Clay Shaw Would Have Hated Today’s Congress





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.


clay shaw



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.

Hollywood! 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.


20 Responses to “Clay Shaw Would Have Hated Today’s Congress”

  1. Ha Ha Ha says:

    “Political decisions were made where outsiders were not welcome” – Buddy, are you saying (or implying) that things are actually any different today?

  2. Ron Gunzburger says:

    My condolences to the Shaw family. I was privileged to have worked for Congressman Shaw on Capitol Hill in the early 1980s, and always found him over the years — even when our views often sharply differed — to be a real gentleman who always brought civility to the political debate.

  3. Rico Petrocelli says:


    Thanks for the good write on Clay…


  4. Patti Lynn says:

    Thank you for the news, sad as it is. You are correct as far as how he treated people. He was publicly kind, compassionate, and caring. If he was different in his “exclusive enclaves” or in other private situations, such behavior never became known. He did well for his constituents and has been, and will be further, missed.

  5. Lori Parrish says:

    Clay Shaw was a gentleman. I remember when my daughter was expecting our first grandchild, I called Clay’s office to make sure medical attention was near her hotel in China. He handled it. He always had the very best staff.
    When my granddaughter died he sent me the most touching hand written note saying he would ask his mom to rock her in heaven.

    When Bill Clinton was elected he gave me his seats for the Swearing in.
    He was a rare breed who cared about people and not how they were registered.
    I know there are thousands of residents just like me with stories just like me. RIP Clay.

  6. Jack Moss says:

    I was proud to have worked closely with Clay in the ’70’s when I was on the County Commission and he essentially ran Fort Lauderdale City Hall. Never contentious, always a gentleman, never a bad word for anyone, easy to talk to, and interested in what you had to say. You can put Clay’s photo next to ‘statesman’ in the dictionary. RIP my friend.

  7. Charlotte Greenbarg says:

    He was a man from the sadly long-lost old school. No one who cared so much and without prejudice for people as he did could have been the opposite in private. It would have come out eventually in his long career had he been duplicitous.

    The irony is that he was defeated by someone who never was able to make the human connections Clay Shaw did, either in D.C. or here at home.

  8. Jack Curtiss says:

    Clay Shaw was a Class Act from Day One. He is sorely missed more than ever. Condolences to his family and many many friends.

  9. Plain Language says:

    The notion that he and his way is something of the past says less about him and more about us. People today can be the same way or better. They simply need to do it.

  10. Fellow Parishioner says:

    Two of the greatest men I ever had the pleasure if knowing I met at St. Anthony’s, Fr. Hannon and Rep. Shaw. Growing up in the parrish I had the honor of having many discussions about politicos and life in the beltway with Rep. Shaw. His stories about Presidents Reagan and Bush were glimpses into history. Rep. Shaw was a true gentleman, statesman and a great Republican.

    In our last conversation earlier this year we discussed his displeasure with the lack of civility and hostility surrounding today’s elected officials. I remember asking him who he saw in today’s elected officials who were a throwback to his era and with out hesitation he said Commissioner Chip LaMarca. I agreed and we discussed how unfortunate it was that there were those locally within our own party that sought to tear Commissioner LaMarca down for his willingness to work across the aisle.
    Rep. Shaw, thank you for our talks and the wisdom of your experience. Your impact in our community will be cherished and appreciated long beyond today.
    Rest in peace and may you be hosting one up with Presdent Reagen and Speaker O’Neal at the 19th hole as we speak.

  11. Rob Dressler says:

    Nice article, Buddy.
    I’ve never posted here before, but did want to join Ron, Lori, Jack and the rest.
    Clay was a real gentleman, and people like him are sorely missed in Congress today.

  12. Franco Ripple says:

    Thanks for a nice write-up, Buddy. Congressman Shaw was everything you hope for in a citizen lawmaker; focused on constituents, true to principles, yet able to compromise for the greater good with allies across the aisle. I had the privilege of interning for him in Congress and will treasure those memories with him. A great advocate for Broward and South Florida. Deepest condolences to the Shaw family.

  13. Duke says:

    If not for the Bush 43 antics, he would have still been in congress.

  14. Really says:


    LaMarca’s was admired by Shaw? OMG. Shaw hated Chip Lamarca. He once told me that he and Jim Scott blamed their losses on Lamarca and that they felt the BREC screwed them. RiP Congressman Shaw. I hope you aren’t seeing the desparate Lamarca 2014 people spewing their propaganda .

  15. Plain Language says:

    I new Clay Shaw, he was a friend of mine and Chip LaMarca is no Clay Shaw.

    Moreover to capitalize on the death of Congressman Shaw and use it as an opportunity to engrandize LaMarca and prop up his sagging reputation is the most underhanded thing I’ve seen come out of the Broward GOP this week.

  16. What is important says:

    It is obvious LaMarca is looking for attention, let us not give in to the urge.

    This article was a tribute to a great man, Congressman E. Clay Shaw, and that is where our focus should remain. Continue to share your memories and pay tribute to this great man. While he had too much class to say he would want it this way, undoubtedly it is what he deserves.

  17. Sue Gunzburger says:

    I knew Congressman Shaw for years and always found him to be working hard to support Broward County. Whenever I went to see him in D.C. he was warm and interested in working to help the county. One of the nicest things I was privileged to do with him and his staff was a D.C. fly-in. Even his wife participated and led a tour a the national archives which was breath taking to see so many of the historic documents. He will be missed.

  18. Seen on Facebook says:

    I noticed I Chip’s FB Page he has a photo of Clay Shaw looks like it went up around the same time as the post by Fellow Parishioner, hmmmm

  19. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    Congressman Shay did his civic duty right to the very end. I went before Mr.Shaw while he was serving on the Charter Revision Bd .He was very knowledgeable and I enjoyed speaking before him and the board. I also saw him @ the Floridian(outside) after his treatments @ the Cancer Center up in Tampa. He looked amazing having gone through the whole ordeal. I stated to him how good he looked and his reply was “you should have seen me years ago i looked even better”(he was great).He reflected also on his lose in Congress in the fact that if Pres.Bush had let Donald Rumsfeld go just a week before Clay’s election he would have won. On a personal note I saw him in the elevator at Ft.Lau city Hall when he was on his way to a Conference meeting in regards to the Cenential Celebration(which he also served on that commitee as well). He said to me in regards to my mother and her illness that he admired what I was doing, and that I would never regret it. No regrets Mr.Shaw. RIP….

  20. Godspeed Rep. Shaw says:

    What a beautiful service today at St. Anthony’s.

    It was interesting who the speakers were at the funeral mass, or more specifically, who was not asked to speak.

    To keep this dignified I will not get into specifics, but Fellow Parishioner, the truth came out today and no shilling on blogs will change the truth about who you view as the heir apparent.,0,5100362.story