Saturday we lost a great Floridian. Bill McBride is best remembered as the 2002 Democratic Gubernatorial nominee. But he was so much more than that. An accomplished lawyer who rose to be the managing partner of Florida’s largest firm, Holland & Knight as well as a veteran and humanitarian, McBride was a true Floridian. I was in a unique position to watch and interact with him during the 2002 cycle as I was serving as Field Director for the DEC Chairs Association and the Florida Democratic Party at the time.
I had been involved with the primary working with George Sheldon’s losing Attorney General’s campaign and actively supporting Janet Reno, Bill McBride’s most visible opponent. Yet despite being a Reno supporter, McBride offered me 15 minutes of his time to sit down one on one and talk about the Everglades. I wanted him to understand the biggest issue for me if he were to be our nominee, which he was. We had this meeting in July, about six weeks before the primary and McBride sat and listened to what I said, took notes and left. We would cross paths frequently from there on out.
The previous year, I had been hired to work on Ambassador Pete Peterson’s campaign for Governor. I moved to Tallahassee but as we know Peterson, the perceived front runner at time decided to drop out of the race after 9/11. Following Peterson’s withdrawal, I was part of meetings with every remaining Gubernatorial campaign, including McBride’s, but elected to focus on the Attorney General’s race and many local races throughout the state. Then in April, several DEC Chairs, most notably Orange County DEC Chairman Doug Head approached me asking me to apply for a newly created position which the FDP and DEC CA were funding. I applied for the position and was hired.
During that campaign I found McBride to be earnest and honest in direct contrast to angry, bitter and rhetorically shifting Jeb Bush. It was great to have a true Floridian running. This was at a time where I still believed (I do not believe this any longer) that someone who runs for Governor should at the very least have attended High School in Florida. In those days I wasn’t a fan of carpetbaggers, believing their lack of understanding of Florida’s fragile and unique environment had led to ecological catastrophe. (I now have come to the conclusion that we need the expertise of outsiders to properly run this state)
McBride was a true Floridian and it is a pity so many choose not support him. He forcefully articulated the need to limit class sizes, increase educational standards, reject school vouchers and perhaps most importantly restore Florida’s colleges and universities to greatness. As I traveled the state and listened to McBride, I felt a sense of pride as his victory would be rightful restoration of those Democrats whose life was steeped in Florida tradition and whose chief concern was the welfare of the state not higher office, national dynasties or a narrow minded think-tank driven ideological agenda. Bush’s Republicans represented the worst of Florida and McBride and his supporters gave us hope of the Florida we grew up in being restored.
Bill McBride was a great Floridian and I was privileged to have worked statewide when he ran for Governor. He will be deeply missed by all of those who care about this state.