CLAUDE R. KIRK, Jr. - GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA (1967-1971)

Claude R. Kirk, Jr.
Claude Roy Kirk, Jr. (born January 7, 1926) was the 36th Governor of the U.S. state of Florida. He was the first Republican to hold the office of governor since 1877.

Early life
Claude Kirk was born in San Bernardino, California. He lived in Chicago, Illinois, and Montgomery, Alabama, where he attended high school. After graduating at age seventeen, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and rose to the rank of lieutenant. Kirk served in both World War II and the Korean War. Following his service he attended the University of Alabama School of Law. In 1956, he co-founded (with W. Ashley Verlander) the American Heritage Life Insurance Company in Jacksonville, Florida.

Political career
In 1960, he switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican, heading the "Floridians for Nixon" campaign. He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1964 against incumbent Democrat Spessard Holland and then ran for governor in 1966. The incumbent governor, W. Haydon Burns, who represented the conservative wing of the Democratic Party in Florida, was defeated in the Democratic primary by the more liberal Mayor of Miami Robert King High. Burns did not endorse High after his defeat and the division among Florida Democrats was a major factor in Kirk's decisive victory over High. Upon taking the oath of office on January 3, 1967, he became the state's first Republican governor in 90 years. During his term in office a new Florida Constitution went into effect in 1968. The governor was often at odds with both Democrats and his Republican colleagues in the legislature on issues such as growth and taxes. A statewide teachers' strike in 1968 was a significant event during his term.

One of the major themes of Kirk's campaign was his strong, in contrast to Collins's, Bryant's and Burns's opposition, support for the death penalty (similar to Ronald Reagan's, during his bid in California the same year), as he promised to resume executions (the last had taken place in 1964), but no executions took place under his administration, mostly because of the informal nationwide moratorium. Kirk made headlines when, during the campaign, he visited Florida State Prison and, after shaking hands with several death row inmates, said, "If I'm elected, I may have to sign your death warrants".

Kirk's style while in office was often described as flamboyant and confrontational. He especially opposed court-ordered mandatory busing. Although he had a Democratic-controlled legislature (Republicans did not win control until mid 1990s), Democrats did not have a veto-proof majority during Kirk's term of office.

Although he was a supporter of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller during 1968 Republican presidential primaries, he was later considered a potential nominee for Vice President of the United States under eventual winner Richard Nixon, but Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew was chosen instead.

He left office on January 5, 1971, after losing his re-election bid to Democrat Reubin Askew. After his term in office, Kirk returned to his business pursuits, though he has campaigned several times for governor, U.S. senator, and Florida commissioner of education.

Currently, Kirk is the earliest serving Governor of Florida who is still alive. He is also the oldest Governor of Florida who is still alive who was elected to the position – Wayne Mixson, who served for three days after the resignation of Bob Graham, is older by nearly four years but was never elected to the office. In 2007 81-year-old Kirk participated in a symposium organized by the Lou Frey Institute and the University of Central Florida along with then Governor Jeb Bush and fellow surviving governors Reubin Askew, Bob Graham, Bob Martinez and Buddy MacKay, "A Day With Florida Governors".

After the publication of John Filo's famous photograph showing Florida resident Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the body of Jeffrey Miller at the Kent State University shootings in May 1970, then Governor Kirk publicly labeled Vecchio a dissident Communist.

Personal life
A divorcee when took office, Kirk, then 41, married German-born Erika Mattfeld, then 33, on February 18, 1967. He had previously been married with two daughters, Sarah and Kitty, and twin sons Frank and Will. From his second marriage he has a daughter and a son.

Kirk is the father-in-law of Ander Crenshaw (who is married to daughter Kitty) of Florida's Fourth Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.

Source: Wikipedia

Luciano Mende

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