BRADENTON — U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek met Tuesday with long-time friends Rhea Chiles and her two sons, Bud and Ed, whose names still carry some cache in state Democratic politics.
Rhea Chiles was married to Gov. Lawton Chiles, who served as Florida’s governor from 1990 until he died in office Dec. 13, 1998.
The Chileses announced their endorsement for Meek, a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in the Democratic primary.
“We have a long relationship with Kendrick,” Ed Chiles told the 50 or so supporters who crowded into Robin’s Downtown Cafe, 428 12th St. W. “His mother, Carrie, (who was a state legislator and U.S. representative) was a strong supporter of my father.”
Gov. Chiles hired Meek to serve in his administration, and Rhea Chiles commented how she watched the 43-year-old mature and become a public servant.
“I loved watching Kendrick grow up,” she said. “These bones are old, but they are political and I can feel in my bones his success.”
Meek thanked the Chileses for their support as they sat around a diner table. Meek said he learned about public service from his mother and the late governor.
He also remarked how the Chiles family has maintained Gov. Chiles legacy of helping those who need help, especially children.
“There are just a few families in the state that the people know are dedicated to public service,” Meek said.
The Chiles family established the Lawton Chiles Foundation to carry on the governor’s work on children’s issues. Bud Chiles is the president of the nonprofit organization.
Before becoming governor, Lawton Chiles also served three terms as U.S. senator from Florida.
Lawrence Miller, chairman of the Manatee County Democratic Executive Committee, said having Meek visit Manatee County is important for the local party.
“It energizes our people who see a viable candidate who can win the U.S. Senate seat,” Miller said.
Former Bradenton City Councilman the Rev. James Golden also was confident in Meek’s ability to win in the November race against the presumptive Republican candidate Marco Rubio and recently declared independent candidate Gov. Charlie Crist.
“In my opinion he’s the most qualified candidate,” Golden said. “He’s not only experienced in Washington, but experienced working at the state level.”
After the gathering in the restaurant, Meek talked about how he started campaigning for his mother at the age of 12.
Carrie Meek, served in the state Legislature before becoming the U.S. Congresswoman for the 17th District, which includes parts of Miami-Dade and Broward County.
Meek followed in his mother’s footsteps and has represented the same district for the past 7 1/2 years.
He said his mother taught him about the importance of public service.
With the recent events of the oil drilling platform explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, Meek said it reenforces his position against drilling off the Florida coastline.
“I see energy independence as important, but Florida is unique,” he said, pointing out the state’s heavy tourism economy.
“This is a great opportunity to look at alternative energy sources.”
Meek spoke on several other policy issues, but returned to his gratitude to the Chiles family for their support.
Also running in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate seat are Glenn A. Burkett, Kevin Burns, Maurice A. Ferre and Jeff Greene.