August 17, 2007

More than Bricks and Mortars

This is a shot of the Lakeland high school that Chiles attended in the 1940s, while his boyhood hero Spessard Holland was governor of Florida.

In 1999, it was renamed "Lawton Chiles Middle Academy" in his honor.

If you go to Crestview, Florida, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a building of some sort or a bridge or road named after the late Congressman Bob Sikes.

Except for the signposts along the path of the Walk, the Walkin' Trail, there isn't much at all named after Chiles--except schools.

As he said, "The answer to all our pressing problems, begins with a child." The way he saw it, all the intractable social problems bearing down on Florida from crime to teen pregnancy flowed from gross neglect at the very beginning of life.

His lawsuit against Big Tobacco at the end of the governor years was part of making good on his covenant with Florida's children--building a "constituency of children" and a voice in government.
Controversy about education spending, curriculum, teacher pay, and school overcrowding rarely made him popular, especially when he attacked the $1.5 billion budget shortfall facing his administration his first year as governor with harsh cuts. But he made good on his promise to invest in the next generation; the more than $10 billion settlement won in his fight against Big Tobacco saw to that.

From Orlando to Lakeland to Tallahassee, schools bear his name. Not a single "bridge to nowhere" or even an "exit to nowhere" on the highway.

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