November 10, 2007

Chiles and His Florida: Holmes County

I'll be sketching Ponce de Leon and Bonifay--the county seat--but first I thought I would post some pictures of Holmes County I took just after I crossed the western county line. I couldn't help but stop and check my glasses to make sure I was seeing highlands as I approached Ponce de Leon. The hills reach their highest point in nearby Walton County on Britton Hill (345 feet above sea level). Here on Florida's roof, whether walking or driving, you know you're looking down on the mansions and skyscrapers of Tampa, Orlando, and Miami.

Holmes County, Florida.

November 9, 2007

Tax Committee Turkeys

It's happened again. A Democratic governor submits a budget plan with serious investments in a fairer, more equitable tax code. And then when the Democratic tax and budget committee and their lobbyists are done with it, it's nothing but turkeys.

The industries with lobbyists and the ear of their delegate or state senator go home with a juicy Thanksgiving turkey. The rest get higher taxes on their products or services.

It's the same in Maryland, Florida, or an island protectorate--anything with a state legislature.

Maybe turkey-hunting isn't the best analogy.

Seems to me it's more like musical chairs. When the special session stops, somebody is gonna be left with nowhere to go.

What's that favorite Florida expression? "Don't tax you, don't tax me. Tax the guy behind the tree."

November 8, 2007

Alfred Maclay's Coonties

Alfred Maclay Gardens State Park also featured the Coontie, a shrub that made me think of raccoon claws. Was it, I wonder, the state flower of Chiles' Florida? The garden walkways meandered in and out of a thick canopied palm forest, with clearings here and there in the Spanish moss spider webs so you could look out on Lake Hall.

Chiles and His Florida: Lake Hall

For the eight years he governed Florida, Lawton Chiles made Tallahassee his home. He had planned to retired to a house not far from Alfred Maclay Gardens State Park and what is now Lawton Chiles High School, close to his Cook Shack and his favorite forests and lakes.

In the fall, the park's camellias bloom. I didn't get to that part of the garden, but my camera found some other treasures. I read there was sailing on Lake Hall. No boats the day I visited except a lone fisherman in a light blue skiff, but the fresh breeze blowin' could have sent a Sunfish across the river in a skinny minute.

I looked around for poison ivy, then got way down in the brush lining the lake for some close-ups of autumn in Tallahassee. This season, every shaver packing more than a water gun is under the pines hunting for that Thanksgiving turkey. But there is plenty of sport on Lake Hall if you've got rod and reel. If catfish stew is on your menu, all you need is a couple greasy chicken nuggets from a fast food joint on Apalachee. Mudcats have been known to strike a balled up piece of white bread, too.

November 7, 2007

"Bush Dog Democrats"

From Yellow Dogs to Blue Dogs to "Bush Dog Democrats." That's a new one I came across at Crooks and Liars.

Chap's Walkathon

Today, Virginia State Senator-elect Chap Petersen (D) celebrates a victory won with a good pair of shoes. The Richmond Times-Dispatch put his footwear on the front page. His appeal shows that the "walkie-talkie" campaign still makes good copy, good politics, and good sense.

From February 10th to Election Day, Peterson personally door-knocked every precinct in Virginia's 34th State Senate District. He won forty precincts out of forty-five.

Thanks to James Martin and Mary Lee Cerillo at Raising Kaine blog for the photo and posting of Petersen's note.

Wakulla Springs

A while back, I took a break and went to Wakulla Springs, thinking I might spot some gators. I found a much better prize. Manatees!

"Meat and Three"

My time in the Panhandle has taught me the term "meat and three vegetables," or "meat and three." I even found a website devoted to the dish.

It's a staple of Southern diners--one that Lawton Chiles enjoyed on many occasions in North Florida. As he hiked through Crestview, DeFuniak Springs, Quincy and the rest of the "hog and hominy" trail, it seems every other day friends new and old surprised him with a picnic lunch. Or strangers invited him over for supper, or took him hunting.

His menu was often meat and four or five vegetables, plus dessert. Fried chicken and veggies: black-eyed peas, collard greens, french fries, rice, gravy, turnip greens and cornbread. All washed down with iced tea. Then add angel food cake, chocolate cake, apple turnovers, or another piece of chicken and you've got an idea of the Lawton Chiles Trail Mix in 1970.

If the Panhandle trail had treated him to his favorite dessert--icebox cookies--he probably never would have made it to the Keys.

He gained back every pound he lost on the Walk until he got off US 90.

November 5, 2007

Chiles-MacKay Country, 67 County Strategy

Nowadays, we hear a lot about the DNC Chairman Howard Dean and his 50-state strategy for bringing Democrats to bat from Dixie to the Rockies to Alaska. Each of Lawton Chiles' five campaigns for statewide office was a proving ground for this principle that every county, every city, and every vote matters. Each campaign took on an opponent with different strengths, but the basic tenet of mobilizing all 67 jurisdictions never changed a bit.

Even in 1994, at the crest of the Gingrich Revolution, when the Democrats lost the House of Representatives for the first time since the days of Eisenhower, big-state Democrats took a beating from California to Texas to New York, and the Clinton White House went into shock, the Chiles-MacKay campaign for re-election muscled one last statewide victory. Though the margin totaled little more than 60,000--enough to keep the campaign staff and supporters up late awaiting returns--the winning coalition boasted a cultural and geographic diversity to make any 50-state strategist envious:

From every major region, Governor Chiles won counties:

Tallahassee metro area: Gadsden, Leon, Jefferson

North Florida: Hamilton, Madison

The Panhandle: Franklin, Wakulla, Calhoun, Gulf

The Big Bend: Dixie, Levy

I-4 Corridor: Volusia, Pinellas

Treasure Coast: St. Lucie

Gold Coast:
Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Broward

The Keys:

Governor Chiles tapped into the reservoir of goodwill, trust, and relationships built since walking the state to achieve a victory in 1994 that stretched the length of the state. Strategists and pundits may point to this TV ad or that debate question to explain the Chiles-MacKay upset over Jeb Bush, but what explanation other than a 67-county strategy and the legacy of The Walk could explain a Democratic coalition combining Dixie County and Dade County, Wakulla County and Palm Beach County?

Since 1994, Democrats in statewide and presidential elections have struggled to get votes outside the usual strongholds: Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, Gainesville, and Tallahassee. The 2004 Bush-Kerry showdown saw a Democratic retreat:

Gubernatorial hopefuls are doing even worse. Sure, a Democrat can carry Florida with a map that looks like this, but is that a mandate for doing anything more than changing the light bulbs ? Here are the bare bones of a Democratic victory--the less-celebrated "7-county strategy":

November 4, 2007

Chiles and His Florida: Taylor County

Between the Panhandle's Old Cotton-and-Tobacco Belt and the citrus farms, amusement parks, and space coast of Central Florida are Taylor County's mud flats and tidal marshes. Not a McDonald's in sight on county road 361--the "beach highway" along the Gulf. Just pinewoods, scrub brush, and bald eagles. Farther south, follow state road 51 to find the gently sloping falls of the Steinhatchee River. There isn't much man-made on this coast other than birding towers, boat ramps, and the occasional beachside condo complex. Mention the words "Keaton Beach" to any of the tens of thousands of visitors to Daytona, Cocoa, or Clearwater Beaches and you're likely to get a blank stare. I doubt that Taylor County has made the history books much since President Zachary Taylor gave the jurisdiction its name in 1856.

The Daytona-Cocoa-Clearwater crowd is missing out. The salty breeze blowing over the "Nature Coast" marshes is refreshing after a week in the city.

Come Election Day, Taylor County is fried mullet, Confederate flag, Dixiecrat Country. The county seat, Perry, was named after a Confederate general. The Supervisor of Elections for the county lists registration at about 8,700 Democrats and 2,700 Republicans. But be warned: If you're lookin' for more than a few thousand dye-in-the-wool Democrats--ones who will vote for Bill Clinton as well as those pesky big city Democrats from Miami--you'll have to go to Jefferson County's old plantation country up north, Gainesville's university culture out east, or Orlando and Tampa down south.

In 1990, Taylor County was Chiles-MacKay country. But by 1994, not even Walkin' Lawton Chiles could get enough Dixiecrats and Democrats to pull the level his way to carry the jurisdiction. Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls Buddy MacKay, Bill McBride, and Jim Davis fared much worse in their later bids. Perhaps the only way a moderate or liberal Democrat could win the county now is by walking it personally, door-to-door...and then hitching a ride on the nearest outboard to meet the folks out on the water. You're much better off fishing for the plentiful redfish and sea trout than you are casting for Democratic votes.

U.S. Congressman Allen Boyd (D), the Blue Dog Democrat, Iraq war-supporting Democrat who represents Taylor, the rest of the Big Bend, and all of Tallahassee, is so entrenched that he faced no opposition in 2006. But when he retires, and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D) ends his career, look for a long Democratic drought in Taylor County. To find a Democratic politician in Florida who knows how to pronounce Steinhatchee (STEEN-hatchee), who has taken a dirt road or two off of highway 19-98--one who can win Florida's 2nd congressional district from Taylor County to Tallahassee--you'll have to go to the history museum.

Battle of Natural Bridge

Great spot for a fall picnic. The Battle of Natural Bridge State Park is one of the smallest around Tallahassee, but it's worth a visit. Tallahassee was the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi never taken by Union forces--and Natural Bridge is where the Rebs took their stand.

The jewel of the Civil War trail in Florida is probably the Battle of Olustee site. The battle, the largest in the state, is re-enacted every February.

Confederate breastworks.

I've driven across two single-lane bridges in my life--this and one in Cecil County, Maryland. This one was easier and more interesting. Here, the St. Marks River goes underground briefly before resurfacing, forming a "natural" bridge for Confederate troops, cars, raccoons, and anyone else who wants to cross.