November 3, 2007

Lake Miccosukee

After you've stocked up on sausage and grits at Bradley's Country Store and you're on your way to Old Magnolia Road, Lake Miccosukee is a good rest stop to just stand and take in the view. From the boat landing at Reeves Landing Road at the edge of Leon County, you can see the hungry Jefferson County alligators sunbathing on the other side, and some rich autumn foliage. The lake is filled with ducks. The endangered Miccosukee Gooseberry is there for the keen observer, too.

Then, hop in the car and set your clock back to the 19th century as you bump along Old Magnolia Road until US 90. You're on the Lawton Chiles Trail.

November 2, 2007

Old Pisgah United Methodist Church

When Tallahassee became the capital of the territory of Florida in 1824, circuit-riding Methodist ministers descended on the region to bring the good news. Built in 1858 by Methodist Episcopal missionaries from South Carolina, Pisgah Church evokes the Florida connected by faith, agriculture, and blood to the rest of the antebellum South. After the Civil War, freed slaves who had attended this and other churches around Tallahassee founded their own African Methodist Episcopal Churches--like St. Phillip AME, founded in 1891. They became cultural and political rallying sites through the civil rights movement, drawing inspiration from their proud ancestry.

You can be sure that in Iowa, New Hampshire, and above all South Carolina, the Democratic presidential candidates are making the rounds on Sunday to AME churches, trying to secure the black community's vote.

With your back to the church, a view of the church lane off Centerville Road.

White women sat on one side of the church, men the other. Slaves sat in the galleries.

November 1, 2007

A Starvin' Dog's Belly

There's a saying I've been turning over in my mind for a while since I heard it on the last season of The West Wing. Congressman Fields, an old Texan buddy of President-Elect Matt Santos (D), gets the cold shoulder from him in his bid for the Speakership in the new Democratic House. No White House support.

Stunned, Fields digs around for the right doghouse analogy: "Fill a starvin' dog's belly and he'll never bit ya. The difference between a dog and a man."

A trip to Google located the source of the saying finally:

Mark Twain: "If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man."

The screenwriter for the West Wing episode gave it some Texan twang so Congressman Fields could deliver it. It sounds much better. I'm not sure when or where Twain said it. But I found more sayings from the Yellow Dog era.

Harry S Truman: "You want a friend in Washington? Get a dog."

Dwight Eisenhower: "What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight--it's the size of the fight in the dog."

and Lawton Chiles: "A cut dog barks."

Lawton and Rhea Chiles tested out Twain's wisdom in 1958 when they went door to door for his bid for state representative from Polk County. Lawton made fun of Rhea for carrying dog biscuits for the mean, starvin' dogs...until he got cornered by a German shepherd and yelled "Dog biscuit!"

October 31, 2007

Jack-O'-Lantern Politics

It's Halloween, and 'tis the season for governors in red and blue states to sell budgets to the public. In Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist (R) is barnstorming for his recently passed massive property tax cut. In Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is on tour promoting his menu of proposed tax reforms and slot machines construction.

As in Chiles' day, the tactic of many a Democratic governor is "scare 'em so you can tax 'em." You present an "Armageddon" or "Apocalypse" budget, with state services and spending cut so bad you can barely count on your trash getting picked up. You talk about how the status quo is unacceptable because the budget deficit is $1 billion or more. Then, once you've got folks spooked, you show 'em the alternative: your grand vision for a bolder, active, smart government with the tools to invest in our health care, education, and environment. We'll call it the "Investment" budget, or the "Responsible" budget. Finally, you reveal the fine print on whose taxes get raised and how much, and you hit the road for the "tax-and spend" tour.

There are lots of variations on this scenario, but it amounts to an old-fashioned honey and vinegar policy. To know why government needs fixin', you've gotta show how bad it can get and how good. A lot of editorial writers and voters complain about "scare tactics" anytime a hypothetical budget with zero education spending gets leaked, but isn't on man's scare tactic another man's truth? Call it slick PR, call it bait-and-switch, to me it's about as harmful as carving a jack-o'-lantern on Halloween.

Thanks to the Angry Sicilian for the great Halloween picture.

Old Magnolia Road

Tallahassee's Apalachee Parkway has got fast food joints galore--so does Monroe Street. Moe's, Wendy's, Zaxby's Chicken, MacDonald' well as Target, Staples, Circuit City. Welcome to Anywhere, America. Even US 90, the main artery of the Lawton Chiles Trail in the Sunshine State, gets gaudy once you get to Tally. At least it's got a stretch of medical clinics to balance out the fried food.

But on the far eastern rim of Leon County, Old Magnolia Road stubbornly keeps its own time. Unpaved red clay and bits of gravel and here and there. A single narrow lane. Impassable after a rain. Canopied by mossy live oaks whose roots are exposed in the steep banks on either side or the road.
It's a road that was built for cotton-hauling mule wagons in the 19th century, taking the white stuff from the grand plantations of Leon and Jefferson Counties down south to the long-abandoned port of Magnolia in Wakulla County.

Old Port Magnolia

By the time you get to the US 90 intersection, driving south on Old Magnolia Road, and that gravely clay turns into the finest federal asphalt, you'll feel accomplished. It's a 10 minute drive at slow speed, but the quiet makes it feel longer. Check out Jan Annino Godown's Scenic Driving Florida for more details on the drive.

Bradley's Country Store

Bradley's Country Store is another stop off the path of the Walk but definitely on the Chiles Trail and a hearty meal for the weary traveler. They're known for two things mostly--sausage and grits. Bradley's Country Fun Day, a festival held the Saturday before Thanksgiving, is coming up soon.

Just keep driving east on Centerville Road in Tallahassee. When the Spanish mossed oaks start to canopy over the highway, you're getting close. Centerville Road becomes Moccasin Gap Road. Eventually you'll see a big open field on your right and a large pond on your left. Bradley Road forms a T-intersection with Moccasin Gap, and on the right, since 1927, is Bradley's Country Store.

In the back you'll find memorabilia from dignitaries you'd expect to visit and some surprises--Bill Clinton, Lawton Chiles, etc. Gov. Chiles knew Bradley's well.

On New Year's Even in 1993, Gov. Chiles visited the Store to buy some of the its famous course-ground grits. While there, he started gabbing with Frank and Lillian Bradley, then owners of the establishment. They said the would have to stop to making grits because their 75-year-old grist mill didn't meet modern regs. Gov. Chiles grabbed Frank for an impromptu inspection of the mill in the rain.

At the next Cabinet meeting, Chiles talked to Secretary of Agriculture Bob Crawford. The next week health inspectors visited to Bradley's Store to make sure it got the necessary fixes for compliance. Janet Bradley Fryzel, who ran the store at the time, remembered him when she heard of his passing in 1998. "There were no pretensions about him. He was just a real person who didn't try to be something other than what he was. He was just Lawton Chiles, who happened to be governor."



Ensley, Gerald. “Tallahassee mourns its neighbor.” Tallahassee Democrat. December 17,


October 29, 2007

Trash on the Campaign Trail: '70 and '07

Lawton Chiles walked in 1970 to meet people and listen, not to pick up trash, but he did both when he could on SR 4, US 90, US 92, US 1, and the rest of the Florida trail.

In DeFuniak Springs: "The aluminum can looks like it is going to be with us forever. It really distresses me that people will destroy all of our beauty with their litter...It's awful hard to catch people of this kind, but I'm going to work to see that the penalties are made more severe for both littering and vandalism." (Chiles Hikes)

In Ponce De Leon: "I would never be a litterbug. I carried a Coke can 10 miles in my pocket one day." (Van Gieson)

In Lakeland: "There's so much litter along the highway. I hear companies are paying to get throw-away cans back, and even at a penny a piece, I could finance a fantastic campaign if I picked up everyone I saw." (Brown)

Albert Pollard (D), candidate for State Senate district 28 in Virginia, is walking, talking, and bagging trash on the Northern Neck's highways with a smile. Yesterday, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D) joined the fun--as reported by Chris Guy at Raising Kaine blog.

Route 360 never looked so good!

For all their differences, the Pollard '07 and Chiles '70 campaigns share a common value: willingness to sweat, blister, pick up beer cans, and kick up dirt on the roads and highways rather than sling it at political opponents.


Brown, Lonnie. “Walk Now A Commitment For Lawton Chiles.” The Ledger. July 12,


Chiles Hikes With Tired Feet, Disgruntled Look, Full Tummy.” Sarasota Herald-

Tribune. March 24, 1970.

Van Gieson, John. “That Speck On Horizon: It’s Walkin’ Lawton Chiles.” The Ledger.

March 25, 1970.

US 90 vs. The Information SuperHighway

In the 1970 Chiles for U.S. Senate campaign, Walkin' Lawton did his best to get the shoe leather buzz goin' from Century to Tallahassee to Lakeland to Miami. From the beginning miles on State Road 4 and US 90 onward, the campaign sent out pages of his Walkin' Notes to newspapers large and small to spread the walkie-talkie news. A thoroughly mocked one-man march in March became a winning populist crusade come September.

North Florida didn't even have an interstate, let alone an information superhighway like the internet. To reach every corner of the state, the Chiles campaign relied on the unpredictable network of barbershop and general store scuttlebutt as much as editorials from the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald. Even in urban Miami, Chiles personally waved signs to get a honk from folks on their way to work. He counted progress by the number of shoes he had worn through, not gallons of gas burned.

Now, to advertise the completion of his 99-county drive-and-rally campaign, John Edwards (D) for president posted its own campaign own newspaper online for millions to read. No need for a letter to the editor; or for Edwards to stand at the edge of a cornfield with a sign; or even to notify a single media outlet before online publication. A rally one night becomes old news by the next morning--everyone's already read the skinny by the time they go to lunch via the campaign homepage, using their laptop or iPhone.

The internet may be the newest form of asymmetric campaign warfare. Is it also the best?

October 28, 2007

The 99-County Strategy

Almost as many folks live in Florida's Miami-Dade County as live in all of Iowa, but when they're spread between 99 counties, each with its own universe of local electeds from town crier to mayor to county commissioner, visiting all of the Hawkeye State's jurisdictions is no small feat.

Former Senator John Edwards (D), candidate for the presidency, has now been to all the counties Iowa has to offer. According to, Hillary Clinton has so far visited 39; Barack Obama, 59.

By Christmas they'll all be going to sleep with visions of butter cows and corn cobs dancing in their heads.