This Oral History is copyrighted by the Interviewee
and Samuel Proctor Oral History Program on
behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of
Copyright, 2005, University of Florida.
All rights, reserved.
This oral history may be used for research,
instruction, and private study under the provisions
of Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of United States
Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section
107) which allows limited use of copyrighted
materials under certain conditions.
Fair use limits the amount of materials that may be
For all other permissions and requests, contacat the
SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Interviewee: John McCarty
Interviewer: Denise Stobbie
December 16, 1986
S: [This is Denise Stobbie conducting an oral history interview with John McCarty on
the history of the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission.] Let me begin by
asking you to state your name and your city and county of residence.
M: My name is John Moore McCarty, also known as John M. My address is
111 Boston Avenue, Fort Pierce, St. Lucie County, Florida 33450.
S: Put us back into 1966. At the time of the commission you had been serving as a
senator. You were elected in 1962 and served until 1966?
M: I was re-elected in 1966 and then there was a reapportionment that
Governor [Claude R.] Kirk [1967-1971] ordered after he became governor in 1967. In the
special election held after reapportionment, I was not re-elected. We had to change
districts. I was first re-elected to a full term in November of 1966 after my first term
in 1962 to 1966. Then I served in 1966 until that special election just before the
April session of 1967.
S: And that was when the Miami federal court said that the legislature had to be
M: That is correct, a three-member court.
S: Had you done any work on constitutional revision prior to serving on this
M: Well, I had been chairman of the Florida Citizens Committee on the constitution
prior to that time to try and drum up interest in modernizing the constitution.
S: Who organized that committee?
M: I cannot recall offhand, but it would have been prior to Governor [Farris] Bryant [1961-1965].
When I was active in it, Richard Simpson [Florida House of
Representatives, 1939-1951], the former speaker of the house from Monticello, and
Earl Powers from Gainesville were on it, as were the ladies from Pinellas County
who were active in the League of Women Voters.
S: What years did you serve on that committee, approximately?
M: Are you talking about the commission now?
S: No, that Florida Citizens Committee.
M: Oh, I would say it was three or four years.
S: Was that three or four years before the commission?
M: That would have been prior to that time, right. That would probably have been in
the late 1950s.
S: Who appointed you to serve on the Constitutional Revision Commission?
M: The governor.
S: And you were a senator when you began serving. Why do you feel that you were
chosen to serve on this?
M: Probably because Chesterfield Smith [chairman, Florida Constitutional Revision Committee],
as a former president of the Florida Bar, knew that I had been a
member of the Board of Governors of the Florida Bar and in the senate. He
probably wanted to have me appointed. I suspected that. I never made any effort
to be appointed. So I think maybe Chesterfield was responsible for that.
S: Why did you agree to serve?
M: Because of my interest in government and updating the constitution and improving
where we could.
S: I have a sheet here that shows the committees. I think this was probably the first
committee assignment, but some of those changed.
M: I do not think I was on the original list of committees anyway.
S: What committees were you involved in?
M: I do not have the faintest idea; that is why I asked to look at this. I was appointed
after the commission had started. As I told you at the beginning, I have not made
any progress as far as finding all the old files and refreshing my mind, so I am
answering your questions cold this afternoon. I regret that, but there is nothing I can
do about it. I look forward, not backward, at this point in life.
S: Since I do not have the committee that you served on, what areas of the legislation
were you concerned with?
M: Well, I think one thing that Chesterfield had in mind was that I was fairly familiar
with all three branches of government. I had served unofficially as an aide to my
brother Dan McCarty when he was [Florida] governor in 1953. Then I had served
on the circuit bench from 1956 to 1959, and then I had served in the senate. So with
my knowledge of all three branches of government, I think he felt I could contribute
a little something in that respect.
S: In the interviews that I have had with other people, they mentioned that you were
involved in a speakers' bureau around the state. Was that after the work of the
M: Right. [We did that] in order to try and promote the passage of the constitutional
S: So the commission had already sent the document to the legislature?
S: What about some of the issues that came up, such as the creation of the lieutenant
M: Well, that was just one of those things that was debated. At that time, there was no
way that an official elected by all the people of the state would serve in case the
governor was disabled and unable to serve. The president of the Florida Senate
succeeded as acting governor if the governor were disabled. This was in the 1950s.
In the old days of the senate, you could perhaps be elected to the senate in one or
two small rural counties. That would not be an outlook that could cover all the
problems of the state. Luckily, most people in the senate had that kind of
knowledge, so it was not disastrous or anything like that. But it was just an effort
to try and modernize. Along the way they never did really give him [the lieutenant
governor] enough to do to make it [a] very important [position]. I left government
at the time, and I really do not know how effective the lieutenant governor has
S: So you left government in 1967?
S: At the time of the reapportionment. So you had worked on this provision, and you
were not able to stay in the legislature to vote on it. From what I have read, after
that reapportionment there were a number of new legislators who were the ones that
finally voted on this document. How did you feel about that?
M: Possibly the most help I gave the commission was after I was not in the senate, in
1970, 1971, and 1972 when I was president elect and president of the Florida Bar.
That enabled me to get some help for the passage of the commission's work at that
S: That would have been especially on the judicial amendment.
M: Right. You see, the original work that was done to change to constitution left
Article V until later on. It was about 1971 or 1972 when that deal was worked out.
S: Why was that?
M: It was the most argumentative part.
S: They just could not work it out in the 1966 Commission.
M: For some reason they decided that it would not be smart to try and do something
that might kill the whole package.
S: So it was in the 1970s that that came up again in committees of the legislature.
Were you called in on those committees that considered the judicial article of the
M: As president of the bar I attended most of the meetings up here, I would say. Either
the committee chairman from the bar or other people from the Florida Bar would
be present. We would be available to answer questions and take stands on particular
points that had been raised.
S: Was Article V revised much at that point from what the 1966 Commission had done
M: No, there were very few changes, I think, at that point. Actually, the commission had
done very little about Article V until that lapse of time when it was brought up
again and they had the subsequent session.
S: Do you remember any of the other legislation that you took a personal interest in,
any of the work of the different committees? One of the things that has been
brought out was work to eliminate the cabinet.
M: I took no part in any work to eliminate the cabinet. One day Representative
[Richard] Pettigrew [Florida House of Representatives, 1963-1972; Florida Senate,
1972-1974] was ill and unable to argue whether or not they should have staggered
terms or limited terms. In his absence the chairman asked me to advocate the
position for him. [My position] was [then] misinterpreted by the cabinet members
and staff. Some of them did not like the idea of my being quoted on something like
that. Yet, in reality, it was not my personal feeling. I was simply trying to bring out
both sides of the question, being the devil's advocate at that point. I am an easy-
going guy who never got involved in that kind of hassle just for the fun of it. I was
not even aware that it would be a serious problem at the time.
S: I have heard that Chesterfield Smith would have people serve as the devil's advocate
and take the other side just so the other side would come out when there were no
dissenting opinions. Would that work well?
M: I think it was the way it should have been done to try and let people know what
arguments were on both sides rather than just showing them something and saying:
"Here it is. Go forth or do not go forth."
S: Was that all done in full sessions of the commission?
M: Yes. Sitting up here in the old senate chamber in November and early December
S: Was during the final deliberations the only time that the commission met in full
sessions? Do you remember any times that the commission got together during that
year or worked in committees?
M: We traveled the state for hearings on different parts. I do not know how many of
us attended, but I would say a majority of the commission would show up and
participate in those hearings. It was not a small group of people in the commission
who were undertaking the major work on it. I would say it was a commission draft
and a commission effort.
S: So you did travel the state during that year while everything was being ironed out
in committees. What was the purpose of those public hearings?
M: So that everybody could be heard. If they came up with a better plan or better
suggestion, the commission was willing to listen to it. I do not recall any time when
they really made any major changes.
S: Did you travel to the major cities?
M: Miami to Pensacola, Jacksonville to Tampa, all over the state. Everybody had a
chance to get to a meeting if they wanted to.
S: So the individual members of the commission would meet in those cities and hold
hearings, and you were a senator when the commission's work was presented to the
legislature at the end of 1966.
M: Actually, I think it was not presented until the 1967 session, and at that time I was
not a senator. I had been re-elected and then in the special election after
reapportionment I was not re-elected.
S: Even though you had just been re-elected the year before or less than that?
M: Well, under Dr. [Manning] Dauer's plan [professor, University of Florida, 1936-
1975], or whoever's plan it was, they had one of the districts out in the middle of the
St. Johns River as a dividing point or something. Brevard County was thrown into
the four-county district that I was in, and it was large enough to make a difference
in the election. Of course, there was the fact that [newly elected] Governor Kirk was
a Republican. That was a factor in the more active Republican opposition.
S: What role did you and any other members of the commission have once the revisions
went to the legislature? Were members of the commission involved in the legislative
review before all of this went to the voters?
M: Actually, on the commission--other than Chairman Smith--there were so many
chairmen of committees. I am just trying to refresh my mind on a few of them. For
example, Judge Hugh Taylor [Florida Circuit Court, 1945-1976], as one of the senior
circuit judges in the state, was the chairman on drafting and style. Ralph Turlington
[Florida House of Representatives, 1951-1974] from Gainesville, who has served
the state close to forty years now in different capacities, was on the commission.
[Also included was] Senator Beth Johnson [Florida Senate, 1962-1967] from Orlando,
who is now deceased. She was a great individual and a wonderful senator, and she
did her own work. [She was] very outstanding. Earl Faircloth, the [state] attorney
general at the time [1965-1971], was chairman of the executive committee branch.
Justice [B. K.] Roberts from the [Florida] supreme court [1949-1976] was chairman
of the human rights committee.
The judicial branch was under Senator Reubin Askew [Florida Senate, 1962-1971;
governor, 1971-1979]. He had a variety of people on that committee: Justice Stephen
O'Connell [Florida supreme court, 1957-1967; president, University of Florida,
1967-1973] and two house members, Joseph Davis [circuit court judge] from Sanford
and John Crews [Florida House of Representatives, 1953-1966] from Gainesville
were both outstanding legislative and judicial members.
The legislative branch had so many outstanding people there, including Emerson
Allsworth [Florida House of Representatives, 1959-1967], who was chairman from
Broward County. John Mathews, Jr., [Florida Senate, 1962-1971] was also on many
committees. He was just one of the great brains of our state as far as the legislative
service, legal service, and all of that kind of thing. That was one of the strengths of
Ralph Marsicano [league counsel, Florida League of Cities, 1949-1980] was an
attorney in Tampa who had been the counsel for the League of Cities over the years,
and Tom Barkdull [chief justice, Florida Court of Appeals, Third District, 1972-1977]
was a judge in Dade County. Bill Gautier [Florida Senate, 1951-1966], on local
government, was a senator. [Other people on the commission included] my colleague
from St. Lucie County, Frank Fee [Florida House of Representatives, 1953-1967],
chairman of state finance Tom Alexander, [and] Elmer Friday [Florida Senate, 1962-
1973]. Elmer was one of these bird dogs who wanted to have everything just right--
to cross the t's and dot the i's. There were just too many for me to sit here and tell
you about all thirty-seven members. The press was Bill Baggs from Miami and the
Miami Daily News at that time. The whole thing, as far as the effort to come up with
a good modernized constitution, was just covered from every angle that you could
S: What parts of that constitution were you more interested in than others?
M: Well, I felt that the legislative branch was the one that we had to work on the most
because reapportionment was the problem at the time. The distinguished members
of the Florida Senate who actually controlled the senate came from many rural
counties and were not making Dade County or Duval County or Hillsborough County
[senators] happy because of their unwillingness to give up their power and control.
Judge Dale Clark, for example, was from Jefferson County. At that time, Jefferson
County had one senator, Judge Clark, and he was the dean of the senate. He had
the respect and admiration of all of us. Jefferson County only had about 3,000
people registered to vote, and only about 1,500 of them would vote. Yet at that time
Dade County only had two senators with a million people.
That was where the one-man, one-vote thing came along in the United States
Federal Courts. They cut up things and made decisions there that were just unheard
of in a state as large as ours. There were just so many problems that overlapped in
that thing that it was just a little bit [crazy]. Repeatedly, the majority of the senate
had to make some concession that was really killing the goose that was laying their
golden egg. If they had not been willing to give any at all, I think we could have had
Governor [LeRoy] Collins [1955-1961] is the man who covered all that because he
called them into session time after time to try and get them to reapportion, and they
just simply refused to do it. That was understandable because, after all, they were
a distinguished group of men in their own right. In their minds they were looking
out for the welfare of the state just as well as anybody else would have been.
Unfortunately, it just did not add up that there was any way to say that there was
one-man, one-vote legislation or any revision of the constitution that would have
done any better or any worse than their efforts. They were happy with the
constitution that we had. Except for the fact that the federal government was going
to tell us what we had to do, they would have done just what many southern
governors did: They would have fought it to the bitter end.
S: So before we had a chance to revise our reapportionment system, the courts stepped
in and did it for us.
M: Well, I think that you will find that the three-member federal court of the appeals
mentioned Dade County had an agreement out of the attorneys at that time that
whatever they decided would not be appealed. I do not think, if that had been
generally known at the time, that it would have gone through quite as easily as it did
because there would have been many people willing to appeal it had they not been
discouraged to [do so].
S: Were you satisfied with the reapportionment?
M: No, I was not satisfied with it. I think it was a monstrosity. There is no question
in my mind that Florida's legislature was better when it had 38 members in the
senate and 96 members in the house than two round figures of 40 and 120. There
are people in many districts now who do not even know who their representatives
or senators are. The districts are cut up so that they have a part of Osceola County
or Okeechobee County or Indian River County or St. Lucie County, just as an
example. The person who can work the hardest or is the best-known gets to be
elected in corners of different counties. They really do not have something, other
than a number of votes, that they can count on or figure out where they will get a
majority of the votes.
S: And was that all the work of Manning Dauer?
M: I do not know whether it was the work of Dr. Dauer alone or not. [Now that I think
about it,] I am sure it was not because they had other people who worked on it.
Senator Askew had maps colored with every different kind of plan you could
S: What did the legislative committee support?
M: I cannot really answer that. I would have to go back in my notes and see what our
arguments were at the time. But you have to remember that they were on this
commission. I do not know that they ever really had a commitment out of the
legislature (out of the house, for example) as to what they should approve or should
S: How significant was the moderation of the article-by-article rule of changing the
constitution in getting this document through the voters?
M: My recollection is that we simply tried to come up with a plan that would help us
get the constitutional revision passed, and that was one of the ways. If we did it step
by step, it would be better off. We were discussing earlier the fact that the Judicial
Article was handled later on rather than at that time. You have to recall that the
thirty-seven members of this commission were just about as diverse in their interests
and abilities as the state of Florida was. There is a lot of difference between small
rural counties [located] in west Florida and the panhandle and the more populated
counties on the east or west coasts. Consequently, there were some very debatable
points in all of this, and we had some very close votes.
We felt like we came out with an improvement. The United States Constitution has
survived more than 200 years and there have been fewer than thirty amendments to
it. Florida's was fewer than 100 years old at the time and yet it had more than 100
amendments to it. There was just no reason to have some of that stuff in the
constitution. What makes a constitution strong is that it is written so that it allows
the legislature to take care of things without trying to put through an amendment.
Many times the legislature has thrown things into a constitutional amendment just
to have it defeated or to have it weakened or strengthened. That is all part of your
S: So the great contribution towards constitutional revision of the 1963 legislature was
the modification of the article-by-article rule.
M: I believe that if we had not started it on that basis, we would still be sitting here with
an old constitution.
S: Because it would have been impossible to put something like that to the voters?
M: [Right. You] could not get them all to agree on it.
S: You said you served as president of the Florida Bar [Association].
M: In 1971 and 1972.
S: I think we have covered the judicial amendment pretty well. Can you think of
anything else that you want to talk about?
M: I think probably the biggest mistake that we made was allowing the governor to
succeed himself for another term.
S: Why is that?
M: In the first four years a lot of things are not done so that his re-election will not be
jeopardized. That, in my opinion, is the drawback of the presidency of the United
States right now. You ought to give him a six-year term. I think it is horrendous
problem that a federal judge is appointed for life when you have a bunch of tyrants
on there. The first year they are on the federal bench, they become above everybody
else, almost like an admiral in the navy who can do no wrong because he is the
admiral. If a man feels like he is destined to be governor for eight years, let him
lay out four years and then see whether or not you would like the same one. I think
the same thing is true about federal judges. That is just an example of the
drawbacks of the federal constitution. I do not know how I would vote without going
through the process now and seeing what the argument would be on both sides. But
we would probably be better off to limit cabinet members to two terms or even one
term and then let them run again if they wanted to.
Florida is no longer a country state of two million people. We are now [populated
with] more than ten million people and growing bigger all the time. There is just
no way that we can handle all the problems involved without tremendous leadership.
The Sunshine Law has almost limited the amount of people who are willing to take
the time and go through the rat race of declaring their worth in order to have
somebody come and needle you. That kind of thing does not make sense. It would
have never come up or passed if every editor, publisher, and owner of the TV, radio,
or newspaper would have had to make their net worth known.
S: Some of the problems in government that you are mentioning, were they discussed
twenty years ago as well?
M: No, not really. I am one of the old fuddy-duds now who is considered a square.
Surviving the 1960s and 1970s, with the changes brought on by the drug culture and
rock music and all of this stuff, was a different ball game completely. I am
embarrassed for a Republican president today to be in the position that he is, even
though I am a Democrat, because what has happened in the last thirty to forty days
here is unbelievable for the most powerful country in the world, as far as freedom
and democracy is concerned.
Sometime after I see a copy of what we have talked about I may change some
comments here for you and strengthen them, add to them, or whatever.
S: Well, I think we have pretty well covered the questions I have.
M: One of my shortcomings may have been that I did not hesitate to say how I felt
about things along the way, which is not the easiest or the smartest thing to do in
politics anymore. I might add something.
S: Well, I appreciate your time.