TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew, who was known as a progressive leader in a time of great social change, was remembered during a funeral service Wednesday for his push for racial equality in the state.
A military color guard carried Askew's flag-draped coffin into the Faith Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee, for the service attended by Gov. Rick Scott, former Florida governors and other dignitaries. Askew was also praised for opening Florida's government through passage of public records and ethics laws.
Askew died Thursday at 85. He served as governor from 1971 to 1979, a time when the Vietnam War and segregation were ending and women were fighting for their rights.
Askew rose from obscurity in the Florida Legislature to become the Democrats' surprise gubernatorial nominee in 1970 and then defeated the incumbent, Republican Claude Kirk.
He was a liberal on racial issues and pushed for an overhaul of the state's tax laws, open government, environmental protection, ethics legislation and streamlining the courts and other governmental agencies.
Askew integrated the Florida Highway Patrol, appointed the first black in 100 years to the Florida Cabinet and named the first black Supreme Court justice. He also appointed the first woman to the Cabinet and supported the Equal Rights Amendment, but Florida lawmakers failed to ratify it, a major disappointment for him.
His leadership was also tested when the Legislature, over Askew's objection, ordered a straw ballot on a proposal to ban busing to integrate Florida's schools in 1972. Busing by then had become a hot national issue resulting in protests and, in some cases, violence.
Askew campaigned against the busing ban, but voters approved it by 74 percent during the March 1972 presidential primary. He prevailed on lawmakers to add a second ballot question favoring equal education. It passed by an even bigger margin and took the steam out of the antibusing proposal.
The issue drew national attention to Askew, who later that year gave the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach. Presidential nominee George McGovern asked Askew to be his running mate, but he declined.
Askew briefly ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 but dropped out after finishing last in the New Hampshire primary.
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