You won’t hear this from the loser “blue dog” Florida Democrats who think that the only way to beat a Republican is to be one. (When has that ever worked? Like, never.) But liberals and progressives can win statewide in Florida, and have won statewide in Florida, going all the way back to the 1950s. For instance, perhaps you’ve heard these three words: “President Barack Obama.” He won Florida in 2008 and 2012, while being called a “liberal,” a “Muslim,” a “socialist,” and even a “liberal Muslim Socialist!”
There are also plenty of homegrown Florida progressives who have carried the state. Today, I want to focus on one of them, LeRoy Collins, who was the Governor of Florida from 1955 to 1961. Collins was the first Governor of Florida to serve two consecutive terms in office. His opponents called him “Liberal LeRoy.” But history has shown that that label wasn’t a slur; it was a badge of honor.
Support my campaign so I can keep LeRoy Collins’ liberal spirit alive in Florida. Become a “Grayson Sustainer” by pledging to give $20.16 (or more) a month now. Contribute today.
Collins, a Democrat, was born in Tallahassee, and he served in the Florida House of Representatives and Senate for almost 20 years before becoming Governor. Civil rights was the fundamental issue of the day. Initially, Collins, like almost every other white Southern politician, had reservations about the civil rights movement. But he also understood the depravity of segregation, and in 1956, he became the first Southern governor to speak out against it publicly. At last, civil rights had its Southern white champion.
“I believe very deeply that I represent every man, woman and child in this state as their governor, whether that person is black or white, whether that person is rich or poor, or whether that person is influential or not influential,” Collins said during a 30-minute television and radio address, making the moral case for ending segregation.
The whites-only segregationist-led Florida Legislature saw it differently. It tried to pass an “interposition” resolution. “Interposition” was the 1950s version of “nullification,” the notion that the states could ignore the U.S. Constitution and federal law. But Collins saw it coming, and in a stunning display of courage, using his powers as Governor, he adjourned the legislature before they could close down Florida public schools.
No other southern Governor would join Collins. They didn’t have his progressive courage.
Collins also opposed capital punishment. He fell just a few votes short of sending a constitutional amendment to the voters to abolish it. Poignantly, he said that every time he signed a death warrant, “it left him feeling nearly as guilty as the murderers." Collins also was an early crusader against Big Tobacco’s advertising to hook children on cigarettes.
Later, Collins served under President Lyndon Johnson as the first Director of the Community Relations Service, where he continued his work to improve race relations. "Above all else, it is the moral duty of our generation to plow under racial injustice everywhere in the United States,” he said in 1963.
In fact, as time passes, more and more conservatives, liberals - everyone on all sides – are praising Liberal LeRoy Collins for his integrity and courage in the face of violence and bigotry. Right after Liberal LeRoy Collins died in 1991, the Florida House of Representatives passed a unanimous resolution proclaiming Collins the “Floridian of the Century.” And last year, Jeb Bush gushed, “Florida’s greatest governor, LeRoy Collins, set a national example of principled leadership here that his successors have strived to follow.”
There it is: the only thing I can think of where Jeb Bush and I agree. Liberal LeRoy Collins was Florida’s greatest Governor.
I won’t hold my breath and wait for current Florida Republicans Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, or even former Republican Patrick Murphy, to offer any kind words about Liberal LeRoy Collins’s progressive principles, or mine. Perhaps like Jeb Bush, who sat in Collins’ chair in the State Capitol for eight years, maybe in a few decades, they’ll come around!
But I don’t need their praise and we can’t wait for the Republicans to have an epiphany of conscience and morality. What I do need is your help. If you support another progressive champion like “Florida’s Greatest Governor,” Liberal LeRoy Collins, then I urge you to support my campaign for justice, equality and peace. Become a “Grayson Sustainer,” and pledge to give $20.16, $50 or even $100 a month now. Every dollar helps.
Courage in the Collins tradition,
Rep. Alan Grayson
Candidate for the U.S. Senate