August 25, 2007

Goin' to Gatorland

I'm off to Gainesville soon, in search of the Spessard Holland and Lawton Chiles papers and their common ground in Lakeland and Munn Park.

Chiles is in the Gator Hall of Fame. He attended UF undergraduate and law school.

UF was the cradle for many a Florida governor and U.S. senator.

Definitions and Good Writing

Thinking back to my last post about anecdotes and colorful details, I think what I really mean is that memorable, episodic writing works hard to define big ideas like "Southern gentleman" and "statesman" and "folksy." It redefines them usually--makes them closer to the truth.

The Great Gatsby defines the 1920s lost playboy. So much that we just can't stop reading about it and remembering what one of those looks, sounds, and acts like.

That's what I'm trying to keep in mind as I go along.

August 24, 2007

Return to Crystal River

I got more, closer shots of the Crystal River Energy Complex in Citrus County this time. You can see that it boasts four coal-fired plants in addition to one nuclear reactor. Last fall, the NC-based firm that owns the plant called Progress Energy pondered the notion of building another reactor. The St. Pete Times weighed in on it--against.

Construction of the current reactor began when Lawton Chiles was a state senator and it finally came online after he had walked across Florida--and after his first term in the U.S. Senate and re-election to a second term. When plant construction began, Lyndon Johnson was president, Martin Luther King was still alive...when it ended the U.S. had withdrawn from Vietnam and Jimmy Carter had just been inaugurated president in the aftermath of Watergate.

In Chiles' time, Citrus County was known for well...citrus. If Progress Energy gets its way, it may as well be called Progress County. There doesn't seem to be much else going on there these days, other than a small tourist economy built around the Crystal River.

Lakeland Lore Blues

One thing I've learned in Lakeland: the phrase "Southern gentleman" is meaningless. I could focus on it for hours and I still wouldn't get it.

I do know now how important it is to fully flesh out Lawton Chiles' boyhood hero--U.S. Senator Spessard Holland. "Stately," "gentlemanly," "well-mannered." Pick whatever antique adjective you want, they don't pass the "SOS test." People who aspire to write well talk about the "smell test," the "laugh test," etc. The SOS test means that if the reader is drowning in an ocean of vacuous platitudes and Southern folkore, don't throw the sap an anvil! Use the anecdote, use the vignette, set the scene. Write as much detail as necessary to make Holland real. Throw a life raft.

The Holland papers are at University of Florida. UF is the key to putting Holland, Chiles, and Munn Park together in a way that makes sense.

August 23, 2007

Lakeland Lore

Off to the Lakeland Public Library...the childhood chapter brews. Pictures when I get back to Tally.

August 21, 2007

Hurricane Dean; Hurricane Andrew

With Hurricane Dean on our TV screens now, Floridians and Gulf Coast residents are reminded of the potential for natural disaster every hurricane season. Before Hurricane Dean there was Katrina, before Katrina there was Andrew.

Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida in 1992, leaving behind a trail of disaster — 85 deaths, 160,000 homeless, more than $30 billion in damage and 8,000 businesses destroyed or damaged.

Governor Chiles moved the Capitol's manpower and expertise to Dade County for as long as it took to rebuild. His dedication to recovery-- before the winds had even fully died down--and diligence in marshaling the resources of the state set the standard for natural disaster management.

I am a long way from finishing even my prep work on Hurricane Andrew policy under Chiles/MacKay, but I appreciate more than ever why a chapter on Andrew must be written.

Florida's Historic Victory Against Big Tobacco Hits 10-Year Mark

(Credit to Ron Sachs Communications for the release; contact James VanLandingham for more info at 850-222-1996)

Tallahassee, FL -- Florida's former first lady, the eldest son of the late Gov. Lawton Chiles, former Attorney General Bob Butterworth and public health leadera in the fight against Big Tobacco today celebrated 10 years since the signing of the historic Florida tobacco settlement that severely curtailed cigarette advertising and sparked a precipitous decline in youth smoking.

"Ten years ago, my father called this settlement victory 'the straw that broke Joe Camel's back,'" said Lawton 'Bud' Chiles III, son of the late governor. 'I believe General Butterworth did him one better by quipping that 'the Marlboro Man is riding into the sunset on Joe Camel.'"

In addition to winning $13 billion in payments from Big Tobacco to taxpayers, the tobacco settlement banned outdoor advertising of cigarettes on billboards and public transit, and created the Florida Tobacco Control Program to fight cigarette use among youth.

"The victory over Big Tobacco created a safer and healthier world for our children," said Butterworth, now Secretary of the Department of Children and Families. "The changes that followed have been so successful, it's hard to believe we once had Marlboro Man and Joe Camel billboards plastered along our highways, inside our ballparks and on our bus stops. We had cigarette vending machines in shopping malls and even Joe Camel-style cartoon ads and merchandise that clearly targeted children. I'm proud of the progress we've made over the past decade, and I'm proud to be able to celebrate this tenth anniversary of our victory."

Within the past 10 years, according to the Florida Department of Health's Youth Tobacco Survey, the percentage of high school students that smoked in the last month has decreased from 27 percent in 1998 to just 15.5 percent in 2006 -- a 44 percent drop. And the number of high school students who smoke frequently -- defined as 20 cigarettes in the last month -- has dropped to just 4.5 percent. That number is down by two-thirds from 1998, Chiles said.

"These are numbers Florida can be proud of, as I know my husband would have been," said Rhea Chiles, Florida's former first lady. "Gov. Crist and the Legislature deserve praise for their diligent work to implement last year's voter-mandated amendment to increase funding for our state's anti-tobacco programs to $57 million."

Dr. Charles Mahan, dean emeritus of the College of Public Health at the University of South Florida -- home of the Lawton & Rhea Chiles Center for Healthy Mothers and Babies -- said that while Florida has scored victories against cigarette makers since 1997, the state still has unfinished business in helping the 3.1 million adult Floridians who are still smoking.

"The good news is that more than 70 percent of smokers want to quit, but smoking is an addiction and it takes most people several attempts before they can quit successfully," said Mahan, who served as Florida's State Health Officer from 1988 to 1995. "We must make more resources available to help these smokers who want to break this addiction. This must be the next step in the battle against Big Tobacco."

In Florida, nearly 29,000 deaths are attributable to smoking each year, and current annual health care costs directly caused by cigarette use total $5.82 billion, with an additional $5.86 billion in lost productivity.

"Smoking is an addiction -- we need to treat it as such by making smoking cessation a standard covered benefit of our health care system," Mahan said. "Government, business and health care providers must combine forces to ensure CDC-recommended pharmacological treatment and counseling programs are available to all smokers who want to quit as part of standard insurance benefits -- and not simply once, but for multiple attempts."

To aid this effort, doctors must receive more training in medical school and continuing education programs about the proven techniques that dramatically improve smokers' chances of successfully quitting, Mahan said.

Brenda Olsen, chief operating officers of the American Lung Association of Florida, agreed that Florida must be vigilant in its efforts to help people break their deadly addiction to tobacco by providing them sincere support, not just lip service.

"We commend the Florida Legislature and Gov. Crist for recognizing the need to help smokers break their addiction. Now, we must ensure the money allocated through the tobacco program be used in the most effective way," Olsen said. "We must continue to make every effort to 'de-normalize' smoking in our society and move closer to a public health pictures where the billions of dollars and millions of lives needlessly lost to smoking each year are saved. If we work together, I believe we can achieve this goal."

The legacy of Florida's 1997's victory against tobacco was also praised by Adrian Abner, a FAMU graduate who served as the 2003 Florida chairman of Students Working Against Tobacco, or SWAT, a youth-led program created with state money from the settlement. At 12 years old in 1997, Abner met Gov. Chiles, who inspired him to mobilize his peers against smoking.

"I firmly believe that the drop in youth smoking numbers is a direct result of these concerted efforts to mobilize young people against smoking," Abner said. "Growing up, I had only a few friends who became smokers, but I believe far more of my peers would be smoking today were it not for SWAT and the hard work that grew out of Florida's tobacco victory."

August 20, 2007

Anecdotal Writing, Good Writing

One thing I'm quickly discovering is that anecdotes matter in writing. Symbols matter. In writing and in politics. There is a reason why centuries later we still read Beowulf, which if you think about it is just a fantasy cartoon. But the metaphors keep it alive, the images. You've gotta feed the reader's imagination. The more I think about it, writing is a lot like politickin'. Respect the reader, respect the voter.

My high school English teacher always said, "no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader." I think that's true, too.

The opener to The Rise of the Southern Republicans, by Earl and Merle Black, transforms the abstract into something real and memorable about Southern politics. The fact is that most of the time, you learn more about the South by going to a county fair--funnel cake and all--than by a year of classes and book work. But sometimes you get a flavor from just the writing. Notice the difference between the first and second paragraph. The second makes it real. I think it could be even more concrete if they got more details on what Thurmond looked like and how people reacted to him, but still the contrast is clear:

In 1964 Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, a tenacious champion of unreconstructed southern conservatism, abandoned the Democratic party to become the first Republican senator from the Deep South in the twentieth century. Three decades later, Thurmond was bound and determined to make history again, this time by serving longer than any other U.S. senator. To satisfy his remarkable personal ambition he needed to win an unprecedented eighth term. Ignoring some pleas and many hints that he should retire gracefully, in 1996 the aged Thurmond asked friendly crowds to support him "just one mo' time."

Late on election night, when his victory was at last assured, a dazed and plainly exhausted Thurmond was carefully shuffled to a podium for for the customary televised victory speech. Looking not a day older than ninety-three, Thurmond mumbled a few words to the people of South Carolina. The senator made no reference to issues, ideology, or political principles, nor did he venture any coherent interpretation of his achievement. He said absolutely nothing of substance. Instead he slowly read, page by page, prepared thank-you messages directed to the men who had masterminded his final campaign. It was a thoroughly perfunctory and lifeless performance. That necessary duty completed, Thurmond was then ushered away a few steps, whereupon a young television reporter stuck a microphone in his face, described the campaign as extremely 'hard-fought,' and inquired whether the senator might harbor any 'hard feelings' toward his Democratic opponent. Instantly Thurmond perked up. "No haard feelins' on mah paart," he shouted, "Ah won!"

Beside the Suwanee River

I'm going back to Lakeland this week and I'll be taking pictures again. I've already covered most of Lakeland so I think I'll stop at some of the state parks on Route 98 on the way back and catch some of the local color on camera.


In his second inaugural address in January 1995, Governor Lawton Chiles spun cracker wisdom about a "Cook Shack" in the woods into popular Florida mythology in a couple paragraphs. After his election-winning comment that the "Ole He-Coon walks just before the light of day" in his 1994 debate with Jeb Bush, nobody thought anything would top that. But sure enough, people forgot about the He-Coon once the Cook Shack came along.

You could scour the Earth for every would-be Karl Role and James Carville and you wouldn't find a single consultant who would know a Cook Shack from a Radio Shack. Lawton was always Lawton:

I have 200 acres of woods north of Tallahassee where I have an old log cabin. I wanted to build a cook shack out back -- wood poles, tin roof, screened sides, and an old stove.

I've been trying to get a permit for over a year. "You must have plans," they said. But, a cook shack is unusual; there are no regulations for one. So they ask: "Does it have a stove?" YES. "Does it have a toilet?" YES.

"Well, the closest things we have is a single-family residence; so it needs steel tie-downs; it must withstand Andrew-type winds, etc."

The cost went from $15,000 to $65,000.

I've concluded the Lord gave me this problem so I could understand why people hate government so much.

Mr. Speaker--Mr. President--every member of the Cabinet, I respectfully request your help on this. Let's set a goal to reduce the present rules and regulations by 50 percent within two years.

We got to Jubilee Plantation at sunset. Perfect time to catch a stray coon or turkey gobble.
The trail to the Cook Shack.
I think we're gettin' close.

Lightning strikes again.
The supply shed.
Here a turkey, there a turkey.
A hot tin roof.
The view from the door of the "living room"-- the cabin with the fireplace.
This shot makes me think of a Grimm fairy tale.
"Since November 8th, I've had a chance to walk in the woods and ponder the mood of the people."

August 19, 2007

Trail to Jubilee

On the north side of Miccosukee Road, you might as well be moppin' the floor with Pinesol the trees' aroma is so thick. Lots of big oaks too with big personalities, wrapped in Spanish moss. You can drive the whole length of Miccosukee all the way to huntin' country, or you can get out at the Miccosukee Canopy Greenway Park and take the trail. I'm not sure where the trail leads if you walk the entire thing, but I know it starts to wind through the heart of the private hunting pastures after about a half hour or so of steady hiking. I started to hear hunting dogs baying so I turned around and hiked double-time back to my Gatorade warming up in the car. Beware the He-Coon.
This grass in the park is neat and tidy. The grass along Miccosukee Road is tall and gangly. As I walked along the road to the park, I confused a short black pipe with yellow wiring wrapped around it for a coral snake. After that I decided to drive to the park instead.

The Road to Jubilee

Not far from Tallahassee, Chiles bought a plot of land about 200 acres in size and built a "cook shack"--an old-fashioned cracker log cabin--in a clearing in the pines. It's actually three structures: the cook shack cabin with bathroom and loft, a "living room" next door with a fireplace, and a supply shed stocked with firewood and other stuff. He purchased the property soon after becoming governor I believe.

After he died, his wife Rhea named the property "Jubilee." As Morgan Freeman says in the movie Glory about the 54th Massachusetts regiment of black Union soldiers, Jubilee in the Bible is a blessed time when all chains would be broken and all slaves set free. A time of universal amnesty. Freeman tells a couple of young black kids something like this: "that's right, ain't no dream, we run away slaves and come back fightin' men...go tell you folks our kingdom come to the Year of Jubilee!"

Both of the Chiles/MacKay inaugural festivities were called Jubilees, meshing with Chiles' view of government as a covenant--a blessed social contract between individuals searching for a community.

Miccosukee Road, as it winds east past the Tally beltway, becomes the Miccosukee Canopy Greenway. It is also the "Road to Jubilee":

This soil was perfect for cotton, until the boll weevils came and destroyed the industry.
Before the Civil War, cotton would come into town by carriage on this road from the plantations in Leon and Jefferson Counties.
Red Hills of North Florida.

John Edwards Says No to PAC Man

The Edwards for president campaign, unlike the Clinton and Obama campaigns on the Democratic side, has banned PAC money as well as money from registered lobbyists.

That's campaigning the Chiles way.

PAC Man vs Lawton Chiles

The PACs (Political Action Committees) love Mitt Romney:

$223,000 in PAC money (

In all his Senate and gubernatorial campaigns after 1970, Lawton Chiles never took a dime of PAC money.
Well-meaning friends tried to persuade him to re-consider, but he knew it was what made him special.

Folks wondering why he never lost an election in 40 years should look no further than his campaign finance records. It all comes down to a simple principle: take a risk on the campaign trail and the voters will take a risk on you.

Whether PAC man came in the shape of Bill Cramer, John Grady, or Jeb Bush, they folded in the face of the Chiles people-powered network.

Mitt Romney and the rest of the '08 presidential candidates should take note.