October 6, 2007

Century, Florida

Where it all began for Chiles...the 1,003 mile, 91-day road to the U.S. Senate. I'll be going all the out to Century, into Central Standard Time, soon and will return with lots of pictures. Apparently the walk started at Granny Hattie's Restaurant. I'll have to look it up!

Well, we started off yesterday morning at 8:30 at Century, Florida. Century is a town that is primarily a sawmill town, and it's on the Florida - Alabama line.

The first fellow that I saw I had to lure down off a power pole. He kept trying to get a word in and I kept talking to him about my running for the United States Senate and finally he got an opportunity to break in and tell me he was from Alabama. I just told him I sure hoped he had some Florida friends to pass the word on to.

We talked with a number of people in Century and had breakfast there. At first they wanted to talk only about the 800-mile plus walk before me, but then everybody started telling me about the Jay hill which lay ahead of me on the way to Jay.

I don't believe it was more than three or four miles but it looked like eight miles when I started up. The word was that if I could make it up the Jay hill, the trip would be coasting the rest of the way to the Keys. I thought I had made it up and stopped to rest. About that time Officer Wood, a highway patrolman who used to be stationed in Lakeland, came by and stopped to see what I was doing there. He broke it to me that I was only halfway up the hill. It was kind of a blow cause I hadn't realized that when the road curved ahead, I'd have another half of the hill to traverse.

They're breaking ground for their crops up here and the wind is blowing good and hard so everything is red sand and red dust. By the time I walked into Jay I looked like a red man. I met John Pittman at the electric co-op here and I think he felt so sorry for me — my hair looking so bad and I had so much dust on my face — he decided to take me home to dinner. I went to his house and we had collard greens and fried chicken and dressing and rice and apple popovers for dessert. I can tell you one thing: I haven't had an appetite like that in a long time. I had all that dinner and then finished up with another piece of chicken for dessert.

I reached Jay about noon and after I had lunch it looked like it was starting to rain, so I went to the livestock auction. That worked out real well because there were some 200 farmers there. By the time I got there, the bottom had fallen out —a real cloudburst. It would have been impossible to walk the streets of Jay and visit with the people.

There was a break in the auction and I was able to get on the microphone and give them a little talk about my campaign, to tell them why I was walking and talking through the state of Florida. And I had a good opportunity not only to talk but to do some listening. I found out a lot about the problems of the row farmer.

The people are trying to raise wheat and soy beans up here and one them was telling me that of a loaf of bread, the farmer himself gets about two and a half cents; and with their costs for fertilizer, help and tractors and everything going up continually, they're really caught in a squeeze. They're particularly hurt by the high interest rates, having to borrow a lot of money every year to make their crops. They're very disturbed with the government buying wheat and corn in other parts of the country and holding it till they're ready to put theirs on the market. Then the government starts to sell their holdings and that breaks the market. It keeps them from being able to make a profit. They don't want to see government controls and yet they feel that is the way they're heading unless they can get together in some kind of co-op and do more to see that the farmer gets a decent price for his goods and that all the profits aren't taken up by the middleman and the people handling the end product.

They had a lot of good looking livestock — hogs and cattle. Prices for them seemed to be pretty good. The row farmer is the one who's really having a tough time of it. It's great to have my feet on the ground and to be with good Florida people, to learn from them and to tell them of my ideas. This day has certainly confirmed my belief that there is a crying need to bring more of our government back closer to home and to the people it is intended to serve.

Suwannee 'Shrooms

My poison ivy is almost gone!

October 5, 2007

Columbus, Kentucky

Yesterday, John Edwards (D), candidate for president of the United States, visited the small village of Columbus, Kentucky way down in the southwest corner of the Bluegrass State, near the mighty Mississippi. At the 2000 census, Columbus housed 229 souls. Per capita income was $11, 766.

Almost 2,000 people turned out for Edwards' rally at Columbus-Belmont State Park.

Word got out. I'm willing to bet more than few folks in the crowd were from Missouri. I'm also willing to bet almost everyone who came will vote for Edwards just because he brought them into the campaign.

It's nice to see the 5o-state strategy and rural America find a place in a presidential campaign.

Maybe Columbus, Kentucky will work for Edwards like Century, Florida worked for Chiles.

Suwannee River State Park

The path to Lawton He-Coon's Lair?
Big, two-hearted, leafy river.
Confederate earthworks...a mound of dirt.

October 4, 2007

Beside the Upper Suwannee River

I climbed down some mossy rocks and vined trees to take these pictures, and I've got the poison ivy to prove it. At about 4:30PM, the sun had a nice light on the river. And the canoeing crowd seemed to be having a blast.

This was at Suwannee River State Park, between Madison and Live Oak.

October 3, 2007

Chiles and His Florida: Lee

Lee, Florida gets no mention in the Walkin' Notes, but it'll stick with you. The village sits quietly on US 90 between the bigger towns of Madison and Live Oak. Lee has money--you can tell because the elementary school is quite well-furnished from the looks of the exterior. I'm guessing it's the lumber industry that created the village. It's got a nice pine nursery just outside of it. Otherwise, there is not stop light just a blinking light at the main intersection, a general store, and a gas station.Chiles loved little places like this that didn't much other than Panhandle pride. I bet they have a possum festival, or hay rides or something special they're known for. It's always the tiniest villages that have once-a-year spectacles like that.

Lee Elementary School. Doubles as their polling location I'm sure.

October 2, 2007

80 Mile an Hour Turkeys

“I thought about the story of my Dad when he got arrested in Georgia soon after he was elected Governor.

“He had driven himself into South Georgia to go turkey hunting with some friends. About 10:30 in the morning he left in a hurry to get back to Tallahassee for an important press conference. He was in full camo gear with a chaw of tobacco in his mouth. He was probably doing about 80 outside some little town when a local cop pulled him over. My Dad quickly protested and told the trooper that he was the newly elected Florida Governor and he needed to be on his way. The local cop immediately got on the horn to his captain who arrived in short order. When my Dad explained who he was, the captain looked him over incredulously and said, “I’m going to have to give you a breathalyzer!

“He also alerted the media so the Georgia hospitality to the new Governor was complete. I remember when he finally arrived home an hour late for the media event, he got a call from the Governor of Georgia who apologized profusely. ‘We will be watching for you when you come to Florida,’ my Dad explained to him. We revoked his driving privileges when we saw all the stories about the event. The state police can drive as fast as they want but the Governor had better not."

Sadowski, Sandusky

From the pages of Chiles family lore:

“one of the peculiar things about Dad was, for a heavyweight political player, he had a really hard time with names. He would always remember faces, but he could confuse names in befuddling ways. For example, a hilarious story was told at his funeral by Buddy MacKay, the Lt. Governor who became Governor when my Dad died in office. He had several favorite cabinet members. One such man was William, ‘Bill’ Sadowski, who was Secretary of Community Development. Bill and my Dad had served in Florida’s legislature together and they had great respect for each other and were close friends. Bill died tragically in a plane crash on state business, and all the state mourned his loss.

“For some reason my Dad couldn’t say Sadowski. Instead he always said Sandusky. We were good friends growing up Lakeland with the Sandusky family, so I figure that was the reason for his faux pas, but who really knows. Buddy related the story that finally Bill Sadowski became resigned to his last name being transformed by the Governor. One day he told Buddy, 'well if the Governor is convinced that its Sandusky, then I guess he’s right?!'”

October 1, 2007

Those Who Dare

Bud Chiles says that "Those Who Dare" is a good theme for his father's political and business ventures. The willingness to get far out in front where you're all alone.

The first business ideas fell flat. But his Dad's gutsy investment in the upstart Red Lobster chain in 1968 paid off handsomely, and left him with the financial foundation to take an even bigger risk and run for the U.S. Senate in 1970.

Short on cash from his previous business deals, Lawton borrowed money from his maid Ruby to throw down for Red Lobster, which began as just a few restaurants in Lakeland and then Orlando. Wasn't long before Lawton and Ruby hit their payday, as the chain expanded and expanded and then was gobbled up by General Mills.

He didn't make megamillions on it, but just enough to feel secure in taking his next big step.

Three Month Totals

-About 10,000 pages of press clips from his entire 40-year career in public service, from a variety of sources especially Lakeland Ledger, St. Petersburg Times, Miami Herald, and Tallahassee Democrat
visits so far to Quincy, Lee, Lakeland Madison, Live Oak, Gretna, Mount Pleasant, Oak Grove, Chattahoochee, Havana, Monticello, Lamont and several state parks and refuges
-about 20 interviews
-a new chapter added, tentatively titled "One Dollar Chicken"
-found enough material for chapter on school prayer bill of 1996
-visited UF archive and pulled almost all Walk material
-about 1500 hits on website from 22 states and about a dozen countries
-more than 100 posts on website
-solid progress on draft of first chapter "Munn Park"

September 30, 2007

One Dollar Chicken

I've decided to add a chapter--on the 1976 re-election campaign to the U.S. Senate. After 1970's Walk, Floridians waited anxiously for Lawton to pull another rabbit out of the hat.

And he did.

Kicking off his first campaign for re-election, he announced he would limit donations to his campaign to $10 a head and banned Political Action Committee (PAC) money. Again, he would show his connection to his community by taking risk on them. Family members and friends were in shock. Colleagues kindly advised him to back off and run a real race. Pundits called him nuts and wrote his political obituary. The national Republican Party targeted him.

But hundreds of dollar-a-plate chicken feeds and fish fries later, Walkin' Lawton had a full belly, full bank account, and a full-fledged 67-county campaign. His campaign staff handed out ticket stubs saying "one equal share" for each person willing to fork over ten bucks. His family hit the road to set up events and request donations.

Against Walkin' Lawton's one dollar chicken, PAC Man didn't stand a chance...

One Way Or Another, You'll Get Bit

Today, it's the road less-traveled--unless you're a trucker or a motorcycle enthusiast. I even saw a guy on a bicycle outside Lee, Florida on highway 90. But in 1970, Interstate-10 hadn't been built and traffic must've been a thick bramble on the North Florida passage.

A snip from the Walkin' Notes, on highway 90 between Monticello and Madison.

Had a few distractions today. First, there was a close call when a car passing another one almost clipped me and a boy walking with me. I was telling Mrs. Yarborough, who runs a store about midway between Greenville and Madison about how difficult it was walking in the grass after we decided to get further down the road. It had been raining, the grass was tall. She told me that in the last few days four rattlesnakes had been seen right by her place and suggested that out in the grass wasn't too good a place to be walking. I told her I'd seen a few snake skins but no live snakes, and I'd kept telling myself that people must be throwing snake skins out of their car windows. Well, I'm afraid I hadn't convinced myself and after talking with Mrs. Yarborough, I hunted snakes the rest of the way into Madison. The choices are kind of tough: getting hit by a car or bit by snake!

I think that's just it. Chiles got the money problem by the tail. In small-money (or no money) politics, the dangers are in-your-face and some come with rattles. But if you step in the right places and watch the way in front of you, you'll get to Madison or Greenville or wherever you're going. You might even lost 20 pounds when the walk is all over.

It's nothing compared to the slow-working poison of lost independence in big-money politics. To a proud politician, the hours on the phone with donors asking how their day is, trying to find out their "tell"--they make a mark. Repeated requests for "ten minutes alone" to talk golf. You could be dead for years and not even realize it.

It's like he said, you keep telling yourself that people are throwing snake skins out of windows, even though you know it's not true.

Chiles and His Florida: Madison

On the Walk east across North Florida's green-and-gray trail, highway 90, Chiles went through a whole lot of fields and pine woods until he got to Madison, the county seat of Madison County. Madison gets no mention in the Walkin' Notes except a brief remark about integration in the public schools in 1970. He also notices the area is still shade tobacco country, but I never saw any relics of that industry. You do see relics of the cotton gin era.

From the looks of Madison circa 2007, it looks like the town once thrived on agriculture, since it's on a rail line and there's an agricultural co-op next to it. They've got a Main Street of antique shops and even Elmer's genealogical library but not much foot traffic on a Saturday afternoon. And they've got the Dial-Goza House, a gorgeous Victorian manor next to the town park.

The courthouse is nice, reminds me of the Gadsden County Courthouse.

The area may be poor, but it's rich in Confederate history. Seems to me that the closer you get to Olustee, which is on highway 90 closer to Jacksonville, the more Confederate lore crops up. The meager Confederate army of Florida turned back Union regulars--including the remnants of the storied 54th Massachusetts Union regiment--at Olustee. Tallahassee was never taken. And they've got the monuments to prove it.

Madison County Courthouse
Confederate in the town park
Dial-Gola House. The house is well-shaded, and each tree except the magnolia in front is draped with Spanish moss. I bet it'll look great and haunted on Halloween.
Spanish moss spider websThe town's motto appears to be "four freedoms." Not sure why.
Amtrak has a line through Madison. I assume it was used to haul cotton or tobacco in the old days.
Antiques Row, Madison
Old, massive cotton gin. Out of use since 1919.