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Bob Graham weighs in on Scott’s speech, Crist’s switch, daughter’s potential Congress bid

by George Bennett | March 5th, 2013

TALLAHASSEE — Bob Graham, the former Florida governor and U.S. Senator and the state’s most famous itinerant laborer, made a rare opening day appearance in the Capitol today and sat in the front row of the House chamber for Gov. Rick Scott’s State of the State speech.

Graham, a Democrat, gave Republican Scott credit for giving “such emphasis to the connection between education and economic development. I strongly share that opinion and am pleased that it’s going to get, from the governor’s office, the emphasis and energy.”

Graham said he doesn’t have a favorite candidate for governor in 2014, but predicted that Democrats “will have a very strong candidate and the lines are going to be well-defined for the people of Florida to decide their future course.”

The leading Democratic contender may be former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who became an independent in 2010 and a Democrat in December.

“Listen, we had a long period where Democrats were becoming Republicans. I think it’s only fair that we have a little reverse tide,” Graham said.

Wearing a maroon necktie with silhouettes of the state of Florida on it, the 76-year-old Graham said he had fond memories of his years in Tallahassee. He was a state House member from 1966 to 1970, a state Senator from 1970 to 1978, governor from 1979 to 1987 and a U.S. Senator from 1987 to 2005. Graham was known for his 408 “work days,” in which he’d put in an eight-hour day at jobs ranging from teacher to police officer to baggage handler.

“This is the first time I’ve been here in many years,” said Graham, who said he was in town to do some work with the Florida Conservation Coalition and to visit two of his grandchildren.

“I loved my days in the Florida legislature. In fact there’s a book I want to write which will have the title ‘Everything I Learned About Politics I Learned As A Freshman In The Florida House of Representatives’ – which is almost literally true,” Graham said.

As for the legislature’s opening day, Graham said, “I like the camaraderie, the way people, whatever their party or background, share the excitement of public service in this great legislature.”

While the “Everything I Learned…” book is merely a concept, Graham said he’s also working on a book about his father, Ernest “Cap” Graham, who was a dairy farmer and mining engineer in Miami-Dade County and was a state Senator.

“In the same week that my mother and father decided that he would run for the state Senate, they also decided to have a baby. So my mother said she spent nine months of pregnancy going to political events. I was born in the week my father was elected. So I have a womb affliction for politics,” Graham said.

One of Graham’s daughters, Gwen Graham, is being recruited by Democrats to run for the Panhandle congressional seat of Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City.

“I believe in good people in politics and I know that she’d be an outstanding member of Congress,” Graham said. “My advice would be to be very thoughtful. It’s a very demanding undertaking to be a candidate and even more so to be an officeholder. I think she’s been around politics enough to appreciate that. She’s making some judgments as to how she would go about organizing her campaign if she decides to run.”

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