Reubin Askew, Florida Governor Who Ran for President, Dies at 85

Reubin Askew, the former governor of Florida who served as U.S. trade representative under President Jimmy Carter before making an unsuccessful run for the White House during the 1980s, has died. He was 85.

Askew died today at Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare where he had been admitted on March 8 after suffering from aspiration pneumonia and, most recently, a stroke, the Associated Press said, citing Ron Sachs, a former aide and family spokesman.

The 37th governor of the Sunshine State completed two four-year terms in the 1970s during which he introduced a corporate income tax to offset reduced consumer levies and an increased homestead exemption on property duties. Known for initiating referendums to circumvent opposition in the Legislature, the Democratic governor successfully opposed efforts to legalize casino gambling in Florida, appointed the first black justice to the State Supreme Court, and championed a “Sunshine Amendment” to the state constitution to force full financial disclosure by public officials and candidates.

“I really didn’t promise anybody anything,” Askew said in a 1974 interview for the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina. “You simply couldn’t have taken some of the stands that I’ve taken and be committed to the very people that you have to oppose.”

McGovern’s Offer

A lifelong teetotaler and former paratrooper, who was once offered the vice-presidential nomination on George McGovern’s Democratic ticket in 1972, Askew was seen as conservative within his own party on some issues. While he supported affirmative action and enforced racial integration of schoolchildren as one of the “New South” governors, he signed the law reintroducing capital punishment in Florida, was opposed to abortion, and stood against a nuclear-weapons freeze with the Soviet Union during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

After stepping down as governor in 1979, he became U.S. trade representative in Carter’s cabinet before returning to practice law in Miami. His campaign for the presidential nomination ended when he finished last in the New Hampshire primary in February 1984 in a race that Walter Mondale eventually won when he became the Democrats’ choice to run against Reagan later that year. Askew had also been mooted as a possible Democratic nominee in 1976, when he wasn’t a candidate.

‘Too Late’

“Askew took a long time to be persuaded that he did have the stuff to be president, and when he did run, it was eight years too late,” Martin Dyckman, the author of the 2011 book “Reubin O’D. Askew and the Golden Age of Florida Politics,” said in a 2012 interview with Marc Bernier on WNDB radio.

“The complete climate of the country had changed, and this was during the Reagan era when government was now being demonized. Well, Askew was a man who extolled government.”

Reubin O’Donovan Askew was born on Sept. 11, 1928, in Muskogee, Oklahoma, one of six children to Leon and Alberta Askew. In 1937, he moved with his mother to Pensacola, Florida.

Askew earned a bachelor’s degree in science at Florida State University and a law degree at the University of Florida. He became a U.S. Army paratrooper in 1946 and was discharged two years later as a sergeant. He then served as a second lieutenant in the Air Force from 1951 until 1953.

After starting his public career as an assistant solicitor for Escambia County from 1956 to 1958, Askew was elected to the state’s House of Representatives and then entered the Florida Senate in 1962. He became the first Florida governor to be elected to a second successive four-year term.

Between periods of public office, Askew practiced law as a partner at the Miami firm Greenberg, Traurig, Askew, Hoffman, Lipoff, Rosen and Quentel. After failing in his bid for the presidency, he announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in 1987 before withdrawing due to difficulties in raising funds.

Askew and his wife, Donna Lou Harper, had two children, Angela and Kevin.

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