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    Copyright
        Copyright
    Abstract
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        Page ii
        Page iii
    Interview
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
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COPYRIGHT NOTICE


This Oral History is copyrighted by the Interviewee
and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program on
behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of
Florida.

Copyright, 2005, University of Florida.
All rights, reserved.

This oral history may be used for research,
instruction, and private study under the provisions
of Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of United States
Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section
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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida









FP52sum


Terrell Sessums

This is an interview with Terrell Sessums, speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.
The interview was conducted by Jack Bass and Walter De Vries in Tallahassee, Florida, on
May 20, 1974. The interview is from the Southern Oral History Program in the Southern
Historical Collection, University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill.

pp. 1-3: Sessums recounts his one-year term, 1973-1974, as speaker of the House, and being a
legislator since 1963. He recalls his years serving as a legislative aide to Sam Gibbons in the
Florida Senate in 1959. It was a time of turmoil over integration and debate over
reapportionment. Sessums was much in favor of reapportionment because he felt the legislature
was representative of only a small percentage of Floridians who lived close to Tallahassee--the
Pork Chop legislators--rather than the urban areas in Central and South Florida. Sessums wanted
change. He describes running for elected office in 1963 when a few new seats were added in
Hillsborough County before reapportionment came four years later. He says the legislature
needed a "revolution" or "divine intervention" to change the status quo. But it was the U.S.
Supreme Court that added the "impetus to efforts to reapportion."

pp. 3-6: Sessums describes the momentum leading up to reapportionment in 1967 and the
changes that occurred due to restructuring the legislature's representation. The incoming
legislators who came in as a result of reapportionment wanted change, according to Sessums. He
talks about the growth of Florida after World War II, which changed the population distribution
radically and also created a different kind of population mix, that is, racially and culturally.

pp. 6-11: Sessums discusses the changes in profiles of legislators after reapportionment: now
they are younger; they are in more leadership roles; they are more visible, more aggressive and
better educated; and they are representing more sophisticated constituencies. Sessums credits the
University of Florida as proving grounds for many of his colleagues who were active in student
government and participated in inter-collegiate debates. They are now using these debating skills
very effectively in the Florida Legislature. He also credits Florida Blue Key as producing
skillful, active, and competent legislators and gives several examples. Most of these new
legislators who entered the political scene with Sessums were anxious for change and innovation.

pp. 12-14: Sessums concurs with the interviewers that Florida legislators are reasonably
regarded by their constituencies. He feels that the Sunshine Law and the public disclosure law,
two laws which complicate a legislator's ability to function, are beneficial. He thinks that a
financial disclosure law will prevent many from running for office. According to Sessums,
Governor Claude Kirk, in office in the late 1960s, may have prompted the disclosure bill.

pp. 14-18: Before the days of reapportionment, Sessums expands upon the role of the legislature
versus the governor--the legislature playing a back seat role. He turns attention to the 1966
Democratic primary race between Mayor Robert King High from Miami and the incumbent
governor, Haydon Burns, both men coming from diverse geographical backgrounds--South









Florida versus Pork Chop territory of North Florida, respectively. When High beat Burns in the
primary, Sessums saw the face of Florida politics beginning to change--the political balance was
moving from North Florida to South Florida. The next few months after Kirk became governor
in 1967 were a time of change and disarray, according to Sessums, in that Florida had to deal
with the district court promulgating a new reapportionment plan and so new elections had to be
held. He focuses on the antagonism between Republican Governor Kirk and the legislature, a
division which made legislators more assertive. Reapportionment, he says, reflecting the post-
war population distribution, and also a Republican governor competing with Democratic
majorities in the House and Senate were the basis for creating a new political climate. Sessums
relates that Kirk told the legislature that he would not interfere with revision of the Florida
Constitution and that left the door wide open for the legislators to move ahead.

pp. 18-21: The interview then focuses on the rotation of the speakership of the House and the
presidency of the Senate. Sessums feels there are advantages and disadvantages to the rotation
system. Continuing that position through several legislative sessions creates stability but it also
brings an overwhelming weight of authority. Changing leaders with new sessions brings in fresh
ideas and enthusiasm. Sessums leans on the side of rotation. He also favors selecting the
speaker by a caucus before the next legislature convenes because it gives the speaker time to
organize. He calls attention to the stability of the position and his role in creating committees
and appointing their leaders. He also cites the speaker's practical limitations regarding his
authority and power.

pp. 21-23: In reference to Florida's cabinet system, Sessums thinks that an elected cabinet is a
political dilemma. He offers a brief history of the system starting with the Pork Chop Gang years
when the cabinet officers were the "good guys" who were more responsive to the urban voters
than the legislators. Then after reapportionment, the profiles of the legislators changed and
members of the House and Senate related more to their constituents. He feels that trying to
change the cabinet system would be much too difficult because it is so deeply entrenched in the
political system. Sessums says that the 1968 Constitution increased the power of the governor,
but it did not impact the cabinet system. In discussing the question of the cabinet system,
according to Sessums, many criticize a cabinet officer rather than the department itself.

pp. 23-24: Sessums, retiring from the speakership, discusses the speculation of his running for
lieutenant governor. He talks about the difficulty of moving his family and coping with a law
practice. He is not actively campaigning for that position and is not interested in a cabinet
position.

pp. 25-26: In assessing the role of the Democratic Party in Florida, Sessums feels that the party
has not been too strong or influential. He discusses the apathy on the party's county executive
committees, but on the state level he thinks that party members are more active. Despite having
a Democratic governor and a U.S. senator, Sessums believes that the party has not acquired
"muscle or experience or the money" to be effective. Sessums claims, however, that the Florida
Democratic Party's time is coming, that is, to be stronger and more involved.

pp. 26-27: Sessums has no regrets about his legislative career other than the time spent away









from his family. He campaigned for reapportionment and saw it transform Florida politics. He
advocated the equalization of public school finance and saw that come to fruition. Sessums says
he would encourage anyone to run for legislative office who wanted to serve the people.






FROM THE S.O./'.P., 7 -- .
SOUTHERN HISTORICAL COLLECTION, THE LIBRARY OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL






This is an interview with Terrel Sessums, speaker of the

Florida house of representatives. The interview was conducted by

Jack Bass and Walter De Vries in Tallahassee, Florida on May 20, 1974

and was transcribed by Joe Jaros.



Jack Bass: One of the things that I was intrigued by here is the

fact that someone like you, who is relatively young, being speaker

of the house and retiring, as I understand it.

Terrel Sessums: Well, in Florida, we have developed the tradition of

rotating the leadership in the house and the senate both and I have

really, I guess, relatively little senority compared to many legislators.

But I have served since 1963 and I will have, by the end of this term,

checked off my list most of the major legislative concerns that I had.

And while I have enjoyed being speaker for these two years, yet I have

had about all of it that I can afford and would be quite willing to

turn the gavel over to my successor. I first ran for the legislature

back in March of 1963 when Florida began to start reapportioning the

legislature. In.college, I had been a political science major, had

been very much interested in government and then went on to law school

and went to Tampa to practice law in 1958. And after I had been there

about a year, our state senator at the time, who is now Congressman

Sam Gibbons, represents our district in Congress, invited me to serve

as his aide during the 1959 legislative session and then at the 1961


From the Southern Oral History Program, #4007, Interview /A-S9 in the Southern Historical Collection,
University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill. FOR REFERENCE ONLY: PERMISSION TO
PUBLISH MUST BE REQUESTED. WARNING: MOST MANUSCRIPTS ARE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT.





page 2


legislative session, I took a leave of absence from my law firm and

came up here and worked with him just during the sixty day session.

That was before we amended the constitution in '68, so the legislature

met every other year. And it was a very interesting experience for

me. At that time, Governor Collins was still the governor, we were

having a great deal of turmoil over the integration of the public

schools and a great debate over reapportionment and it caused me to

believe that perhaps the most important thing that needed to be done

in Florida was to reapportion its legislature, because most of the

men that I encountered up here who served in the house or senate

generally represented a point of view held, oh, I guess a majority of

the citizens within about a fifty or seventy-five mile radius of

Tallahassee and were not overly representative of the people who lived

in the more urban parts of the state in central and south Florida. It

was just sort of like going to a different world when you came to

Tallahassee. And our Senator Gibbons had defeated a senator from our

county who was quite well accepted by what we used to call the "Pork

Chop Gang" and many people in our area felt that he did not do a very

good job of representing our interests. And when Sam served in the

senate, there was a very great antagonism on the party of a great

majority in both houses to any suggestion of reapportionment. In

fact the problem was to preserve as many as a third of the senate to

uphold the governors veto of last resort legislation to close the

public school system and some things of that nature. And I became

pretty committed to seeing what could be done to reapportion the

legislature and assisted in well. the majority approach up here was


From the Southern Oral History Program, #4007, Interview 9-59 in the Southern Historical Collection,
University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill. FOR REFERENCE ONLY: PERMISSION TO
PUBLISH MUST BE REQUESTED. WARNING: MOST MANUSCRIPTS ARE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT.





page 3


to do something, but to do as little as possible. And there were some

campaigns on in fact, their approach was not to use the statutory

approach to reapportionment, but simply to pass out a constitutional

amendment that made some change and delay the thing until the people

voted on it iand then they had very little to vote on anyway. So, we

went through one or perhaps two of these constitutional amendment

elections and finally, in 1963, they did add some new seats to some of

the larger counties. I ran and was elected to one of the seats added to

Hillsborough and I think that most of the new people that were elected

then came up feeling that the most important thing that needed to be

done was to continue to reapportion the legislature. And that was the

main tug of war, really, from about 1963 to 1966-1967. And with the

background in history and political science, I began to feel that we

weren't ever going to get anything done unless it was done by revolution

or divine intervention, because the people that controlled the

legislature were not willing to be persuaded that it was right to not

allow them to exercise control. Finally, the United States Supreme

Court added a lot of impetus to efforts to reapportion. That was the

period when I came into legislative service and I think that we have

now properly reapportioned the legislature and many of the things that

needed to be done have been done. We are a long way from the millennium,

but we .

Walter De Vries: You said that in 1966, you didn't think that there could

be any changes unless it was short of revolution or something like that.

Now that you look back eight years, and we look at this legislature

compared to the other states in the South and outside of it, and the

enormous changes that have occurred, would you have believed that looking



From the Southern Oral History Program, #4007, Interview '-S'9 in the Southern Historical Collection,
University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill. FOR REFERENCE ONLY: PERMISSION TO
PUBLISH MUST BE REQUESTED. WARNING: MOST MANUSCRIPTS ARE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT.






page 4


back now at all the changes that have occurred, could have occurred

in that period of time?

Sessums: Well, it would have been a little hard to realize prior to

1967.

W.D.V.: What prompted that whole momentum?

Sessums: I don't know if you can pick out a single fador. I think

that probably a combination of circumstances. One, of course, many

states have reapportioned and not just Florida. I think reapportionment

was one of the keys and without it, very little change would have occurred.

Because the legislature had to reflect much more adequately the concerns

of the people of Florida and until we reapportioned in '66 and '67, it

just didn't do that. So that once it was reapportioned, there was a

great desire on the part of the new majority in the house and the senate,

to catch up and to change things. Now, to go beyond that, there are a

couple of other factors that maybe you need with Florida. One, we

probably had more changing to do than most states. I doubt very

seriously if there are very many states that were more malapportioned

than Florida. I have not researched the point or looked back, but it

seemed to me that the majority of the house and the majority of the

senate in Florida could be elected by between twelve and thirteen

percent of the population, basically those who lived in the smaller and

middle and northwestern counties of Florida. So, we were quite

malapportioned and until we did get reapportionment. And also, I guess

that starting with 1944, '45 and the end of World War II, Florida just

continued to excelerate in growth and change the whole population

distribution throughout the state. And as a consequence, although many

states reapportioned, the new legislature reflected a population of a


From the Southern Oral History Program, #4007, Interview 4-S9 in the Southern Historical Collection,
University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill. FOR REFERENCE ONLY: PERMISSION TO
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page 5


state that had undergone tremendous change itself within a twenty

year period of time and it involved just not a growth in population, but

really a different kind of population, a complete of geographic emphasis

within the state. Ya'll, I'm sure, are quite familiar with Florida's

population development, but our capital was selected simply because

it was about halfway between the two population centers of the state,

that is, St. Augustine on the east coast and Pensacola on the west

and our whole population axis ran from the St. Augustine-Jacksonville

area through the north and west part of the state to Pensacola until

I guess, really the turn of the century. And in the 1920's, population

began to develop in the lower east coast, the Gold Coast area and in

central Florida and the west coast area, so that today, the bulk of

Florida's population really lives in central and south Florida. And

they are people who have in-migrated from other states, who come in

with a variety of backgrounds, so that once we were reapportioned, the

balance of power shifted geographically and it shifted to a different

population mix. For instance, in terms of racial composition, I would

say that the attitudes from Jacksonville.through this area and

Pensacola are quite similar with those in south Georgia and Alabama.

And I would say though, that in the rest of the state, you have had

many people did not grow up, whose parents and grandparents had lived

in the area, and areas that were never in a black belt with any type

of an ante-bellum economy, not that they are automatically liberal on

racial issues, but they didn't have the same type of conditioning. My

grandparents came into this state in the 20's, one set from Wyoming

and one set from Tennessee, in time for me to be a Floridian, but many

people who lived in central and south Florida came from many other



From the Southern Oral History Program, #4007, Interview /-S9 in the Southern Historical Collection,
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page 6


places. And the black population, you tended to have in-migration of

whites and you tended to have out-migration of blacks, so that even

on racial matters, the population in my district has gone from slightly

over 20% black, down from that to about 14% black and I expect that by

the time of the next census it will be less than 10% black. In terms

of absolute numbers, the black population will probably have some slight

increase, but the increase has been the in-migration of whites.

(Interruption on tape.)

W.D.V.: It is apparent to us that the Florida you say that the

Florida legislature had so far to go in terms of malapportionment, but

what about in terms of its operation, its staffing, the quality of its

members, the product that it produces? As you look at other states in

the South, do you see a difference in what you are doing?

Sessums: Well, I don't know how to compare the quality of our members

with the members of other legislatures, perhaps you could do that better

than I, but well, within the state, I can give you an illustration.

Before reapportionment, the chronological age level of the house was

much greater than it is now. And I think that in the more settled,

rural environment, a greater emphasis on stability and seniority and

everything like that, there were just many old timers around and the

urban areas were really under-represented. Their seats were so worthless

that the so called "vested interests" didn't worry too much about them.

They didn't really count up here anyway, with rare exceptions, so that

the young idealistic lawyer or somebody else could generally run for

the seats and no one was too concerned with getting him elected or

crowding him out and I think that we had some extremely able people


From the Southern Oral History Program, #4007, Interview -S9 in the Southern Historical Collection,
University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill. FOR REFERENCE ONLY: PERMISSION TO
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page 7


serving from the urban areas before reapportionment. The problem was

that they were just submerged. I could give a number of illustrations.

My own delegation from Hillsborough County had three houseJembers and

I would say generally that one or two among the three were among the

most able men in the legislature, with all of the credentials with

anybody else. But they would come up here, they would not be in the

majority bloc, so they would not be selected for any leadership post

or committee chairman, they would not be assisting in developing

important legislation, so that a contemporary of theirs who came from

the right area, namely De Walt Connor, for instance, who is now the

Commissioner of Agriculture, who came up here from Stark, was no more

able, perhaps not as able as some folks from urban areas, he just

simply got thrust into leadership pretty well by his caucus so that

he went onward and upward very rapidly and the others began to get

just completely frustrated about the whole thing and would drop out

or run for something else. We had a fair turnover in the urban areas

with fairly good people, they were just not too visible or too many of

them. And it could very well be that Florida is a slightly more urban

state than some of our southern sister states, although I understand

that things are changing in many of those. And I think generally, though

not necessarily, a representative from an urban area is apt to be a little

bit I can again think of some very notable exceptions, but he is

generally apt to be a little bit more aggressive, a little bit more .

have a little bit more in terms of educational attainments some things

of that nature. And it could very well be that the vested interests didn't

have the situation organized so that with reapportionment, a great deal





From the Southern Oral History Program, #4007, Interview A-S9 in the Southern Historical Collection,
University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill. FOR REFERENCE ONLY: PERMISSION TO
PUBLISH MUST BE REQUESTED. WARNING: MOST MANUSCRIPTS ARE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT.





page 8


of representation was added to the urban areas, you had a host of eager

young men and a few women who were ready to rush in and tilt with windmills,

and who came from relatively sophisticated constituencies. Well, that's

probably not right, but I think the urban make-up of the state and it's

population mix contributed somewhat to this. I don't know, if I had to

look beyond it for any other factor, I would say that there are a fair

number of people up here who all went to the University of Florida and

who were fairly active in a student government organization that again

was perhaps not typical. I would say that the University of Florida,

comparing it to other state universities in the region, has had several

traditions that are relatively unique. The University of Florida has

never compared very favorably with the University of Alabamaor

Mississippi in football, we've been trying, but we have never quite done

it. But in terms of inter-collegiate debate, the University of Florida

has been virtually, at least in the southeastern region, the Notre Dame

of the debate world. And when I was an undergraduate, we would have as

many as fifty debators on the road any one weekend competing in debate

tournaments ranging from Chicago to Dallas to Atlanta or wherever you

might have. So, that any young man or woman who went to the University

of Florida who was interested in government and politics felt that a

valuable part of training to be prepared for that was to participate in

student government at the University of Florida where students, perhaps,

were given more responsibility than they were at many other universities

and was a big thing and inter-collegiate debate. And I can look around

state government and find many of my colleagues who served with me in

student government at the University of Florida who were active in





From the Southern Oral History Program, #4007, Interview -S.9 in the Southern Historical Collection,
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page 9


inter-collegiate debate and who were in Florida Blue Key and who have

continued that activity in the legislature. And that could be one thing

that is lurking in the background, but I don't know how that compares to

other states.

J.B.: Who are some of those people?

Sessums: Well, let's see. Our present governor was fairly active in

it, though he was not at the University of Florida, he did his undergraduate

work here at Florida State in Tallahassee. And he is probably the first

student who is a product of the Florida State system, which when they

became coed was quite similar to the one at the University of Florida.

He did his law school work at Florida. Bob Sheving, who is on the cabinet,

who is our attorney general I would almost have to get out a list

real quickly, but I can probably pick out a dozen or two Blue Key members

who are fairly active in both chambers, who are committee chairman and

such as that. I can ..

W.D.V.: Is there a general emphasis at the university of public savice

and .

Sessums: Florida Blue Key really was the founding chapter of what became

nationally the Blue Key organization and later it felt that the quality of

the organization was being diluted, so it withdrew from the national

organization that it helped found and it has just continued to be unaffiliated

with any national organization. And looking at the senate, Senator Home,

the president of the senate, was chancellor of the honor court in our

student government system and a member of Florida Blue Key, Senator de la

Parte, the senate pro tem, was the president of the student bogy at the

University of Florida, although he was not selected for Blue Key, primarily





From the Southern Oral History Program, #4007, Interview ,-Sf in the Southern Historical Collection,
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page 10


because he did his undergraduate work at Emory. He came back and was

very active in student affairs as a law student and was a summer school

president of the student body and if he had had a little undergraduate

involvement, he probably would have been selected. Dick Pettigrew was

a president of Florida Blue Key and was active in debate, although

he was not one of the varsity debators, Bob Sheving, whoserved with him,

Ken Myers Ken was not in inter-collegiate debate, but he and I

were partners in the law school moot court competition. I can look

through the house here, Jack Shreeve, who is chairman of our committee

on criminal justice was a Blue Key president. Bill Birchfield, who

serves as chairman of one our committee was very active in student

government. I think that perhaps .

W.D.V.: Were these people that you are naming and yourself, all at

the University of Florida all at the same time?

Sessums: Pretty well, but it spreads out. United States Senator

Holland was in his student days, active. Senator Smathers was active

in debate and was the president of the student body. I would say that

if I had the list of all these people, I could move through and pick them

out fairly quickly, but .

W.D.V.: Were they basically in the late fifties and early sixties that

they were at the university?

Sessums: Well, Holland and Smathers were there prior to World War II,

but ..

W.D.V.: No, I was thinking about the group that you mentioned?

Sessums: But you find there, pretty much that they came in in '48, '49

and through the mid-fifties. And I think that they activists of the day,

instead of going out with petitions and things like that, generally tended



From the Southern Oral History Program, #4007, Interview 4-S9 in the Southern Historical Collection,
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page 11


to get active in student government and also to participate in inter-

collegiate debate and such as that and to look forward to and to prepare

himself for some type of service role in state government.

W.D.V.: Has that continued, has that tradition been followed at the

university?

Sessums: Reasonably well. I don't know, it's not, I don't think, an

overly conscious deliberate thing. That is, it will dissipate a little

because we have had considerable expansion of the state university system

since then, but .

J.B.: But when you got here then, in the first four of five or six years

here, you began to run into a lot of people that you already knew?

Sessums: Oh yeah.

W.D.V.: From that group that started right after the war and went through

about '55?

Sessums: Uh-huh.

J.B.: I mean, these were not strangers?

Sessums: Oh no, I knew many of the guys before I ran and when I came up

here. For instance, the Congressman, when he was our state senator that

I came up here to work for, had been a member of Florida Blue Key and

active in student government at the University of Florida.

J.B.: Was there a conscious feeling, particularly on the part of those

who came three or four years after you, during that period and into the

middle sixties, of coming up here to turn things around?

Sessums: Oh, yeah. I think that most of these people, with the exception

of one or two who came from rural areas who felt reasonably comfortabb with

the status quo, tended to settle by and large in urban areas,to reflect

that point of view and were quite anxious to change and to catch up.


From the Southern Oral History Program, #4007, Interview t-S9 in the Southern Historical Collection,
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page 12


J.B.: Somebody told us that in Florida, that being a state legislator

has status, more so than probably any other southern state.

Sessums: Well, I don't know. I would say that it's I would think

so, I would say that it reflects credit to be a member of the state

legislature here, rather than not. I think that the public in Florida,

like the public generally, may have a tendency to depreciate elected

public officials somewhat, but I think that individually, most members

of the legislature are reasonably well regarded by their constituencies.

We lose more people out of the house because of attrition, that is,

because they quit or they run for some other office than because they

get defeated at the polls. Although, there are occasions when that

occurs. I would say that most of the members of our legislature are

reasonably well regarded.

J.B.: The combination of the Sunshine Law and the public disclosure

law, aside from the obvious public benefits of both, what effect does

that have on the members insofar as putting pressure on them, I guess

that's what I'm trying to say? Is that a deterrent against them?

Sessums: The Sunshine Law?

J.B.: Combined with the disclosure law?

Sessums: Well, I don't think that the Sunshine Law is any deterrent

to serving. To some extent, it complicates the way we work, but I think

that it does it in a way that is beneficial. I could illustrate. When

I first became a member of the appropriations committee, near the end of

the term, we passed a general appropriations act. I was selected to be

one of the house conferees on the conference committee. It was the first

time that I had served on a conference committee and I felt it was a big

deal and I was looking forward to it. One of my house conferees was Bob


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page 13


Graham, who is the chairman of the senate education committee. Well,

Bob had been real active in the student government at the University

of Florida. He had been chancellor of the honor court and was in

Florida Blue Key and was a good student. And so, I was discussing with

Bob what we needed-:to do to be effective on this conference committee,

because we were the two junior members of it and we had a strong

position that we wanted to maintain in the allocation of funds for

higher education. And we felt that we were going to have an uphill

battle because of the greybeards on the senate side, Jack Mathews,

who was the president of the senate, and Mallory Home and Reubin

Askew and some others who were fairly tough conferees. Well, Bob

had checked out of some library the treatise written by a doctoral

student at Harvard analysis the success of conferees on conference

committees in the Congress. And we both read that to be properly

prepped for this experience and it seemed to indicate that the most

effective conferee frequently was just the one who was the most

obstinate. So, we tried to fortify our position, not only with logic

and reason and everything like that, but with a great deal of obstinacy

also. And I departed a little bit from your question, and bring me

back into it if you will well, you were asking about the

.Sunshine Law, well that conference committee did its work in a weekend.

We went out to Mallory Home's lake place and the house and senate

conferees were there with the staff director and we went through the

issues and people were very candid and except for the primary thing that

Bob and I were interested in, the whole thing was done over the weekend

and then we had to wait a week to rationalize a way of compromising our


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page 14



issue, but it was done out of the sunshine. Now, when a conference

committee meets, there are going to be 150 people in the audience and

the newspapers are going to be there and it is generally going to take

more time, not necessarily, but generally. But that the other fact of

that is that the public has a much better awareness of why changes are

made and what they are and I think that there is a greater feeling of

acceptance on what is done and I think that perhaps we avoid some

mistakes that we might make by letting people know what's coming before

it arrives, get a reaction from them before we finally wrap it all up

and it is done. The effect of financial disclosure, I don't know what

that really will be. Ma ny people are doing it voluntarily now and

I suspect that this session will pass some legislation. I have an

idea that that will probably keep some people from running. Some of

them will be people that you may not want to run and others will be

people that that is the straw that just breaks the camel's back and

it just makes it that much more complicated. And it tends to be more

complicated for a part-time public official than one who is perhaps on

the payroll full-time. One other thing that I think may have made a

difference in Florida that has not occurred too often, and that is we

had a Republican governor, who was elected in 1966. And I think that

he may have contributed unintentionally a great deal to .

(End of side A of tape.)



Sessoms: .. .over the years, if it ever really had been strong.

So that when the old legislature came to town, most of the major legislation

was prepared by the governor, or by the cabinet officers and they pretty






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page 15


much farmed it out to their friends as the people who sponsored it and

then handled it. And the legislature had little or no capability of its

own to really do anything. They had one or two staff people and the

clerk and the sergeant and that was about it. You depended heavily,

no only on the lobbyists, but very heavily upon the executive branch

of government which lobbied a great deal. And legislative leadership

did not too often challenge the executive. Governor Collins had his

problems with the legislature, primarily over a racial matter, but

the rest of the executives supplied most of the legislation. Well,

in 1966 I'm trying to get my years straight, Florida did, I

think, finally legislatively do a pretty adequate job of reapportioning

itself. The new members were elected and in the same election, Governor

Kirk was elected. And that was, if you will recall the situation, we

had an incumbent governor, Eden Burns, who was a Democrat, who served

a two year term. And then he was defeated in the Democratic primaries

by Robert King High,the mayor of Miami. He was really the first

breakthrough of a man who came of a south Florida, one of the left out

areas. Governor Burns came from Jacksonville, a relatively large urban

county, but it by virtue of geography and tradition, had always been in

the Pork Chop Gang, northwest Florida group. And it had been accomodated

pretty well within that group and it had never really related with the

guys from central and south Florida. Well, when Mayor High, who was the

mayor of Miami, beat Governor Burns in the primary, it represented a

shift of the political balance really, somewhat from north to south

Florida. But the people with Governor Burns were so unprepared to

accept this that they did not support Mayor High and they vigorously


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page 16


supported the Republican candidate, who I think without that factor,

would never have been elected. But he was elected, although we did

elected strong Democratic majorities in both houses. But Governor

Kirk came to state government without ever having held a public office

before and without any real knowledge at all of state government. And

in his inaugural address, he surprised everybody by calling us into

special session a couple of days later. And we had finally finished

that up and gotten home when the district court then promulgated a

new reapportionment plan and we had all new elections. And the court

plan, I think, probably did apportion us a little better, but there

were probably really only about four or five seats that were where

guys could not run for re-election under the court plan under our own.

It did not represent that big a change. And it was a real surprise to

those of us from the urban areas as well as those from the rural areas.

We had new elections and Congressman Gurney, who is now our United

States Senator, did a lot of t.v. work in the lower east coast. And

the court elections were special elections and the only people on the

ballots were legislators. There was a very low turnout for the elections

and you had a new Republican governor who was at the zenith of his

popularity, which did decline constantly thereafter, with the help of

one of the most vigorous Republican Congressmen who was trying to prepare

his campaign for the U.S. Senate. And we just had a very bad time in

that election. We had a substantial increase in the number of Republicans

elected, in fact, all incumbent Democratic members of the house from

Miami north to Volusia County, the Daytona Beach area in through Orange

were basically wiped out. And so we came back then, just as the term

was getting under way, with a Republican governor and with suddenly



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page 17


significant Republican minorities in both the house and the senate,

capable of upholding the gubernatorial veto. And I think that this

had a dramatic effect on the legislature and operated with these other

things to cause the legislature to really start asserting themselves

as a co-equal branch of government. And the governor was if we

had had a Democratic governor, I don't think that we really would have

cut ourselves clear of the apron strings as quickly or as easily. We

would have been inclined to try to agree and still lean on the governor

for a lot of help and leadership. But the positions became so antagonistic

that we developed, we decided that the legislature had to be prepared to

sort of really govern Florida whether the governor liked it or not. And

so we undertook to write the general appropriations bill and to start

acquiring staff for our committees and to put our own house in order. And

I think that the combination of reapportionment, reflecting great change

in the state, the combination of a Republican governor with a competition

with Democratic majorities in the house and senate, are two of the factors

that helped most of this jell. And the governor himself, for instance,

when it came to the subject of constitutional revision, he said to a

privately to a number of us, he said, "Look, we want to revise the

constitution." Well, the proceeding number of Democratic governors

had said the same thing. But then here is where he parted greatly

with them. He said, "Frankly, I don't care a whole lot what you put

in it, I just want a new constitution. I would like to be able to

appoint the cabinet rather than have them elected, but I don't honestly

see much chance of ya'll agreeing to that, so go ahead and revise the

constitution and let's get a constitutional commission working on it

and get the job done right and I won't bother you." And he didn't


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page 18


really, he had very little imput in what was done there, so that a

Democratic governor would have been full of ideas and direction and

everything like that and chances are that very little would have been

done. So, I think that all that helped a great deal and I don't know

of any other southern state that has had well, there have been

several other southern states that have had Republican governors. I

don't know if any of them have had Republican governors quite like the

one that we had or that we could have had similar experiences with a

different type of Republican governor, one who had not too really a

good understanding of what state government was all about, did not

have the benefit of a very experienced staff, although he had some

talented people working with him. And it gave us a challenge that

we may not otherwise have had to move out.

W.D.V.: How do you feel about the tradition of rotating the speakership

and the presidency of the senate?

Sessums: Well, I would say that in many ways it has been beneficial

and I realize that the overwhelming weight of authority, including

intellectual thought is that it is bad. But I have felt that it

continues to keep our system more open, to new ideas and new

enthusiasm, and it I think that it causes more things to happen than

if we were to settle down with more stable leadership and continuity

of leadership. There are risks involved in it and there are limitations

involved in it. I can see now some real good reasons for having a

permanent speaker that I didn't see before I became speaker. On the

other hand, I think that our process will probably be more stimulated

by a changing of the guard than if I or another person was to continue






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page 19


on as speaker. I have not really set down to sort it all out, but I

think that our rotation of leadership has been more of a plus than a

minus.

W.D.V.: How about the practice of the selection of the speaker by the

caucus before the next legislature comes in?

Sessums: Well, I think that's a desirable thing to do. It gives the

incoming leadership a little warning and a time to organize their

program and thoughts and to set up. We have changed our caucus rules

somewhat to do it in a slightly different way in the future.

W.D.V.: It's being challenged now, isn't it?

Sessums: Not the system, the individual. Yeah, so that of course,

that can happen anytime. I would say that Florida, like any state could

suffer if the membership makes a poor choice of leadership. And there

are some who could provide more effective leadership than others. Now,

the speaker in Florida is a little bit different animal than he is in

some states. I'm sure that you have seen many different variations on

this. In some ways, I enjoy, probably, a lot more strength or stability

or power than the speaker in say, a state like California, who ostensbily

is a prominent speaker, but still, a motion with the greatest dignity

in California is a motion to declare the chair vacant. Now, this may

make the speaker, although he's a prominent speaker, it may make him

quite responsive to his majority bloc. But I am elected for a

constitutional, two year term. I have the right to be re-elected, but

the tradition has been otherwise, not any formal rule or provision.

And I can pretty well decide what committees we will have, who the

leaders of the committees will be, who will serve on what committee,

what staff we will have and a number of other things. It would appear


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page 20


by itself to be almost a tremendous grant of dictatoril power and

some speakers can determine also what bills are going to what committee,

although there are some restraints on that. But after everything is

said and done, you still have to have majority of the members who are

in general agreement with what you are doing. So that although they

are not all written or spelled out, they are very pracitcal limitations

on the authority and power of any speaker. He still has to get people

to do things because they want to do, and not because they have to do

them, if he is going to be consistently successful in getting something

done. And because of that, I don't think .

(interruption on the tape)

so that I would say that a bad speaker will probably not be as

big a calamity as some would fear and that a great speaker may not be

quite as great a speaker as some of his closest friends or zealots would

think, because of the fact that you've got many other people whose

opinions and points of view have to be taken into account and sometimes

they don't do exactly what you want them to do. In the case of a good

speaker, that may be bad and in the case of a bad speaker, it may be

good. The one thing I would be reasonably sure of, I think that when

speaker Pettigrew made some move toward having more permanent leadership

that they put the cart before the horse in a way. I would say that if

they want to have a permanent speaker or permanent senate president, that

you will have one provided if you make the job one that someone would

be willing to hold and perform on a permanent basis. But it is, in our

system, just about a full-time job with party-time compensation and

everything else. And most speakers that I have known, have been delighted


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page 21


to pass the gavel on to the next speaker. They have needed to get back

to their business or their profession and I think that the thing that would

do more to provide for a permanent speaker than anything else would be to

take the salary and double it and then if you had a fellow who really liked

being speaker and a membership that wanted to continue him, he would be in

a circumstance to continue. And Florida has not done nearly enough as a

number of our sister states. Georgia, Massachussets and many others, their

speaker or senate president can afford to continue.

W.D.V.: How do you assess the cabinet system?

Sessums: Well, it's one of our political dilemmas. If I were designing

a system of government, I would not have the elected cabinet. However, it

is one that has been fairly deeply engrafted into our tradition. Now, to

make you, to help you understand why it is a little hard to change that

tradition during many of the Pork Chop years, before our legislature

was reapportioned, the cabinet were the good guys. The cabinet were the

ones who ran statewide, who tended to be deferential to the urban areas,

much more so than the legislature. So, the urban areas began to sort of

forget about the legislature, let the bright young lawyers run for those

jobs, the power structure really related with the governor and the

cabinet. And they felt that they had some input there because the guys

had to stand statewide elections. So that it has probably not been until

1968 or so that you began to, with the emergence of a different kind of

legislator, that you began to sort of confuse that image, so that some

of the cabinet officers now are beginning to look like the outpost of

the industry that they deal with and are little bit more of the bad guys.

I think that the cabinet system could work very nicely for Florida if the


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page 22


voters ever selected a governor and cabinet officers who had reasonably

similar points of view or philosophies. The odds of that occurring with

any consistency are, I think, remote. The question I've had is whether or

not the cabinet system is just too deeply engrained in our tradition and

constitution and everything else to successfully make any change in it.

Most of us felt that the effort to change it would be so extreme and the

chance of success so remote that there would be nothing productive to do

it, but to not hit the cabinet system head on and to try and make it

work as constructively as possible for the state.

J.B.: We've heard it defended on grounds that it brings executive

decision making into the open.

Sessums: I don't see that. If anything, some issues it can ver-well

obscure it. I think that executive decision making is most visible

when one executive makes and is accountable for the decision.

W.D.V.: But as a practical matter, the authority of the legislature

has increased in the last eight years, hasn't it?

Sessums: I would say so, yes.

W.D.V.: In the appropriations process and other things. And as has

the governor since the new constitution.

Sessums: Well, the new constitution did not hit the cabinet system

head on. It continued it, but it did do a great deal to strengthen the

governor's position in the scheme of things.

W.D.V.: So, you may be accomplishing that obliquely, even if you didn't want

to.

Sessums: To some extent, yes. And I would suspect that, well, there may

be a tendency on the part of some who have strong disagreements with some






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page 23


cabinet members to question the system rather than the officer, but

they may not question other cabinet officers. For instance, I would like

to hear a discussion on this subject between, let's say, Dick Pettigrew,

who has been, I think, generally opposed to the cabinet system and

reasonably well thought out in his approach to it, and Bob Shevins, who

is the attorney general and serving on the cabinet. I think that Dick

would generally strongly approve of Bob Shevins as a cabinet officer

and he may not approve of the comptroller or the commissioner of

agriculture or some others. I would say that some people who are opposed

to the cabinet system would be much less opposed to it if there were

different cabinet officers. I think that as time goes on, the cabinet

like the legislature, will be more rather than less inclined to accept

the dominant view of the majority of the state. And I think that the

cabinet, although it was ahead of the legislature in reflecting the

public will, at this point as a whole lags a little bit behind it and

has not made that adjustment. When it does, the cabinet may get along

a little bit better with the governor and the legislature and it may

work a little bit more smoothly than it is at the moment.

W.D.V.: Now, you are retiring as speaker and also from the house,

does that mean that you are going to drop out of state politics?

Sessums: There is some speculation that I may be a lieutenant governor

candidate, but that is all it is, and ..

W.D.V.: How do you feel about it?

Sessums: I have avoided giving it a great deal of thought. If the

governor came to me and said that he would like for me to do it, I

would get in high gear and think about it and it would be a little

bit of a dilemma. I enjoy public service to some extent, but I have


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page 24


grown quite weary of moving my family up here every year and moving back

to my district and trying to cope with a law practice under all of this.

I, well, the governor put it to me this way when he was running. He

said that he had gotten to the point where he either had to get into

full-time public service or get out of it. And I am at that point. And

either alternative is reasonably attractive. But the governor has many

good choices to make and I'm not sure that I would be the best one for

him and I'm not campaigning for it and ..

W.D.V.: How about the cabinet?

Sessums: No.

W.D.V.: There ought to be some vacancies there, shouldn't there?

Sessums: Yes, I have encouraged Ralph Turlington to run for commissioner

of education and he was appointed to the vacancy that occurred there and

I am not interested in being commissioner of agriculture or any of the

others. I might conceivably be, just because of the secondary role

that the cabinet has as the state board of education, but no, I'm not

interested in running for cabinet office. I think that what I will do

will be to go back and practice law and try to be a little bit more

helpful to other candidates. I have always been a candidate myself

and perhaps a little bit more reserved about being involved in other

campaigns, at least in the primary stage. And I think that I can probably

be a little bit more active and helpful to people there. Then, if I get

many opportunities many opportunities for service arise, so I

figure that if I get too unhappy with the practice of law, feel too

restricted in it and want to get involved in some grand debates, I can

find an opportunity to do that. They come along with probably greater

frequency than we like. So, that's probably what my situation will be.


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page 25


J.B.: How do you assess the role of the Democratic party in state

politics?

Sessums: Well, it has been changing a little bit. At home, generally

the elected Democratic official has given the party as wide a berth as

possible. The party has had little influence, it has not always enjoyed

too good a reputation and the dilemma for the Democratic office holder

is whether or not it is worth the effort to try and straighten it up or

to try and ignore it and be identified with it as little as possible.

I think that the attitude most public officials now have is that you

cannot or should not ignore it and that the party ought to be improved

and strengthened to play a more active and useful role. And I think

that is the direction we are inclined in, but I'm not sure that the

party has really made it or that the party itself is too strong or

influential.

J.B.: Has the problem on the local level been control by party

organization by people that are more strong on ideology than anything

else?

Sessums: Well, frankly, people at the local level have been involved

in the party in the past, well, they have been well, there has been

such apathy that it has been very difficult to even get people to

serve as precinct men and precinct women on local county executive

committees. And generally what will happen every few years is that

someone will make a run at electing a majority of the seats to select a

chairman and then tries to keep them filled through appointments by

filling vacancies and things like that. And they have been more concerned

with survival and petty things than they have with anything of real

substance.

J.B.: The position I hear is that organizationally, Republicans tend


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page 26


Sessums: Yes, I would say that is quite true. Well, at home, some of

us decided that it would probably be better to shake the party up and

so, my aide at the time was elected well, we offered a slate and

we obtained the control of the party and elected the chairman and such

as that. It is sort of an intermediate stage now, they at least enjoy

some slightly improved reputation and they are generally working to

help elect Democratic candidates in the general elections and they are

not blowing what money that they have on just advertising themselves.

But I think that at thes state level, the party is much more actively

involved than at the local level except in a few counties. I think

that the party generally has fairly good leadership and I think that

the governor and our junior United States Senator are both quite

supportive, but not enough time has gone by and the party has not

acquired muscle or experience or the money or anything else to really

call too much of a tune.

J.B.: Do you see then, a stronger role for the party in the future?

Sessums: Yes, I think that it will become stronger and more involved

rather than less. But we have a long way to go there.

W.D.V.: Any regrets about the last eleven years?

Sessums: Oh, not really.

W.D.V.: Anything that you would do differently?

Sessums: No, most of the legislative programs that I've been really

interested in have worked out fairly well. I was a zealot for reapportionment

and we are reapportioned about as perfectly as can be done. My next major

subject area was in the equalization of public school finance and we have

been pre-eminently successful in that. I've got a long laundry: list

of things that need to be done and some suggestions that I would make to




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page 27


the next crowd. Because I'm sure that there are many more important

legislative battles to be won. In fact, I can now see a number of new

subject areas that have not occurred to me before that would want a

great deal of time and effort. But I don't have any particular regrets.

I would still recommend legislative service to anyone who I thought was

really,interested in doing it and who had the confidence enough to be

helpful. But many of us have different personal circumstances. I've

got young children in my family and I have not just well, the

first time or two that I came up here I commuted. My wife didn't like

it, I didn't particularly like it. It was a matter of chasing home on

Friday afternoon and coming back up here Sunday night or Monday morning.

And it was very difficult to keep my law practice going or my law

partners happy. And my children are now at an age, well, they are ten,

twelve and eight and they are beginning to be involved in more things

and after the first time or two of commuting, I found that it was just

much better just to move them up here with me, so every session, I have

generally leased an apartment and moved my family up here and stayed

up here during the session, except for one or two trips back on Saturday.

And then, we moved back at the end of the term, but my children are now

invovled in school activities, boy scouts and little league and if I had

to take a democratic vote, my family would no longer come up here and

I .(interruption on tape) this last year I had the gross

income of right about $50,000. That included the sale of assets and

my income from public service and my law practice has been in the

neighborhood of $30,000 to $35,000 a year. And I can't I mean,

you can live very comfortably on that (End of tape.)






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