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Thursday, Sep 18, 2014
Commentary

The campaign destined from high school


Published:

Miami Senior High School boasts some outstanding graduates, but perhaps none more recognized than former Florida Gov. Bob Graham and former Florida Attorney General Robert Shevin.

While attending Miami High, Shevin was senior to Graham by a few years, but their paths in high school often intersected, especially related to their extraordinary academic achievements.

So, more than 50 years ago, there were predictions that both young men held such promise as future leaders that they might be candidates for governor of Florida someday, but it was assumed not against each other.

Their careers, after high school, were eerily similar. Both went on to attend and graduate from the University of Florida, with high honors, while obtaining the prestigious recognition as members of Blue Key. After college, Shevin selected the University of Miami for his legal education, while Graham chose Harvard University Law School in Boston. Again, both achieved high academic honors.

The two new lawyers followed the same professional career, as expected — politics. Both Shevin and Graham started out as freshman members of the Florida House of Representatives, only two years apart. Again, after a short stint in the lower chamber both representatives moved on to illustrious careers in the Florida Senate.

In 1970, after making headlines chairing the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, Sen. Shevin won a seat in the Florida Cabinet as the state’s attorney general. Graham continued his service in the Senate, rising to chairmen of the Senate Education Committee and the Committee on Health and Rehabilitative Services.

Both men took from their legislative service numerous “landmark” legislation, which in many cases became models for other states.

In 1978, 35 years ago, the prediction from 15 years earlier came true. Attorney General Bob Shevin and Sen. Bob Graham faced off in a run-off election as the Democratic nominee to replace retiring Florida Gov. Reuben Askew.

In the primary election, the Democratic field included plenty of strong competition for Shevin and Graham, including Secretary of State Bruce Smathers of Jacksonville, Jacksonville Mayor Hans Tanzler and Sen. Jim Williams of Ocala. As projected, Shevin led the primary election by garnering 35 percent of the vote, while Graham trailed with 25 percent. But as so often happens in a run-off election, between surprise endorsements by the losers and often smaller turnouts, the person finishing second in the primary came in first. Graham beat Shevin by 53 percent to 47 percent, and with Shevin’s endorsement, Graham defeated Republican opponent Jack Eckerd and served two terms as governor, from 1978-1986, and then three terms as a U.S. senator. He remains involved in Florida issues today.

After losing the close Democratic primary election, Shevin returned to Miami to practice law. In 1996, then Gov. Lawton Chiles, a former colleague of Shevin’s in the Florida House of Representatives and Senate, appointed Shevin a judge on the Third Circuit Court of Appeal. Shevin served on the bench with distinction until his untimely death in 2005. He was 71 years old..

Looking back over the careers of Bob Shevin and Bob Graham, it is ironic how much they shared in common, and how their careers paralleled each other through high school, college and public office.

You might say, for two of the 1978 candidates for governor, the race had been in the making since high school.

Robert W. McKnight is a former state senator and representative from Miami who worked closely with Attorney General Shevin and Gov. Graham on issues in the Florida legislature. McKnight has written two books on Florida politics.

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