Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Florida's New Deal governor

Florida State Archives
Gov. David Sholtz, center, accompanied President Roosevelt on a visit to Jacksonville in the 1930s. Sholtz's support of FDR brought needed jobs to the state.

Today is the birthday of David Sholtz, Florida’s New Deal governor.

He is best remembered for establishing the Florida Park Service and the Florida Citrus Commission, getting a workers’ compensation law passed and mandating free textbooks in public schools. He also presided over the creation of Everglades National Park.

Florida State Archives
Sholtz was inaugurated on January 4, 1933.
Elected as Florida’s 26th chief executive in 1932, he took office at a time when many Floridians were out of work and hungry, and many of the state’s cities were broke. His support of Franklin Delano Roosevelt brought many sorely needed federal job programs to Florida. He made jobs a priority. He also cut welfare rolls by 75 percent in three years. He inherited a state debt of $2.14 million and had a surplus by 1934. He pushed for a $5 auto tag fee and used some of the money to pay teachers in cash instead of script.

He was born to Jewish immigrant parents in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1891. His father became a wealthy in investments and real estate and moved the family to Daytona Beach in the early 1900s, and entered civic activities there.

Sholtz graduated with honors from Yale University in 1914. He earned a law degree the following year at Stetson University, and started practicing law in Daytona. He entered the U.S. Navy as an ensign during World War I and served four years.

He was elected to the Florida House in 1917, and held several other public offices after returning from military duty.

In the 1932 election, he was a dark horse candidate who emerged from a crowded field in the Democratic primary to face powerful former governor John W. Martin in a runoff.

Sholtz was an affable man who easily established rapport with Florida’s rural Cracker population, despite his ethnic and regional roots. He campaigned using a flat-bed truck with two loudspeakers. As a public speaker, he rarely used notes and was perceived as being genuinely interested in helping people. His opponent at first inserted a subtle anti-Semitic tone into the campaign and finally more blatantly attempted to smear Sholtz.

For his part, Sholtz ignored the attacks, refused to get angry, smiled and listened to the people. He spoke of creating jobs for the hungry, keeping closed school open nine months, providing free textbooks in all grades, lower taxes for small homeowners. He was serious and sincere.

Martin’s smear campaign backfired and Florida’s Cracker voters handed David Sholtz the largest majority ever given a candidate in Florida history. He easily defeated his Republican opponent in the general election. In those days, Florida elections were decided in the Democratic primary.

After serving as governor, Sholtz ran against Claude Pepper for the U.S. Senate in 1938 but lost. Sholtz died in 1953 while visiting Key West.

Information from Florida Trend magazine, Time magazine, Wikipedia, the National Governors Association and the Florida State Library was used in this report.

1 comment:

T. Allan Smith said...

Today's candidates would do well to study David Sholtz's accomplishments. Wonder if they even know who he was.