TALLAHASSEE, FL, March 14, 2014 ( – Former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew, the last pro-life politician to mount a serious bid for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, died yesterday at age 85.

Remembered as a man of integrity and faith, Askew was a born again Presbyterian elder who campaigned for “a constitutional amendment to reverse Roe v. Wade,” opposed casino gambling, and signed one of the nation's first laws prohibiting same-sex “marriage” because he did not view “the homosexual lifestyle as something that approached a constitutional right.”

His pro-life, pro-family views helped relegate him to a footnote in presidential history, as the Democratic Party of his day raced to embrace the sexual revolution.


Askew died yesterday in Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare of a stroke, after suffering from pneumonia.

Born on September 11, 1928, in Muskogee, Oklahoma, as a child his family moved to Pensacola. He served in the U.S. Army from 1946 to 1948, then enlisted in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War from 1951-1953.

Returning home for good, he quickly set his eyes on government service. After 12 years in the state legislature, he defeated incumbent Republican Gov. Claude R. Kirk Jr. in 1970 by a landslide.

In office, Askew kept his campaign promise to institute a corporate tax but reduced other state taxes. Part of a wave of “New South” governors, he favored racial integration and Affirmative Action quotas, appointing the state's first black Supreme Court justice.

At the height of the Watergate scandal, he was a champion of open government, going directly to state voters to pass a “sunshine law” requiring politicians to disclose their income sources.

He made Florida the first state to reinstate the death penalty after the Supreme Court reversed its prior decision ruling the practice “cruel and unusual punishment.” After an initial veto, he signed a no-fault divorce law – a bill partly drafted by future Attorney General Janet Reno. He raised welfare benefits and supported passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

His popularity drew the notice of national Democratic Party leaders. He gave the keynote speech at the disastrous 1972 Democratic National Convention and declined George McGovern's offer to run as his vice president.

Instead, he was re-elected in 1974, becoming the first governor in state history to serve two consecutive terms.

He fought off attempts to introduce casino gambling in the state, saying it would bring “crime and corruption and economic disaster,” serving only to transfer “hard-earned spending money from people's pockets to out-of-state gambling syndicates.”

Widely expected to enter the 1976 Democratic presidential primaries, Askew instead focused on governing his state. The nomination instead went to a neighboring governor with similar credentials, Jimmy Carter.

In June 1977 Askew signed one of the first state laws prohibiting same-sex “marriage.” The law also allowed agencies to refuse homosexuals adoption rights. The bill became law just one day after 70 percent of Dade County voters repealed an ordinance that granted homosexuals special status as a protected minority in an election that earned national media coverage.

“I've never viewed the homosexual lifestyle as something that approached a constitutional right,” he said. “I do not want a known homosexual teaching my child.” Florida gay leader Bob Kunst responded by calling him “sexually uptight” and saying his views were “typical of Southern hick politics.”

A devout Christian, Askew totally abstained from alcohol and tobacco, boasting that he did not serve any alcoholic beverages during his eight years in the governor's mansion.

His views led the New York Times to dub him, “Jesus Christ Super-square.” Its obituary refers to him as a “former progressive governor.”

History has been kind to him. Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government ranked Askew one of the 10 best governors of the 20th Century.

After leaving office, President Carter named him U.S. Trade Representative, a post he held 1979-81. He generally favored free trade. “The world is moving toward large trading blocs. Ultimately, there will be only one for the world,” he said. “This can be done, and maintain sovereignty.”

In time, his friends and supporters convinced Askew he had all the necessary qualifications to run for president. He threw his hat in the ring for the Democratic presidential nomination to challenge Ronald Reagan in 1984.

During his announcement speech, security had to eject a homosexual activist who denounced him as “the Moral Majority's Democratic candidate.”

“I guess one of the reasons that I'm different on it is that I do favor a constitutional amendment to reverse Roe v. Wade in order to let Congress set a national standard,” Askew said during a February 1983 debate with other Democratic presidential hopefuls. “I don't think the Constitution ever intended for a constitutional right to an abortion.” He believed Congress should make the law, rather than have it litigated “within the courts.”

He used the opportunity to point out that one of his rivals, Rev. Jesse Jackson, had taken “a different position that you might have taken in the past,” now announcing his support for abortion-on-demand.

The American people “need a leader who is willing to risk losing some votes as a candidate so that he'll be free to govern as a president,” he said.

However, Jackson's views were more in tune with the Democratic Party of the 1980s than Askew's.

Askew earned only 2.5 percent of the vote in the 1984 Iowa Caucuses, coming in seventh behind “uncommitted.” He came in dead last in the New Hampshire primary with one percent. That dismal finish convinced him to drop out, endorsing Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, who ultimately lost the nomination to former Vice President Walter Mondale.

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The governor's campaign manager, James T. Bacchus, said the campaign spent so much money defeating Mondale in the Florida straw poll that it effectively ended their bid.

Askew, who sought his party's presidential nomination in 1984, was the last pro-life Democrat to run for president. Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey considered challenging Bill Clinton 10 years later but bowed out due to health concerns.

The last pro-life Democrat to be on a presidential ticket was Sargent Shriver, George McGovern's second running-mate, in 1972. Shriver died in January 2011, at the age of 95.

After being denied the presidential nomination, Askew made an attempt to run for U.S. Senate in Florida in 1988. He failed to raise the needed funds and quickly exited the race.

He spent the next few decades teaching in state universities, a schedule he continued until his death, often supporting himself on a black cane as he entered the classroom. During that time, he never wavered on his commitment to the Bible or other political principles.

“I feel God has plans for the world and men,” he said. “If I had any talent, I had to use it for public service.”

He was married to his wife, Donna Lou Harper, more than 50 years. He is survived by his wife and their two children.


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