April 26, 2008

Shad Planks and Possum Pulls

Last week Virginia kicked off its political season with the traditional "Shad Planking"--a sort of grand, speech-laden fish fry--down in Wakefield country.

Democratic Senate candidate Mark Warner apparently won the 'sign war,' planting thousands of those blue flashies for miles leading up to the entrance to the event.

Like the annual Wausau Possum Festival in small-town north Florida, these events distinguish a Lawton Chiles or a Bob Graham from a nothing-burger, stuffed shirt politician.

I'm surprised Virginia doesn't have more hold-a-possum-by-his-tail-and-see-if-he-smiles political events, given the frequency of the furballs in the Northern Neck and other rural parts.

These events make for good reporting and even better literary description of politicos at their glad-handing best.

April 25, 2008

The Paper Chase

The movie The Paper Chase has a real 70s movie style and feel to it but it's got some themes that go beyond the coming-of-age mold. I've been reading and interviewing a lot recently about Senator Chiles' last years in the U.S. Senate and I am continually reminded of a quote from the movie. Paraphrasing since I don't have a full transcript:

Hart, the protagonist, freaks out about his contractors professor Kingsfield.

(His Girlfriend) Susan: I don't know how else to tell you but you've gotta stop being so soft and so easily manipulated. It's very dangerous for one's intelligence.

At the end of the movie, Hart finally takes a hint and instead of panicking as he opens the letter containing his 1L exam grades, he folds the envelope into a paper airplane and throws it onto the rocks off Susan's Cape Cod villa.

April 23, 2008

Liquored Compromise

In a recent interview, a former Chiles staffer told me about a story he used to tell as an example of the art of compromise in politics and life. The staffer wasn't sure but speculated that Huey Long coined the quote. I just discovered that Florida Governor Fuller Warren uttered the words during his successful campaign for governor in 1948:

If you mean the demon drink that poisons the mind, pollutes the body, desecrates family life, and inflames sinners, then I'm against it. But if you mean the elixir of Christmas cheer, the shield against winter chill, and taxable potion that puts needed funds into public coffers to comfort little crippled children, then I'm for it. This is my position, and I will not compromise.

Lawton Chiles and the rest of his household in Lakeland admired Governor Warren as a worthy successor to their Polk County hero Spessard Holland.

As a U.S. Senator, Chiles retold the story, with his own embellishments and twists, when interested parties needed to see two or three sides to complex issues like the Panama Canal Treaty, the Bork nomination, and the Reagan budgets.

April 21, 2008

Payne's Prairie

Next time I visit Gainesville I look forward to snapping pictures of Payne's Prairie. This preserve, Big Cypress National Preserve, and John Pennekamp State Park are the last big places on my To-Visit List. You might also add downtown Miami and Ybor City.