Thom Rumberger, a Tallahassee lawyer whose environmental activism and skills as a political strategist cast him in a central role in many of Florida’s milestone events of the past half-century, died Wednesday night. He was 79.
Rumberger was an advisor to former Republican Gov. Claude Kirk and was the GOP candidate for Attorney General in 1970, a time when the party which now controls Florida government was a minority, vastly overwhelmed by ruling Democrats.
Rumberger, though, proved pivotal to the party’s emergence.
As a lawyer representing the Republican Party during 1992 redistricting, Rumberger helped GOP legislators forge a deal with another political minority — black Democrats –resulting in the drawing of legislative and congressional boundaries that gave both interests the opportunity to win seats.
Four years later, Rumberger looked on as then-Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, was sworn-in as Florida’s first Republican House speaker in 122 years.
Rumberger’s legal career began with the firm of Maguire, Voorhis and Wells in Orlando. He later served as an acting sheriff, judge and county attorney for Seminole County before becoming a founding member of the law firm, Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell.
Among his passions was the Everglades. He was general counsel for Save Our Everglades, a movement that placed a ballot initiative on the 1996 ballot that would have imposed a penny-per-pound tax on sugar to help restore the ecosystem polluted by farm runoff.
The tax was rejected by voters. But Floridians did endorse other amendments requiring that polluters pay for Everglades cleanup and that a trust fund be created to finance restoration. The ballot action set the stage for more ambitious state and federal Everglades initiatives in later years.
Rumberger was lead counsel for the Everglades Foundation since 1989.
Mary Barley, president of the Everglades Trust, called Rumberger “one of a kind.”
“Thom Rumberger has been a courageous, vigilant guardian of the bountiful treasures and gragile nature of Florida’s — and America’s — most unique Everglades ecosystem,” Barley said. “His legal brilliance, political wisdom, and unflinching commitment to preserve and protect our precious Everglades place him among the greatest Floridians.”