This interview was conducted on February 12, 1975, with former Florida governor LeRoy
Collins by David Colburn and Richard Scher of the University of Florida Oral History
pp. 1-3: Collins discusses why he wanted to become governor after a distinguished career in the
Florida Legislature. He recalls growing up in the state capital, selling boiled peanuts in the
legislature's galleries, and getting to know some of the governors. He speaks of his close
friendship with Dan McCarty, who was elected governor in 1952. Collins says that he and
McCarty worked closely to get legislation passed, made possible by Collins being in the Florida
Senate at that time. Collins recalls when McCarty died and Charley Johns, the president of the
Senate, constitutionally took over. Johns eliminated all McCarty's people and put in his own
people, even though Johns had to face an election one year later. Not wanting Johns to be elected
as governor, Collins decided to run against him to complete the two remaining years of
McCarty's term. Collins remembers saying that if elected he would have brought back many of
the McCarty men to serve under him--men who had been accused of wrongdoing by Johns, he
says, and should be vindicated. He won and became the thirty-third governor in January 1955.
pp. 3-5: Collins states that he probably would have run for governor even if McCarty had not
died in office. He says he saw need for changes, such as eliminating the Pork Chop Gang and
changing the representation among the increased population of urban areas. He thought he could
be more effective in bringing about these changes by serving as governor. Collins also had an
agenda to clear the record of McCarty's people--politicians who had been accused of
misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance. He used television to sell himself during the
campaign. Collins tells how he kept challenging Johns to a TV debate in Miami. Johns finally
agreed to debate, but as a political tactic Johns thought he would put an ad in The Miami Herald
that would appear after the debate. Someone tipped off Collins about this ad, and he
immediately brought it to the attention of the moderator as the debate was about to commence.
The advertisement showed how the debate came out even before it was held, saying that Collins
left town with his head between his legs, a whipped man. Johns was "stunned."
pp. 5-6: Collins then discusses the strengths and weaknesses of the office of governor during his
gubernatorial term. He says the office provides a great chance for "performance and
accomplishment." He states that a "governor has the opportunity to formulate a program and see
it done." A governor, he says, can develop an institution and see that said institution actually
planned and put into operation, "and the people reaping benefits from it." He also believes that a
governor likes to have his state residents "believe in him." A governor, he feels, can wield
"public opinion that can be very effective in making progress." Collins thinks that the power of
the press is, in general, for the good because it assesses "virtues and strengths of the leadership."
pp. 6-8: Collins remembers that during his tenure as governor he had great support from the
cabinet; he does not feel that is the case now (1975) concerning cabinet members' support for a
governor's programs. He calls attention to the role of the cabinet--then and now--and cites Tom
Adams, secretary of state in the 1960s, as the man who changed the nature of the office. Collins
says that Adams opened offices around the state and accumulated a powerful political base. He
feels that governors now have less power since his term in office because cabinet members today
are "far more political in their outlook and their ambitions," and they all have tremendous
budgets. He recalls a specific case during his campaign for re-election about a rape trial in Lake
County, and his role with the pardoning board. Collins supports the cabinet system as it was
during his gubernatorial term and prior to that time in which cabinet officers did not think of
their positions as "little governorships."
pp. 8-9: Collins recalls his working budget--not an executive budget as it is today (1975), but
one which did not have the "formality" or a great number of people preparing it. His budget was
about one-fifth the size of the present-day one, he states.
pp. 9-10: Collins then discusses the weaknesses and frustrations of the office during his tenure.
He states that he felt frustrated with the legislature, especially the legislators going only so far
with his proposed reforms and reapportionment. He felt this great urgency to reapportion before
the U.S. Supreme Court mandated it, but many legislators--the rural Pork Chop Gang in North
Florida--would have had to give up their seats if this occurred. He cites a few instances in which
the Florida Legislature curbed his reform proposals, such as establishing a more effective state
law enforcement agency, but many legislators were too responsive to the county sheriffs' outcries
against this plan.
pp. 10-11: Collins also cites the progress and cooperation he made with the legislature. He adds
that he did not call on the Democrats in the legislature to support his programs because there was
no Republican opposition. Collins picked specific members of the Senate and House in different
areas of usefulness and competence to assist him with getting legislation passed.
pp. 11-13: The subject turns to the patronage system. Collins talks about appointing a great
number of judges during his term because of the population increase in the 1950s. He appointed
70 percent of all the judges in the state above the county judge level. He appointed all the
original members of the new district court of appeals. He calls attention to the current governor,
Reubin Askew, who has limited power in judicial appointments.
pp. 13-15: Collins addresses the subject of race during his campaigns. In 1954, he remembers,
race was not an issue. In 1956, it was publically debated. The Brown v. The Board of Education
(1954) decision was handed down two weeks before the election, and Florida constituents did not
take it seriously, he says. Over the next two years Collins says he saw the need for Florida to
change with the times, and with Sumter Lowry and Fuller Warren running in the primaries as
segregationists, the racial issue became part of the 1956 campaign. Collins adds, though, that he
tried to keep his campaign very low-keyed and want to call attention to other issues that
concerned him in Tallahassee.
pp. 15-16: He talks about giving an impromptu speech in the spring of 1960 to some
Jacksonville residents about the immorality of segregation and how the times have changed. His
phrase "morally wrong" regarding segregation ignited strong feelings, he says, among that crowd
and also later, resulting in having eggs thrown at the governor's mansion doors and burning
crosses in the yard. He feels that his major contribution during these turbulent times was "to
keep a tone of reason and conditions of reason and avoidance of violence."
pp. 16-19: Collins then talks about the gubernatorial election of 1956 when the Florida Supreme
Court ruled that since Collins had not served a previous full term, he could now run for a full
term. Farris Bryant, a segregationist, wanted to run against him in the primary and used race as
an issue. Collins recalls the interposition issue that occurred in mid-1956, calling for the
adjournment of both houses during which Bryant was making a speech in the House. Bryant was
"rather furious," Collins recalls.
pp. 19-20: Collins relates some of the bills that he vetoed in the late 1950s, such as a bill that
closed schools, and a bill providing that the state would contribute to a pool of money to finance
ads in northern magazines and newspapers to publicize the virtues of segregation. When asked
about how Florida dealt with the race issue in a way that most other states did not, Collins feels
that the business community finally realized that violent disruption could be "very destructive to
business progress" in Florida. Business leaders also came to realize, Collins says, that they had
"a lot to gain by the improvement of the economic condition" of blacks. Collins recalls his term
 serving as head of the Community Relations Service in Washington and working side-by-
side with blacks. After having grown up in a segregated South, his views of the black race
changed over the years.
pp. 20-21: Concerning the rural versus urban split of Florida regarding race, unlike many other
southern states, Collins attributes the urban areas' relatively high percentage of transplanted
northerners as having a more tolerant attitude. He knows, however, that there were racists in
both the urban and rural areas who were "sensitive to any progress." The race issue took up more
time and energy than expected from 1956 to 1960, he says, but he feels that the amount of energy
he infused into this issue was worth it and was "terribly important." He believes he should have
spent more time on this volatile race problem, but he did not want to jeopardize his program. He
thinks that if he got too far out in front with the race issue that Floridians would feel he was an
extremist. Collins did not want to be perceived as being far out on the limb on race to jeopardize
his legislative agenda, such as the community college program.
pp. 22-23: During his gubernatorial term, Collins says he was anxious to put Florida more in the
national "picture." He says that he did not think Florida was given "credit on the national
councils." Collins then says that the state was making headway when he was chosen to chair the
National Governors Conference in Puerto Rico, as well as the Southern Governors Conference
on Sea Island, Georgia. He asserts that the executive committee of the national conference--
whose members traveled to the Soviet Union--gave more importance and prestige to Florida.
pp. 23-24: In discussing this Southern Governors Conference, Collins adds that it was held at the
time of the Little Rock Central High School confrontation--Governor Orval Faubus versus
federal troops. Collins states that he served on a committee which went to Washington to work
out an agreement with President Eisenhower to get the federal troops out of Little Rock. Collins
adds that Governor Faubus reneged on the terms that Eisenhower stipulated. He remembers the
president taking him aside and saying that the president was obligated to enforce the 1954
Supreme Court decision. Collins says he felt that Eisenhower was almost apologizing for having
to take these drastic steps of sending in the troops and federalizing the Arkansas National Guard.
pp. 24-25: Regarding Brown v. The Board of Education, Collins holds that Floridians were
"shocked" by the 1954 decision, and how it took them by surprise. U.S. Senator Spessard
Holland, Collins recalls, publicly announced that everybody had a responsibility to support the
decision even though it might bring many problems. In March 1956, however, Holland signed a
manifesto along with 18 other southern congressmen and senators that denounced the decision.
pp. 25-26: Collins says that during his term as governor there was never any pressure to integrate
Florida schools by the federal government. He also mentions that the Civil Rights Act of 1964
was passed when he was out of office. He recalls that the legislature during his term passed the
Student Assignment Act--"a vehicle for resisting forced desegregation" and also "a gradual
program for desegregation." Collins talks about the Fabisinski Committee, which he had
appointed in July 1956, and which, he adds, he gave "a very free hand."
pp. 26-28: In assessing the governor's career in office, Collins feels that he must be a moral
leader--showing a "strong stature of integrity and moral strength," as well as one who delivers
substantive programs. The governor, he says, must hold up a "standard," and the state will then
comply and conform with it. Collins never felt the need to look to any previous governor for
leadership or advice. He is enjoying his private life now and the relief from heavy political
responsibilities. He has served on several committees, including an American Bar Association
committee dealing with legal education, an Easter Seals committee, and one on an ethics
commission. But Collins looks forward to getting away to an island house he has off Carrabelle
in the Florida Panhandle. He says he is glad that he did not have the number of security guards
swarming around him during his term, as Reubin Askew has now.
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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
INTERVIEWEE: LeRoy Collins
INTERVIEWERS: David Colburn
DATE: February 12, 1975
I: I think I would like to begin, if it's all right with you,
by asking you why it is that you wanted to become governor
in the first place, after a long, distinguished legislative
career? What was it that prompted you?
S: Well, there are long-range factors and also short-range
factors. Among the long range ones, I grew up right here
in Tallahassee, the center of state government, the capital.
As a boy I sold boiled peanuts in the galleries of the
legislature, and visited the legislative sessions over the
years. I knew a number of governors over the years. While
I didn't go into the legislature with the idea of making a
permanent political career, legislative work always brings
a man close to governors and some of their virtues and some
of their faults, and they make a rather indelible impression,
and I think tend to develop some ambition in most legislators
that some day he or she might become governor.
I had a short-range reason, though, that really cati-
pulted me into the situation. Dan McCarty was elected
governor in 1952. The campaign was in 1951. He and I had
been close friends for a number of years. He had served in
the legislature. He had supported me in the campaign for
Speaker of the House back in 1945, and then we had our local
senator die, and instead of coming back for the forty-seventh
session of the House, in which I probably would have been
elected Speaker--and he would have helped me effectively in
that respect--I ran for the state Senate, and moved into the
Senate, leaving that position vacant. So McCarty came along,
kind of with the same friends I had, and became Speaker. He
and I were close personal friends. He was in my home a great
deal. I knew his children intimately and well, and our lives
were rather closely brought together over a number of years.
I took an active part in his campaign for governor, and was
very proud of his election. He depended upon me a good deal
for shaping his first legislative program, and there were a
number of recommendations that he made to the legislature
that I helped him formulate. But just before the session of
the legislature, he had a severe heart attack, and he was not
able personally to attend to a lot of the work of being governor
for a while.
Of course, I was active in the legislature helping with
his program. I think that he regarded me as the sort of number
one man in the Senate. I had some part in the selection of
a number of people he appointed to important positions--
the little cabinet of important people who would help him.
They were his friends and most of them were my friends.
When he died, shortly following the session of the legisla-
ture, Charlie Johns, who was president of the Senate, succeeded
him by constitutional mandate. Under the constitution, he
was entitled to serve only until the next election, at which
time the people would have a chance to elect a governor for
the unexpired term. Johns took over the state government in
a rather ruthless way, and proceeded to suspend all the McCarty
leaders in the state government. A number of these very fine
people, who had never had any blemish whatever even suggested
on their integrity capacity, found themselves facing these
horrible charges of misfeasance and malfeasance and nonfeasance
and all this, and they were deeply hurt by it. It pretty soon
became necessary to develop a candidate for that election, be-
cause I didn't think...not many of the people with whom I had
been associated who had had ideals I felt that I embraced wanted
Johns to continue in office. He put his own people in, of
course, and they pulled together with him, so it wasn't an
easy job for somebody to do.
There were those who felt that John McCarty, Dan's brother,
would be a logical candidate. He was up here helping him during
the time he was in office. There was a very significant fac-
tor in particular with emotional involvement there, too, that
many people would have [been] favorable to the brother to suc-
ceed the man who really was thought extremely well of. I
felt, number one, that Johns should be defeated, and I felt
that based on my background and experience and knowledge and
all that, I was the man who should do it. So, I just then
started an active effort to get around over the state talking
to these people, and it developed that I ran. There were, for
the candidates, two in the race. Billy Odham had run, and he
had a very strong following in the state.
When the race started, Johns and Odham were regarded as
the two strongest candidates, and I was thought to be maybe in
third position or fourth position. I felt that I was known
pretty well throughout the state, but I quickly learned that
I was not. You know, a legislator...I'd been in the legisla-
ture some twenty years, and the legislator reads his clippings,
you know, and he just thinks that everybody everywhere knows,
at least, that he's in office, and what he's doing. I could
go down to Miami in those days, as a candidate for governor,
and introduce myself--"I'm LeRoy Collins," and nine out of
ten people would say, "So what?" or "Who's that?" So, it was
a big undertaking. We had a terrific campaign, and we kept
getting stronger. I made it clear that I was going to
reinstate the McCarty people who had been discharged ruthlessly.
I made that based upon my acceptance of the fact that they
were as close to me as they were to McCarty, for that matter.
I knew most of them real well, and also I wanted them and their
friends active in this campaign. I felt that they deserved
to have their records cleared--even one or two of them I
didn't expect to keep, but, at the same time, I felt that we
ought to clear that record.
Odham made a strong campaign. He and I kept a rather
friendly posture between us, and when I ran, Johns ran first,
I came in second, and Odham was third. He called me up that
night and told me that he wanted to be as active as I wanted
him to be in helping me with the runoff. He was very active,
so in the second primary we defeated Johns. It was that desire
to rid the state of something I thought was undesireable that
was a big motivated factor.
I: Did you have any notion of running for governor after McCarty's
term if he hadn't died?
S: Well, I'd hoped maybe some day. That meant yes. I'd always
felt that I could do a good job as governor, and I felt that
the state over all that period of time needed a good change
in it's moral tone. I felt that we had too much porkchoppism
in politics, and I felt the rural domination was not a whole-
some one--that the urban centers were not fairly represented
in the state government. It was some of these things that I
had identified myself with in the legislature that I knew
that I could be far more effective in accomplishing as governor.
So I was hoping kind of some day I'd be governor, but I had no
specific plans. I didn't carve my name on a tree saying, "Some
day I'm gonna be governor," but I sensed in my relationship
with those that held the office that it was an enormous oppor-
I: Do you think it was your emphasis on clearing the record of
the McCarty people that helped make your name better known?
I'm interested in how it is that you started out in this, and
you came in third position, and ultimately would up on top. How
do you think that you were able to do that?
S: Well, that was one of the factors. I really think I made a
good campaigner. I think I knew how to sell. I think I was
effective in selling, and I was able to utilize the new tech-
nique of television which was just then coming into rather
broad use. The highlight of the campaign, which most people
who were here in those days still remember, was a joint debate
that Johns and I had on a Miami television station. You may
have heard something about this. This had an enormous impact.
His people had done something stupid, and we had learned about
it. I think I made the best use of it--still not doing any-
thing below the belt, but his people had gone.... I had been
challenging him to debate, and he'd been declining. Usually
the underdog sort of does the challenging, and the top dog, you
know, does the declining. Finally, he sensed, I think, that
I was making some progress in the public mind, and his advisors
thought he should debate me, and so there was a great buildup
to this debate that occurred down in Miami.
Well, a strange thing happened. It was about supper; we
went to the debate about eight o'clock, and we were having an
early supper. I had a telephone call from a man from the
Miami Herald, a sharp man telling me to be sure to get a copy
of the early edition of that paper before going to the television
station--that there was an advertisement in there that I should
see. So we got one on the way to the station, and there it
was--a big half page that he [Johns] had put in the paper,
anticipating that it would not be out until the debate was
over. It was all cast in these terms: "Now Senator Collins,
you called for the debate, you wanted to debate so bad, and
now you've had it. You found that you'd have been much better
off not to have debated." It went on to tell about Collins
with his head between his legs had left town, you know, right
after this debate, and being a whipped man, and all this kind
I took this paper to the debate, now. I just had it in
my hands, and when they got us all lined up there ready to go,
and the moderator said, "We're on," and then, and not until then,
I said, "Mr. Chairman, before the debate starts, before one
word is said, I want to make an opening statement, and it won't
take but a couple of minutes."
That kind of startled him, and he said, "It's all right
So then I said, "I want you to bring this camera up here
and look at what I have in my hand." And I said, "Here is a
copy of the Miami Herald which was published." They brought
the camera up there and showed it, and then I read it all to
them. Then I said, "Now, I wouldn't pay much attention to this,
except that to me it indicates and shows and supports what
I've said about this candidate all these months, and that is
that he's not the real thing--that this is a fraud, and a lot
of these charges he's been making, they're just about as empty
as this is. Here he puts this in the paper before this debate
has ever been held, and yet he proceeds to tell how the debate
came out. This," I said, "is phony. It's just as phony as
This just stunned him, really. It was like two boxers
coming out into the ring, you know, and bang, somebody
gets hit on the chin before he gets out to the middle.
This was carried on the radio state-wide, and there was a
great tremendous audience. It was a time when if people had
a television set, the neighbors would come in and all sit
around and look at it. They didn't have much else to see and
do in those days. It wasn't like television now. So a lot
of people have assumed, have said, that the campaign was over
with that debate.
I've got the film of that debate. I think I still have
it; I don't know exactly where it is. Most all of my papers
are down at the University of South Florida, and they would
have it down there probably. It's not nearly as dramatic
as it sounded at the moment, or perhaps as I've made it here.
In fact, I was a rather kindly person. I wasn't as brutal
or as tough as I was sounding then.
I: Let me go back to that other question. The question I asked
you before was what were the strengths and weaknesses of
the office of governor that you found to be the case once you
had taken the office?
S: Well, I found it to be an office of enormous strength. I don't
think you can have a role to play in public affairs that a
person can feel as close to performance and accomplishment
as that of being governor. This to me as a legislator...
I would vote for things, and sponsor programs and all, but
then other people had to develop them. A governor has the
opportunity to formulate a program and see it done. He can
be in favor of developing an institution, and see that insti-
tution actually planned and put into operation, and the people
really reaping the benefits from it. In this direct sense,
it's a position of great strength.
I found that another great strength was that the people
liked to follow a governor. They like to believe in him, and
if they do believe in him, why he wields a public opinion
that can be very effective in making progress. Every now and
then you hear about a governor having a good press, or a bad
press. I never did think in terms of this being able to be
something that could be turned on or turned off, because I
think most governors that get good press deserve a good press,
and most governors or other public figures that don't get a
good press don't deserve a good press. I found press pretty
effective in assessing virtues and strengths of the leadership
in government. That's not to say that I think they are all
the time right. I see the great strength of the press, though,
is usually for progress and good, and I found as governor that
that can be enormously effective and helpful to me if I wanted
to accomplish something, as I did. I had a big program every
session of the legislature. I found that if I carefully
developed this program, and if it was bottomed on very
sound, basic values, that the press was rather quick to support
it and help me get it accomplished.
To be one man, you know--depending of course upon a lot
of other people helping you--but one man at the top with an
opportunity for that kind of leadership, to me was a great
responsibility and a great strength of that office. I had,
in my time, tremendous cooperation from the cabinet. The
cabinet then was quite a different thing than it is now, even
though just some fifteen years have past. In those days,
cabinet members were interested in their jobs and doing their
jobs, and they were not ambitious to go to higher jobs or
different jobs. They were not ambitious for power, in other
words, except in their area. The agricultural man, he was
concerned with agriculture, and the education man with educa-
tion, and they were, in those days, very cooperative with me.
There were just very few times that the cabinet wouldn't
support me in whatever I wanted a board to accomplish, and
positions that I wanted the board to take.
I: Why is that, sir? Why were they helpful to you where the other
governors had so much trouble with them?
S: Well, the role of the cabinet officer has changed drastically,
and it changed with Tom Adams. He came in as Secretary of
State, and he visualized that office as one of broad political
power. He wanted to utilize it for that. The budget of it
was expanded a great deal. They started opening offices around
all over the state, and he became, in a sense--or was seeking
to be--a little governor, in a sense. The various things, the
cabinet boards that he served on, he accepted as part of his
prerogative or responsibility to become deeply involved as
an individual. Now, since that time other cabinet officers
have thought of themselves in the same way, but in those days,
in my day, the cabinet didn't have any speech writers, and
they didn't have public relations agents, and they didn't
have all these offices around over the state where they could
put powerful local political friends in. This was just foreign
to the concept of how the state government was run in those
days. It was a much more simple government, and the governor
himself could exercise a great deal more strength in respect
to the job he had to do in those days than I think subsequent
governors have been able to.
I: This really interests me, because I think what generally we
have been told--at least by now we should have a sense of--
is that the cabinet members had greater tenure in office than
any governor, because the governor was only there four years
and had to be reelected. So, I think we both had a sense
that cabinet members, even in your time and before, played a
rival role in cabinet meetings with the governors. I know
you had a secretary of agriculture who had been in office for
quite a while, didn't you?
S: Yes, but they didn't regard me as a rival, and I didn't regard
them as rivals.
I: You're the only one I've heard say that.
S: Now, we've had governors before me, before my time, that the
cabinet system had been thought to be a check on and this
sort of thing. But that didn't happen in my time, in my
experience. Tom Bailey, who was the education man, Mayo [Nathan
Mayo], who was agriculture (when he died, I appointed another
man there), Ray Green I appointed comptroller--these were all
men who were satisfied in doing their job here, and doing
it well, and they were not interested in what they might do
in some other area of political activity. I think all of
them now are far more political in their outlook and their
ambitions. They've all got budgets far, far beyond what they
had in those days, and far beyond even what would have been
a fair relationship to the growth since that time in state.
Taking into account inflation and everything else, the budgets
are far different. They've got all kinds of assistants that
go with centers of political power that is far broader than
the immediate department they are given the responsibility
Even unpopular decisions that I made, the cabinet would
usually support me. I remember for example when we had a very
bad rape case down in Lake County. Do you remember that?
I: Yes sir, I remember that.
S: There were four black boys, black men, involved in...one or
two of them were boys, really...there were four black men
involved in this alleged rape of this white woman, and two
of them were shot by posses. One of them was just fifteen
years old, and I think the judge just sent him to life imprison-
ment. The third one, Walter Irving (?), we had a trial of.
There were suspicions that the sheriff tried to kill him,
and it was really a terrible thing. He was convicted. The
court upheld his conviction, and it came to the pardon board,
which was the government cabinet on application for commuta-
tion of sentence. It was right during my campaign for a full
term, and it was a very difficult political situation, because
there was a great strong feeling of antagonism about this thing
in their community. But I had a feeling that there was some
doubt as to this man's guilt, even though the court had up-
held the decision and all that, and I got a lawyer to carefully
analyze the record. I was frankly looking for justification
for commuting the sentence. He and I found a reason in an
aspect of it that's technical, and I don't know that this is
the appropriate time to go into it. I had to get the pardon
board's support. I asked for the commutation of sentence of
life imprisonment, and the pardon board supported me in that,
although I think a number of them, perhaps in their own minds,
would have normally done differently. But I felt it was a
manifestation of the kind of cooperation I was receiving from
I: In view of the changes that have occurred in the cabinet system,
do you think that it maybe needs to be restructured?
S: Yes. I favored the cabinet system as it was, but frankly, if
it's just going to be a group offices that the archaic cabinet
members try to make little governorships out of, I think it
is a bad system used that way. I think the way it was done
before made a pretty good system of government.
I: Did you feel that you were handicapped not having an executive
budget--that you had to work through the legislature to get
the funds you felt you needed?
S: I didn't have an executive budget in the way it's developed
now, but I did have a budget. The governor prepared a budget,
and one of the reforms that I advocated when I was governor
was a movement towards a more formalized executive budget.
But I had a budget that I submitted to the legislature, and
we had hearings for developing it. It didn't have the formality,
it didn't involve nearly the number of people to prepare it
as is the case now, and it was just about probably a fifth as
large as it is now, but we had our budget.
I: You talked somewhat about how you saw the strengths of the
office, but what do you feel were any of it's weaknesses?
Where did you feel frustrated--or did you ever feel frustrated
in the office?
S: I felt frustrated mostly with the legislature. We got a great
deal of help from the legislature, but at the same time I wanted
to be out front developing what...at least progress towards
what I knew were needed reforms in the state. I wanted to
be truly an effective reform governor. The legislature
would just go along so far, and it wouldn't go further, and
particularly in the area of reapportionment. Now, this was
something that I realized was a great need, and I was deter-
mined to accomplish this. The representation in those years,
which I am sure you are familiar with, was just abominable.
It was just an example of an enormous disparity from a truly
representative plan. I took the position that it was the man-
datory duty of the legislature to reapportion, and reapportion
on the basis of population. That's what the constitution
says. This was long before we had any Supreme Court decision
requiring it. I had session after session after session,
several special sessions, in which I insisted that we do a
fair job, and I told the legislature that it was just going
to be a question of time, in my judgement, before the United
States Supreme Court would mandate it. We all talked about
the states' rights, and that this was a state responsibility
that we ought to go ahead and meet and no wait until we were
forced to do it by the Supreme Court of the United States;
that there was an obvious constitutional wrong here that we
should right ourselves. But they were so grudging in what
they would give, and they would give a little bit. They
were sitting there, you know, having to give up their own
seats, because there was no other way if they reapportioned
but for them to loose and give up a great deal of power. They
felt that the people back home would judge their quality of
representation on the basis of what they held on to.
I: This particular porkchop gang is who you're talking about now?
S: Right. The press of the state supported me very strongly in that
effort. One of the most frustrating experiences I had was that at
one point we got a bill passed in the legislature that amounted
to rather substantial progress. It didn't go all the way where I
wanted to go, and it didn't go where the people wanted to go or
or where the newspapers wanted to go, but at least it was a
start, and a good start. I felt that if we had accomplished
that, then that would put us in a stronger position, see, to
do more, but the newspapers took the position that if we
accepted a half loaf, as they said, then we should be saddled
with that for many, many years before we ever got the whole
thing, and it was better strategy just to stay in the bad
shape we were in, because, as they argued, there would be
such a revulsion toward it then that maybe the right thing
would happen. So, this was a proposed constitutional amend-
ment that was submitted to the people, and I found myself
without all my supporters in the press, you know, that had
been helping me in the fight. It was rejected, and I lost.
That was a frustrating experience that I was very unhappy
about. In retrospect now, I can understand that. I really
think it would have been better to have taken that, because
the Supreme Court came along some time later and mandated it,
and it would just have been...the movement would just have
been considered less than would have had to have been taken
to meet the Supreme Court guidelines of that mandate. I
think it would have been better to have done it my way, but
at the same time I could see the argument on the other side.
There were other things. I was anxious to establish a
state bureau I wanted to get to convert the highway patrol,
or establish a state law enforcement agency that would be more
effective. I thought we would do it with the highway patrol,
but the sheriffs of the state resisted this very strongly.
We wound up with a sheriff's bureau, and still have it--
it's called something else now, which was some progress. It
was a step, but it didn't go as far as I wanted it to go, and
it didn't because the sheriffs of the state resisted, and
because the legislators were quite responsive to the sheriffs'
feelings. So, in a number of things like that, a number of
areas there where we did not succeed, I felt that the legislature
was more responsible for my failures than anything else I could
Now, I hate to pass this, though, without mentioning the
fact that we got a tremendous amount of cooperation from the
legislature. We had a board that was kept in the governor's
office, and put our whole program down there, and then had
columns where we would check off progress made every session
of the legislature, and we came out with an enormous amount
of constructive work done. I feel too that every political
leader's job is to build staff assent. There's great satisfac-
tion if you make some progress, because you know that whatever
progress you make, somebody else is going to stand on that
progress and can reach further, you know, and so it's not
like a total failure if you make some progress in a direction.
I: Did you pick legislative leaders, or did you work with the
leadership in the house and the senate?
W: We didn't have leadership. We didn't have any Republicans
in those days.
I: Right, I know that, but I'm talking about selecting.
S: Yes. Of course, that worked both ways. I've said many times
that it I called on the legislators, the Democrats in the
legislature, to support a program of mine because they were
Democrats and I was a Democrat, well, they would have thought
I was crazy. So I didn't have the value of a sort of a
solidified party group there, because these people were
elected as Democrats, technically, and because I was elected
as a Democrat, technically, but not as a result of any thorough
or competent campaign of party effort. We didn't have any.
The general election was just a nominal thing you went through.
We didn't have any strong Republican opposition in those days.
Nomination was paramount to election.
I: Governor Askew told us that he didn't choose particular Democrats
in the House or the Senate to lead his program. He worked
with the Speaker of the House and president of the Senate, and
on occasion would shift. Did you pick specific Democrats you
wanted to direct your program?
S: Yes. I picked specific members of the Senate and specific
members of the House. I never did designate this one as the
leader for the administration, because there were different
areas, you know, of usefulness and competence, and I would
usually ask various ones of them that had some proven record
or some demonstrated record of competence to take the lead.
Then, in all of my major measures that I recommended, I sought
to get legislators to be co-introducers. We had many that were
supported by a great many legislators that were not just down-
the-line supporters of mine, but they were supporters of
progress in that specific area. I had leaders and I did a
lot of work with them, but I don't suppose it was as formalized
as it is now, and as it had been before at some times. I
remember governors that were here, and one man would get up,
and you knew that that was the governor talking. We didn't
I: It's often said that the governor's executive capabilities--
and, I suppose, legislative capabilities--are very fragmented
in this state. Would you say a few words about the use of
things like appointments and patronage, and so on, as a
means of potentially coalescing some of this fragmentation?
Did you use them that way?
S: Well, I certainly didn't use all patronage that way. For example,
I appointed a great number of judges, and I would never have
thought of expecting this quid pro quo for any of those appoint-
ments and any kind of help on anything other than making good
judgements. I was determined to try to elevate the level of
judges in the state and it happened to all my lot. At one
point I had appointed 70 percent of all the judges in the
state above the county judge level. That happened because we
created our new district courts of appeal while I was there,
and I appointed all nine of those original members. Then
we used...our circuit judges were based on population growth,
and then we had a law that for every fifty thousand there
could be another circuit judge. We had an enormous increase
in population about that time, and so I appointed a lot of
circuit judges. I never dreamed, though, of expecting anything
more from them than making good judges, and I put a lot of
time and a lot of thought into getting good judges.
I felt kind of sorry for Governor Askew. He's got this
system that they've developed since then that most people
in the state think is a good system, and it may be. It may
be the best system, but he's deprived of the thrills and the
joy of going and getting a real good man to come serve in this
judicial position where so much is dependent upon it. His
power now is limited. Somebody hands him three people, and
he takes one of the three, and that's it. Maybe that's the
best system. In this day, that may be the best system, but
every day almost that goes by, I have an opportunity to rejoice,
really, in the fact that some judge I've appointed has done
some really extraordinarily fine job. I appointed two to the
Supreme Court, and we've lost both of them--Campbell Thornal,
who died, and he was a very superior judge; Steve O'Connell,
who went down to the university, you know, as president--he
made a fine judge, a strong judge. If we'd had people of
that character on this court, we wouldn't be having some of
these problems that we read about in the newspapers these days.
Now, I grant you, that if I needed a road program, and a man
to be a leader of a road program, I wanted a man that, if pos-
sible, had some good, solid background and experience in manage-
ment and in highway improvement, and this sort of thing, that
would be related to that job. I didn't think in terms of
people I appointed as being any machine that I could just
pull a string, you know, and have all these people jumping
up trying to get me to pass something, you know, and changing
George Washington's birthday or something like that, or
I: Is it helpful, though? I mean, is the governor's patronage
S: Yes, I think it is. In the situation, for example, in the
citrus industry, the governor appoints the members of the
citrus commission. I think he relies, usually on the advice
and counsel of leaders in that industry, and people who know
something of the needs of that. A man that hadn't been involved
in the citrus industry.... I had not, but I still felt like
that those fine....
I: One of the issues that seems to emerge consistently is concerned
with race in this state, and I wonder...I'm curious as to the
role it played in the campaign. I notice in '54 when you ran
against Johns, it really played very little role.
S: No, no.
I: But in '56 it was publicly debated. It was a crucial issue.
In '60 it was again. And I wondered if we could first talk
about race in the campaigns, and then how you saw...
S: '68, too.
I: Right...how you saw race as an issue developing in the state.
But let's start with the campaigns, if you don't mind.
S: Well, as you say, the Brown [Brown v. Board of Education (1954)]
decision came out, I think, about two weeks before our election.
Everybody was stunned by it, so to speak, and felt that it
would probably be changed on a petition for rehearing or some-
thing--that this was something that nobody really took it too
seriously as any political issue at that time. I was raised
in the mold of one who accepted the two-class society, black
and white. I've always felt a kindness, a charitable feeling
toward black people. I certainly would never have tolerated
or been any part of any harm of a man because he was black, but,
still, I came up expecting them to go to different bathrooms,
sit at different lunch counters, and this sort of thing, and
I felt that the people of Florida largely, felt the same way,
and felt that they desired this kind of a social thing to
continue. I felt there was popular sentiment for that.
A change occurred in my own feeling, though, as this issue
got sharpened, and it did get sharpened tremendously as we
went along. First, I was firmly committed to the concept
of lawful society, where people obeyed the law, and where
people were peaceful in the process of it. I abhorred violence
or anything where people took the law into their own hands.
I've always had that feeling very strongly. So, in my early
days I said many times that we expected to have a segregated
society, but at the same time we were going to have peace
and good order in the state, and that we were going to live
under the law.
Now, that law changed a great deal as we went along.
The Brown decision...we got over the period when a lot of
people thought that this could just be swept under the rug,
as many people did, and then there was that great massive
movement out of the Julien affair--that people who felt that
it was unconstitutional were hoping that the Supreme Court
would review it and reconsider it. During all that time, I
was just there thinking, and staying with my conviction about
law, and reviewing my thoughts in some of the deeper aspects
of the social significance of this thing. I came to realize
that as these decisions went along, we were going to change
drastically in the country. We were not going to have a two
class society, and we were not going to have segregation as
we had known it. I also came to the viewpoint in my own
thinking that it was right that we make these changes; I came
to see, as I never had seen before, that the black man was
penalized, and that he could not have a fair deal in a segre-
gated society, and that he deserved a fair change with every-
body else. I felt this pretty deeply, now. It was about...
after that first two years I had that the campaign came on--
Sumter Lowry's campaign. He was an all out segregationalist.
I: Fuller Warren was not far behind.
S: Yeah, that's right, and so they did their best to make segre-
gation an issue in the campaign. I did my best to keep away
from it. I didn't campaign in the sense that Askew [Reubin
O'D. Askew] campaigned, for example, this last time when he
was running for a full term. My campaign was very low-keyed.
I was doing my job in Tallahassee, and I was tremendously
interested in a lot of things with people besides race--I
was trying to keep that issue out of the campaign as much as
I could, and I succeeded to a large degree in it. At the
same time, it did become pretty hot, but I managed to win,
and win by a very complimentary vote. I had five opponents,
and we got over half the votes won in the first primary,
which has never been done in the state before.
Now, when these other decisions kept coming along, you
know, then we started feeling the brunt of this pressure...
when the sit-in demonstrations came along. I was really
disturbed, as the leader of the people of Florida, about
what would happen, and I really wanted them to measure up to
a great need as I saw it with the leadership.
I went down to Jacksonville one Sunday afternoon...I
guess this was about in the third year--I know the new civil
rights act hadn't been passed, of course, and a lot of the
other legislation was yet to come. We had an enormous sit-in
demonstration started up in North Carolina, and then they
started happening right in Tallahassee, and they were getting
really very bad. There was a lot of tension. There were a
lot of people taking guns and ammunition home, and talking
about shooting, and it was a very tense thing. They were
right up here on Monroe Street, you know, trying to sit in
there at the lunch counter of McCrory's store. There were
about three or four other places in the state where it was
happening at the same time.
I went down to Jacksonville on a Sunday afternoon, and
made a talk to the people without any prepared text, and just
talked to them, you know, as I felt. I'd been to church that
day. I kind of actually believed something from the church
service, and I told them that there was a lot of difference
of opinion about this matter, right and wrong, but we were
developing a position of justice in this state that we simply
could not tolerate, or we were going to have an awful lot
of unhappiness and bad consequences from it. I wanted the
people to help me, and I told them that I knew that a lot of
us had different viewpoints. I told them that I had different
viewpoints from people in my own family; my own friends many
differences of opinion about it. I thought the time had come
for us to recognize that there were differences of opinion,
and to set up some kind of means for seeking to adjust these,
you know, without violence and disorder, and without conditions
that would destroy so much of the progress that we'd been making
in this state--industrial developments and this kind of thing
that a lot of people were interested in, and that I was a big
part of. And I said, "I don't know how you may feel about
this, but as far as I'm concerned, I think if a man's got a
department store down in Tallahassee or Jacksonville or anywhere
in the state, and if he invites everybody, including black
people, to come in and trade in his department store, if
he singles out just one department within the store, one
counter, and says, "While we want black people to trade every-
where else, we don't want them to trade here and we're not
going to let them trade here, I think that's morally wrong."
I said, "You can probably do that under the law, and if he
insists on doing it, and...why, if it's lawful for him to
do it, he's got to be supported. But I think he's wrong,
just basically wrong. I hope that our merchants see that the
same way, and I hope you see it the same way."
This is kind of the way I talked to them about it, but
this "morally wrong"--that was something that really hit the
fan. I started getting a scream in anguish, and it was as
if I had just burned the Bible or something. There was just
a great amount.... Of course, the other people felt strongly,
too. I got a great many letters. I've had more reactions,
perhaps, to that than any public thing I've ever made--public
speech--and they were about, I guess, evenly divided. There
were harsh and cruel letters. We started getting eggs thrown
at our doors, crosses burned up in the mansion yard. We had
a pretty rough time of it along in those days, but most
people have felt since that time that I was right in that.
I think that we really got along with more peace and progress
in Florida than any other southern state by far. I list
one of the things that I don't pin down and brag about it, but
it's one I feel in my own heart was one of the greatest and
most important and most effective things that I was able to
do as governor of this state: to try to keep a tone of reason
and conditions of reason and avoidance of violence, and the
gradual acceptance of the basic responsibility of citizenship
which was made so clear that we all have.
I: It's interesting to note here the way you approached it in con-
trast to Farris Bryant approaching the same problems in St.
Augustine in 1964. You know, he took a very critical view
of it, in contrast to yours, which I think only encouraged
more problems in St. Augustine.
S: But he was a great champion in the legislature, and he had a
I: I wanted to ask you on that. Did he break with you on the
race issue? I think he was probably looking for an issue to
run for governor.
S: Right, that's exactly right. He wanted to run for governor,
and he thought when I got elected that the Court wouldn't
let me run for a full term. I didn't think so either, be-
cause the constitution says that a man would not be allowed
to succeed himself, and I regarded that as sort of succeeding
himself. But just before time for qualifying, this litigation
developed over at.... The Supreme Court held that since I
had not served a full term, I was entitled to run for a full
term. When he realized I was going to run for a full term,
then he was hoping that he could discredit me. While he had
been a supporter in the legislature before that time, his
natural instinct started leading him another way--or his
deliberate design, whichever way you want to make it. Of
course, he wound up...he did run.
I think that [was] one of the most dramatic things that
ever happened in this state. We've changed the constitution
since, but they were down there in one of those special
sessions, I think. I don't think it was a regular session,
but there was a little provision in the constitution at
that time that if the two houses were ever in disagreement
about the time of adjournment, the governor by proclamation
could adjourn the session of the legislature. It had never
been used. Nobody had ever seen it. I knew it was there, but
I had never even thought in terms of it. But we were right
at the end of this session of the legislature, and they had
that interposition thing they were trying to pass, and we
were just going wild over this thing, you know. I had granted
it [the interposition] was a hoax, and all this sort of thing,
and disgraceful, but on and on they went. Well, it's a
routine thing that when two houses get close to adjournment,
Each one of them fixes a time, and then the normal thing to
do is when they get ready to adjourn, then they have a conference
committee from both sides and they agree upon the date. But
they pass a resolution of adjournment. They had, a couple of
days before that--which is routine--passed resolutions of
adjournment, but each one of them picked a different date.
I thought of this little thing in that constitution, and I
said, "You know, I'm just going to put an end to this thing."
I went down there with_
So I called the President of the Senate, who was still
Senator Shands [William A. Shands] from Gainesville, and I
called the Speaker of the House, and I got the Attorney
General over there, and I showed them what the constitution
said. I pledged them to secrecy, though, and I said, "Now,
I think that I'm just going to prepare a proclamation and send
it up there, and I didn't want to surprise you. I wanted you
to know what is coming. I wanted you to know the legal basis
for it." I explained it carefully to them, and I said to
the Attorney General, "Isn't this a lawful thing for me to
do?" He said that it was, and so then they went on back
to their houses.
Farris Bryant was arguing that interposition thing in
the House, you know, and right while he was just carrying on
his argument, why the messenger came, and the speaker said,
"Hold up there a minute, Mr. Bryant. We've got a message
from the governor."
Bryant just waited until they could get it filed, and
said that the clerk will read the message. They read the
message; David [Thomas E. David] hit the gavel and said,
"This house stands adjourned." And he was still standing
there. So, he was rather furious about that.
I: I would think so.
S: They did the same thing in the Senate, and that was the end
of that session. Of course, it wasn't long before we had
I: But the next session they then actually did pass the inter-
position resolution bill. How did you feel about that?
Was that a personal defeat for you or, an administrative
defeat? How did you see that?
S: Well, I didn't feel too much about it. They passed it with-
out a great amount of debate at that point, as I recall, and
they all wanted to do it for their political purposes back
home. I didn't like it. It goes as a concurrent resolution,
and the governor can't veto it. It comes to his desk for
him to see, and then goes to the Secretary of State for filing.
I took the original of that, and wrote my little message as
to how I felt on the fact of it. It's been quoted somewhere--
I don't know whether you've seen it or not, but it's a pretty
strong statement. I mean, I said that this comes to my desk
in a routine way. I haven't had any chance to veto it, but
I just don't want any student of Florida history to ever think
that I condoned such a futile, empty kind of gesture as this,
and that I regard this as having no legal effect at all. We
are a state of the Union, and we will abide by its constitution
and its laws as interpreted by the Supreme Court, and so forth.
I: Not only on terms of this interposition resolution, but other
bills that were introduced--I know there were a number of
segregation bills--did you ever feel that really your responsi-
bility was not just to try to lead the state to do the right
thing, but to prevent bad things from happening...bad bills,
and this sort of thing?
S: Oh, yes.
I: How did you?
S: I didn't hesitate to veto bills that I thought were bad,
and I think practically all of my vetoes were sustained.
Usually, they would pass those kind of bills right at the
end of the session--I mean things like that interposition
thing, or things that they were just passing. They passed
a lot of bad laws. They passed a bill for closing schools,
and I vetoed that. Then they passed a bill providing that
the state of Florida would contribute to a pool of money to
finance advertisements in northern magazines and newspapers
about the virtues of segregation, and appropriated, I think,
$175,000 in state funds for it. I vetoed that. I vetoed
all those bills. There were seven or eight of them--punitive
bills, you know, that were designed to court somebody--and
I vetoed a great many of those. They usually passed them,
though, at the end of the session, and then when they came
back at the next session, when they considered the vetoes,
why, they usually sustained them. I don't know any one that
I: I can't think of any. I have really just one more question
that I'd like to ask you. It's getting late, and you're
S: It's all right. I expected to be here until five o'clock, if
you want to.
I: Let me ask you this one. I suspect I know the answer, but I
want to hear it from you. You pointed out already that Florida
has dealt much with the race issue and the matter of segrega-
tion than most other southern states. What, other than your
own personal leadership during this very critical period, has
accounted for this?
S: Well, I think the good sense of the people, and the feeling
on the part of the business community that to carry on violent
disruption and this kind of thing could be very destructive
to business progress in this state has had a great deal to do
with it. Also, I think the business community came to see as
time went on that they had a lot to gain by the improvement
of the economic condition and other characteristics of the
black people. Of course, I really got my understanding and
my feelings...my attitude about black people has continued
to grow over the years, even since the governorship. In
fact, when I was in Washington and was with the Department
of Commerce there...when I headed the Community Relations
Service, I had about half black and half white people working
for me, and I got so I was very comfortable with black
people. I mean, they were just people. If they knew their
business, and they were competent enough to get a job done,
it didn't take me long to get over any feeling of discomfort
as most of us in the south had for a long time, you know, with
a close association. I had some lawyers that were working
with me there--black, well-trained...one Michigan graduate
that was one of the finest lawyers, finest men, I ever knew.
So it didn't take me long. Whether they were white, half
white or half black, when you get into a working relationship
with them, with black people, and when they're really fine
people, why you quickly get over that feeling of reserve
about being associated with black people. I did, and I don't
have any of that feeling now.
I: How about the rural/urban split of the state? Was there a much
milder feeling towards the race issue from the urban sector
than the rural sector, or could you tell?
S: Well, I don't think....
I: You know, the rest of the southern states, most of them don't
have that sectionalism. Most of the southern states don't
have a strong urban constituency like Florida had in the
1950s. Did you see that as playing a factor here in the mild
response taken by Florida?
S: I suppose it was. We had people with racist motivations. There
were probably a higher percentage of them in the rural areas, but
still, there were people exactly like them who felt exactly
like them in the urban areas, too. There was just a higher
percentage of people who didn't feel that way. That was largely
contributed to by the fact that our population grew from people
who moved here from other areas, probably, and more of them
concentrated in the urban centers. I know right there in Dade
County--while Dade County's overall total population would have
a high degree of liberal views and feelings on this subject, still
there would be some just as harsh and just as sensitive to any
progress in this area as there would be down at Yeehaw Junction.
I: I guess Boston's a good example of that today.
S: I guess so.
I: Did you ever feel sometimes, especially after the 1956 election,
that the racial problems were taking up more time than you
thought was important, and that you wanted to do other things
than concentrate on racial issues; or did you, in fact, think
that this was something that was worth every bit of the time
and energy that you had to spend on it?
S: Oh yes. I probably should have spent more time on it. It was
terribly important. I could have spent more time on it. I
probably should have, but I was.... Well, see, one reason
that I perhaps didn't spend more time on it was that I did
not want to jeopardize my program. I didn't want people to
think in terms of me being an extremist, because then I felt
like I was destroying my leadership strength and capabilities.
You know, a leader ought to be out in front of the people, but
if he goes out so far in front that he's over the horizon and
they can't see him, well, they don't know where he is, and
they may think he's in Moscow or most anywhere. He's got
to be close enough to them for them to see him and be able
to understand how he's rationalizing, what he's trying to
I was aware all the time that if I became, in the public
mind, an extremist in this area, down the drain would go all
these other things I was working so hard in trying to accomplish...
and we did accomplish so much. For instance, that community
college program is one of the things I'm proudest of anything
that I touched. We took a little from a very meager beginning.
We actually got started in the McCarty administration, but
we developed a program of community colleges that was maybe
second only to California. We were way ahead of the rest of
the country,,and goodness knows what we would have done had
we not taken the move at that time. We had twenty-six of those
colleges even while I was still the governor. If I had just
let this be the passion of my life at that time, why, I doubt
that we could have gotten a lot of other things done that we
did get done. So, I guess on balance, it worked out about
I: Did you ever feel that there was a tension between the national
attention you gave to yourself, particularly on the racial
issue, and the seeming reticence of some members of the
Florida community to follow you on the racial issue? Did
this present any psychological or political problems?
S: Well, there was, perhaps, a little-understood part of my
ambitions at that time, and they have been misinterpreted
in some quarters. I wasn't really ambitious to achieve any
position in national politics as some people thought I was
--angling to get to be vice-president. There was a lot of
talk at that time that wasn't true. But it was true that
I was very anxious to get Florida recognized in the national
picture as being an important part of the United States. I
had felt that down here in the southeast, surrounded by a
highly regionalized group of neighbors, that Florida was
not give credit in the national councils for the strength
that we really had. I wanted to see more Florida people
taking part in national councils, and I wanted to see the
voice of Florida a strong, powerful voice of the nation in
congress and everywhere. This is what I hoped for, I think,
so far as my personal involvement is concerned.
I did make some speeches around over the country, and
there were large magazine articles and interest in me as
governor, and I was real proud of this. Not, I don't think,
because of any vanity on my part personally, but just because
I felt our state was getting recognition that it had long
deserved, and had been just as long denied. There was a
cover story of me in Time magazine. This I just felt was
just a great thing, and it really wasn't the satisfaction of
vanity, I don't think, much of it. There may have been a
little of that. I also got interested in the National
Governor's Conference, and took an active part in its programs,
and was elected chairman of that conference as well as the
Southern Governor's Conference. I think the two being at
the same time was a rather unique....
I: It was a first. That was the first time ever.
S: Yes. I don't think it's ever happened. It's good that situation
has developed like that.
And then when I was in the National Governors Conference I
tried to make that role a more dramatic one than a lot of people
had made it in the past. We held our convention in Puerto Rico,
first time for National Governors, and I was interested in
getting them to have some kind of insight into Latin America.
We got some Latin American people there for that convention,
and we had a nice Latin American trailer. Then we had the
National Governors Conference executive committee, and I
was among them. There were nine of us. While I was chair-
man we went to the Soviet Union on that trip. You've probably
read something about it. That was an interesting thing.
I just felt like these kinds of things gave the nation a
feeling that this state had the importance that I really felt
that it did have.
I: This thing was a real problem, wasn't it?
S: I've talked with the people of Florida, and it make them feel
good, too. I think it would be a good reason.
I: I guess that was a real problem, being identified as one of
the southern states--and as George Wallace went, so went the
rest of the south.
S: We didn't have George Wallace then in office, did we?
I: No, he wasn't in office then, but I'm sure...Orval Faubus.
S: Orval Faubus, yes.
I: And when you didn't go to the fish fry....
S: Well I went to...we had a meeting of the Southern Governors
Conference in Sea Island, Georgia right at the heighth of all
that ruckus out at Little Rock. Faubus was there, and the
whole area, the newsmen and all were swarming all over him.
And I was scheduled to make a speech there--"Can the Southerner
be Elected President?" That was a pretty good speech, and
it turned out to be very prophetic in a way, too. I argued
that he could be, but that he had to have national credentials,
you know. He couldn't, as a regional candidate, be elected,
you know. Out of that we had the committee that I served on
to go to Washington to talk to Eisenhower about getting the
troops out of Little Rock. We worked out an agreement up
there on that, and then Faubus reneged on it.
I: He did? That wasn't clear from the papers.
S: It wasn't?
S: Well, that's what.... He said he didn't understand, but we felt
that he understood it. We had talked to him on the tele-
phone. We had gotten Eisenhower's agreement--conditions under
which he'd take the troops out if Faubus would do these things.
The truth was Faubus agreed to it, and then he got to talking
to somebody around and changed his mind.
I talked to Eisenhower. Eisenhower disappointed me a
great deal there. He even called me off to the side at the
White House, and he said, "You know, I want to tell you some-
thing. I hope that the people down in Florida and down in the
south don't feel like I'm fostering all this trouble on them."
And then he said, "As I see it. I've just got a responsibility
to see that the Supreme Court decision is supported. As presi-
dent, I don't see how I could do anything else."
But here is a man who is president, and he should have
been a strong moral force in that thing, and he was apologizing,
you know. He thought he was apologizing, I guess, to a kind
of racist governor.
I: He had the wrong man.
S: It struck me as being a great irony.
I: I was just looking over my notes, and you said that Florida
and the Floridians were shocked by the Brown decision. In
other words, Floridians didn't have a sense that the court
was going in this direction, and that the Brown decision was
coming fairly soon? Wasn't that...?
S: I don't think the people did. I don't think the people that....
There were those college decisions, and they were pointed in
that direction, but just a kind of esoteric group would have
been aware of that, I think. I don't think the rank and file
of people would have.
I remember one thing about it that surprised me: Senator
Holland [Spessard Lindsey Holland] immediately in the aftermath
of that decision, when they called on him to react to it,
his statement was a very statesmanlike statement. He said
this was a decision that he felt would create a good deal of
problems for us, but at the same time, he thought everybody
had a responsibility to support the law. And if this was the
law, the main lead would be for us to find ways in which we
could make the adjustments required to give it full support.
Now, he didn't stay with that statement like that, but he
signed that manifesto, I think, like all the other southerners
did. [In March, 1956, a group of nineteen United States senators
and eighty-one United States representatives from the eleven
former confederate states issued a manifesto against the Brown
decision.] And it got to be a real hot potato.
I: Once the Brown decision went into effect, a lot of people said,
"Well it took ten years before anything happened." In your
position as governor, was there federal government pressure
on you and the state to begin integrating the schools?
S: No, no.
I: There was not?
S: No, there was not.
I: Until you left the office, you never felt any real pressure in
the school system?
S: As long as I was in office we didn't have any federal agencies
talking about preparing plans and things of this sort. None of
that. This all came along much later. You see, the Civil Rights
Act hadn't been passed when I got out of office.
I: That was 1964.
S: We did a few things, now, and they seem awfully meager at the
present time. But we did some things that must have indicated
some willingness that we would do something in the way of complying.
In the first place, we did not pass a lot of those punitive
laws that all the other southern states passed. We passed the
student assignment act, which gave us a vehicle for resisting
forced desegregation, but it gave us, at the same time, also
a means for accomplishing a gradual program of desegregation.
I think that in those times, with the people feeling as harshly
as they did, this was a good thing for the state to have done.
I recommended they do it.
I: Sir, did you recommend to the Fabisinski Committee representative...
did you suggest that as an alternative--that you wanted this
kind of a recommendation from his group--or did you give them
a free hand?
S: No, I gave them a very free hand. I talked to some of them,
but they had a pretty free hand. They recommended this.
I: But you were pretty happy with what came out?
S: Yes, I was, I thought it was a very moderate, very sensible
thing to do in those days,
I: In terms of assessing a governor's career in office, do you
think that it's as important--what he did as a moral leader,
as well as what he did in substance of what he has done?
Do you think that's crucial?
S: That is a very important aspect of his leadership. Very
I: What distinguishes the moral leader as..,?
S: The reason why it's most important is that he holds up a
standard. He holds up a standard, and the rest of the state
down through the levels of government are inclined to comply
with that standard and conform with it. We've had governors
that I've known that held up other kinds of standards, and
you find people down in the county governments, the city govern-
ments, and everybody else feeling like that was a good thing,
and it was a wild and ridiculous thing to do. A bad thing
to do. I think a governor who has a strong stature of integrity
and moral strength exerts an enormous influence that he may
not trace back to a specific individual, but it's there.
I: Just one other point, and that is: What does an ex-governor of
Florida do? What kind of role does he play in politics in the
state? There are a number of you around.
S: He doesn't play much of a role in the politics of the state.
I: Is he looked to for advice?
S: No. I think that's a mistaken impression that a lot of people
have. When I was governor we had some fine former governors
that I liked very much, and I respected highly, but still I
didn't think in terms of looking to them for leadership and
direction as to how our administration would go. I looked
more to the people that were around me, and that I brought
around me, that knew my ideals--knew what I was interested in
doing and who would just really work for me to accomplish thaf.
I don't think that the role of the statesman is a very strong
one. Now Reubin Askew and I are friends. I've been very proud
of...his overall performance and his fine integrity were
fine factors. I live just across the street from him. We
run into each other here and there, and a lot of people assume,
maybe, that we get together some nights every few days, and
he shares his burdens with me, and I help him solve them;
but that's not true. I don't expect it. I don't expect it.
I: You wouldn't change the situation, then?
S: I think any governor continues to be interested in government,
and interested in politics. I have become pretty oriented,
though, to a private kind of life. There's something it
does to you that you nver really overcome, and of course
different people are affected by it in different ways.
I don't feel any sense of bitterness or any sense of lon-
liness or being left out of active politics. I've been
rather enjoying that, really, because you get into the
government, and there's so many things that you're called
upon to do, and it takes you time, and it absorbs you in it
--it absorbs your time--that you really prefer not to become
involved with it. There are places to go that your friends
want you to go; things that your friends feel that you should
do; speeches your friends feel that you should make, and that
you feel that you should make. You have a continuing mass
of feelings of responsibilities, you know, to do what the
governor should do, and this means a great deal of things,
you know, to a lot of people. It really is quite a relief
to be able to make your own decisions. If I'm going to make
a talk, I really feel kind of responsible to try to say some-
thing that would be worthwhile, and this involves work, and
I'm glad to be relieved of a lot of that. I still feel good,
and I feel active, and I'm doing some legal work. I'm trying
to keep that from taking more than half of my time, and I
try to keep a fourth of my time for working on public projects
of one kind or another that I'm interested in. I'm chairman
of an American Bar Association committee that I've given a
lot of work to dealing with legal education. I've been rather
active in the Easter Seals program. I agreed that I would
serve on this ethics commission that the governor appointed,
and this has taken a good deal of my time--more than I thought
it would. Then I try to also find time to do some things that
you can't do while you're governor, and that's to read a few
books. I read a book every week, and I enjoy this. I've
done a little writing, and I'm going to do some more writing,
and it's not like I feel that I'm on the shelf or out to
pasture. It's just what I like. I've got a little place on
an island off the coast of Carrabelle--a house. It's a
beautiful island with high sand dunes and a beautiful beach,
and nobody that much down there. I can go down there and walk
three or four miles and never see a soul, and I can notice
what kind of new flowers are blooming every week of the year.
It's the little things like that, that just kind of bring
some joy to your life, that politics just squeeze out. I
see Governor Askew with all his eighteen or twenty security
people swarming all over, and I say, "Thank goodness I'm
not going down that track at this time." I'm glad I was
there when they didn't have those security people.
I: Governor, I don't know how we can thank you.
S: We had one part-time highway patrolman.
I: Sir, I simply want you to state that you give your permission
to transcribe these tapes, and to be used for scholars at the
Florida Oral History Program in Gainesville. Give your name,
S: My name is LeRoy Collins. I have just completed an interview
conducted for Mr. Sam Proctor, and I want to say that I consent
to this being transcribed and being kept intact and made of
use to any scholars who might be interested in the Florida
history relevancy which may be involved.
I: Thank you.
This is a monologue by LeRoy Collins, former governor of Florida, given on April 10, 1976,
on the campus of the University of Florida in Gainesville. The monologue is part of the
"Florida Personalities" series of the University of Florida Oral History Project.
pp. 1-2: Collins starts his talk by discussing a testimonial dinner he attended for a state senator,
Verle Pope of St. Augustine. He was asked to represent all the living former governors of
Florida. Collins found that sort of representation to be a daunting task, so he started to research
their records to see if there was a common theme. He discovered that all but one of them had run
for office after serving as governor, and all but one of them was defeated in that endeavor.
Collins gives examples of why these former governors, in his opinion, lost in their bids for future
offices. He says that serving as governor of Florida was the "happiest experience" of his life. He
tried to meet the job's challenges with "intelligence and courage." He hopes historians will give
him credit for trying to achieve his goals even though many of them were not met. But Collins
also feels that he laid the foundations for the next governor "for better chances for success."
pp. 2-3: Collins then turns attention to his good friend, Dan McCarty, who was elected governor
in 1952. Collins recalls asking McCarty at the outset of his administration whether he wanted to
be a governor who could have a program that would be attainable or a program that might be
good for the state but not so easily accomplished. McCarty replied that he wanted to attain what
he set out to do--he wanted tangible results. Collins says he felt just the opposite when he
became governor, and adds that "political leaders should be free and willing to pursue a course
they think is the correct one, whether they feel that they can succeed or not."
pp. 3-5: Collins cites the battle of reapportionment during his term [1955-1961]. He did not
achieve that goal during his administration, and, as he predicted, the U.S. Supreme Court
mandated it later. Collins then relates that in talking to a U.S. Supreme Court justice later about
this unending debate for reapportionment, the justice said that the Collins administration made
great progress on this issue and shed more light on the subject in the process. Another example
of an unmet goal was general constitutional revision. A commission established to suggest
revisions could not get beyond the hurdle of a malapportioned legislature. Collins then discusses
the Sunshine Law, eventually passed, but not during his term. He had wanted to have all
meetings open to the public, including the legislative sessions.
pp. 5-6: Collins then focuses on race relations, a subject in which he was deeply involved. He
speaks about Brown v. The Board of Education and how that Supreme Court decision of 1954
took Floridians by surprise. Many politicians thought that monumental decision would be
overturned, he says, but it became clear that it was a decision that Florida and the rest of the
nation would have to accept. Collins states that at first he did not agree with the decision that
public schools had to desegregate, and tells how he grew up in the segregated South, which was
based on the concept that whites and blacks should not integrate. He says that he tried to help the
blacks but was doing it on a paternalistic basis. But as his gubernatorial term progressed, he
realized his duties as governor were to be responsible for all the people of Florida though he
came to the realization that segregation was "bad" as a matter of law and bad as a matter of "right
pp. 6-7: Collins discusses becoming a three-year president for the National Association of
Broadcasters [beginning in 1961], after his term as governor ends in January 1961. In 1964, he
became director of Community Relations Services, created as part of the Civil Rights Act of
1964. Collins recounts how persuasive President Johnson was in asking him to serve as director
of this new agency, even though he would have to take a tremendous salary cut. He perceived
this position as a possible road to becoming a U.S. senator, but yet, he says, he felt he was just
responding to the needs of his time.
pp. 7-9: Collins contends that despite the importance of race relations during his term, he wanted
to see his legislative agenda take hold. He argues that he could not get too far out on the
progressive front--so far out that Floridians could not see where he was going. He is proud of
what he accomplished in office. Regarding the qualifications of a good governor, Collins uses
the words "honesty" and "courage." He adds that a governor should have an addiction for work,
know where the public interest lies, and be aware of the universality of his constituents.
According to Collins, a governor should have compassion for the underprivileged and
disadvantaged, and he should encourage opportunities to overcome these two handicaps. A good
governor needs to have managerial skills, such as planning and policymaking, set goals, and
surround himself with talented workers. Collins states that a governor should value the power of
the press--the governmental watchdog, set a personal standard for morality, not confine himself
to a lot of "yes" people but have advisors who will offer differing opinions. He asserts that a
governor needs a sense of humor and today (in the mid-1970s) be prepared for overwhelming
pp. 9-10: Collins compares the more relaxed kind of attitude while serving as governor
compared to current times. He recalls calling cabinet officers himself, walking downtown with
them and discussing various issues as they headed toward his office. He talks about the role of
the cabinet during his term as being a very cooperative one. Today, he says, each cabinet office
is an independent agency--an "enormous bureaucracy" that has its own aides. He adds that the
cabinet officers almost seem like "little governors."
pp. 10-11: Comparing the cost of running the legislature during his term with today's body,
Collins says it is about $2.5 million [in the 1950s] to more than $18 million [mid-1970s]. He
attributes this great increase to enormous full-time staffs, and possibly encroaching upon "the
normal domain of the executive." He cites a current problem, as he sees it, regarding the
budgetary process--governors' recommendations conflicting with committees and
subcommittees. Today, Collins says, legislators are telling the governor that they have already
been working on their own budgets even before seeing the governor's proposed one.
pp. 11-12: Collins expands upon the increase in state bureaucracy, that is, state employment
increasing 104 percent. He calls it "bureaucratic fever," and offers the idea that every time a new
state agency is created, it should automatically expire within six years, unless it is expected to be
renewed. He also would like to see a better budgetary process for determining priorities of
various state programs. He calls for better analyzation of new agencies: is the agency doing its
job and is it in the public interest? Collins then relates an anecdote [during his term as governor]
about a man from South Florida who wanted to present him with a painting he had done of the
governor. Collins told the artist to bring it up to the Governor's Mansion. The man then
unveiled a landscape painting with Governor Collins standing behind a tree.
pp. 12-13: Collins addresses the subject of running for the U.S. Senate in 1968 and being
defeated. He attributes his loss to his involvement in the "whole racial adjustment program."
Regarding the cabinet, Collins says that as the cabinet is now, "I do not favor its continuance as
an elected facility." He feels that "these agencies should be reclassified, and department heads be
developed for them."
pp. 13-14: Concerning a suggestion for a unicameral legislature, Collins says it would be
cheaper and "better in lots of other ways." He agrees that two houses can check each other, but
then adds, so why not have three or four houses? He argues that cities have only one city council
and counties have only one county commission. Collins cites Nebraska as having only a one-
house legislature--and it works for that state. But he feels a one-house legislature in Florida will
never come to pass.
pp. 15-16: The subject comes up as to how the cabinet has changed since his tenure as governor,
and putting a limit on those cabinet officers' tenure to two terms. He adds why not make other
department heads elected officials, such as the Road Department. When he was governor,
Collins says the governor led the cabinet, and the cabinet officers served in an advisory capacity.
But he states that this is no longer the case, and the cost of running these departments has
skyrocketed. "It's just not the same thing that it used to be at all," he concludes.
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
MONOLOGUE: LeRoy Collins
DATE: April 10, 1976
Governor Collins: Thank you. Professor Pozzetta, President Dunn, Chairman Colburn,
and a long-time friend, Sam Proctor, and other distinguished
teachers of history of Florida, I want to congratulate you upon
the meeting I understand, and a worthwhile one, and I want
to thank you for the opportunity of giving me,specifically,
your considerations here. Sometime back, before his death,
some of Verle Pope's friends over in Saint Pete [St. Petersburg]
and St. Augustine wanted to organize a testimonial dinner for
him, and they invited a lot of us over there who had worked
with Verle and who had great admiration for him. They had a
speaking program, and they asked me if I would represent all
the living former governors of Florida in making some remark.
I told him that I would, and then I got to thinking, "How on
earth could I be representative of all these former governors?"
I made some checked some records to see if I could
find anything that all of them had in common, and I finally
found one thing: that all but one of them had run for office
after they'd served as governor, and all but one of them was
defeated in his ambitions. Then it got me interested in why
they'd fared so poorly, and so I told this group over there
some of the results of my research in that respect. I told
them that Fuller Warren had made the fatal mistake of saying
in his first campaign when he was elected governor, after his
term of government, that he had given the state fifty years
of progress in four years. Then when he ran after he was
governor, he said that he wanted another turn. The people,
I thought, might have been willing to accept four more years
of him! And I said that as far as Charley Johns was concerned,
I thought I would just pass that by by saying that Charley
could have picked out the wrong man to run against, "and
modesty prevents me from elaborating on who that was."
I said that Governor Burns [William Haydon Burns] had
tried after two years in the office to succeed himself, and
he had gotten involved in that two years in some very controver-
sial bond recommendations for building roads all over the state.
I wasn't in the state at that time, but I heard that that was
very unpopular with the people, and that in a referendum the
people made that clear. So Burns had had the problem with
the bonds, and I said so far as Claude Kirk was concerned, he
had bond trouble too, but his were bottled in bonds.
The trouble with Farris Bryant was that he just wasn't
willing to walk. Now, Lawton Chiles would run for United States
Senate, and walk from Pensacola to Key West, and got elected.
And I said Farris just wasn't willing to walk. I said so
far as my case was concerned, I was willing to walk, but I
walked at the wrong time in the wrong place. Lawton had
walked from Pensacola to Key West, and I did a lot of my
walking between Selma and Montgomery.
It's good to be here at this home of the University of
Florida. I was talking with a professor over at Florida State
University the other day. As most of you know, I imagine,
he's retired now, and he was telling me that he was spending
a lot of his time up in North Carolina; and that he had a
place up there, but that he was getting a great thrill out
of going around over that state and back in the mountains
and discovering and talking with the mountaineer folk up there.
He found them just fascinating people, and he told me this
experience: he said that he had heard that there was a lady
up there in one of those faraway back places that was quite
a poet, and he was anxious to meet here and find out what kind
of poetry she wrote. He finally found her, and he asked her,
and she gave him this little piece of poetry that she had
written. This is the way it went: "There ain't no justice in
this here land. I done got a divorce from my old man. I
laughed and laughed at the court's decision--they'd given
him all the young'ns, and ain't nary one his'n!"
Serving as governor of Florida was the happiest experience
of my life. I loved every day of it. They were years of chal-
lenge, and I think most of these challenges were met with intel-
ligence and courage by our administration. By no means did
we achieve all our goals, and I believe historians will give
us credit for trying. I think when a political leader faces
up to the responsibilities of his time, and tried, that he
succeeds. He does not fail, because by his efforts, he brings
the ultimate achievement closer--he builds public support, and
even, at times, demand for it. And those coming after him will
have a little better, lighted place in which they can work.
They can stand on the steps that he's built, and have much better
chances for success.
I want to speak for just a few minutes about this matter
of trying to get things done that you may not think you can be
able to begin to accomplish, because I think that this is im-
portant, particularly at this time. Dan McCarty was elected
governor in 1952. He was a great friend of mine, and of some
of you, I'm sure. I had a conference with him and some of his
friends just before he took office, and we were talking about
the possible....I was in the state senate at that time, and
we were talking about the possibility of his programs, and
what he would want to advocate in his program, and various
things came up, that were suggested. Then I asked him a
question. I said, "Dan, do you want to have a program that
includes things that you feel like are attainable and can
be accomplished, or do you want to have a program that will
include any recommendation that you feel is for the good of
the state and for the advancement of the state, whether it's
reasonable to think it's attainable or not?"
He said, "Well, my idea about that is that we ought to
have a rifle sort of program, and not a shotgun program.
I would like to concentrate on those things I think we can
do, and I want exactly that accomplishment."
I thought of this a good deal. My own personal philosophy
in thinking ran somewhat counter to it. I saw the other day
that a group of scientists in some kind of meeting were
trying to decide upon who was entitled the recognition of
being the greatest scientist of all time, and the overwhelming
choice for that honor was Sir Isaac Newton. Newton was that
great seventeenth-century English scientist who contributed
so much in developing principles of light, and of color, and
of gravity, and of mathematics, and he reasoned the motion of
the planets and so on. But this report went on to say, and
strangely, that Newton's theories--his ultimate theories, his
ultimate decisions, conclusions--really did not turn out to
be true. But still he was recognized as the greatest of
all, because in proceeding toward that conclusion he had shed
so much light on the way, and had given so much opportunity
then for other scientists to follow, and to come after him to
find a conclusion and all that had been so very humble. But
if they took Sir Issac Newton's accomplishments out of the pic-
ture completely, we would be way, way back in the Dark Ages
so far as scientific discovery is concerned.
Sometimes I think that worrying about failing to succeed
is a sin. Sometimes I think the media, and particularly now,
can put candidates in the position if they say something that
doesn't turn out to be true. Political leaders should be free
and willing to pursue a course they think is the correct one,
whether they feel that they can succeed or not, because they
do succeed if they stand for what they believe is right, and
if it is a good and solid objective.
I think of our struggle about reapportionment on the state
legislature. I knew from the beginning of the governorship
that getting our Florida legislature--which was one of the
most malapportioned in the United States, if not the most
changed--was almost an insurmountable job, because you simply
had to get people to vote themselves out of office, if you
got it reapportioned in anything approaching fairness. At
the same time, I decided when I first came in--I said so at
the campaign--I would do everything I could to accomplish
fair apportionment of our legislature. We started in there,
and we worked. We battled and battled and battled, and it
looked like we would make a few steps forward, and then
we'd slip a few steps backward in session after session
after session. I won't try to detail all of the agony of it,
while we just did our best to get the Florida legislature
reapportioned. I told the legislature in an address that
if they didn't do that--we didn't do it as a state--that
we'd probably find that the United States Supreme Court
would require us to do it in the course of time, and that we
wanted to shout about states' rights, or why not think in
terms of states' responsibilities? And that what a clear
understanding here that you have a state responsibility
that should be met. But they didn't do it. They all wanted
to get elected. They all didn't want to face the sting, of
course, of going back home, and having it said that they had
voted to deny their area of representation in the legislature,
and that's understandable too.
We went on, and we failed. Or did we fail? It wasn't
long after that, after our term, that the Supreme Court
did exactly what we could have foreseen it would do, and
held that the people's constitutional rights were being
violated by a malapportioned legislature such as ours. It
happened to be a year or so after that--talking with the
United States Supreme Court judge, the subject of reapportion-
ment came up. I mentioned to him that that was one of my
great failures in the political life, that we had not been
able to accomplish reapportionment of Florida legislature.
He said, "Don't court that a failure." And he said, "Well,
if you want to know the truth, that struggle that you had
down in Florida on that issue--the circumstances that you were
up against and were battling--that was all a part of the con-
sideration that the Supreme Court had before it in rendering
that decision." So there again, you don't fail when you think
.... If you strive honorably, and if you make some progress,
some movement, help to put some more light on the subject in
General constitutional revision was another problem, and
so we got a constitutional commission. They made studies; we
couldn't get it approved because of that malapportioned legislature,
but they did a great job. When the legislature became re-
apportioned, that work is where--exactly where--a new consti-
tutional commission started in its preparation of a new consti-
tution for the state. "Government in the sunshine."--that
was part of our program. I guess we failed there in some
ways. I recommended that all meetings, including the legisla-
tion meetings, be open in public, and all the counties, cities,
that need anything required to be public. The legislature
wouldn't accept that at that time. I started talking about
"government in the sunshine." "Government in the sunshine"
didn't die; went on and on. Of course in later years, great
efforts have been made and great accomplishments have been
made in opening up the public affairs and public inspection
and public understanding.
Race relations, as Dr. Pozzetta has indicated, [was] one
of the things that I was most deeply involved in. This is
a subject that I could spend all of my time talking about.
A lot of people don't understand exactly what happened over
that period of time. It's a little difficult to understand,
because generally people overlook the fact that the develop-
ment of the Supreme Court decision and of the national legisla-
tion was a gradual thing. My decision came actually a week
before our election, but people were so stunned by it, that
it had no.... They didn't even call on us for any reaction
to it, as I recall, as candidates. And everybody thought
that this could not be true, and it was just some bugbear
that would just go away, and then the Supreme Court would
probably reconsider it, and decide it differently on reconsi-
deration. But it went on from that with months
and months and months that other decisions would nullify. Of
course, people were talking about the rights of states to
nullify the action, and it would be some time before there
was unfolding of a clear legal pattern that made it understand-
able to the people that this was something we had to accomplish
and live with and deal with.
Some of the statements of mine that are on record that
the historians would see associate me with a segregated concept.
I grew up in a segregated society; I grew up with a great
feeling of compassion and understanding for black people, and
then for their needs. I used to spend a lot of time out at
Florida A & M University trying to help them with their cor-
porations and this sort of thing, but it was altogether on a
paternalistic sort of a basis. I never at that early time came
completely to grips with the idea that we couldn't get along
fine as a certainty in society, and I didn't accept.... When
the Supreme Court and Brown in the Brown case [Brown v. Board
of Education (1954)] said that you couldn't have equal schools
that were segregated, I didn't accept that at first, but
still the fact of my care and my interest and a great sense
of responsibility that I had for all the people of Florida
when I became their governor, it led me more and more and as
time went on into a feeling that segregation was bad; not only
bad as a matter of law, but was bad as a matter of right and
justice, and that this is something that our state should
come to grips with and deal with, and succeed in having it
permeate our society. Integration of the races, everybody
being treated as equal citizens before the law, consider it
every right to be treated that way.
So you'll find early statements of mine that...early efforts
of mine are seeking to, trying to hold the status quo in a
sense, but as time went on, I didn't have one of these "on the
road to Damascus" experiences that suddenly came to light in
realizing it. It gradually came to me as an acceptance of
the responsibility that I had as governor of the people of
Florida. It was helped by the fact that I did understand
many of the problems that our black people had in their in-
adequacies under the law, and my desire to see those inadequacies
perfected. I'm glad that I had the experience I did as governor,
in wanting to define what we would want to give law for--people
--and that we would abide to guard the Constitution. I said
that any position with the hopes and the and that we
were fond of the United States, and that those chain
had been settled by the Civil War. It was our job to make
a good state and a good country, therefore, as one people, and
not two divided peoples.
I won't go into all the details of all the things that
happened after that time, but I know when I left the governor-
ship I went with the broadcasters, and I stayed with them two
or three years. The Civil Rights Act hadn't been passed in
my term; it was passed up there in 1964. It had the provision
for that little community relation service. President Johnson
called me over there, and told me at the White House that some-
body had to organize that service and be its director, and
it was very important that the right person do it to start
it off. He'd inquired, and he felt that I was better qualified
to do that than anybody in the United States. He said he
wasn't asking me as a politician, or to do a political job,
but he was asking me to do something the country needed me to
do, and of course I accepted that. I had a little over a year
in that experience, and I don't believe any little agency has
done more in so short a time as that community relations service
did in that period of time. I'm just as proud as I can be of
every moment spent. It was a deep sacrifice as far as my
personal welfare is concerned--the broadcasters were paying
me over a $100,000 a year, which I needed to recover some
of my debts I had as governor, and the new service paid me
$18,000 a year, but that was something I was glad to do.
While I know that it had a very material effect on my oppor-
tunity to be elected in the United States Senate, while
I would love to go to the Senate more than anything I could
think of, yet if I could do that over again, I would go like
I did this time, and just try to do a better job than I did
then. I think that as history unfolds, a political leader
who doesn't respond to the needs of his time, that he just
bypasses the opportunity to live equality in his age, and
living accordingly in his age. I don't apologize or regret
that at all.
I'd like to tell you more about what some of the things
we did as governor, but you're not interested in that, I don't
believe. It would appear to be a little vain, but we did
have a constructive program in many fields. If you are in-
clined to feel that I should have done more and done it
quicker in race relations, well take in to account, please,
that I had some other things that I needed to do, too. I
had to lead the people of Florida, and you know, a political
leader can be out front, and should be out front, and I like
to be out there on the cutting edge of reform and by calling,
but you can't get too far out front. You can't get over
the horizon to the point where people can't see where you
are, that we're not losing contact with them, because if they
can't see where you are, they think you're in Moscow. So
I'd just like to say to you scientists, and it was very
important in getting a lot of things done for this state, and
I think we were able to accomplish.
What are the qualifications of a good governor? I'd like
to talk with you just briefly about this. I wrote some things
down here that occurred to me. Of course, you must start with
the fundamentals of honesty and courage, and I think work
really must be an addiction for any good governor. He must
be unreserved in his loyalty to public interest, and this
means understanding where the public interest lies in a given
situation. This may not be too easy to do sometimes, and it
means pursuing it with a full power of the authority of his
office. For him, the office should make him aware as never
before of the universality of his constituents--of the claim
of every citizen on his services, without any fear or favor
based upon help-making considerations. The office should do
to him a compassion for the underpriviledged and disadvantaged,
and encourage to strengthen their opportunities to overcome
A governor should have the ability to manage the very
complex executive functions placed in his charge. This
means planning, and it means policy-making; it means public
administration, and this means, also, fixing goals, and
developing objectives to achieve them, and inspiring talented
people to work together to get their jobs done with the
greatest efficiency and at the least cost.
The governor could value and support a free press, for
this is his prime means for informing adequately the people
he seeks to lead. The press is the people's most important
watchdog over the governor and over all those working with
him. The more careful the press is in observing and recording
what is going on in the government, the better the government;
and the better the governor should sleep at night, although
it doesn't always work out this way, I'm sure.
The governor should be a moral person, whether he means
to or not. For better or worse he sets standards for the
whole government, and even for private citizens to follow.
When leadership is loose and careless and incompetent at the
top, it becomes the same way down at the bottom. When it's
strong and able at the top, a better effort is made all down
the line to make him strong and able also.
A governor should have friends--friends who will argue
with him, laugh with him, and if he came to me crying, I'd
cry with him. They must believe in him, and they must
show this not by lathering him with praise, but by telling
him the truth as they see it. A governor needs the stimula-
tion of a good stretch of ideas from his friends and associates
as he develops his courses of action. He won't get this
unless he invites it.
A governor should have a sense of humor, and not take
himself too seriously. There are a lot of differences in the
environment in which the governor serves today, and the environ-
ment in which I served. It's like there's a mansion, for
example. You are put in a governor's mansion that has an
iron fence around it. If you want to get in there, you have
to drive up there and stop at the gate, and you can speak over
some kind of system to announce who you are and why you want
to get in. It's heard in the security office downstairs.
When it checks out right, well, they push a button down there,
and the gate automatically opens, and you drive in. And
when you get in, you walk up on the front porch, and you
punch another button, and a voice asks you two more questions
there, and then if that clears all right, why then, the door
opens, and a security guard brings you on in.
There are a lot of other things about the set-up now
that are quite different than it was when I was there. The
governor's wife is not even allowed to go out to the grocery
store, of course, without security officers. Children are
watched carefully. This is not of the present governor's
request, as I understand it, but it is because we're told
that it is essential if his security is going to be assured.
Now, it was a little bit different when I was over there.
We didn't have any security guards. I had one part-time
highway patrolman, and he went home for supper and to spend
the night, just like anybody else would, and we were in there
all by ourselves, and the phones weren't cut off. I used to
answer the telephone, no matter what time it would ring, and
we really got some lulus. If you wanted to get in at that
time, you came to the front door. There wasn't any fence.
You knocked on the door, and it was opened by a benign,
wonderful elderly back man with a white coat. He had a
nice warm smile, and he happened to be a convicted murderer
on the row from the state prison, but that never gave us any
reason to be concerned. We loved him, and he loved us, and
he had worked for several governors over the years.
The thing that I'm impressed with is the fact that
psychological pressure from the governor just in his living
is a different matter, and it couldn't be as happy and as
relaxed as it had been before for other governors. I used
to often call the head of a department the night before and
say, "Come on in to eat breakfast with me. I've got some
things I want to talk to you...." We'd walk on downtown,
and we just walked on downtown and talked as we went.
See these white stripes on the sides of the highways
that we all accept it now as a matter of course? The first
of those that I saw was up in North Carolina, driving through
the state, and they just had a little experimental mile. I
had stopped and asked anybody--I said, "What is this?" And
they said they were experimenting with that as a safety device.
I came on down and called the chairman of the road department,
and he came over and had breakfast with me, and I said, "Now
that is a neat thing that we need in this state, and I hope
you'll get those stripes start putting on thses highways, be-
cause I think they really are of great value." He did a lit-
tle checking into it, and it wasn't long before we started
striping our highways. Well, the government could kind of
be relaxed in those days, and it was quite nice that way.
The cabinet's relations with the governor now are com-
pletely different than they were in those days. In those
days, under the constitution the cabinet was permitted to
assist the governor. Those were the terms in the constitu-
tion. And the cabinet did assist the governor; they were
head of certain departments. They were headed by people who
were concerned primarily for those departments, and the
success of those needs in the state--like agriculture,
and education, and these others--but when they came together
as a cabinet, well, they were quite cooperative with me as
governor, there wasn't but a time or two that we had any
difference at all. Now the constitution has been changed,
and they no longer deign to assist the governor. They just
set up as independent agencies of the executive department
of the government in the constitution, and so each one of
these has bloomed into really an enormous bureaucracy, taking
on all kinds of new things. They have their speechwriters
and their aides and their scribers, and they are almost like
little governors. And in doing all this, there is, I think,
a rather serious impingement on the normal executive authority.
I think it raises some serious questions about the cabinet
system as it is being operated today.
The legislature is a completely different sort of agency
than it was back in those days. The legislature got reappor-
tioned, but they done a lot more than that. Ten years ago,
the cost afforded an annual financing [of] the legislature
for a year, with one session in, was $2.5 million, and now
the cost to run the legislature is over $18 million in ten
years. Now what's happened is, with all of these committees,
and breaking up into subcommittees, they've all got staffs
and support, and there's the Speaker and the president of
the Senate--they have enormous staffs, and they need full-
time paid people. And as a result of this, they have been
engaged in many activities that I think possibly do in
fact encroach upon what is the normal domain of the execu-
tive. The budget is prepared...we've got supposedly an execu-
tive budget, but the material that the governor has is also
sent to these appropriations committees. The governor is
supposed to make his recommendation thirty days in advance
of the session of the legislature, and then it's expected
that the legislature react to that. But it doesn't work that
way, because these subcommittees and committees and their
staffs are into these departments examining their budget
needs before the governor has a chance to even make any
recommendations. The legislators are saying quite frankly
up there that the governor's budget needs little or nothing--
that they've got their own budget that they've been working
on for a long, long time before they got hold of the governor's
budget. Now, this is a diversion from what an executive
budget operation should be, and it does create some rather
I've talked, I know, long enough here. I still want
to say that I'm deeply concerned about the development in
bureaucracy in the state. State employment for the last
ten years is up over 104 percent, and during that same time
the federal employment is up over 35 percent. We talk about
that, and complain about it a lot. The combined state and
federal employment over that same time is 59 percent, and
similar employment in Florida over that same time is 48 per-
cent. Now, I know that expanding programs, I know inflation,
I know growth of the state has something to do with this,
but I don't know how anybody can calculate this and attribute
it all to those kinds of factors. I think we've got some
bureaucratic fever that's running pretty high in our state
government, and we should find some way to do something
about it. I know of two ways we might do it. We might have
one of these "sunshine" laws that they call now..."sunshine"
laws, where automatically every time you create a new agency,
in six years, or seven years or eight years it expires auto-
matically unless it's expected to be renewed. This could be
I think really if we had a better budgetary capability
of determining priorities or programs, that this would help
enormously. As it is, once the things starts, well then, the
measure usually applied to it the next time the legislature
appropriates money for it is they're asking a reasonable
amount more than what they got before. But we do not have
in this state a really efficient ability to analyze an
agency of the government from a functional standpoint as to
how good it is--whether it's doing its job, whether that
job is needed in the public interest, or whether it's just
part of a process of changing the appropriate government
from government existing for the benefit of those being
governed to government for the benefit of those doing the
Well, I told you that a government had to have a sense of
humor, and so may I tell you just a little story that came
from my experience when I was governor? It was about 1955,
and a month before this man down the state told me that he
had painted my picture and that he wanted to come up and pre-
sent it to me. Then about December 15 he called me and he
said my picture was ready and he wanted to present it on
Christmas eve at the mansion. I really felt very deeply
grateful to this man for being so concerned, and I didn't
want to offend him in any way, and so I told him, I said,
"We'll be glad to see you."
All the children were all home at that time. He told
me then he thought I would [be] proud of the picture, and
he said he had painted it with automobile lacquer and using
a spray gun. I'll tell you that raised a few questions in
my mind. And so when the time Christmas eve came, he was
there in his truck with this great big, huge picture. I
got the children--[my wife] and I did--off to the side, and
we explained to them, you know, how some things might not
look exactly pretty according to some of our standards. At
the same time that this man had been working on this picture
of Daddy all this time, and I said, "Whatever it looks like,
I want you all to be just as nice and that you can
be. Just tell him it looks wonderful, because his spirit
certainly is wonderful in doing it."
And so we got it in the front door, and all the children,
and I said, "Now I don't want anybody laughing about anything.
I don't know what's it going to be like. I don't know whether
you'll recognize Daddy anyway, but whatever it is, well,
we're going to be happy with it." So everybody was really
straight-faced and ready. They brought the thing,in the door
there, and it was all crated up. They uncrated it, and
finally there it was, you know. I never saw such a thing in
my life. There wasn't any daddy in it. It was a river flowing
there with long sleeves and moonlight on the river, you know,
just a great thing to see. And I knew we were going to have
some trouble with little Chuckie. Finally the youngest one,
Dolly, said, "Where's Daddy?"
Mary Call said, "Why, he's right there--right behind that
So I guess it's time for me get back from behind one of
those trees. I don't get out talking much about politics,
but I have enjoyed being here very much. If you've got any
more time, and you want to ask any questions, I'd be glad to
try to answer them.
Moderator: Does anyone have any questions they'd like to address to
Dr. Convey: Dr. Convey [identifying himself].
Collins: Yes, sir.
Convey: I think you've answered the question on my mind, but you might
want to reaffirm it. Some newspapers we see have said that
perhaps you lost the senatorship because you were ahead of
your time, taking a strong stand in terms of asking other
governors and so forth to abide by the law of the land. You've
answered that. The other question that you raised that you
can reaffirm if you want to--the other question that you
raised was with regard to the systems of government,
gave us that name for it. Do you feel that you could have
accomplished a great deal more in terms of these long-range
objectives if you could have appointed cabinet members, and
therefore had more power as a governor?
Collins: Let me just comment briefly about the first matter you raised
there, the matter of race, There [is] not any question of
that I had tremendous opposition because of my involvement in
the whole racial adjustment program...not maybe. According
to the polls we got, 30 percent of the-people..would:have
voted against me because of that, and it's almost impossible
to get elected when you've got a 30 percent opposition vote
that's on one reason. But that hasn't worried me since then,
and I hope I did partially answer that awhile ago. I would
do it the same way all the time.
In respect to the cabinet, if the cabinet now is like
it was when I was there, I would probably favor it as an
elective agency, because it does have some suitable advantages
of being just a kind of a great safeguard against some govern-
ment that may be radical, may be kind of off-base, you know,
about the things that can...and so he just serves as sort of
a brake on the government. The meetings of the cabinet serve
a worthwhile purpose in that they are held in the open, and
they provide an opportunity for the press to understand--and
of course, the people--some of the things that's going on.
But the cabinet's not like it was then. With the cabinet
like it is now, I do not favor its continuance as an elected
facility. I think that these agencies should be reclassified,
and department heads be developed for them. We agree upon
the circumstances, the way it has developed, that it should
be essentially part of the executive department. The governor
would be responsible for it.
Speaker: Governor Collins, since the governor has set the legislatures
talking so much for a year, and since both housesaconsist of
membership only on the basis of population, what do you think
about a unicameral legislature? Would it be cheaper?
Collins: It would be not only cheaper, but it would be better in lots
of other ways. Of course, the theory of the two house--
the bicameral system--we've inherited that from England
where they have the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
That was a sort of a class society, so they chose to have
representation in the legislative agents. That has long
since ceased to exist. We don't have any such class system
in this country. The bicameral people also point to the
United States government and the Congress of the United
States. But I say really that there is some basis for
having every state represented in the national Congress.
We are a federation of states, it's true, of the Republic
in a sense, and I do think that we ought to hold on to
having in the Congress representation of every state, and
the United States Senate is the instrumentality for assuring
that. But we don't have that situation in the state, because
both the senators now in the House of Representatives are
elected from district lines that have little regard for county
line, and of course counties don't have the same relationship
with the state as the state has to the federal government.
I say there's no sound reason why we should have a two-
house system in the legislature in Florida. It's argued that
this serves as a sort of a check, one on the other, and if
one makes a mistake the other one can correct it, and this
sort of thing. Well, I say if that's true, why not have three
or four? Can you imagine adding two city councils, one to
meet there at one end of the hall and one over there? I
can't imagine any more furor than would result from that.
The county commission, why don't we have two of them? Well,
it's just inefficient, and it does provide a very costly
expense for the state. What they are trying to do now with
the legislators--they're trying to make career officers of
these men by salary, by staff support and all--is sort of
being made in the pattern of congressmen. If you go in it
with that, then I think we could have one body, and they
should be full-time people, and they should have the staff
they need. But I don't see any justification, really, for
having two. Now, I don't know that we would ever see that
day, or even our children would see that day arrive. Only
one state in the union, Nebraska, has a unicameral, one
house system. All the rest have two. But they tell me out
in Nebraska they'd never, never think of going back to two.
So...but you asked me a frank question, and I was giving
you a frank answer from my own view. Yes, sir?
Speaker: Let me ask about your concentration with the governorship
and the cabinet. We're going to be dealing, I suppose, with
a revision of the constitution in several years. And it
seems...I think I've heard in the favor of the
opposed. We certainly do need some change one way or the
other. If we did go, say with the elected cabinet, do
you think it is not worth the consideration to equalize the
reelectability of the governor? Particularly when you were
in office, in those years the continuity of the cabinet
officials.... Up till 1964, I think only two cabinet
officers had ever been defeated for reelection. Their law
of seniority, and the governor's one time in, one time out,
seems to make it a little bit less equal. Would that be
a possibility? Is there something worth considering to
maybe put a limit on those terms, or unleashing the governor
from preventing the reelection by the next one?
Collins: There's a bill before the House up there now to limit the
cabinet to two terms, and I think it was killed yesterday,
wasn't it? I was not opposed to that if we can continue
an elective cabinet system. The awful part about it, too,
is though that if these departments...if each man
deserved that kind of separate elective staffs....
There are many other departments in the government that
should really involve more expenditures, a more wide range
of programs that help in rehabilitation. A program is far
more expensive than any other cabinet job is except maybe
for the Department of Agriculture; I'm not sure of that.
But the Road Department.... So if they should be elective,
why don't we make these others elective? But system-wise
and as a matter of good government, I just can't see keeping
it in the form it is.
Now you're right, there was continuity before and these
people, most of them were elected without opposition. But
they were there attending to their work. I mean Bailey
[Thomas D. Bailey] was interested in only one thing there,
that's education, and Mayo [Nathan Mayo] of Ocala, he was
interested in agriculture. And they really wanted the governor
to lead in respect to other matters in which they participated
with him, and respected him, and followed him even if they had
some different viewpoints. They wouldn't hesitate to express
them, but they generally recognized the fact that they
were advisory to the governor--that if the governor said
this is the way it ought to be, that they would go along.
But that's not it any more. They are a lot more ambitious
now than they were to run things--get ready for other
victories, you know--and so they are spreading out with re-
gional officers all over the state. The cost of this is
tremendous. It's just not the same thing that it used to
be at all.