Interview with Claude Kirk, 1986-12-16

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Interview with Claude Kirk, 1986-12-16
Johnston, Sid ( Interviewer )
Kirk, Claude ( Interviewee )
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Florida Constitutional Revision Oral History Collection ( local )


This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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This interview is part of the 'Florida Constitutional Revision Meeting' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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fcP /1
Claude Kirk
Sid Johnston
December 16, 1986

J: Today is December 16, 1986 and this is for the twentieth reunion of the
Florida Constitutional Revision Commission. Anm-I am doing something
completely unprecedented here a d....J rm r- "n kil1 -:f-
-tts. You are never supposed to interview more than one person at a time,"dL
I have got three.
J: You all are going to add things from time to time so I want you all to
address the microphone and tell me your name, Lnk
J? -Whu thew hll s 1SiimPFTa roctor? Ac ~
J:- You know- who- -Saf-Proctor-i
.-i-.t- .-~ 7 -r .-la, your address, so that the people who are transcribing
this information will know exactly who is who. Go ahead, please, governor.
K: My name is Claude Kirk from Palm Beach, Florida. I am delighted to be
here. Yo. a!r anuaJes8i- 'n5 m L cuaki.,re 5
J: P* i-a maling az rlmnr ts.
,K: P.O. Box 668, Palm Beach, Florida; 33480. John McCarty is
sitting on my left. John, tell them your name and address and where you
are from, and that you are the former governor's brother he only real
governor other than myself.
J: Now all I need is your address.
M: John M. McCarty, 111 Boston Avenue, Ft. Pierce, Florida, 33450. Thank
you, Governor, I am glad to be here. Usually, you know, I am on your
J: Governor, let me begin this interview by asking you a very broad question
and then we will move into some more detailed information. What was your
responsibility, as you saw it, to the Florida Constitutional Commission?
K: Well, the commission stood on its own bottom to do those things which the

commission had been empowered to do. I was just showing my personal
concern and the concern of a governor-elect for their good works and to
aid and abet it in any way that I could. This was a grouping of the
finest minds in Florida in my opinion, and certainly in the opinion of the
selection committee. I cannot think of any way they could have picked
better people. Therefore I was just a guest, really, lending the
strength of the newly-elected governor for whatever benefit that was.
J: How were you received as a guest by the commission?
K: Well, fortunately Rf that time I came in through the back door of the
senate chambers and up to the podium where the people in the pit could not
really reach me. I will say one thing, if you saw the adversaries--all of
them in the spirit of seeking the best benefits for Florida. But every
worthy adversary or every worthy friend of any philosopy that I might have
had then, or now, or at any time was present in that room. It was an
exciting thing to be able to sit and view them and listen. Be-- .the
rest of them did not get an overview of themselves; but I enjoyed every
minute of it. It was just an exciting adventure for me.
J: Were you only a spectator?
K: Only a spectator. I sat to the left of the chairman.
J: Politically speaking or geographically?
K: No, just the way the senate chamber was set up, the chairman was on the
president's dfas there and there is a recording desk or something there to
his left. It was just easy for me to go in and out of that door and sit
at that recording desk; sitting above people in the open senate chamber
itself. Watching them in action was exciting. I enjoyed it.
J: Clear it up for me. I am a little confused. Were you sitting in on the
senate, or the legislature, or the commission?

K: The commission met in the old senate chamber. It accommodated them and
that is where the meeting was. They sat at the various senators' desks and
they conducted their business there--that which they did not do at the
Holiday Inn or some other spot.
J: When they were in the sub-committee they met in some motel rooms around
town and other places.
K: Sure.
J: Did you get a chance to join those people?
K: Nq t These people were charged with the responsibility of doing
it. I just wanted to help by being interested. Public opinion was an
important thing because constitutions have been considered before and have
failed for one reason or anothet eid- we needed the total backing of
everyone' /t~i enmrusABec ause it was a worthwhile venture.
J: When do you recall the commission as a full body meeting in terms of time?
_ K,..iaitt3fJtwJ-b^n ?
The formal organization was January 11, 1966. That is when they were
formally organized and the first day they met, as best as I can understand
K: i I would not have been there until the latter part of
November of 1966 after the election.
J: Now, the commission submitted their recommendations to the legislature and
to the governor December 13, 1966. So you were there for only the very
tail-end of the discussions.
K: Someone said twenty-one days j think that 4gw correct.
J: Would you sit there eight hours a day?
K: Well as long as they were there, I was there.
: YvAu aye3 wi .lth it.
3 A ________

=_r t was not a difficult thing to stay with. It was exciting.
J: What about your other duties? f I fa yuu --b k~cffice-
K: Well, this was before I took office. I could have been doing other
things, as Governor Martinez is doing right now. But this was
the number one priority for the state as far as I was concerned at the
J: Did you take any participatory role at all? Did you offer suggestions or
K: No. They did their work and I just listened. However, I think it
encouraged the press and gave them perhaps a little more coverage than they
would have had otherwise. d I am sure iA-kept some of them a little more
in attendance than they might have bee fhs2 Everybody helped
J: You had an impact in keeping them accountable you think?
K: No, they were accountable. I just think it kept everybody more in
Icd it Spawnc-d
attendance, perhaps. 'nthusiasm--they could have been tired by then.
J: Do you know anything about this Committee for Integrity in Government that
issued a flyer prior to the 1968 general election. It was published out
of Jacksonville and came out against voting for the revised constitution.
There are no names attached with it.
K: Well, I think one of the reasons that the constitution was accepted was
that there was a turmoil about that time. I accused Ed Ball of being
against the new constitution. Quite frankly, I think that had a lot to do
with its passing. I think that Ed Ball had engendered enough ill will
among people that if they felt he was against it, they would be for it.
J: That is an interesting way of looking at it.
K: Well, you have got to remember that if there was any union man in the

state--if there was, we did not have a big population in those days but
if there were-- he was not a beloved of the unions. -Avat lot of people
0^ -1h-t1
did not like his banking practices. There were a lot reasons *W if Ball
,^nSr against something, they would be for it. lo mi t hre:nBis W
J: What about the -DaevI of the Winn Dixie chain of supermarke aI have
heard one of the membeef the commission say that he felt that they were
against its passing. Can you shed any light on that?
K: I wouldn' think so. Who said that? Are you a member of the media?
J: No.
K: You are attributing something to someone that is unannounced. I would not
think so. I find that the DavtVs have always been more interested in what
happens after the fact in the sense that they can live with whatever the
legislature does. They are citizens. They do not try to affect things
like Ed Ball did.
J: The recommendations finally made their way to you in your office. What
were your thoughts at the time of signing the new constitution?
K: Well, I am trying to remember whether I signed it or not. I think it was
a joint resolution of the houses. I do not know that the governor had
anything to do with it. But if I did, the only objection that I ever had
to it was the continued presence of the elected cabinet in its then form.
I think that any commission that would meet now would also speak
-fe? do
out. Not ea-to doing away with the entire elective cabinet, but to create
a form of government that is identifiable. In fact, in the commission
hearings at the time of the embodiment, commission member Bragg
of Miami, the editor of the Miami News, and O'Neil and Earl were
editors of the amendment establishing seven governors. I do not think

they did it in jest, although it was rather lighthearted. They-had-the
(governor in charge of booze and bangtails, of course, was the real
governor, namely me. Then the governor in charge of the distribution of
illiteracy, of course, was the commissioner of education. But it brought
home the point that we do not have an identifiable government. And some
people like it that way. The cabinet system is one that should be
under attack if you want to accomplish something for Florida. Now we are
getting on into the future rather than what you are asking about.
J: As I recall, the constitution was approved in November of 1968. You were
elected that same year. So you would not have had an opportunity to. .
K: No, in 1966 I was elected.
J: You were elected in 1966.
K: I took office in January of 1967.
J: Well, it was delivered to the legislature and to the governor on December
13, 1966. So you should have had that document in front of you. itrn-di4-
K: SeSTT e TI took office in January of 1967 and I called an
immediate session for the consideration of the passage of the
constitution. Now, after that, the district federal court said we were not
properly apportioned and set aside that calling. Therefore, we had to make
an attempt at reapportionment first.
J: --Now the commission had no role in reapportionmen ^t OthaL b
K: No, but the legislature could not convene and pass anything until it was
properA under the federal court's jurisdiction. Then the court ordered its
own apportionment plan into effect in February, the legislature again
having failed to do the job to its--meaning the court's--satisfaction and
to my satisfaction. Then on April 4, 1967, I said to the regular session

of the legislature, /~5 your first order of business I urge you to present
to the people of this state their long-awaited new state constitution.
With a seriousness that is humbled in the face of this opportunity and
this obligation, I call upon you to consider this new constitution without
delay and without interference of partisan politics. When you present a
new constitution to our people you will have done more to. 4 At any
rate, that is what I said.
as OppOsed. +- 0D o^+S
J: How many Repubicans/came out for the revision as-opposed-t--Bemocrat-s-who-
.came-ou--for-the-revie-i-op, Was it split along those lines at all?
K: No, I did not find anybody anti-revision. There are those within the
commission itself that wanted something to happen that did not happen. But
the populace itself was willing to accept it once we had the momentum. I
think one of the turning points of the entire matter was when I saw Ed Ball
maneuvering to do something andsattacked him publicly. If you check the
newspapers about that time, you will see a picture of me with a pointer
like a teacher uses pointing at the name Ed Ball--or whatever I was doing.
ARaLwe got such good press that I think the sentiment totally swung our
way at that point. They had something to really get their teeth into. It
turned into a personality rather than a document. There were two
personalities--somebody against it and somebody for it.
J: You took up the document then with flags flying and colors blazing across
the sky.
K: i absolutely. I would say that one of the reasons it really passed--you
have got to remember the size of the state at that time, people knew
everybody within reason. Everybody was not absolutely new to the state
and there was a cadre of establishment. Maybe there is not as much of
a cadre of establishment now as there was then.
J: If the state was that small, this was something I do not understand. .

K: It was not that small, but you must remember that my statement to
the people in those days was that we ac going to be in the big ten.
Actually, we were the eleventh stat6r Massachusetts was the tenth and I
kept pushing saying we will be bigger than they. So, I wanted them to act
like we were in the big ten--be a part of the big ten, be leaders. As
opposed to saying, \Where are you from? P from Ohio. / o,
no, how long have you been here? Well, b'v been here ten years.V Well,
then you are from Florida! Florida is in the big ten, is what I would say.
Now, obviously, we are in the big three. We still have that mentality
among a lot of our people; that they are really from somewhere else. And
they should not be. They should realize that they are here--they live
here, they are not going anywhere else, and this government is their
government. One of the reasons the cabinet system survives is because the
people are uninformed. There is always a new voter group. If you try to
destroy the cabinet system, the new group would outweigh the old group. If
you put a new uninformed group and a vested interest group together there
are more people by numbers than by the group that wants to make changed Ef
1Z do o-1f- kloL '; 44=
you want to talk on that subjectr-io-don'tkno-that-you-dot T1at has
nothing to do with history, that has to do with tomorrow.
J: Mostly what I am concerned with is the commission's activities. I guess
there are a couple of things that I still need to address with you. Some
of the big counties voted against it. 7hmy-,, av ,n t byi thlit,
K: What were the counties?
J: Escambia, Orange, and Sarasota Counties. You have got Sarasota, Orlando,
and Pensacola, and here are the voter returns. Offer a suggestion why that
was the case. And I am not saying that Orlando voted against it or

,M(osr aJre
Pensacola voted against it. But -hatt=is- the county returns and I assume
by those numbers that it was those metropolitan areas. A number of
people that I have interviewed said Orlando was not that big in 1968. I
do not know. It was a fair-sized town; probably ia the top fifteen cities
in Florida.
K: That is strange. You brought up a question here. There is a twenty
percent difference in the vote of those for and against: 30,000 against
40,00OAand a 10,000 spread. Now, you could have had some animosities.
I-c been
-You could have -ha- Beth Johnson, who is a very fine lady senator from
there. Maybe there was some animosity between the Republicans and
Democrats there in that time. We also had a very strong-willed Orlando Sentinel run by Martin Anderson. As I recall, he was still in power
and it might have been that he was not pleased with it. Because he was the
type of person who decided that he was or wasnt.It might be interesting
for you to find out about Martin Anderson. Sarasota County I find
difficult to understand.
J: Was it a Republican County?
K: Sarasota was definitely Republican. So it might have been that some
people felt that I took a position against the cabinet; that might have
been some of it. Escambia is very strange. Reubin Askew was the state
senator from Escambia at the time and on the commission. It may have been
under a rebuff of Reubin for all I know.
J: How about Braden Ball, the editor of the Pensacola Pazetta? Was he a
relative to Ed Ball?
K: No, not to my knowledge; Nobody was related to Ed Ball. God wasn't even
related to Ed Ball. No, I knew Mr. Ball very pleasantly and when he was
for something I agreed withI was for it. He was not for progress.

J: He was not for progress?
K: No. Typical of Mr. Ball was that his banking institution held the Florida
Bank N2nd if you. wanted to borrow more than 50 AdobHara from any one of
his banks, you had to be submitted to Jacksonville for approval. If
you had $2500in pure gold, you could borrow $5000 It was hardly a
positive program for a state that needed growth. But, by the same token,
he was here and he was a pioneer and he has, a right to be what he was. I
do not know if you know this, but there were laws protecting anything that
was institutionalized here. As an example, I started an insurance company
thirty years ago at this very time frame. We could not have a national
accounting firm because the law prohibited it. I had to fight all the
local C.P.A.'s in order to bring the big eight in. Now we cannot have a
dynamic state if we cannot have an auditor. How does Eastern Airlines get
audited? How does National Airlines, American Heritage Life, Winn Dixie?
You know, you cannot just surreptitiously sneak people in the state and
house them in the hotel rooms--which we did do. That was exactly how
Price-Waterhouse operated with me. So, there were a lot of things that
had to change, and this was a moment of change because a Republican had
been elected. I don't know, maybe if a Democrat had been governor this
constitution may not have passed.
J: Why?
K: Because people were ready to try something new. It did not hurt to have a
Republican governor; it could not hurt to have a new constitution.
J: Now, your intimating that a Democratic governor in your place would have
been more conservative.
K: Not more conservative. They cannot be more conservative than I am. They
do not want change. You must remember one thing--I keep telling you you

must remember, that is a bad choice of words. The reason that I was
elected was because there was turmoil in the Democretic party. The one
thing I did for the state was to cleanse the Democratic party. They
decided that they were going to get somebody that could whip Kirk and they
were all going to be together to whip Kirk. Therefore, you had a cleansing
experience. A lot of old diehard, ineffective things went by the boards.
One of the things that went by the boards through our efforts and the
legislature's efforts was that we created a statewide crime fighting
force. When I was here twenty years ago this very moment, there was no
crime fighting in the state. There were sixty-seven empires run by a
sheriff and the superintendent of education--the commissioner or whoever
ran the education in the county. His qualifications to be that
educational leader was the ability to hear thunder and see lightning and
get elected. So, over and over he was elected. The only thing the
sheriff had to do was be sure who got to the ol and who did not get to
the po Therefore, crime within its ranged was rampant. Not like we
know crime today, but crime. Therefore we made a lot of changes--did a
lot of growing up--and the constitution is just one of them. So, the
- -
people were getting used to these new ideas/. (y God, you mean fight
crime, you mean educate the children?/
J: Well the 1960s were certainly a period of turmoil.
K: Yes. I served two years under President Johnson's tenure. President
Johnson could not make a speech in public. He had to go on an air raft
carrier or on a base somewhere to make a speech. He could not make a
speech in public.
J: Would you say the constitution was a liberalizing document--the revised
K: Liberalizing? I think the choice of those words is difficult. Because

to a conservative the word liberal is innocuous and to a liberal it is not
enough. It modernized our government as best it could. Now, to a liberal
we did terrible things; to a conservative we did terrible things, but it
was progress. It was revolution and I think it was a meaningful and good
revolution. I worked with some things that did not please me, obviously.
I was the one that advocated lieutenant governor and Sid, to this day I
probably was wrong. Because they have never used the lieutenant governor
in the way I saw him or her being used.
J: How did you see the lieutenant governor being used?
K: As an activist kind of person. They were going to be involved in
education; be involved in crime fighting. If you allow the governor to be
governor, then the lieutenant governor is an important thing. If you have
a cabinet system where the governor is one vote of seven, then you do not
even have a governor. You are kidding yourself. I am probably the only
governor this state has ever had. Why do I say that? Because very simply
I acted outside the scope of the cabinet system. I did not allow the
cabinet system to turn me into a eunuch like every governor before, who
was a lame duck when he was elected by the nature of the constitution.
The minute you were elected you were through. In order to be elected, you
only had to see two people in sixty-seven counties: the commissioner of
education in that county and the sheriff. You said the same thing to two
people: XI won't play with your work in your county if you will deliver
your people. Therefore, for four years there was no government except by
cabinet rule. So, you did not have any government. You did not have any
roads; you had a bad road board. You did not have any education; you still
do not. Crime fighting--we are the world's capital for crime in the
world's history. Can you tell me there is crime-ftgbting? Now we are

getting into modern-day things instead of this constitution. But a
constitution that steps in the right direction is an important document
and I am very happy with this document. I am very happy they did it.
J: Your main grievance with it, then, was to retain the cabinet as elected
K: Oh, yes. And not to allow the governor to be governor. There is no
governor of this state.
J: Well, it is very obvious to me that you are a very strong-willed person;
you are outspoken you will do whatever you damned well please. Why not do
it your way? Why not get the legislature,-get the commission to make the
cabinet appointive? It would be in your best interest.
K: No, I think now if I had to do it over again, I would urge only those
things which made a governor governor. You cannot change everything. The
agricultural people were very happy having their little commissioner. He
never stopped the chinch bug nrd' he was not ready for the chinch bug. But
be that as it may, they are happy with him and they do not blame him. I
personally think that probably there could have been more done to be aware
of what might happen. I think the only two things the governor should be
responsible for is that if 70 of all our taxes are brought in for the
purpose of education, then the governor ought to be in charge of education
and ought to spend 70-of his time on it. Pretty logical, right? And he
ought to be able to say to the people when he is running for office, I am
going to hire this man to run your educational system for my four years
and this is his or her qualifications. This is what is going to happen in
your district and this is where we are going to teach your children.
However, as it is now any governor who wants to be elected goes to see Pat Tarnello
in Miami, who is the head of the teachers' union, and Ralph Turlington and that is the end of it. He says)I am not going to play with

the teachers' union. So the teachers' union sends out the word and says
, he is acceptable to us. If you do not have a negative force
against you, you can be positive. Of course nowadays with thirty
second spots with dubbed in voices, what the hell do you know? Therefore,
all the more important to have the teachers' union. Now, if the governor
is really going to be governor and fight crime, then he needs the attorney
general right? And he has to be the toughest and best in law enforcement.
Our attorney general is not in charge of criminal law as such.
J: You mean he is not taking action?
K: Well, he doesn't; it is not his job. The various counties' state's
attorneys are involved in criminal prosecution. But the oversight is not
from governor to attorney general to state's attorney. -Even-ttrougFlts.ft .
It is kind of an understood hands-off program.
J: What could the commission have done to rectify that? Do you think just
making the cabinet appointive would have'done that?
K: I think it would have been a step in the right direction and I would
recommend now that only two members of the cabinet be changed. And
that would be to allow the attorney general to be the governor's
lawyer appointed by the governor; and the superintendent of education by
the governor. You can go ahead and keep agriculture where it is because
then you do not stir up a lot of people. You can keep insurance where it
is because then you do not stir up a lot of insurance executives. You keep the
bankers where they are; they brought their own turmoil on themselves.
Banking in Florida is over for the little banker. And it is over for the
little people, too. Because we have a system of government that did not
protect the people when the Wft came on us from banking. Now, if everybody
likes SearsdoTig-the- nng-i---everybdy-- er Merri ynch doing

their banking, well that's where we are. But the people never had a chance
at that. Never had a chance. The bankers all sat around recently and sat~
we can protect ourselves, when the truth of the matter is they did not.
They thought they did, but they did not.
J: Let me ask you about this election again. The'division was approved by
55.4 of the voters. It was presented to the voters in three separate
pieces: a Basic Document, Suffrage and Elections, and Local Government.
Why do you think they split it into three pieces? And did you expect it
to pass with 55.4a?
K: Well, that is a very healthy percent in my opinion. That was very good. I
think they probably wisely allowed the people to make ia determination
which they were not going to make. If I said to you, Xook, if you don't
like some of this, vote against it. If you like some of it, vote for it.
Well, that is really being very generous to you and I am really not being
honest with you. Because I know you are not going to study it and you
don't know what the hell it is. I did not give you just one package and
say, Here, either take it or leave it. They were not adamant; this was
good public relations.
J: Did you have any part in that?
K: Not really. I think the commission would tell you that I did not. b/y./
I think we just allowed them to do what they wanted to do. I think it
was very smart.
J: Do you think you should haveAan active role in it when the senate
,o d
appropriated the $100,000 to the thirty-seven members. They includeAthe
attorney general, why not include the governor?
K: I do not know.
J: The senate appointed Earl Faircloth the attorney general, why not the
governor whoever he was? Why would that have not been a good idea to have

the input of the governor?
K: I suppose it would have been. Well, there might have been a little
arrogancy there and a little fear. I would guess that the legislature had
no respect for the governor or his office. MCY \
J: Who was the governor at that point? C\
K: No, ,<' the office of governor. Haydan Burns was the governor. I did not
mean that they did not have respect for Hayden, I meant they had no
respect for the office of governor. It was a builc-in mental condition.
They knew that he was a lame duck, so what was the difference?
J: Not Haydin Burns, but the office.
K: Any governor. And everybody understood it. Nobody minded. Hayden Burns
did not mind. Except he wanted to have a shot at another term because
he was an interim. They shifted in his term, as you know, so that they
would not be electing governors in presidential years for fear that the
Republicans would sweep them all out. Eisenhower mentality. Nobody
a [aFrris Bry'nQ, Gov. of (I a 1 -)956)3
minded. Ferris Bryant did not mind that he was a lame duck. LeRoy Collins
L iLcRoV Colllin) Tov. of-PFL, (I {i6-m61)]
did not mind that he was a lame duck. It was part of life. Everybody knew
that we were just going to continue along.
J: Well, you minded?
K: Yes, because I was going to make changes. But nobody else ever got elected
on the basis of making changes.
J: What was the basis for election? That is a lot of governors serving that
were lame ducks.
K: These are all decent types up to a point. There was no narcotics;
corruption was not that bad. It was a style of corruption that I objected
to; I removed 100 men from public office. But corruption had been a
growing thing, it had not been a constant factor. Are you a historian?

Well, then I think you should understand that there was an unwritten
rule--an understanding--between Miami and the balance of the state.
Anything below 163rd Street was their business. And they would stay out of
Tallahassee if Tallahassee would stay out of Miami.
J: Why were some of these small rural communities--communities like I came
from that were heavily Democratic- ot able to vote down this constitution
and vote-do"w some of the changes that you wanted to see brought about in
the legislature?
K: Where are you from?
J: DeLand.
K: Why weren't they able to?
J: Yes.
K: Why would they want to? DeLand is Stetson. It is a living headquarters
for thinking.
J: But if you look at counties like Baker and Bay--some of the old Florida Counties. .
K: Baker is not an old Florida County, it is just an old county. Baker does
not represent Florida.
J: It certainly does. What do you mean it does not represent Florida?
K: You know where the citadel of thinking in Florida is: Marion County,
Volusia County, Jackson County, maybe Escambia, maybe not. I would defer
to him on it.
J: Well, what about Alachua?
K: Alachua, sure.
J: And Leon.
K: Leon becaus ita headquarters.
J: Well, I have got a major university here, too. Doesn't that have anything
to do with it?

K: Where?
J: Right across the street. In fact, two of them.
K: Oh, you are talking about here. Leon. Alright, I will give you Leon.
You certainly would not say Columbia County. Collier, certainly not.
I am telling you where the thinking people were. That is not to say that
the other people were not thinking, they did not have to. I am trying to
.screw him o--he is from DeLand.
?: From DeLand?
K: I told you he is from the citadel--from Stetson. How much more can you