Reubin O’Donovan Askew passed away last week. He is considered one of Florida’s best governors. The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University rated him one of the country’s top ten governors of the 20th century
Askew represented the best Pensacola had to offer. Born in Oklahoma, he moved to Pensacola in 1937 when his parents divorced and his mother wanted to live near her family, the O’Donovans. He graduated from Pensacola High School in 1946. After two years in the army, Askew enrolled in Florida State University and was later elected student body president.
Upon graduation from the University of Florida Law School, he moved back to Pensacola and opened Levin & Askew law firm, the predecessor of today’s Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor, P.A.
His rise in Florida was meteoric. Askew, a Democrat, he was elected in 1955 to the Florida House of Representatives. After two terms, he was elected to the Florida Senate. He served as the Florida Senate President from 1969 to 1970.
In 1971, Askew was elected the 37th governor of Florida on a platform that included taxing profits of corporations, racial diversity, school desegregation and financial transparency for public officials.
He was part of the “New South” wave that moved the Democratic Party away from its racist past in the Southern states into a more diverse and inclusive party. Other states followed his election with progressive governors. Georgia elected Jimmy Carter, Arkansas Dale Bumpers and South Carolina John C. West.
Askew set the example for them to follow. He was considered the governors’ governor. He showed them that politicians could get elected supporting civil rights and peaceful desegregation of schools. He was not afraid to appoint African-Americans to state posts.
Askew named the first black Justice of the State Supreme Court, Joseph Woodrow Hatchett. He appointed M. Athalie Range as Secretary of the Department of Community Affairs, the first black appointed to state government since Reconstruction and the first woman to head a state agency in Florida.
Though his two presidential campaigns failed, his leadership and example paved the way for other Southern Democrats, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, to reach the White House.
Askew was known for his personal integrity and for speaking the truth. He once defined a leader as “someone who cares enough to tell the people not merely what they want to hear, but what they need to know.”
It wouldn’t hurt for current crop of local politicians to spend some time reading up on Reubin Askew. He has given them the roadmap to success.