make an important announcement at the next cabinet meeting, they had no choice but to show up.
I had asked him what he intended to announce.
''Well, if I don't tell you, then you can't tell them. Right?'' he said with a smile. ''Go post the notice.''
The day of the cabinet meeting, the entire press corps showed up, visibly annoyed. The governor proceeded through the long, routine agenda with no hint at all about what his announcement would be. As the hours passed, the press corps was getting angry and restless.
Finally, after the last trivial item had been handled and some four and a half hours had passed, Governor Kirk said, ''I now have a very important announcement to make. On the next Apollo mission, the astronauts are going carry real Florida orange juice instead of Tang.'' Then he abruptly left the room.
It was like a stun grenade had exploded. There was a second of silence. The journalists, their morning shot, stood there with their mouths open like dead fish. Then there was an eruption of profanity, cursing and tossing of notebooks as they stormed out of the room.
In the meantime, the governor was in his private office, where he was practically falling on the floor laughing. It is not a good idea for a politician to play practical jokes on the press, particularly a liberal press that didn't like the Republican governor to begin with.
But, by God, it was funny.
He showed the same courage on more serious occasions. When Rap Brown came to Florida, Kirk went to the city where he was speaking to a large crowd and, unannounced, walked through the crowd alone up onto the stage, where he snatched the microphone out of Brown's hand and began to engage him and the audience in a debate. The ''burn, baby, burn'' demagogue was completely deflated. I've never seen Kirk's like again among politicians.
Charley Reese writes for the Orlando Sentinel.
Ever colorful, controversial, confrontational, and provocative, Claude Kirk served as Florida's first Republican governor in the twentieth century. One of the youngest Marine officers at the time he was commissioned, Kirk served in both World War II and the Korean War. In the 1950s Kirk moved to Florida from his native Alabama and at age 30 founded the American Heritage Life Insurance Company in Jacksonville, becoming its first president. In the Election of 1960 Kirk led the "Floridians for Nixon" campaign as a Democrat. Joining the Republican Party soon thereafter, he was elected governor in 1966. Kirk's four years as Governor were (for some) tumultuous. For Kirk, they were years of a genesis for addressing Florida's most pressing needs. As an example, Kirk's leadership resulted in the creation of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Bureau of Law Enforcement. He also challenged Florida's K-12 educators at every turn. Known as a problem solver, Kirk is famous for identifying problems, providing solutions, and promoting open debate on Florida's still unanswered issues of growth and taxes. But since leaving office, Kirk's main passion has been the environment. He has continued to attack "without portfolio" those he calls the "sugar boys" or the "sugar barons" and their subsidized pollution of the Everglades.
The colorful thirty-sixth Governor of Florida (January 3, 1967 - January 5, 1971), Claude Kirk was the first Republican Governor since 1872. Born in California and a graduate of University of Alabama Law School, Kirk came to Jacksonville to form the American Heritage Life Insurance Company.
A former Democrat who switched during the 1960 Nixon campaign, Kirk ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate before his governor's race. Always at odds with the Democratic Florida Cabinet and State Legislature, Kirk was famous for promoting open debate on Florida's controversial issues of growth and taxes.