Interviewee: Eugene Patterson
Interviewer: Walter Deuries and Jack Bass
Date: May 17, 1974
W: [This is] an interview with Eugene Patterson, the publisher of the St. Petersburg
Times on May 17, 1974. We are talking about the press coverage in Florida.
P: I share your view of the quality of the Tallahassee press corps in the state. It is
curious that such excellent reporting can come out of what used to be the old
Pork Chop-type rednecks of the legislature up here in the capital. The fact is, I
am impressed that this Florida state press corps in this capital is the best I have
ever seen in any American state. They go at it in a different way than most
capital press corps. They do not come here primarily to cover the politics of the
state or to cover even the legislation that is being passed, although they do that.
This is an investigative press corps. Just about every chap you find here in this
press corps is an investigator. They spend the bulk of their time running down
the lawn boy. It is almost like a journalistic police force in Tallahassee.
Sometimes the coverage of government itself suffers, but basically the great
service they do is [that] they are constantly asking why. They are watching
every legislator, every member in the executive bureaucracy. The badge of
honor in this capital is to catch the crook. A tremendous amount [of
investigating is done] to keep a government honest. I think it has contributed
materially to the fact that this state probably has the best legislature in the
W: When did that start?
P: It has grown up through the years. I have not been here long enough to give
you a benchmark at the point where that began. Right now, for instance, our
own bureau chief, Martin Backman, has been doing investigative reporting on
two supreme court justices who are now being investigated by the Judicial
Qualifications Commission of The Florida Bar and are in deep trouble. He
turned it up. The state comptroller, a member of the Florida cabinet, Bud
Dickinson [Fred 0. "Bud" Dickinson, Florida comptroller, 1965-1974; elected to
Florida Senate 1957, 1958; elected to Florida House of Representatives, 1954;
while comptroller, he was accused of misuse of political contributions, fined on an
income tax evasion misdemeanor charge], is under grand jury investigation right
now as a direct result of Backman's reporting. The state education
commissioner, Floyd Christian [first Florida commissioner of education,
1970-1974; indicted after the grand jury's inquiry on his handling of state
contracts 1974] has been indicted on nineteen counts ranging from bribery to
perjury to conspiracy. This was the result of an eighteen month investigation by
a St. Petersburg Times reporter named Betty Arsenic--she dug the story out bit
by bit. He is awaiting trial. [He is] the first Florida cabinet officer ever indicted.
You bust stories of this magnitude and pretty soon the other public servants
begin pulling in their horns. An awful lot of politicians do not realize we are at a
new period where ethical change is being required by the public. It is not that
they mean to do wrong; it is that a lot of these old-time politicians do not know
the difference between right and wrong.
W: But this reporting has accelerated say in the last five, ten or was it nearly twenty
P: You would have to talk to someone who has been in this state longer. I just do
not know where it began. All I know is that it has accelerated. It has
accelerated over the two years I have been here.
W: Why did it happen?
P: Well, one of the reasons is that Florida has one of the best presses, in the
generic term, of any state in the union. This state, with its curious, elongated
geography, has broken into a circulation that is highly fragmented. There is no
state-wide paper in Florida, just as there is not a nation-wide paper in America.
So in this state you have cities like St. Petersburg, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Cocoa,
Lakeland, Gainesville, Leesburg, Tampa, Tallahassee, Jacksonville and Orlando
that have first-rate newspapers. Some are better than others, but because
these are independent circulation papers, you find that basically the reader is
extremely well-served by their own local paper. Ft. Myers and Sarasota have
first-rate papers. In a sense, it is like North Carolina but magnified. North
Carolina has pretty good fragmented presses because it too has the elongated
W: But it does not have a state capital press corps like this one?
P: Yes, that is true and I do not know why.
W: They are competitive, but there must be something else.
J: Do you have a hunch it might have been the combination of Bob Sherra and Noel
Aldrin at one time?
P: Certainly. Those guys left a tremendous mark on this--Frank Trippet and some
of the others. This goes way back, you are right. Those guys made their
names down here. It has just become a tradition in Florida and a darn good
tradition. It is curious, too, because Tallahassee is such an out-of-the-way
place. It is a long way from Miami, and you would think that in a state like this
state government would get lost, but it does not. They are in there slugging and
pushing. You always hate to say this--the minute that you say Georgia has
turned the corner under the twentieth-century by electing Carl Sanders [governor
of Georgia, 1958-1962], the next governor is Lester Maddox [governor of
Georgia, 1966-1970; segregationalist owner of the Pickrick Restaurant in Atlanta,
Georgia]. Things run in cycles--in Florida you had Claude Kirk [Claude Kirk, Jr.,
governor of Florida, 1967-1971] and Reubin Askew [governor of Florida,
1971-1979]. This state, I think, is on the move towards perhaps the most
enlightened [state] government in the country--both in the legislative and
executive branches. State legislature is practically a model. It does not mean it
is pure, and it does not mean that all legislators are honest. You have
wheeler-dealer operators up here. We just discovered that Mallory Horne
[speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, 1962-1965; president of the
Florida Senate, 1973-1974] and Dempsey Baron [president of the Florida
Senate, 1975-1976] are in a Holiday Inn motel partnership over in Panama City
with Bud Dickinson, the state comptroller. He was a silent partner. There is
another one that we just dug out that violates a state law which says if you are a
state official, you must declare your interest in any property that is regulated by
state government. Of course, motels are regulated, especially the bars in the
motels. We caught Dickinson as a silent partner with these powerhouse
legislators. They are not all pure. The Sunshine Law in this state requires that
all public business be transacted in public. That has been a major step towards
the responsibility of government. You know how that law works, do you not?
Lawton Chiles [governor of Florida, 1991-1998] is trying to get it applied to the
federal level right now. It would be a great thing for the national government to
J: The way it applies is that you cannot have any closed meetings, am I correct?
Are there exceptions to that?
P: No, there are no exceptions. It is applied across the board in the most
remarkable manner. State attorneys, the prosecutors in this state, make cases
against public officials if they are caught.
J: A public body cannot have an executive session say to discuss personnel
matters or contracts, for example?
P: Sometimes they try. Let me give you a piece of history that is really
J: But the law really prohibits even that sort of executive session?
P: Yes, but obviously you get into gray areas. For instance, in St. Petersburg a
couple of years ago, the sanitation workers were negotiating with the city. The
city took the position that the Sunshine Law did not apply to public employee
labor unions and the collective bargaining of a public agency. So they went
behind closed doors. Result--a contract was signed between the city and the
union. Once the workers found out the details of the contract, which they had
not been reading about day by day as the bargaining took place, they decided it
was a sweetheart contract and we had a tremendous labor crisis in St.
Petersburg. The sanitation workers said, our union sold us out, we are not
going to accept the terms of this, so they had to reopen the contract and
compromise it. Now, contrast that with what happened next time when the
firemen went into negotiations. We insisted they be public--we were just
adamant. The collective bargaining was done in public hearings, and as a
result, posturing, silly demands and position-taking were cut down considerably.
Very business-like negotiations occurred with the whole public watching every
offer and counter-offer. The [proceedings took place] in a much faster manner
and with no repercussions after it was over. They publicly negotiated a contract.
J: So you are saying then that the fact that they were forced to do it publicly
resulted in greater government efficiency among other things?
P: Yes. The greatest criticism you will hear is, how can you go out and find a
school superintendent or a university president if you are going to publicize the
name of every guy that you interviewed? Impossible, they said. Okay, we did it
with the school superintendent in St. Petersburg. We went out to find one, and
the school board came to see me and said, can we please hold this one in
private until we get down to the final group that we are going to choose from?
We said, no, but we got our lawyer to look at the law and suggest to the county
school board how they might stay within the Sunshine Law and still not damage
prospective superintendents that they were to interview. What our lawyer came
up with was an ingenious method. He said to them, instead of waiting for
applicants to come you, school board, why don't you nominate as a great honor
the superintendent of San Francisco or Charlotte, and announce publicly that he
is a man you want to talk to. Then he can turn to his school board in Charlotte
or San Francisco and say, look, I have been nominated--it is a great honor, and I
think I will go down and talk to them. That will take the __ out of the whole
thing, and so they did it that way.
W: You could do it the other way. You could go travel to the city. This happened
here in Tallahassee. I have been following it for the last couple of days. They
went to Ohio and interviewed the city manager. They looked him over there.
Then he came here, but then they had to hold it in the open last night. I was in
the Michigan Civil Service Commission for two years and we had that problem
with our director. You said the legislature is a model, and that is one way it is a
model--the passing of the Sunshine Government Law. Are there any other ways
it is a model for other state legislatures?
P: Yes. I think the caliber of these guys and the way the public holds them directly
responsible for what they do is a model. The press coverage of this place is the
key to that. They just do not mess around. They have developed a reputation
here that when they come to Tallahassee there is a certain premium on getting
things done and going home. It is like night and day compared to the Georgia
legislature which is just a big bull shop. They waited until the last week and then
ran everything through, including all the __ stuff. A little of that happens here,
but not nearly as much.
W: So the quality of the legislators is different in other states?
P: Yes, and the interests in this state are so fragmented. There are so many
conflicting interests--the farmer in the Panhandle versus the motel owner in
Miami and so forth. They counter each other. The interests are pretty well
balanced, and so they have to strike compromises to get anything done. So we
may just be fortunate in the shape of the Florida economy turning up politicians
who represent pretty balanced interests. I would have to think further on that
one. You were not talking about the politics of the state. Were you talking
W: What have been the major political changes?
J: Go ahead with that one and tie it in with that, and also what you attribute Askew's
high popularity at the end of his term to.
P: Askew's popularity is, I think, uniquely tied to the character of the man. It proves
that every state hungers for an honest man, a fellow they can look up to and
believe in. If you look at Bumpers [Dale Leon Bumpers, governor of Arkansas,
1970-1974, U.S. Senator 1975-1996] in Arkansas or to some extent Carter
[James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr., governor of Georgia, 1971-1975, U.S president.,
1977-1981] in Georgia, though I suppose he is unpopular [now]. People do like
chief executives that typify the kind of man they would like their children to grow
up to be. Askew is. He is a God-fearing, tea-peddling fellow, but he does not
show prissy signs. You see the little sign out there at the entrance to this door?
That amuses him. They have got an alcohol-free Florida fruit punch that they
call the governor's cocktail. He thinks that is funny, and everybody else does.
He is not regarded as a prude but as a tough legislator who fought his way up to
the governor's office and did it with complete honesty. His life is just sort of an
open book. He looks good, he has the charisma and honesty about him and he
is not afraid of the devil himself. That translates over into something I think is
very important in American politics. In 1972, George Wallace [governor of
Alabama, 1962-1966, 1970-1978, 1979-1982; candidate for U.S. President,
1964, 1965, 1972, 1976] came under the state on the busing referendum, which
obviously was going to sweep the electorate. Everybody in Florida was going to
vote against busing. You put it to a referendum anywhere in America and you
get the same answer. But Askew saw the great damage that [it] could do in the
state towards destroying a mechanism that is working in Florida. So he came
out against George Wallace in his own state, knowing he was on the losing side
of an issue, and he stumped the state and spoke against Wallace--and got
clobbered. Yet, that strengthened Askew in the state. They voted against
busing, but they said, by God, old Reubin has got the guts to fight for what he
believes in. So, what would destroy many politicians was a plus to him. It has
to do with courage and character. Because he does take stands like that, I think
he is going to be reelected. So, is it just the man?
W: Tell me what happens when he gets to the end of a four-year term. A southern
governor generally has one term and their approval ratings are way down, and
you have his, [it] is about sixty or seventy points. It is higher than when he
P: He ran a good government, and Askew is not above pleasing the voters a little
now and then. He has just come through with this Homestead Exemption
extension to older people at a period in time when we are trying to cut the growth
of the retiree and other populations pouring into Florida. Suddenly you give an
increased Homestead Exemption to retirees, and that encourages growth. So,
this is blatantly political on Askew's part, but it pleases a lot of old voters. He will
play politics, but a lot of the tough ones where it is just plain right and wrong, he
would be in the right section.
W: Is that different from everybody else around him and before him?
P: You mean other governors?
W: And cabinet members.
P: Yes. This cabinet system in Florida is a lousy system. It ought to be abolished,
but the political aspects of it lock it into the state. Askew does not like the
counter-resistance and what it does, as you know, is splay his power. We have
six governors sitting in that cabinet, and he is just one of them. It makes it very
J: Do you see Florida as some kind of a model for the rest of the South as far as
state government is concerned?
P: Yes, I do. I think an analysis of how this legislature works would be useful. I
would not advise other state governments to adopt our cabinet system though,
because it gives enormous power to the individual cabinet members. The state
education commissioner, for instance, is supposed to run this massive school
system, and yet his true power is the vote he casts from the cabinet on any
subject across the board. He becomes an extremely powerful figure on the
issuance of bank charters--well not bank charters because the state comptroller
has czar-like power over that, in who is going to get what road or what sewage
appropriations. Suddenly, your education commissioner's mind is diverted
completely from education, and he is a political broker, you see. O'Malley
[Thomas D. O'Malley, treasurer of Florida, 1971-1975; resigned after being
impeached by the House of Representatives], the present insurance
commissioner, is under grand jury investigation for a $40,000 "loan" that has
been traced to him. He has tremendous power over insurance but also over the
general decision-making that the governor normally makes for the southern
states. Many people here, and it is usually the old-line political __ will say
that is a tremendous check and balance against a governor like Claude Kirk. It
was, but why elect a governor like Claude Kirk in a state as modern as this one?
I hope we never do it again. You will note from the quality of the people who
advocate the cabinet system that it is the old Pork Chop thinking that wants to
continue it, because they are plugged into that. They have got their friends in
the cabinet, and they can keep electing them. But from [a] long study of this
one, pre-dating my coming to Florida, our newspaper is just flat-out against the
cabinet system. They think it ought to be abolished. Let the governor be the
W: What happened to the legislature that in the 1950s was known around the
country as one of the worst state legislatures? The term Pork Chop is symbolic
of legislative corruption and misrepresentation and malapportionment. What
happens to change that into a model?
[Interruption in recording]
P: Hey Bob [Bob Heniman, managing editor for the St. Petersburg Times], could
you come and join us for a second? Bob has been in St. Petersburg for thirteen
years and went to the University of Florida. He might be able to give you the
answer to that. I cannot.
J: Let me ask you another question while we wait for him. What does the term
southern strategy mean to you, and what do you think has been the effect of
Nixon's southern strategy insofar as the development and growth of the
Republican party in the South?
P: Kevin Phillips [American journalist] devised that name if not the strategy itself.
To me, what it means is the Republican party, nationally, began pandering to the
racial peculiarities of the southern Democrats, and they did it quite effectively. I
think Barry Goldwater [U.S. Senator from Arizona, 1953-1964, 1969-1987; U.S.
Republican presidential candidate against Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964] started it in
1964. I do not think he quite knew the code words he was using or knew what
they meant, but they were used and they swept the South.
W: Is it still working?
P: Sure. It will always work as long as the National Republican Party, which is
__, plays on this Wallace-type fear down here. I think they are going to
continue to win national elections over the Democrats. This state is still a
Democratic state with tremendous Republican enclaves like St. Petersburg.
Every major elected official except the clerk of court and the sheriff is
Republican. Those two hold their offices by not parading their Democratic party
affiliations. Congressmen, legislators--they are all Republicans because it is a
middle-Western community. These are conservative people from the
J: Do you think this is going to result in any sort of political realignment in the
South? Are the Democrats becoming a liberal party in the South and the
Republicans the conservative party?
P: Well, Georgia and Florida are good places to ask that question because their
Democratic state-wide party, which elects state officials, is basically
conservative. Florida had gone a lot further towards a two-party system than
Georgia has. We have a two-party system in Florida, and Jerry Thomas
[president of Florida Senate, 1971-1972] is going to give Reubin Askew a good
run for the governorship. I do think that yes, Jack, the Republicans do see that
the only way they can crack into the Democratic South is to be more
conservative than the Democrats, and I think they will be.
W: Do you mean more conservative on race or are you talking about all issues?
P: All issues.
W: Yes, but the cutting edge of the Republican party was based on race. Do you
think it still is?
P: Sure it is.
W: Do you think race is still an important issue?
P: Yes, and if they can stay to the right of the Democrats, if they can out-save the
Democrats, they will continue to carry tremendous votes in the Confederate
J: Will they win political control in these states?
P: You mean at the state level? The South has always been unique in that it will
vote one way in the state elections and another way in the nationals. It used to
vote conservative in the states and liberal in the national elections--Al Smith
and Jack Kennedy in Georgia, for instance. Goldwater broke that. Georgia
never voted Republican at the national level until Goldwater, and now it loves
Nixon. A McGovern [George Stanley McGovern, D., South Dakota, U.S.
Senator 1962-1980] or even a Humphrey [Hubert Horatio Humphrey, Jr., vice
president of U.S., 1965-1969, presidential candidate 1968, lost to Richard Nixon]
could never carry Georgia. Kennedy was the last to do it, and he swept it on the
old FDR [Franklin Delano Roosevelt, U.S. president, 1933-1945]
Democratic-Liberalism, appealing to the __ of the groups--the agricultural
group, the cotton industry. That is past the board, you know, and I think we are
going to see a slow growth of the Republican party at the state level but a very
rapid growth of southern states voting Republican in the nationals.
J: Yet you had some tendency in the parliament in much of the South in the last
four to six years of voting conservatively in presidential elections and voting for
the more liberal candidate in the state elections.
P: Yes, that is a curious switch.
J: With Askew and Chiles here you can ...
P: We are talking about two absolutely divorced things though, state level politics
and national level politics, although it concerns the same electorate.
Traditionally, state level has been Democratic conservative, but now look at
Wahler in Mississippi, Carter in Georgia and Bumper in Arkansas. You still have
Wallace in Alabama, but he is an aberration and always has been. These are
liberal Democrats by southern standards. So, where does that leave the
Republican party at the state level? It leaves them the conservative ground
which the Democrats used to occupy. So you have to believe that slowly you
are going to have, on the southern state level, the same division between the
parties that you have nationally. That is, Republicans would be conservative ...
[Interruption in the recording]
P: Does that mean that the Democratic party in the South is slowly going to lose
headway and strength, and the Republican party, in state elections, is going to
increase its strength by getting to the right of Democrats? Yes, I think the
answer to that would have to be yes, but I also think it is going to be
tremendously useful and advantageous to the South to have this rearrangement,
because the South needs a liberal party. They have never had an effective liberal
party. That is what the Democratic party is now osmosing into under leadership
of men like Askew, Carter and company. It is great. We need it. Even if the
Democrats start losing.
J: I guess my question is, is there a changing feeling on the part of the southern
voter? Before, they voted for the liberal candidate in the national level and the
conservatives in the state. That is an assumption that one could argue anyway.
P: Well, I will make the assumption.
J: Now, as that is changing, is there a feeling that they want modernization within
the states, therefore voting at least for the more progressive candidates--people
who promise change, economic development, growth, racial harmony and so
forth-- [that] would seem to be the Democratic party in the state level taking the
initiative of voting against federal control in Washington.
P: You are saying, does that political impulse grow out of the electorate, or is it
simply forced by the political events of Goldwater, Nixon and company? I think it
grows out of the electorate. A curious thing happened here, once you lanced
the boil of segregation in the South, which froze politics in this region
completely--made the southern people prisoners of demagogues. When the
federal force required an end to segregation, it ended with an enormous impact
all over the South. Then I think everything got ventilated, and you can now have
more natural politics. So, just as in my little hometown of Adel, Georgia, the
people there now brag about their integrated schools. You can tell those folks
up in Washington that we got these schools integrated, and by God, we did it
ourselves. They are very proud of that fact. It will be a generation or two
before their racial feelings change drastically, but they now feel a great pride in
having obeyed the law and being sort of on the forefront of an integrated society,
instead of in the backwater of it. That is a curious pride considering how bitterly
they fought, and yet it is present.
W: How do you explain that drastic attitude change?
P: Pride. The southerner has sort of a perverse sort of pride. He likes to resist
anything he does not have to do just as damn long as he wants to resist it. But
once he is defeated and forced into something. I think he takes a perverse kind
of pride and says, we are doing a better job than those guys who made us do it.
We are a contrary race, the southern folks.
W: We have been following national politics a long time, and we are doing a book on
southern politics and the assumption that somehow politics in the South is
different from other regions of the country. Is that assumption valid, and if it is,
what are the differences?
P: Southern politics are more emotional, more personal and more professional--not
in an organization, but in the sense that your friends are your friends, like Sam
Ervin [U.S. Senator, D., North Carolina, 1954-1974] in Congress who can wrap
Howard Baker [U.S. Senator, R., Tennessee] around his finger because he is
smarter and works harder. He is __ Southerners are great talkers and
politicers--it is natural. You get it from the drinking water. Politics means a great
deal more to the southerner. He is more interested in it, and as a result, he may
be better at it.
W: Is that changing?
P: Yes, I guess you are seeing less of the courthouse, buddy-type politics and more
of the college organization-type politics, but you still have a uniqueness that I do
believe is present in the South. That is politics, personal, intense, the
good-natured insult, the pragmatic what-passes-as-a-compromise, and they are
no better then they ought to be. They are a good deal more open. The thievery
in the South is regarded with a great deal more philosophical understanding than
it is in the wards in the great cities of the North. You know Marvin Griffin
[governor of Georgia, 1954-1958] in Georgia expects his folks to steal a little bit
because they always have. That is changing, and people are getting irritated
with it, which is what Christian, Dickinson and some of the other boys here in
Tallahassee are in trouble about. There is southern politics, and it is in place.
You are seeing a shift in the parties so that the Democrats in the South are
taking away more of the national Democratic party's position as being the liberal
party. Republicans are eagerly occupying that ground as the Democratic
were forced out of it. What this will mean to the South, I think, is great good. It
also may mean a great growth in strength for the Republican party. To go back
to a question, Bob, they asked me a question that I do not know enough of the
history of this legislature to answer. They want to know when the investigative
nature of reporting in Tallahassee got its start. Was it in the days of Waldren,
Trippet and Sherra, or does it go back even further than that history? Second,
at what point did this graceful pork chop legislature in Florida suddenly become
the nation's model and why?
H: Yes, I think the time period is about right there--Waldren, Trippet, [Bob Heniman,]
Bob Sherra. A lot of people do not remember that Bob Sherra started the whole
Bob Sherra thing just down the road here. That is about right. Some of it just
had to do with the natural growth of the state. We were talking the other day
about some guy who is on the program here today. He was the first
metropolitan paper correspondent in Tallahassee. He is on the program here
somewhere--Kenneth Ballinger. He opened the first metropolitan paper bureau
in Tallahassee in 1925. Prior to that, the AP [Associated Press] and the UPI
[United Press International] used to send out a weekly round-up of Tallahassee
goings-on to the metropolitan newspapers in the state. It was once a week, and
they wrapped it up and sent it down here. Everyone ran it on Sunday or Monday
when there was nothing else going on. Then, Ballinger opened the first bureau
for the Herald. We opened our bureau with Frank Griffin. He was the first
representative of the St. Petersburg Times in Tallahassee. That was in about
1953. Nobody really even cared. If they cared, that care was not exercised or
spoken in any way.
P: When did the Pork Chop legislature start its evolution into something better and
J: Was that a direct result of the combination of reapportionment and investigative
H: Absolutely. Reapportionment came in three sort of visceral heaves. The first
one in about 1960. It essentially came because some good people were elected
from Dade [County], Hillsborough [County] and Lauderdale. I am a little hazy,
but prior to that everyone had always gone along in order to get along. Tampa
would get what it wanted out of Tallahassee by playing ball with L.K. Edwards
[State Senator, 1954-]. There was a whole corp of these guys in the white suits
and the Panama hats. You see in the old pictures. It was fantastic. The
metropolitan areas were always able to get what they wanted, and then they
started to push for more. That was when the Pork Choppers dug in their heels
and said, now wait a minute, you boys are asking for too much too soon here.
Then the metropolitan delegations said, the hell we are, and they realized that it
was going to come to an end. They were going to have to make some changes
in order to get things in the case that they wanted to get them. So the Pork
Choppers dug in for a fight, the urban delegations got set to assault and there
were three successive reapportionments. The first one was relatively minor. It
actually was the Pork Choppers throwing a few bones they thought would go
away. They came back again ...
W: The court supported this?
H: No. The first one came without court action, but it did not amount to anything.
It was couple of increases in seats for Dade and Broward.
W: Then you had a court action?
H: Then we had a court action. The big one came as a result of a court action, but
the second one was really the big one. The third one was sort of a tidying up to
equalize some of the urban distribution a little more. That all happened in the
period from 1960 to 1965. Then, at the same time, as we had more people, as
the Herald had more people there, there was a lot of investigative reporting going
on about some of the evils that were being worked. For instance, people got
interested in prisons, and as the issue of criminal justice and penal reform came
along. We started writing stories. One was about the reasons we had a lousy
penal system in this state, [one of which] was that all prisons were being built in
these little rural counties where the kind of guards and the kind of correction
officers you recruit are the good 'ol local boys, and you do not get out of those
kinds of people a kind of rehabilitative personnel you need. You could not get
psychologists and all of that stuff. Then they started saying why are all these
new jails being built in Clay County and Madison County, instead of being built in
Tampa where there are all kinds of resources to make them work better. Well,
they would be built in Clay County because it is good for the payroll of Clay
County. A big road department came, juvenile detention facilities, hospitals, the
universities. The issue of why the University of Florida is in Gainesville instead
of in a big urban center [was questioned]. Why are FSU [Florida State
University] and A&M [Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University] here [in
P: Going back to Georgia, I was there under the county unit system institution, and
that of course was the most malapportioned, political gerrymandering that any
state has ever had. The county unit system was designed to keep rural control
over the cities, so that three little two unit rural counties could out vote Atlanta
and consistently did, which assured that you always had a governor like Gene or
Herman Talmadge and that you always have the legislature throwing all of its big
favors to the rural areas. [They would build] roads. We paved south Georgia
for that. Every rural road got paved, every dirt buggy lane has black-top on it
now from the county unit days. That is where the voting strength is. All of a
sudden, bam, the court threw it out and said it was illegal. Then we had to
reapportion the legislature. I lived through a period there where I saw an entirely
new perception of the future, talking about the Republican party. Suddenly the
Democratic party, rooted in segregation in rural Georgia lost great strength, and
the cities suddenly began gaining strength. But then the cities, as they began
reshaping, developed suburbs, and those suburbs started going Conservative
Republican. As the cities turned black and Democratic, the suburbs of Georgia
started electing Republican congressmen, like Ken Blackman. I think you are
going to see this grow across the South, whereby the suburbs, in conjunction
with the rural areas, are going to try to maintain the conservative power in the
Southern states against the liberal cities. That was a major step forward for the
Republican party. See, I remember when the Republican party, back in the
1950s, in the South, was the liberal party and carried the black vote of Atlanta
consistently in presidential elections. Eisenhower, for instance, replaced the old
post office Republicans and replaced them with modern what was called
"Eisenhower Republicans," Bob Snodgrass and Randy Thrower [Randolph
William Thrower, Atlanta political figure] and some really first-class people.
W: How about Tuttle?
P: Yes, Judge Tuttle, Albert Tuttle. These were first-class Republicans, but the
Goldwater debacle destroyed them and they have not been seen since and
never will be. Goldwater, I think, performed major surgery on the Republican
party's aspirations in the South. He smashed the moderate, pro-black,
Eisenhower Republicanism in the South. He just, overnight, put the
conservative Republicans into business, and I think that is going to be a natural
evolution. I think the party of Lincoln is dead down there, and what you have is
the party of Goldwater. That is going to be the shape of the Republican future
based on the suburbs and someday the power of the Democratic courthouses
[will be] broken in rural areas.
J: Also, it is based to some extent on ultra-conservative ideology, is it not?
J: Does that not create a problem for the Republican party on the national level as
they return power to the states, and on the state-level, their form of
conservativism basically is negativism? I mean, not to do anything.
P: True, but you see, you never go wrong in the South by betting on the past. This
is not a terribly creative part of America, at least in its state governments.
Conservativism is very popular among the rugged individualists of southern
America. So the Democrats, in being forced by reapportionment and being
forced by perhaps the demands of the electorate for something a little more
progressive, have vacated that old ultra-conservative ground, which is where
George Wallace lives, which is where the new Republican party lives. If you
believe that we are slowing shaping the South into the national political model,
then you would have to believe that the Democrats are betting on the future.
But for the present and the near future, it seems to me the Republicans are
occupying some proven grounds, which is ultra-conservativism appeals to the
W: What do you think will be the effect of Watergate on the South as far as
Republican development is concerned?
P: Less effect than any other region of the country. Southerners doubt less when it
comes to political leadership. They resent the press. They resent too much
morality being proclaimed. They have got a very low tolerance for that kind of
talk. As long as a guy is representing their own reactionary feelings, then the
conservative southerners are going to be the last to desert the boat.
W: Back to the Pork Chop thing. The last __ or influences of the pork chop gang
would be about 1965 or 1966, is that right? Gene says that the Florida
legislature is now a model for the country. That means in the course of seven or
eight years, a legislature that was considered the most backward in the country
turned into the most progressive. Why did that happen?
H: I do not know if I completely agree that the Florida legislature is a model, but I do
know that I have the experience of other legislatures. It is pretty good, and I
think that it ought to get some extra points for having come the distance it has
come in the kind of span involved. I think a lot of that had to do less with any
innate genius or talent in the legislature and more with the fact that it was a crisis
kind of reaction.
W: The reapportionment you mean?
H: No, I am talking about the kind of issues that this legislature has grappled with
during these years that we are talking about. Florida has enormous problems,
incredible problems, accelerated growth problems, water problems,
transportation problems and [problems] accommodating itself to these things.
Any time you come up with great challenge tests, you have at least a fifty-fifty
chance of the leadership rising to meet it or falling flat on its ass. In this case, I
think there was a fairly commendable kind of rise that when we desperately
needed some leaders in growth policy, [we got them]. I was just listening to
Buddy McKay [Kenneth Hood "Buddy" McKay, lieutenant governor of Florida,
1991-present] in the other room. [He is a] very impressive guy. A
thirty-four-year-old lawyer from Ocala, just as country as he can be. Here is a
guy who has become one of the nation's leaders on environmental land planning
and growth planning. How does that happen?
W: You may have had the same problems. You did have the same problem in
other Southern states. You did not have that reaction in Georgia.
H: I do not think Georgia's problems are as critical as Florida's. I really do not.
P: We are going to run out of water a lot sooner than they are and the people have
come to believe that.
W: You mean that the nature of the problems, with the acceleration of the growth,
produced a leadership in this state that could help solve the problems?
H: I think that is part of it, and I think a damn good press corps had a lot to do with it.
I think one of Lloyd Herman's theories is that as Florida opened up for
development, an awful lot of very bright entrepreneurs moved in here in order to
get a piece of the action. Guys who are sophisticated business and civic leaders
in Minneapolis, Boston, and Philadelphia came down here to transplant their
financial operations. They brought sort of a __ participation in government, in
Chamber of Commerce and in the school board stuff that they practice up North.
I do not think any one of these is solely responsible.
P: But that could not have taken political effect in Tallahassee without
H: Oh, yes, there is no question about it. All reapportionment did, I think, was open
the possibility for all these good things to happen. There have been states which
have reapportioned their legislatures and have not done dramatically new and
W: As a matter of fact, it seems to have been the other way, that reapportionment
was seen as the answer to solve a lot of problems, particularly urban problems,
but that has not happened.
J: What accounted for the attraction of able people wanting to run for the legislature
when reapportionment did change?
H: Some of it, I think, was the moment the plug was knocked out of the dike. There
was a lot of pinned-up desire in places like Dade, Hillsborough and Broward for
people who were active in the school board and the county commission and city
hall, but had never wanted to run for Tallahassee because they said, I will be
impotent, I will not be able to do anything. The pork choppers run the show.
They saw that there was an opening there, and they rushed in.
W: Ideas and experiences with them made Florida less tradition-bound.
P: That is absolutely true, and it has created some modern demands out of the
electorate. For instance, the retiree who bought his little house down in the
sunshine suddenly looks around and did not want a lot of other people coming in
and using his water, schools, streets and sewers. This was one of [the] leading
states saying, hey, let's turn completely around from the old economic principle of
growth and slow it down. It was a completely selfish interest, and therefore a
very effective one. That was reflected here too, and it is in constant conflict with
the tourists entering the state. We want more people coming down to fill motel
H: And the land developers.
J: How big of a force was this factor? The old argument that this is the way things
have always been done just did not apply to many of the people in Florida
because where they came from, things were not always done that way. So they
were ready for change.
P: They developed a different set of interests down here.
J: I am going to give you an opportunity to make what some might interpret as a
self-serving statement. I am sure you will not do it, but how much of a factor or
how, in your opinion, and you are in a position to make a judgement on this, how
different are Florida newspaper publishers from other southern states in a
willingness to put money into a news operation and developing good political and
government coverage? Is there a difference?
P: Yes, sure there is. As I said earlier, I do not know any other state in the union
that is better served by its newspapers. They are intensely competitive for
influence, if not circulation. The circulation areas tend to be a little empowered
and pretty well monopolized by the hometown paper. The publishers in this
state are pretty damned enlightened people, and it is because we have
developed in Florida a sort of way of going. If you are going to put out a paper
down here, you are going to be judged by your peers according to your
commitment to put out a quality paper. If you are putting out a slop paper, you
are shamed out in Florida. There are a lot of other southern publishers who do
not feel that pressure.
W: Do you know of any state that has fewer sacred cows as far as the press is
P: No, you have no sacred cows in Florida because if one paper goes in the tank for
the railroads, another paper is going to attack. It is because of the diversity of
W: Do you know of any southern state where it is true that there are no sacred
P: Not really. This is a very generalized statement. For instance, take South
Carolina, you have Greenville, Charleston and Columbia as the big newspaper
towns. Whereas Greenville is traditionally a little bit more advanced and
progressive because of its middle-worker readers up there. There is still shared
conservatism by the large press. In Georgia, the Atlanta papers dominate; in
Alabama, Birmingham and Montgomery; [and in] Mississippi, Jackson. In all of
these states, you have darn good little papers like Tupelo, Mississippi, and
McComb, Tuscaloosa or Auburn in Alabama. You have got some fine rural
papers in Georgia like Gainesville, but I do not know anything quite like Florida.
For instance, the textile mill interest in Georgia is pretty well a sacred cow, or
Georgia Power Company. But boy, we have more than one power company in
Florida and the papers almost __ If they ask for a rate increase, we
investigate. We want to know why.
J: My impression is that in the other southern states, the control of the newspapers
is much more--in terms of people on the boards of directors and so forth, closely
allied and connected with the rest of the financial and business establishments in
the state. This is part of the reason for that.
P: I think it is safe to say, yes.
J: But this is not true in Florida, am I correct?
P: For some newspapers it is. For instance, Ed Ball [Head of St. Joe Paper Co.
and DuPont holdings in Florida] in Jacksonville.
H: The Florida Times Union is wholly owned by the railroads.
J: Isn't that the exception that proves the rule? Are there any other examples like
P: I do not know of any.
H: No other big examples.
P: Chain journalism has come into Florida in a big way-The New York Times and
Gannet, but by and large it is enlightened.
J: Their financial interest in the state is pretty much limited to their newspaper
properties, am I correct, and not into the banks and insurance companies?
P: That is true. Those three particular chains that I mentioned are pretty
enlightened chain ownerships. They bring a lot of outside money in here and
absolute independence from the sacred cow in Florida. The Chicago Tribune,
which owns Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale, is a pretty good operation. Richmond,
which owns Tampa, [is a another good operation]. None of these are classic
examples of independence like the St. Petersburg Times, but nevertheless there
is an enlightened readiness to attack any interest in this state. [This is]
because the interests are so closely balanced and so clear. Land development
has the big clout in Florida--the Contractors and Builders Association. They
have millions riding on the effectiveness of these legislators. They are flat-out
up against the people who live here who say, hey, wait a minute, slow down the
growth--that is my tax rate you are raising by tapping in a whole new
development to my sewer line. This gives you a classic confrontation between
interest groups and each electing its own legislators. It gives newspapers to
push or cut tape. Where do you stand? You cannot be with both of them. So
you are for managed growth, and this puts [you] against the flat-out growth boys
down here who have the tremendous financial clout. They own the land and
want to develop it. Then there is the tourist industry which is ambivalent. Its
taxes go up and water and sewer costs go up, and by the same token, they
want a tremendous influx of visitors down here. They strive very hard to keep
that separate from the growth argument, which is that we want millions to come
but nobody to stay. You have guys here in Tallahassee that are up __ Now
let us not be naive. The most powerful lobbyists are those representing the
reactionary interests, the self-serving interests.
H: I think they have lost ground in the last couple of years, a substantial amount.
P: Well, we keep the spotlight on them. The Miami Herald did a tremendous piece
of journalism last year, and they just rammed on the contributions to every
legislator. We in the Herald, every time a major issue came up for vote, we
would say, leading the fight for it was so-and-so who got $5,000 from this
particular interest group. It literally blew their minds. It embarrasses these
guys. They have to then go back and run before the folks who have read that.
H: __ conventional wisdom tells us that Atlanta is not a southern city and Florida
is not a southern state.
P: Well, with the journalization I would agree. This part of Florida is a southern
state. The populist part of Florida is not. Florida is divided. I do not know if you
guys have seen how clearly, but the East Coast of Florida, __, is populated
with [people from] New Jersey, New York, Long Island and New England. The
West Coast of Florida, where [U.S. Highway] 41 came down from Chicago over
to Tampa, is populated with middle-westerners. In my town of St. Petersburg,
[they are] from of Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio--it is a different breed of people
completely from the East Coast Floridians. Miami is liberal Democratic. St.
Petersburg is seven-to-one Republican conservatives. So you see an import of
attitudes in here, and St. Petersburg has none of the tracking to the southern
cities. It is strictly a middle-Western city transplanted [to] the Gulf of Mexico.
Atlanta, no, that is not a southern town anymore. Going back to Bob's idea, the
import of different kinds of people shape Atlanta. It is a transportation and
distribution sales hub, and so those boys came out of Pennsylvania and Iowa. It
is not really a southern population, and that has had a political effect. But the
Atlanta I knew was a city whose own congressman was from Rockdale County.
He could get two little rural counties and overpower the city of Atlanta. It was
gerrymandered that way so that old James C. Davis was the reactionary
Congressman for Atlanta and Washington. Of course, reapportionment [came
and] blam, that ended it. James C. Davis is out. Charlie Weltner [U.S.
Congressman, Georgia] was elected, and we all hailed the new day. That
lasted for one term, and then suddenly you are electing clowns up there again.
This time [they were] Republican clowns like Ben Blackman. So you are right,
reapportionment did not bring the new day.
W: You got Andy Young [Andrew Young, Georgia member of 93rd-95th Congress,
U.S. ambassador to U.N., 1977-1979] though?
P: We got Andy Young, yes, but look at the congressmen surrounding him out in the
suburbs. Then again, that is a national pattern. [It is] not unique to
southerners. Atlanta is full of foreign money and foreign people, and it is not
Birmingham or even New Orleans.
J: The question is, are the Atlanta suburbs really peopled by non-southerners or are
they peopled by rural Georgia people who moved into Atlanta?
P: Both. In the southern realm of Atlanta it is mainly folks out of rural Georgia, but
on the northeast and northwest perimeter of Atlanta it is mainly people, again
generalizing outrageously, who came down from the North. People in Clayton
County are going to vote probably for a Republican congressman because he is
conservative--especially on race. Those around the northern rim, who do not
know the code words, might vote for a Republican congressman because that is
the way their daddies always voted back home in Indiana.
J: How do you think Florida politics is going to look in ten years?
P: I think you are going to have a more liberal Democratic party based on Dade
County with growing effectiveness. You are going to have a conservative
Republican party based not only in St. Petersburg and such transplanted areas,
but perhaps here in Pining Woods. Fellows like Jerry might go Republican.
H: I think you are going to see a lot more switches of that type.
J: Do you think it would depend upon how he does in the governors races? Would
these conservative Democrats switch to the Republican party if Thomas gets
H: Yes, I think so.
P: It will slow it down.
H: it will slow it down a little bit, but they are going to move. Bud Dickinson really is
not a Democrat, not by national standards, and not even by the evolving
standards we have here. He is a Democrat because he always will be a
P: He is based on the old courthouse. That courthouse still has a lot of clout, but it
is diminishing, I believe.
J: How about the structure of state government?
P: I think the cabinet system will be thrown out by then.
J: With the power lodged in the executive office?
P: With the power lodged in the government.
J: But not the legislature?
H: I think there will be a fist fight over it but the power will eventually end up in the
J: Is big money much more of a controlling factor in Georgia than in Florida?
P: Yes, it is more effective because it can be applied more directly and with less
W: What is the role of Coca-Cola in Georgia politics?
P: Coca-Cola has been an enlightened influence really. Great tribute ought to be
paid to Bob Woodruff [Robert L. Woodruff, CEO, Coca-Cola] because of that.
He has never used his great power directly to do long term damage to that city or
state. Ralph McGill [journalist, Atlanta Constitution] used to talk about it.
Coca-Cola is a world-wide product. So when Martin Luther King, Jr. gets the
Nobel Prize and comes home to __ Atlanta and everybody is going to boycott
the __ that McGill and Gabe Rothchild are trying to put together for him is a big
The word has passed from Bob Woodruff to his bankers and others who
___ of Atlanta, but it will not look good for Atlanta not to give a dinner for Martin
Luther King and as McGill told me at that time, he said, is Woodruff not
wonderful? He said maybe he is not a liberal in grace but he knows you have
got to sell Coca-Cola in Africa. So that has been a great influence in Georgia.
Woodruff has done awfully good things. The [major] influence has been utility
money, railroads, power companies and the textile manufacturers.
W: Does Charlie Kirbo [lawyer, advisor to Jimmy Carter] basically represent
conservative, enlightened-self interests aspects?
P: Kirbo has emerged more fully since I left Georgia, so I do not really know where
he stands. I got the impression that he was used by the Trust Company of
Georgia [Bank], which is a Coca-Cola operation, to keep aligned to the
conservative __ of the state--the "good ol' boys"--to work that side of the
street. Now, whether Kirbo was influenced [and] tried to pull them over toward
the more progressive element, I just do not know. The banks, which of course
are dominated by the Coca-Cola banks, had great political clout on the
legislature, but mainly it was self-serving. Either get branch-making or stop
branch-making, whatever served their own stockholders is what they were
pulling. But the power company, the railroads and the cotton-producing
association, were the powerful lobbies. You have got powerful lobbies in Florida,
but I do not believe that they can buy up this legislature predictably the way they
could in Georgia. I have told you all I know.
W: Is there anything you wanted to cover on the tail-end of this?
P: No, I do not even know what you are looking for.
J: We are writing a book on politics in the South.
W: Has the Democratic party in Florida just taken the initiative on these issues that
you have discussed, [the ones] that people are really concerned about, and
revolve around problems created by growth to a large extent, at the moment?
H: At the moment that is true. There are not that many Republicans yet and a few
years ago there were so few that their force was so minimal. That is going to
change. I think the Republican party is going to get a lot bigger in Florida. I do
not necessarily think that all its new-found converts would be blackheads either.
They may be some good people, people like Don Reed [Donald H. Reed, Jr.,
Florida House of Representatives, 1963-1972] for instance, a Republican
leader. He is by no means a wool-hat, know-nothing type who is that kind of
Republican. He is a pretty damned enlightened guy. He just finds himself
P: Where do you find all of these legislative leaders of such high quality, Bob?
How did they happen to come to Tallahassee? I am talking about Pettigrew
[Richard Pettigrew, speaker of the Florida House of Representatives,
1971,1972], de la Parte [Louis A. de la Parte, Jr., president of Florida Senate,
1974] and, of course, Dempsey Barron and Mallory Horne of the old Pork Chop
camp--you had some tremendously able people.
H: Dade County has a hell of a lot to do with it. Dade has had an enormous input
of bright, enlightened guys. I was sitting yesterday in the House and in the
Senate. I watched Marshall Harris [State House of Representatives, 1966-1974]
work in the House. There was some threatened legislation coming up, and he
was really working the floor. He just moves around the floor. I do not know if
you know Marshall Harris or Dick Pettigrew, but they look like John Lindsay
[member of 86th-89th Congress, New York, mayor of New York City, 1965-1973]
or Jack Kennedy. It is funny to see them moving around on the floors there
where there are still a few guys wearing the white suits, and their grandsons are
wearing outrageous double knit mob kinds of clothes. Dade has had a lot to do
P: No doubt about it.
H: They really have had a lot of guys like Pettigrew or Sandy D'Alemberte [Talbot
D'Alemberte, State House of Representatives, 1966-1972, President of Florida
State University, 1994-present].
W: That still does not answer the question of how you are able to attract those kinds
of people here and why they cannot attract them in other states.
H: Who says you cannot? There are able guys in the legislatures in Hartford [CT],
Madison [WI] and Lexington [KY].
P: I guess you just have to go back, Walt, to Dade County. Here is a big liberal city
that sends able men up here, and they go into a flat-out collision with the Pork
W: A big, liberal city does not have to send highly-qualified [people]. One thing that
we noticed is that the prestige of a state representative and senator seems to be
higher here than in other states.
H: I was just going to say that.
P: But you asked me how it got that way.
H: The way to get ahead in national politics from Florida has always been by the
legislature here, unlike some other states where if you want to be a United States
Senator, you do a good job as the mayor of a large town in that state. Not here.
In Florida, Pettigrew knows that the way to get to be a United States Senator,
which he wants very badly to be, is to do exactly what he has done.
W: That was not the case in the Pork Chop days, was it?
H: No. Back in the Pork Chop days, we did not have those good guys running, so
again we are looking at a phenomenon of the last decade.
P: All the big cities could do was rattle their chains.
H: That is precisely right.
J: ... talk to some of these guys in the legislature and see what their explanations
P: You ought to talk to guys like Pettigrew and Harris.
J: We will.
H: [Talk to] D'Alemberte in Miami and Louis de la Parte.
P: Talk to Mallory Home, too, because he is running, and he comes close to being a
old-type Democrat. He is smooth and slick and smart, but he also is from __
He does not like those big __ Once you look at him you will recognize him.
He is a "good 'ol boy." He is a southern Democratic politician trying to bridge
over into this new time without losing anything. He even has a mob hair-do.
His mind works pretty fast. Like all the old southern Democrats, he is the most
charming guy you have ever seen. You just like him instantly. He is president of
[End of the interview.]