All at once, it seems so many good people are leaving the Florida political arena. Take for instance the death of Senator Jack Gordon, who passed away before the holidays. Here was the noblest Roman of them all, so to speak. As it is, much of our state is only a few minutes removed from another place in the world and so it’s likey they know little about the enormous contribution Senator Gordon made to this state.
Gordon’s death, and I guess my father’s sickness, has forced me to consider the mortality of some of the senator’s professional colleagues. Not to be morbid, but I worry about the health of the elder statesman still vitally involved in public affairs, giants like my friend and mentor Dr. Stanley Marshall or Governor Reuben Askew. This is not to start a death watch for either of these two men; Lord knows they are probably in better shape than most of us. (I remember fondly how Dr. Marshall, maybe two-and-a-half times my age, invited me once to help him work his farm.). Still, it goes without saying that a generation of leaders and statesmen are leaving us, on their own terms or God’s.
This is how we come to impending retirement of St. Petersburg Times editorialist Martin Dyckman. After 43 years, Mr. Dyckman is leaving the paper where he, first as an investigative reporter and later as a “thunder-clap” editorial writer, did as much good for Florida politics as any legislator or public official. As a colleague wrote, “I’ve never known a more ardent and articulate practitioner of investigative and advocacy journalism. He changed Florida with his work in the early 1970s, exposing a corrupt Supreme Court and despicable state Cabinet.”
Certainly Mr. Dyckman has his critics, fervent ones, in fact, on the Republican side of the aisle. Dyckman’s loathing of what the GOP has done on both the national and state level is readily apparent in his writing. In his second-to-last column, Dyckman sums up the entire problem of Republican rule in one paragraph: “The gerrymandering, coupled with the stupendous corruption of money in politics, has left the nation at the mercy of a political oligarchy that can afford to be contemptuous of the public’s concerns over health care, education, tax reform, the environment, a living wage, a responsible budget, and even the imperial presidency.”
Unfortunately, few writers at the Times still have the courage to write sentences like that. In fact, some of the new faces pride themselves on their connections to conservative politicos. Shame on those who disgrace the legacy of Eugene Patterson, and now, Martin Dyckman.
On a personal note, Mr. Dyckman once took time out of his day to discuss with me what it really takes to be a serious journalist. This was no easy meeting for me, because at that time I was at JMI and Dr. Marshall and Mr. Dyckman were engaged in a running debate about what was best for education in Florida. Still, just the thought of two intellectuals like Stan Marshall and Martin Dyckman actually debating the issues is supremely satisfying in a time when political scientists in Florida are left with nothing but soundbites like “It’s a great day in …” (fill in the blank, Florida, St. Petersburg, whatever new exurban community is being built that day).
As twilight approaches on the careers and lives of brilliant, engaging men and women, like Dyckman, Lucy Morgan, Jack Gordon, Gene Miller, and so on, take a moment to thank them, in your mind, if not personally, for their contributions to a better Florida.