BY BUDDY NEVINS
Former U. S. Rep. E. Clay Shaw, who died Wednesday, was a rare breed of political animal that is fast becoming extinct – a Republican who could talk to Democrats.
Democrats weren’t the enemy during Shaw’s 26 years in the House (1980-2006). Democrats were office holders who you compromised with to get things done.
And Shaw got a lot done.
Welfare reform, hammered out with the help of Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles.
The Missing Children’s Act, which allowed the federal government to track missing youths for the first time. Passed in response to the murder of Adam Walsh, it won votes of Republicans and Democrats.
Social Security Reform, which permitted seniors to work beyond 65 and collect Social Security without penalty. Democrats supported this, too.
Billions in federal transportation dollars for Interstate 595, Tri-Rail and the E. Clay Shaw 17th Street Causeway Bridge.
Eleven years as chairman of the House Florida Delegation, containing both Republicans and Democrats.
It was Shaw’s ability to find common ground with Democrats that would brand him a pariah among many Republicans today.
Too many congressional Republicans (and Democrats) believe they were elected to uphold ideological purity. They refuse to compromise. They view anybody who differs with them as an enemy to be vanquished.
In an interview shortly before his death with the Sun-Sentinel’s Tony Man, Shaw recalled when Republicans and Democrats would brawl all day and break bread at night.
It was an era when Republicans and Democrats could talk. It was an era when Congress got things done:
“I played golf with [longtime former Democratic House Speaker [Thomas P.] ‘Tip’ O’Neill. He and I were buddies. We could have fun together. We could fight in the daytime and have fun at night,” Shaw told Man.
It is hard to demonize somebody when you just played golf with him.
Shaw believed in Ronald Reagan’s axiom, “That person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally; not a 20 percent traitor.”
From the many times I interviewed Shaw, I know he wanted to make a difference in Washington. He wanted to accomplish something meaningful.
That’s why I know Shaw would have hated Congress, circa 2013.
To accomplishing something meaningful, you have to do something. The House today does nothing. Standing still isn’t an accomplishment.
Shaw greatly enjoyed Washington when Washington worked.
Washington isn’t working. Shaw would have hated it.
Shaw was among the last of the Republicans who once controlled Broward.
Yes, folks. Republicans once controlled what is now the big county most dominated by Democrats south of Atlanta.
I remember this:
Shaw’s election was part of the very last wave of Republican office holders from about 1968 to 1980. Conservative and free market-oriented, these Republicans mixed well with the Good Ol’ Boys in the downtown Fort Lauderdale business community.
It was an era when folks like J. W. “Bill” Stevens, known as “Mr. Republican,” dominated the county commission. Folks like former state Sen. Van Poole represented Hollywood as Republicans.
And Shaw held sway over Fort Lauderdale as the young mayor from 1975-80.
Fort Lauderdale through the 1970s and early 1980s was an insular town on the cusp of a huge development boom. It was a town where the levers of power were inoperable to any but the longtime white, Christian insiders.
Political decisions were made where outsiders’ views were not welcome — the Fort Lauderdale Yacht Club; the restaurant in the Governor’s Club, a seedy hotel on Las Olas Boulevard and the pretentious but decrepit bar at the Riverside Hotel. There was also the membership-only Tower Club, which was located on the top floor of a bank and popular with pols and their supporters.
A multi-millionaire whose family owned huge swaths of land later absorbed by Fort Lauderdale International Airport in an expansion, Shaw was comfortable in these exclusive enclaves.
But Shaw also thrived among the Democratic voters flooding into Broward.
Shaw could understand, talk to and deal with Democrats. Maybe because he played golf with Tip O’Neill and traveled with the previous House Speaker Jim Wright.
Granted, he was no Allen West, who served one term in the same district after Shaw. West got little done, but he ranted about evil Democrats, shouted and could dominate a TV screen.
And Shaw? Shaw was quietly got things done.