July 14, 2007

The Folksy and the Fake

After someone made an editorial comment about Governor Chiles' folksiness a couple months ago, I've thought a lot about the line between folksiness and fake. How do you know where it is?
Is there any reason to doubt Chiles' public and private record of folksiness? Blind hogs rooting out acorns, cut dogs barking, frogs refusing to holler in their own pond...

Everything I know now tells me it's all true. He could be folksy till the last dog was dead.

Folksiness tends to win you votes. Most people like voting for people who talk and think like them--who "care about their issues." And sometimes speaking a few codes words is all it takes to show you're part of the club. Fake it till you make it.

Maybe the only thing to say about faking folksiness is that you know it when you see it. At worst, it sounds like fingernails scraped across a blackboard. I think when we talk about it in the context of Chiles or anyone else, folksiness usually isn't really about backslapping or hand-shaking, its about being comfortable in your skin. It's about knowing who you are and staying who you are in all worlds, all company.

West Wing buff that I am, I think of Vice President John Hoynes when I think of faking it. I was just thinking the other day; there are few things more entertaining on that show than the put-upon folksiness of John Hoynes. He'd rather finish a round of golf than pose for one photo with the winning Girl Scouts troop. When he smirks after photo-ops, he knows he is smarter than anyone in the room. He knows he won. He can BS about the Girl Scouts and Texas and American history and make you forget it with a handshake. If you get anything more than a handshake, you know you're in his club. Otherwise, you know to shut the hell up.

Had Governor Chiles lived to see The West Wing, he probably have recognized Hoynes. He defeated politicians like him.

July 13, 2007

Title, Chapters, Paragraphs...

I've been thinking a lot about the title of this book lately. "The He-Coon Walks" will work fine for this blog. I'm not sure it's the title of the book though. I guess the structure of the book changes, at this point in the process, faster as you go down.

By that I mean that the title is gonna go through few changes, the names of the chapters will changer more frequently, paragraphs will be change constantly, and the words will be a blur.

I've been thinking about the title so much though that I'm not sure that's true. To me, the title has to capture the most distinctive and most important aspect of the subject in two, at most three words.

Crashing the Gate
. Just looking at my bookshelf, that pops out at me. Kingfish. Great title for another book about a colorful, Southern politician. What's the Matter with Kansas? Asking a question usually pulls the reader in. I think it rarely works though. This is a special case. Huey Long, as far as I know, only had one nickname for his long corrupt career. That makes the title easy.

So, the book title is still up in the air. It may change as much as the chapter titles. I'm almost certain one of the chapter titles is gonna involve turkeys.

July 12, 2007

The Archives Or Brake Repair

I've got car trouble again. The brakes are making a weird sound.

When the car is ready I'm making another trip to the State Library in downtown Tallahassee.

Their Newsbank of Florida's newspapers is a great free online archive. The Miami Herald even goes back to 1983 or 1982. The Newsbank, combined with the microfilm catalogue going back to 1958, should give me the whole span of press coverage of Chiles' career.

Beware of microfilm. If you've got eye problems, a day staring at microfilm will make them worse.

Once I get further along with the press clips I'll return to my nook in the State Archives. The above photo of Walkin' Lawton is credited to these Archives.

Saint Marks Refuge (Cont.)

This coon came out of nowhere as I was turning around to leave one of the walkin' trails in the Refuge. I fumbled with my camera, which was off at the time. By the time I got it ready he had gotten into the grass, but he turned around and shot a glance my way. I'll never look at a raccoon the same way again, thanks to Chiles. The He-Coon Walks...
This is supposed to be a "photo blind." When I opened the cobwebbed door, however, the sound spooked all the birds. Oh well.
I like how this came out. Even though fishermen are blurred, the balance between the foreground and background is nice.

July 10, 2007

Chiles and His Florida

When most governors say that they know their state, it's a lie.

They probably couldn't name more than a few cities or counties--the places where they grew up, went to college, got married, and worked. Especially in a big state like Florida, Texas, or California, the names run together and easily get lost in the blur of public life.

Lawton Chiles campaigned in all of Florida's 67 counties in his bids for state office; he and his staff prided themselves on knowing something about every part of the state. He knew what it was like to dig his feet into the red clay country around Quincy, climb to the top of Jay Hill or Chattahoochee bluffs, swim the natural springs outside Orlando, observe phosphate mines in his native Polk County, and witness the path of Hurricane Andrew's destruction in Dade County.

On his famous 1970 walk across Florida for his U.S. senate campaign, he built a relationship with the small piney towns of the state's Panhandle region that lasted till his death. The folks who welcomed him into their kitchen, sat down with him on their porch, and invited him out on an impromptu turkey hunt never forgot the simple message of all the walking and talking: every vote counts.

Whether in Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, Maryland, or Florida, Panhandle regions often find themselves far from the seat of government, and even farther from the ear of the governor. Reaching out to them is perhaps the biggest test of a governor's constituent service. Even in our digital age, files still get lost, names forgotten, small issues swept aside to make way for big ones. Communication breaks down; good people withdraw from the political process; regionalism develops. A quick look at Civil War history tells how violent that can get if left to fester.

Chiles challenged himself to know Florida's forgotten highways by heart, especially the Panhandle. He loved all of Florida and never cheated himself and the voters by neglecting a region or playing diverse regions off one another. Part of this blog will be spotlighting the Panhandle towns, woods, and trails that he loved, as well as the people who live there. Much of it has changed little since the Walk. Saint Marks National Wildlife Refuge may not have a metal post outside of it marking the "Lawton Chiles Trail," but surely it's on the path. The park was established in 1931--one of the oldest in the state.The Refuge is extremely dry right now, like the rest of the state. The park staff is wary of thunderstorms. A May storm lit several fires across the Refuge. I visited a couple weeks ago.

This could easily be Governor Chiles and one of his grandsons.