Where Have All the Bob Grahams Gone?

by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, April 30, 2024 No Comment(s)

The death of Bob Graham has brought an avalanche of accolades for the kind of political leader they don't make anymore - at least in Florida. We could not help but relate Graham’s passing with circumstances surrounding our first exposure to the man.

Bob Graham, 2001

That was in 1974. We were new to Gold Coast Magazine and slowly adding the types of coverage that the magazine lacked. We did sports when Le Club International sponsored a car in the Grand Prix of Monaco, and then we covered the Miami Dolphins when under new coach Don Shula they gave promise of future success. We did not know much about Florida government except that Claude Kirk had attracted national attention as a flamboyant, often outrageous governor. He had been followed by Reuben Askew, whose notions of good government departed from most of Florida's past. He had a reform coalition composed of men from both political parties.

That first visit to the capital was aided by Broward Countians Ed Trombetta, a Democrat, and Van Poole, a Republican. We did not know it, but we crashed a historic event - the modernization of Florida government with the Government in Sunshine movement. It was led by a relatively young group of legislators including Republicans Joel Gustafson and George Caldwell from Broward and Don Reed from Palm Beach. They joined outstanding representatives from Miami, including Bob Graham.

The standout in that group, however, was not Graham. That distinction belonged to Marshall Harris from Miami. He was called "the Jewish William Buckley." He was Harvard undergrad and law, and he had a patrician bearing and eloquent style like Buckley. And like Buckley, he could be arrogant, but his intellect and hard work made him an admired figure by both parties. He had been named "legislator of the year" three times in the years before we met..

The late Joel Gustafson described Harris at the time.

"He's one of the brightest people I’ve ever worked with. Fiscally, he's very conservative, really tough on the budget. He could almost run as a Republican. Nobody was quicker to take the various departments to task over how they spend their money."

He added thoughts when Harris died in 2009. He had seen him only a few times since both departed Tallahassee. In fact, our phone call was the first time he learned of Harris’ death.

"When I had some issue I wish I could have talked to him. He always worked on it. There was a bond in the people who showed up in those days. We were like a big fraternity."

 Can you imagine a prominent GOP legislator describing a Democrat in such terms today?

 Unlike Harris, who retired from public life, and whose death was little noted, Bob Graham went on to serve as governor and U.S. senator. Upon his death, we regret that the good work he and men like him and Marshall Harris did in Tallahassee is now being taken apart piece by piece by Governor Ron DeSantis and his lackeys.  The last thing they want is the open government in the sunshine so hard won by men like Bob Graham years ago.

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