Reubin O'Donovan Askew, 37th Governor of Florida

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Reubin O'Donovan Askew, Esq.

Birthplace: Muskogee, Muskogee, Oklahoma, United States
Death: March 13, 2014 (85)
Immediate Family:

Son of Leon Goldberg Askew, Sr. and Alberta Askew
Husband of Private
Brother of Leon Goldberg Askew, Jr.

Occupation: politician, lawyer
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Reubin O'Donovan Askew, 37th Governor of Florida

Reubin Askew

Reubin O'Donovan Askew (born September 11, 1928) is an American politician, who served as the 37th Governor of the U.S. state of Florida from 1971 to 1979.

Early life and career

Askew was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, one of the six children of Leon G. Askew and Alberta Askew. His parents divorced,[1] and in 1937, he and his mother moved to Pensacola, Florida. Askew was a member of Escambia Chapter Order of DeMolay in Pensacola. He was initiated in 1944. Askew graduated from Pensacola High School in 1946.

Later that year, he entered the Army as a paratrooper and in 1948 was discharged in the rank of Sergeant. Askew attended Florida State University, at which he was a brother of Delta Tau Delta and Alpha Phi Omega. At FSU, Askew served as Student Body President. He later attended law school at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. He served in the Air Force from 1951 to 1953, as an military intelligence officer, overseeing airplane reconnaissance photographs of Western Europe, though he felt uncomfortable with this task as it violated existing treaties.

In 1956, Askew was elected as Assistant County Solicitor of Escambia County, Florida. In 1958, he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives and, in 1962, to the Florida Senate, from 1969 to 1970 he served as President Pro Tempore of the Florida State Senate. He received the Legion of Honor from the International Supreme Council of the Order of DeMolay in 1971.

He emerged as a progressive lawmaker, opposing racial segregation and supporting fairer legislative representation for urban counties.


Askew won the Democratic nomination for Governor in 1970. State Secretary of Florida Thomas Burton Adams, Jr., was his running-mate for lieutenant governor. In its endorsement of Askew-Adams and the Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Lawton Chiles of Lakeland, who defeated Republican William C. Cramer of St. Petersburg, the Miami Herald said that Askew had "captured the imagination of a state that plainly deserves new leadership." The incumbent Republican governor, Claude R. Kirk, Jr., ridiculed his opponent Askew as "a momma's boy who wouldn't have the courage to stand up under the fire of the legislators" and a "nice sweet-looking fellow chosen by liberals ... to front for them."[4] Such rhetoric helped to reinvigorate the Democratic coalition. Mike Thompson, who managed the 1970 Republican gubernatorial primary campaign waged by state Representative L. A. "Skip" Bafalis, sat out the general election between Kirk and Askew. Himself the unsuccessful Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in 1974, Thompson insisted that the often ascerbic Kirk had demolished "the coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats who elected him in 1966. ... The trail from Tallahassee to Palm Beach is littered with the bodies of former friends, supporters, and citizens -- all of whom made the fatal mistake of believing the words of Claude Kirk."

By the margin of 57-43 percent, Askew and Adams unseated Kirk and his running-mate, Lieutenant Governor Ray C. Osborne. From 1887 to 1969, with the appointment of Osborne, the Florida Constitution did not provide for a lieutenant governor. In 1974, Askew was re-elected, with J. H. Williams) as his running mate. He is one of just five Florida Governors to be elected for two terms (the others were LeRoy Collins, Bob Graham, Lawton Chiles, and Jeb Bush). Askew was also the first Governor to serve two full four-year terms (Bush is the second; Collins was elected to a two-year term followed by a four-year term, Graham resigned shortly before the end of his second term to become U.S. Senator, and Chiles died in office near the end of his second term).

In 1974, Governor Askew was named by the TIME magazine as one of the 200 Faces for the Future.

Civil rights issues and the New South

As governor, Askew was one of the first of the 'New South' governors, at the same time as Governors Jimmy Carter of Georgia, Dale Bumpers of Arkansas (who defeated Orval Faubus), John C. West of South Carolina and later Bill Clinton of Arkansas. He supported school desegregation and the controversial idea of busing to achieve racial balance (mandatory integration); in addition he named the first black Justice of the State Supreme Court, Joseph Woodrow Hatchett[ and appointed M. Athalie Range Secretary of the Department of Community Affairs, the first black since Reconstruction and the first woman to head a state agency in Florida. Additionally, Askew appointed Jesse J. McCrary Jr. as Secretary of State in 1978, the first black to hold a cabinet level office in Florida in the modern era.

Capital punishment

After the U.S. Supreme Court Furman v. Georgia decision effectively overturned existing state laws for capital punishment in the United States in 1972, Florida was the first state to enact a new death penalty statute, which Governor Askew signed. Afterwards the Supreme Court accepted new state death-penalty laws in Gregg v. Georgia. Immediately after the ruling, which effectively reinstated the use of the death penalty in the United States, Governor Askew began signing death warrants, but executions were not resumed until the administration of his successor, Bob Graham.

Askew personally believed that death penalty was only necessary in rare cases. Governor Askew ordered a new investigation into the case of two death row inmates, Wilbert Lee and Freddie Pitts, who had been wrongfully convicted of murder in 1963. Askew participated in part of the inquiry and in 1975 pardoned both inmates.

Presidential politics

Askew's national stature in the Democratic party grew, and in 1972, he was the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention in Miami. For the 1972 presidential election, he was offered the Vice Presidential slot on the Democratic ticket with Presidential nominee George McGovern, but he turned it down. He later accepted an appointment as Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Ambassadorial Appointments under President Jimmy Carter.

He was also mentioned as a front-runner for the 1976 Vice Presidential nomination.

Later career

Trade Representative

Barred from seeking a third term as governor, Askew finished his second term as governor and then accepted President Carter's invitation to be the United States Trade Representative and served until Carter's term ended in January 1981.

Askew was the first Trade Representative who held title United States Trade Representative, not Special Trade Representative, as his predecessors were called.

Presidential bid in 1984 and Senatorial bid in 1988

Askew joined a Miami law firm and at the same time began to organize a Presidential bid for the 1984 presidential election. He announced his candidacy on February 23, 1983 after making visits to all 50 states. Askew never gained traction within the national Democratic party. Although progressive on civil rights, Askew was notably more conservative than most of the other candidates. He was pro-life on abortion, a position that nevertheless failed to win over voters in Catholic Iowa, against the nuclear freeze, against the Equal Rights Amendment, against the right of homosexuals to work as teachers, and for President Ronald Reagan's invasion of Grenada in October 1983. Askew withdrew on March 1, 1984, after he finished last in the New Hampshire Democratic Primary. In 1987, he declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate; however, in May 1988, he withdrew from the contest, citing lack of fundraising.

In retirement

In 1994, former Governor Askew was named to the founding class of the Florida DeMolay Hall of Fame, a Masonic honorarium.

The Reuben O'D. Askew School of Public Administration and Policy at Florida State University was named for him and offers courses in government at several Florida universities. The Askew School awards undergraduate, masters, and doctoral degrees, and offers non-degree certificate programs, in public administration and related disciplines. It has been consistently ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the premier public affairs schools in the United States. Askew lectures on state and local government as well as international trade.

In 1994, the Reubin O'D Askew Institute on Politics and Society at the University of Florida was created in recognition of the fact that the state needed a vehicle to bring people interested in the future of Florida together to discuss issues facing the state. Rapid population growth in recent years has meant that many Floridians are unaware of the state's history or the major issues which must be resolved to ensure a bright future for all citizens.

Personal life

Askew’s middle name, ‘’O’Donovan’’, was his mother’s maiden name, and he kept the double initial (O’D.) in her honor.[1]

He married the former Donna Lou Harper in August 1956, and they have been married for more than 50 years. They have two children: daughter and son.

Askew’s father and two brothers had a “serious drinking problem”, which helps explain why he is a lifelong teetotaller and non-smoker.

Askew legacy

Widely regarded as an effective Governor, Askew was named one of the 50 most important Floridians for "Tax reform, racial justice and honesty in government were the hallmarks of his governorship".

He was also found by Harvard Scholars as one of the best U.S. Governors in 20th century.

The Student Life Center at Florida State University was renamed to the Reubin O'D. Askew Student Life Center in his honor. The library at his high school alma mater, Pensacola High School, was also named after him. Interstate 110 in Pensacola is named the Reubin O'Donovan Askew Parkway.

He was designated a Great Floridian by the Florida Department of State in 1998. The program is intended to recognize and record the achievements of Floridians, living and deceased, who have made major contributions to the progress and welfare of this state.

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Reubin O'Donovan Askew, 37th Governor of Florida's Timeline

September 11, 1928
Muskogee, Muskogee, Oklahoma, United States
March 13, 2014
Age 85