Resolutions are made to be broken, and I am about to break my resolution not to write about the 1984 presidential race until that calamity is upon us.
The reason is Reubin O'D. Askew, the former two-term governor of Florida and special trade representative in the last 15 months of the Carter administration. Askew is interested in the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination. In the last few weeks, he has done some things that suggest he is going to approach this challenge in a way that may be characteristic for him but that is unusual enough among most politicians to warrant comment.
The man is apparently going to say what he thinks and not be coy about what he is doing. The first indication of this came in a letter Askew's attorney wrote to the Federal Election Commission in July asking for an advisory opinion on how Askew could best handle the finances of his exploratory effort.
In recent years, the custom has grown up that when the presidential bug bites, a personal political-action committee is created, which lets the hopeful finance his travels and operations under the guise that he is going around the country helping candidates of his party.
Askew apparently disdains such legal subterfuge. In the letter, his lawyer spells out with unusual candor what the ex-governor thinks he needs to do for his own benefit: to travel and speak and meet "opinion makers"; to hire polling and public relations consultants; to get briefings on the issues; to expand his correspondence; and to raise funds for these purposes and to reimburse his law firm for the secretarial and support services that have nothing to do with the practice of law.
Although there is no legal requirement that he do so, the letter says Askew "intends to file reports of all contributions and expenditures voluntarily with the commission ... and therefore wishes to insure that the specific activities which he intends to undertake are permissible in an exploratory effort."
Evidence that he intends to be as candid about his policy views as he is about his activities is found in a speech he gave last month in Atlanta on the renewal of the Voting Rights Act. Time after time in the speech, Askew went out of his way to cite conditions in Florida as proof that the act is still needed.
"In my home state of Florida alone," he said, "blacks, Hispanics and other minorities represent less than 2 percent of all elected officials ... despite the fact that minorities constitute a quarter of the state population. There are no members of minority groups among the statewide elected officials in Florida. And, among the 160 members of the state legislature, there are just five blacks and only one Hispanic."
"At-large elections in areas of the state where minorities are most numerous virtually assure the defeat of minority candidates," he said. "Until we have single-member districts in Florida ... the votes of minorities will count less than the votes of other citizens. The situation in Florida is typical of the situation elsewhere .... And it is a good example of why we still need a strong and effective Voting Rights Act."
What is remarkable is that all this is coming from a Florida politician whose hopes for nomination clearly will rest, in the first instance, on his ability to win his own state's presidential primary early in 1984. I have to believe that Askew knew that the speech he gave in Atlanta will be thrown back at him in 1984 in an effort to embarrass him with Florida voters.
But that is not out of character. In 1972, while George Wallace was running his winning campaign in the Florida primary, Askew decided to campaign vigorously against an initiative that had been placed on the Florida ballot calling for a federal anti-busing amendment. It was a cause he knew was foredoomed to failure, and the stand he took in the middle of his first term in office was offensive to many of his own constituents.
But he took the issue on because, as he said at the time, he objected to the fact that "so often, when someone has attempted to actually do something about the problems of the people, the race issue has been resurrected, in one form or another."
Neither then nor now has Reubin Askew been much given to fuzzing his stands to suit the "climate of the times." That is why I decided to break my resolution. I will try to keep my mouth shut from now on, unless, of course, somebody else decides to do something as astonishingly straightforward.