Is Florida a commodity or a treasure? That is the question former U.S. Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham asked after his speech Friday to the Economic Club of Florida on the oil spill disaster in the Gulf. Although he chose his words carefully, his point is that the political climate today has revived the question which he believes was put to rest 40 years ago: Is Florida for sale?
Graham was governor from 1978-86 and U.S. Senator from 1986-2004. Here are his remarks to the Herald/Times:
"I think what's happening in Florida is the battle that many of us thought was over in Florida has emerged -- that is the battle to define what is Florida. For two-thirds of the 20th century, Florida was defined as a commodity. If you thought it was too wet, you filled it in. If you thought it was too dry, you dug it up and you packaged it and sold it.
"That’s the battle that many of us thought was settled and which has now re-emerged. It is now one, if not the central issue of Florida politics."
The oil disaster has also renewed Graham's admiration for the so-called Pork-Choppers, a band of North Florida conservatives who ruled Florida through the 1940s and 50s, he said. Although the Pork Chop Gang had a mixed reputation over the years, especially regarding reapportionment, Graham said they were prescient on some things. While neighboring Gulf states were opening their doors and coffers to oil drilling, the Pork Chopperse worked together to ban it in Florida.
"Along with this issue of commodity versus treasure is the theme of short-term or long-term vision,'' Graham said. "It’s really stunning how long the vision was of the Pork Choppers on a number of issues for which we are still benefitting.
"Does our generation of political leadership have the same ability to think over the horizon, and to act in an over the horizon manner even though there are no immediate rewards?"