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Politics / Issues

Florida Political Legend Sam Gibbons Dies at 92

One of the legends of Florida politics is gone. Sam Gibbons, who represented Tampa in Congress for more than 30 years, died this morning at the age of 92.

Gibbons was re-elected to Congress 16 times, and never lost an election. That came after he parachuted behind enemy lines on D-Day in Normandy, during one of the most harrowing invasions of World War II.

He was instrumental in getting the University of South Florida off the ground. He also helped the then-small town of Tampa expand to the limits of the university.

His last public appearance was in July, when he appeared with former circuit Judge John F. Germany at the library in downtown Tampa that bears his friend's name. Gibbons told the crowd he had two secret weapons - one of them being his late wife, Martha.

"Everybody loved Martha. They sort of tolerated me," he said.  "Then I found out I had one other asset that never occurred to me. People will forget your face, they'll forget your name, but they won't forget these ears."

He also said Medicare should be expanded and that our current healthcare system isn't working because people should not go without preventative care.

And he also had some thoughts about how current politics has become so partisan.

"Well, I think it's terrible," he said in the conversation with Germany. "I think the members of Congress ought to be up in Washington working their fannies off. They're not. They go up there and demonstrate for a day and a half, get back on the airplane, fly back home, and go around making speeches at home. I don't call that governing. That's chaotic."

Gibbons was acting chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee from 1994 until the Democrats lost control of the House in 1995. Prior to leading the full committee, Gibbons chaired the subcommittee on trade. He was much more supportive of trade liberalization throughout his career than most House Democrats, who have leaned toward protectionism since the early 1970's.

Gibbons had a few verbal showdowns with the newly-elected Republican congress during his last term. During a taped Ways and Means Committee hearing, after being denied the opportunity to speak several times, Gibbons stormed out of the room shouting about how the Democrats were being railroaded and given no time to speak. He compared the new Republicans to dictators and shouted that he had "to fight you guys 50 years ago," referring to Nazi Germany in World War II.

Funeral arrangements have not been released.

You can listen to our recent Florida Matters program on Gibbons' conversation with John Germany by clicking HERE.

And WUSF covered Gibbons' 90th birthday party at the Tampa Bay History Center. You can hear the entire program by clicking HERE.

In WUSF's 2007 documentary, "Tampa Goes to War,"  Gibbons talks about his service in World War II.  Click on the video below to hear his recollections.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1bKTLvAjZs&feature=youtu.be