Former Florida Gov. Kirk Jr. dies in sleep

Sept. 29, 2011 at 9:11 AM
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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., Sept. 29 (UPI) -- Former Gov. Claude R. Kirk Jr., Florida's first Republican governor after the Reconstruction, died in his sleep at West Palm Beach home. He was 85.

Elected governor in 1966, Kirk oversaw the rewriting of the state's constitution and creation of the Department of Environmental Protection, the Palm Beach Post reported Thursday. Richard Nixon had considered him as a running mate in 1968 but Kirk, who died Wednesday, lost out to Spiro Agnew of Maryland.

"Kirk's overall effect was to blow up the old Florida politics," Edmund Kallina, author of "Claude Kirk and the Politics of Confrontation," told the (Fort Lauderdale) South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Kirk, known to be outrageous, off-putting, dramatic and witty, demonstrated a Republican could win a statewide race in the Sunshine state, said Kallina, a history professor at the University of Central Florida.

Gov. Rick Scott ordered flags be flown at half-staff on the day of Kirk's funeral.

"He will be remembered as Florida's first Republican governor since Reconstruction and a strong, outspoken and capable leader for our state during an era of immense change in our country," Scott said.

Kirk was born in San Bernardino, Calif., and grew up in Chicago and Montgomery, Ala. After his term as governor, he switched back and forth between political parties. He unsuccessfully sought the governor's office in the Democrat primary in 1978 then moved to West Palm Beach.

He is survived by his wife and seven children, 14 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

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