Former Florida Rep. Clay Shaw Dies

Image: Former Florida Rep. Clay Shaw Dies

Wednesday, 11 Sep 2013 08:01 AM

By Cathy Burke

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Former U.S. Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr., died Tuesday night after a lengthy battle with lung cancer, the Miami Herald reported Wednesday. He was 74.

A Republican and former Fort Lauderdale mayor, Mr. Shaw served 26 years in Congress.

“It is with heavy hearts and profound sadness that our family announces the passing of our loving husband, father, grandfather, congressman, and mayor, E. Clay Shaw Jr.," said a statement released by Shaw’s family and reported by the Herald.

Mr. Shaw died in Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, surrounded by family members.

He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Emilie, four children, and 15 grandchildren.

“Clay cherished his time in the U.S. Congress representing the people of South Florida. He was a devoted family man setting a fine example for our 15 grandchildren. They will always be proud of Clay’s love of country,” said Emilie Shaw.

On Twitter late Tuesday, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, said, “Sad 2 hear that our pal, former Fl Cong E Clay Shaw, passed away 2night. Condolences 2 Emily. They were always 2gether.”

Born April 19, 1939, in Miami, Mr. Shaw was 36 when he became mayor of Fort Lauderdale in 1975. He was elected to Congress in 1980, representing the 22nd Congressional District, which then included Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties.

Mr. Shaw would go on to win re-election 12 times over the following two decades until 2008, when Democrat Ron Klein beat him in a bitter campaign.

In the House, Mr. Shaw served eight yeasrs on the Judiciary Committee before moving to the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

In 1994, Mr. Shaw became chairman of a subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee, a position that included authority over welfare issues.

In 1993, he authored a proposal to end the federal welfare program, remove recipients after two years on the rolls, and require them to work. That became a major provision of Newt Gingrich's Contract with America and marked one of the most dramatic changes in American public policy.

The welfare-reform bill was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996.

Following the 1998 election, Mr. Shaw took on another big issue — Social Security — after becoming chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee. Among the legislation he got approved was a bill repealing the earnings tax on Social Security recipients age 65-69, the Herald reported.

Mr. Shaw spent 26 years representing South Florida before retiring in 2007, and in an interview with Al Jazeera on Aug. 14, reflected on a time when an epidemic of crack cocaine was ravishing poor neighborhoods.

"I went to Congress in 1980," he said. "I’d been a mayor, a prosecutor, and a judge, and I’d never heard of crack cocaine. But it started popping up like crazy.

"It was the drug of choice for the least affluent. It’s like welfare reform; we looked at it as a rescue mission, not as a source of punishment."

Mr. Shaw also called the period "a time of tremendous change, and change not for the better."

"We went in and looked everything over and decided that minimum maximum sentences would be quite appropriate on quite a lot of these, because there were too many people just walking," he said. "It was as a maximum deterrent for these guys, these drug dealers running neighborhoods."

He called things "bad today — but they were really bad back then."

"We were trying to nip it in the bud and snip it out," he said. "That stuff is just so addictive. Anything we could have done to keep it out of the hands of young people."

Mr. Shaw conceded the laws "calmed it down some," but knew "this wasn't a cure-all."

He also, perhaps surprisingly, believed lawmakers at the time may have overreacted.

"If you’re loading the prisons with nonviolent criminals, I think it’s time to take a look at it, and see if previous Congresses — including mine — overreacted," he confessed.

Mr. Shaw said he never thought the laws had a discriminatory impact on minorities.

"Hell, it was minority neighborhoods being torn apart by the drug dealers," he said. "It’s the usual suspects who scream 'Discrimination,' but we were trying to help those areas."

He said he thought Congress should take another look at the laws, however, "and give some flexibility.

"There should still be some sentencing standards, but hard-and-fast 10-year minimum maximums, 20-year minimum maximums — those ought to be really looked at, and the prison population, and what the result of the legislation has been," he said.

"Just because we passed it 10, 20 years ago doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. That’s the beauty of our government."

He said he advocated looking at cases like "a guy who’s feeding his own habit by selling . . . ."

"Those cases ought to be looked at again and see if the punishment fits the crime, compared to other crimes, state and federal," he said.

His remarks followed an Aug. 12 speech by Attorney General Eric Holder at the American Bar Association in San Francisco, skewering the country’s tactics in the war on drugs.

But Mr. Shaw was unapologetic about the Reagan-era legislation.

"I think we studied it," he said. " . . . We were dealing with a new problem. We had extensive hearings."

". . . . Our motives were pure. We may have overreacted a little bit, and the fact that the problem is still with us merits another look at the whole thing."

Mr. Shaw, however, stopped short of backing Holder's mandated change in charging policies for certain low-level, nonviolent offenders.

" . . . A broken clock is right once or twice a day," he said. "... You get older, and it gets dangerous when you start seeing both sides of an argument."

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