Arguably the most important governor this state has ever had has died. Reubin Askew, who served Florida as the state's 37th governor from 1971 to 1979, died early Thursday after suffering through various ailments, including a stroke, a former aide has confirmed. He was 85.
In his time as governor, Askew guided Florida through school desegregation with buses.
A Democrat, Askew helped overhaul Florida's tax laws and led the crusade for ethics legislation, open government, and environmental protection.
At the time largely unknown, Askew won the Democratic nomination for governor in 1970 and eventually defeated incumbent Gov. Claude Kirk.
As soon as he was sworn into office, he called a special session of the Legislature for a constitutional amendment for corporate income tax.
He also overhauled and streamlined the state's courts.
Askew was also way ahead of his time, being an early crusader for not only racial equality but gender equality as well, appointing the first woman to the Cabinet. He opened the doors for the Florida Highway Patrol to be integrated and appointed the first African American Supreme Court justice in Florida's history.
In 1975, Askew pardoned Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee, two African-American men who had spent eight years on death row after being wrongly convicted of killing two white service-station attendants. Askew made enemies in the Panhandle following this decision and lost votes in the area during his successful bid for a second term.
As word of Askew's passing spread Thursday morning, so did the tributes from elected officials, from current Gov. Rick Scott to former Gov. Charlie Crist.
"Governor Askew served our nation as a veteran, he served Florida's families as an elected officeholder, and he served our children as an educator. He helped lead Florida to enormous growth and was a trailblazer for good government. His advocacy for Florida's sunshine laws was a landmark moment for ethics and transparency in government, and that legacy continues to endure.
"His accomplishments were vast, but he remained humble and took his commitment to public service seriously. Governor Askew strove to make life better for all of Florida's families, and that dedication is an example for all who followed in his footsteps. Ann and I mourn his passing and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Donna Lou, and his entire family."
"Governor Askew opened up government to the people, allowing our state to be progressive on critical issues like civil rights, education, and ethics. He was a public servant, a teacher of students, and now a lesson of hope and progress forever sketched into the history of our beautiful state. Carole and I send our thoughts and prayers to Donna Lou, Kevin, and Angela."