Monday, January 16, 2012

Wankard Pooser (1893-1978)

  I'm sure anyone who is reading this article got an immediate chuckle out of the goofiness of this man's name, but make no mistake, Florida politician Wankard Pooser was an actual person! One can wonder if this two-term Florida state legislator had to endure some teasing about his curious name. The rare portrait of him shown above was discovered via the Florida Memory historical website and is in all likelihood the only portrait of him to be found online.
  Wankard Pooser was born on September 27, 1893, in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, and little else could be found in relation to his early life, the exception being a WWI draft registration card denoting that he'd attended "rural schools". Pooser married his wife Maude in the mid-1910s and became parents to a family of eleven children! Of these children, his son (and namesake) Wankard Lucius Pooser died aged 91 in 2008 and was an attorney for five decades, being a member of both the Florida and New York bar.
    A resident of Jackson County, Florida beginning in 1903, Pooser was a farmer and school teacher prior to his time in state government. Pooser abandoned teaching in 1937 and subsequently engaged in house moving, in addition to farming. He entered politics in 1935 with an unsuccessful run for state senator, and in 1944 Jackson County elected him to the first of two terms in the Florida House of Representatives, where he served from 1945-1949. The following Florida Humanities Council link denotes that Pooser was elected on a single campaign promise, which was to vote no on every single bill that passed before him. It is also mentioned that he broke this promise only once (it isn't elaborated on what bill he voted for) and that the "voters rejected him at the next election". Pooser's frequent "nay" votes were highlighted in the June 1, 1949 edition of the Miami Herald, which described him as red-faced, bespectacled, and "often irascible."
  During his two terms, Pooser was frequently at odds with veteran house members and government officials, referring to them as "those Tallahassee bureaucrats". The Herald detailed that Pooser's cantankerousness carried over into a lack of legislative accomplishment, having "failed with a couple of general bills to help the house moving business." Despite his record of little-to-no legislation, Pooser remained non-plussed, with the Herald remarking:
"Pooser's defense is that he is doing--and has been doing all along--precisely what he told his people he would do if elected."
   Pooser's two terms in the house weren't without controversy, however. In May 1945 Pooser began preparations to introduce a constitutional amendment that aimed to "abolish" the Florida legislature and turn its duties over to the Governor. Pooser noted that his bill would save "many thousands of dollars to the taxpayers of the state formally endowing the executive with the complete lawmaking powers he already is exercising and abolishing entirely the figurehead body now known as the legislature." 

From the May 11, 1945, Sarasota Herald.

From the Pensacola News, March 4, 1960.

    Later in May 1945, the Saint Petersburg Times reported on a remark Pooser had made during a debate in the house with fellow representative John Lambe. In this debate, Rep. Lambe had made known his objections to a bill Pooser had introduced that proposed "strict regulation" of the Jackson County Hospital, located in Pooser's hometown of Marianna. During the debate proceedings between them, Pooser made a remark about the death of one of Lambe's children two years previously. Lambe is recorded as becoming emotional and being unable to continue his debate with Pooser, who was later admonished by his fellow representatives for his remarks. The legislature then "immediately killed his bill by a loud voice vote."
  Pooser is later quoted in the same paper as excusing himself from further house proceedings, noting that "I'm withdrawing from politics, for which I feel myself totally unfitted anyway." As noted earlier, Pooser was elected to two terms in the house, which proved that he did not make good on his statement. During his second term, Pooser continued to be the "great dissenter" of the house, and sources of the time frequently picked up on his consistent voting pattern. In the Miami News edition of July 2, 1949, an editorial referred to Pooser as "out of tune" with the times, noting that:
" Representative Pooser went to great lengths during the legislative session to explain practically all of his votes. There is no telling how much it cost the state to have spread in the legislative journal, his lengthy explanations for saying either aye or nay, and yet, with all of his explanations, his service to the state was negligible."
  Pooser flirted with a state senate run in 1950 and 1952, being described as a man who "set was is believed to be a record for negative votes." In March 1960 he announced his campaign for his old House seat but failed to make his candidacy extend past that year's primary. After many years of being out of the political spotlight, Wankard Pooser died on February 22, 1978, at age 84, and was subsequently interred at the Pope Cemetery in Sneads, Jackson County, Florida. 

                                               Would you vote for a man named Wankard Pooser?

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