Type of Document Dissertation Author Evans, Jon S. URN etd-04192011-110538 Title Weathering the Storm: Florida Politics During the Administration of Spessard L. Holland in World War II Degree Doctor of Philosophy Department History, Department of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title James P. Jones Committee Chair Maxine Jones Committee Member Rodney Anderson Committee Member Valerie J. Conner Committee Member John Fenstermaker University Representative Keywords
- Race Relations
- Florida Legislature
- Florida Governors
- Florida History
Date of Defense 2011-04-01 Availability unrestricted AbstractWorld War II represents a transition period in Florida’s recent history. The southernmost state went from a sparsely settled frontier-like environment before the war to one of the nation’s most populous and fastest growing areas soon after the war. Much of the historical literature focusing on this period described the impact of military and naval installations, as well as the shipbuilding industry, on the state’s economy and population. Other works note the affect of the war on the citrus and tourism industry. Very little, however, has been written about how the war influenced politics in the Sunshine State during this pivotal period.
Forces of geography, economics, and demography profoundly shaped Florida politics during the twentieth century. A relatively large, linear state, Florida featured an extraordinary range of differences between its northern regions bordering Alabama and Georgia to its southernmost keys less than one hundred miles from Cuba. In general, the panhandle featured staple crop agriculture, expansive rural areas, and traditional southern culture. The central and southern regions of the state, for the most part, produced a more varied array of farm products – winter vegetables and citrus, had a higher percentage of urban population, and contained the state’s highest proportion of northern migrants and seasonal visitors. The state’s four largest cities – Pensacola, Jacksonville, Tampa, and Miami – were separated by miles, economic interests, and culture. The diversity of qualities between the regions prompted pundits to refer to northern residents as “Pork choppers” and inhabitants of the southern region as “Lamb choppers.” These divergent qualities resulted in extreme factionalism in politics as each group sought representation and voice in state government. Rather than one or two powerful factions leading state politics like many of its regional neighbors, Florida had numerous blocs centered on local or economic interests competing for influence.
Because of the atomization of politics, lawmaking in the state was dominated by local interests. This, in combination with a somewhat rudimentary biennial legislative system, yielded a somewhat directionless state government. As a result, policy decisions were too frequently made to resolve problems rather than to prevent them.
The absence of a strong chief executive compounded this lack of direction in Florida government. Institutional characteristics made the office of governor inherently weak in Florida. The state’s chief executive had to share authority with other cabinet officers on numerous boards and commissions. Additionally, a constitutional prohibition on gubernatorial self succession forced the governor to compete for influence with cabinet members who could repeat in office indefinitely. This resulted in a relatively weak chief executive with little influence except that generated by patronage and persuasion. Because of these limitations, gubernatorial power and programs had usually been eclipsed by other forces by the governor’s second biennial legislative session.
A number of factors, including political factionalism and a relatively weak chief executive, severely hampered the development of sound fiscal policy in the state. The state’s philosophy of minimal taxation manifested itself in several ways – a constitutional prohibition on income taxation, an exemption on inheritance taxation, the repeal of the state ad valorem tax, and the underassessment of real property. Furthermore, the largest proportion of the state’s tax revenues came from regressive consumption taxes on gasoline and alcohol. As a result, Florida’s fiscal system was too often unable to fund needed services and occasionally ran a deficit.
World War II brought further difficulties to bear on state government’s ability to meet the demands of its citizens. Voluntary, and then mandatory, gasoline rationing severely restricted state revenues and threatened tourism, the state’s most lucrative commercial enterprise. A brief campaign against Allied shipping off the Florida coasts by the German U-boat forces also undermined the tourism industry. Federal authorities eventually imposed a national ban on nonessential travel to conserve rubber and gasoline, thereby closing down the state’s horse racing industry, the primary source of funds for old age pensions and a contributor to revenues shared by the state with the county governments. The war challenged state government leaders to respond and adapt.
Florida reached a cross roads in race relations during the war era. While few acknowledged it, the days of universal white hegemony had passed but the era of greater liberties for African Americans had not yet dawned. During this period authorities and private citizens worked to defeat the ever-present threat of lynch violence in Florida.
The following study explores how the state’s political leaders responded to the many and varied challenges initiated by World War II. For instance, how did the war color political campaigns and shape the voters’ choice of leaders? What affect did the state’s atomized political structure have on governance during the war? How did the state’s problematic system of governance deal with wartime challenges? What forces did the war exert on the state and how did its elected leaders respond? These are some of the questions considered in the following study.
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