Monday, April 11, 2011

Fuller Warren's political primer

Shortly after he was sworn in as governor of Florida in 1949, Fuller Warren published a book titled How To Win In Politics, a subject about which he was well qualified to write. The governorship was the culmination of a lifetime career in public service.

A copy of that book, signed by the author, is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

Fuller Warren was first elected to public office when he was still a senior at the University of Florida. He won a seat in the Florida House in 1927. He was 21 years old. As a student he had served as a page in the Florida House. Later, he served on the Jacksonville City Council, again in the state legislature, and finally as governor.

The book might have been a slim volume had it not been for the contribution of Allen Morris, venerable clerk of the Florida House. Morris produced an appendix that is really a practical guide for running for public office in Florida–or at least, it was when it came out.

So much has changed in public life since 1949.  Still, for the student of Florida history, particularly Florida political history, this volume offers an amazing glimpse at the politics of the era. Its chapters feature titles like "Talking Your Way Into Office," "It Takes Teamwork to Win," "You Can’t Kid the People–For Very Long," and, "Getting Out the Right Vote."

Warren discusses the need for stamina in seeking a statewide office, noting that such efforts take a physical toll on the candidate. He shares his own concerns over an injury he sustained in a car accident; he feared that the resulting weakness to his right arm and shoulder would affect his ability to meet handshaking requirements.

His fears proved unfounded. In fact, he discovered that constant handshaking provided exercise his arm and shoulder needed. He did, however, develop callouses on his palms that were nearly as tough as the ones he had developed earlier in his life while working for a lumbermill in his native Blountstown.

Office seekers have to be flexible, he cautions. Campaigns often turn on the oddest events. In a chapter called The Strangest Things Happen, Morris shares how Fred P. Cone’s 1936 campaign acquired Suwannee River as its theme song.

The campaign had not planned to use that song or any other as a theme song. They did play music before Cone’s speeches, however. This was done using records and a record player attached to the sound system.

Before one campaign appearance in South Florida, campaign workers discovered a minor catastrophe. All of the records had become warped beyond use–except one: Suwannee River. The sound system operator, probably out of desperation, played the song again and again. Campaign workers discovered an amazing thing. The audience, mostly Yankee transplants, loved it. After that the campaign played the song frequently at campaign rallies all over the state–and Cone became known as Old Suwannee.

Candidates always want to control their message in public media. One way to do that in Fuller Warren’s era was to produce matted human interest stories, complete with photographs, on the theory that harried editors would choose to drop them into their papers if they didn’t editorialize too much. The beauty was that the stories couldn't be cut easily, so often the entire story (and the whole message) was published. The plan often worked in those days.

There’s an example of such a story in the book.  The feature, about Fuller Warren’s sister, Alma, describes her excitement at occupying the Governor’s Mansion as the state’s First Lady, after an election she was certain he would win. It paints a lovely picture of Warren, the candidate, sharing his home with his sister after the recent death of their mother. The article omits the fact that she would enjoy the  position of First Lady only since, at the time, Warren was twice divorced -- not a topic the candidate wanted voters dwelling upon.

Warren advises the aspiring candidate to keep his name before the public in any way he can, but especially through frequent letter writing to the state’s newspapers. One can image that Fuller Warren would have had a great time with Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

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