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Reubin O'Donovan Askew

In office
January 5, 1971 – January 2, 1979
Lieutenant Thomas Burton Adams, Jr. (1971-1975)
J.H. Williams (1975-1979)
Preceded by Claude Roy Kirk
Succeeded by Bob Graham

In office
1979 – 1981
President Jimmy Carter
Preceded by Robert S. Strauss
Succeeded by Bill Brock

Born September 11, 1928 (1928-09-11) (age 81)
Muskogee, Oklahoma
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Donna Lou Harper
Profession Politician, Lawyer
Religion Presbyterian

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. 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, reportedly feeling with this task uncomfortable, because it violated existing treaties[1].

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.[2]


Askew won the Democratic nomination for Governor in 1970. State Secretary of Florida Thomas Burton Adams, Jr. was his running-mate. Ticket Askew/Adams defeated incumbent Republican Governor Claude Roy Kirk, Jr. and Lieutenant Governor Ray C. Osborn. Askew was re-elected (this time his running mate was J.H. Williams) in 1974. 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[3].


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 Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia 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, 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,[4] 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[5], but executions were not resumed until the administration of his successor, Bob Graham.

Askew personally believed that death penalty was necessary in rare, very heinous, cases[6].

Governor Askew ordered a new investigation into the case of two death row inmates, Wilbert Lee and Freddie Pitts, who had been wrongfully convicted in 1963. Askew participated in part of the inquiry and later pardoned both inmates.[7]

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.[8]

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. Askew was a member of the first class to be inducted into the DeMolay Hall of Fame on November 13, 1986. 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.

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. The Askew School's website is

In Spring 2003, the Florida State University chapter of Alpha Phi Omega nominated Askew to be that semester's pledge class namesake.

In 1994, the Reuben O'D Askew Institute on Politics and Society 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. The website is

Personal life

He married the former Donna Lou Harper in 1956. They have two children: daughter and son[9].

Askew is a lifelong teetotaller and non-smoker[1].

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 honor of Askew. The library at his high school alma mater, Pensacola High School, was also named after him.[10]

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.[11]

Fictionalized portraits

The character of Freddy Picker, a former Florida Governor and a primary Democratic candidate for President in the novel and movie Primary Colors was partially based on Askew.

Electoral history[12]

Democratic primary for Governor, 1970

Democratic primary for Governor runoff

Florida gubernatorial election, 1970

Democratic primary for Governor, 1974

Florida gubernatorial election, 1974

United States presidential election, 1984 (Democratic primaries)


External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Claude R. Kirk, Jr.
Governor of Florida
January 5, 1971–January 2, 1979
Succeeded by
D. Robert Graham
Preceded by
Cecil Andrus
Chairman of the National Governors Association
Succeeded by
William G. Milliken
Government offices
Preceded by
Robert S. Strauss
United States Trade Representative
Under Presideny Jimmy Carter

Succeeded by
William E. Brock III
Party political offices
Preceded by
Robert King High
Democratic Party nominee form Governor of Florida
1970, 1974
Succeeded by
D. Robert Graham
Preceded by
Daniel Inouye
Keynote Speaker of the Democratic National Convention
Succeeded by
Barbara Jordan

Redirecting to Reubin Askew


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