NOTE: This story originally ran on The Florida Squeeze
Jimmy Buffett’s passing is symbolic of the Florida we once had and have now lost. Buffett was the greatest symbol of the unique Florida culture we had created in this state during the 1970’s and 1980’s- a unique cross between Caribbean and southern US culture. He was the embodiment of the Florida I grew up in.
Buffett’s music was a reflection of Florida, the shining city on the hill in the 1970’s and 1980’s and helped give our state a vibe that was unique and empowering. The Florida of that era was an inclusive place which sucked you in and was completely different from the rest of the county in terms of our culture -both socially and politically.
The beach culture and “parrot heads” that emanated from Buffett’s music was pure Florida. A unique, different culture that wasn’t the caricature of 2020’s “Florida Man” but an enviable aura that others around the nation sought to emulate or latch on to. Buffett himself was an activist that did so much for this state. I was lucky on multiple occasions when I worked on political campaigns to be up close with him whether at an airport hanger or a small campaign rally where he wowed us.
The Democrats governing Florida in the 1970’s were unlike anything the state had experienced before and I’d argue unlike Democrats or GOPers in the rest of the US at the time. The redistricting of 1968 had brought into the legislature more urbane representatives – part-time legislators who were accessible and approachable.
Legislators shared offices and often skipped meals while pushing for governmental reform and proper growth management. Corporate influence on State Government was reduced dramatically. Askew courageously backed school busing in his first term and focused heavily on environmental issues much to the consternation of many in the Democratic establishment – he fended off an intense primary challenge, was reelected early and by his second term, the Florida I grew up in was well established. Caring, innovative, relaxed and inclusive.
That emphasis on environmental issues here is key. Jimmy Buffett was a leader on that. His involvement with Florida’s political leadership particularly Governor Bob Graham helped net some incredible results. Save the Manatee was formed as a result as were the nation’s most aggressive state-driven growth management and wetlands protections programs. Coastal areas were treated as god’s gift, and a key driver of Florida’s economy.
The 1980’s were a special time – an enlightened time in Florida. EPCOT Center opened in 1982 and it was a statewide celebration. The IBM PC the previous year had been created by a team led by a native Floridian, Don Estridge at IBM’s Boca Raton campus.
Buffett’s passing, is symbolic to me of a Florida I loved and try to cling to, but one which has been hijacked by outsiders who are imposing their personal preferences on us.
To quote Florida Politics publisher Peter Schorsch, DeSantis acolytes want to make “Make Florida America.” Our Florida was so special because it wasn’t like the rest of America. Now we have Governor DeSantis, a Massachusetts-Connecticut educated elite who wrote a book dissing his hometown area of Tampa Bay to promote the Midwest trying to impose HIS PERSONAL PREFERENCES on our state’s unique culture. He’s attracted new comer’s to the state with no real feeling for our history, culture or customs. They are making Florida into Indiana or Oklahoma.
As I’ve said before, I’ve started writing about Florida History (I’ve published two books this year and plan to keep writing about various era’s in our state’s history) and continuing our Florida History Podcast precisely because DeSantis and his ilk want to change the narrative about our history, our successes and our culture. His desire to undermine the Florida of the past, while molding a cookie-cutter state that fits his own personal preferences has to be pushed back upon, which is what I am attempting to do.
Jimmy Buffett was a Florida original, someone whose influence and advocacy made our state a wonderful place. But alas, that Florida is quickly disappearing.
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