William C. Cramer

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William Cato “Bill” Cramer, Sr.


United States Representative
for Florida's 1st, 12th, and 8th Congressional Districts at various times
In office
January 3, 1955 – January 3, 1971
Preceded by Courtney Warren Campbell
Succeeded by C. W. "Bill" Young

Florida State Representative
for Pinellas County
In office
1951–1953

Attorney for Pinellas County
In office
1953–1954

Born August 4, 1922
Denver, Colorado
Died October 18, 2003 (aged 81)
South Pasadena, Florida
Resting place Woodlawn Memory Gardens in St. Petersburg, Florida
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) (1) Alice Jones Cramer (divorced)

(2) Sarah Ellen Bromelow Cramer (married 1992–2003, his death)

Children From first marriage:

William C. Cramer, Jr.
Mark C. Cramer
Allyn W. Cramer

Parents:
Walter B. and Doreen E. Cramer

Residence St. Petersburg, Florida
Alma mater St. Petersburg Junior College

University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill)

Harvard Law School

Religion United Methodist

Military Service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1943–1946
Rank Gunnery officer
Battles/wars Liberation of France in World War II

William Cato “Bill” Cramer, Sr. (August 4, 1922 – October 18, 2003) was the first Republican since 1880 to have been elected to the United States House of Representatives from the state of Florida. He represented three different congressional districts during his House tenure from 1955 to 1971. He was previously an attorney in St. Petersburg, located in Pinellas County. First elected in 1954 at the age of thirty-two,[1] he went on to win repeated reelection bids until the 1970 midterms, when he ran unsuccessfully[2] for the United States Senate.

Background[edit]

Born in the capital city of Denver, Colorado, Cramer moved with his parents, Walter B. Cramer (1893–1979) and Doreen E. Cramer (1899–1965),[3] to St. Petersburg, often called "St. Pete," when he was only three years of age. After the census of 2000, St. Petersburg became the fourth largest city in the state. He attended public segregated schools and graduated from St. Petersburg High School, at which he waged his first political campaigns by running for student government. He then attended St. Petersburg Junior College, the first public community college in Florida. Cramer grew up with a strong work ethic: as a teenager, he held a variety of jobs. Before entering the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to complete an undergraduate degree, he worked as a bellhop at a resort hotel.[4]

In 1943, Cramer enlisted in the United States Navy. With his degree, he was commissioned as a gunnery officer and fought to liberate France during World War II. After the war, he served in the Navy Reserve until 1946. That same year, Cramer graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. In 1948, he graduated from Harvard Law School in Cambrige, Massachusetts.

Cramer married the former Alice Jones (1930–2004) of Dothan, Alabama, the daughter of Clifton V. and Myrtle G. Jones and a graduate of Auburn University and the International Institute of Interior Design in Washington, D.C. She was an interior designer licensed to practice in Florida, a watercolor artist, and a Republican women's activist. Before divorcing years later, the Cramers had three sons, William, Jr. (born 1952) (wife Carolyn Thomas Cramer, the daughter of Panama City businessman L. E. "Tommy" Thomas).[5] In the early 1990s, Cramer married the former Sarah Ellen Bromelow, previously Sarah Hilber (born 1942).

Career[edit]

Party leader[edit]

Cramer was a key player in the revival of the Republican Party in Florida through the mid-20th century, taking advantage of the state's changing demographics, as new Republican migrants came to Florida from the North, especially New York, and minorities including Cuban Americans (who viewed the GOP as the strongest anti-communist political force to oppose the Castro regime[6]) became Republicans. Beginning in 1964, Cramer also represented his state for twenty years on the Republican National Committee and served as RNC counsel for six years.[7]

In 1949, Cramer switched his partisan affiliation from Democrat to Republican[8] at the urging of his law partner, Herman Goldner, subsequently the mayor of St. Petersburg, who refused to support Barry Goldwater in 1964 and later turned Democrat. At the time, statewide voter registration in Florida was about fourteen-to-one Democratic in part because of the disenfranchisement of African Americans from the voter rolls since the turn of the century by discriminatory application of the state constitutions and subsequent laws. At the time, blacks had comprised the majority of Republican votes. The GOP was hollowed out in Florida and across the South because of the disenfranchisement of African Americans, policies which withstood early court challenges.[9]

As state representative[edit]

In 1950, Cramer ran for state representative and was the campaign manager for the Pinellas County Republican slate, none of whose fourteen members had previously sought office. The Republicans decried inefficient government and "boss-type" politics, organized the grassroots, and offered a unified ticket. All but one of the GOP candidates were elected. Cramer became the "titular head" of the party in Pinellas County. In 1974, the Republican State Executive Committee honored Cramer as Florida's "Mr. Republican." In 1967, The Tampa Tribune humorously paraphrased the biblical Book of John: "In the beginning there was the party, and the party was with Bill Cramer, and the party was Bill Cramer."[10]

When Cramer's two Republican legislative colleagues in 1951 named him minority leader, the Democrats teased them for "caucusing in a phone booth."[11] Because the Florida legislature operates under the same parliamentary rules as the United States House of Representatives, Cramer asserted "minority rights," and raised his personal and the party visibility in state politics. In the state House, Cramer defended junior colleges from challenges waged by the four-year institutions. Having attended a two-year institution, Cramer considered junior colleges essential to lower-cost educational opportunities for state residents. Cramer worked to establish the state's first anti-crime commission, but the Democrats refused to name any Republicans to the panel.[12]

In his losing congressional race in 1952, Cramer spent $25,000 in a handshaking tour of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, and Hernando counties, Cramer benefited from the national Eisenhower-Nixon ticket but lost by 0.7 percent. He was appointed as the Pinellas county attorney and served for two years.[13]

Election to Congress[edit]

In 1954, with a stronger organization, Cramer ran again and unseated the one-term incumbent Courtney Warren Campbell (1895–1971) by the same 0.7 percent margin by which he had lost in 1952.[14] Cramer found that the $40,000 he spent in 1954 was insufficient for advertising in the still new medium of television, but the state party had contributed several thousand dollars to his campaign.[15]Assigned to the House Public Works Committee, Cramer worked to expand interstate highways and to keep them without tolls. He backed a federal interstate project to tie Miami with Tampa, the large city next to St. Petersburg.

Senatorial election of 1970[edit]

In 1970, at the urging of U.S. President Richard M. Nixon, Cramer relinquished his House seat after seven terms to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the Democrat Spessard Holland. Cramer won the Republican primary over George Harrold Carswell (1919–1992), a circuit court judge whom Nixon had earlier in the years nominated to fill a vacancy on the United States Supreme Court. The nomination was rejected by a majority of the Senate in part because Carswell had been a segregationist in his native Georgia. Carswell had the support of then Governor Claude Kirk and U.S. Senator Edward Gurney, who served a single term from 1969 to 1974. Cramer defeated Carswell in the primary, 220,553 votes (64.6 percent) to 121,281 (35.4 percent). However, Cramer lost the general election to the Democrat Lawton Chiles, known as "Walking Lawton" because he walked a large swath of the state as a campaign tool. After three terms in the Senate, Chiles was elected governor in 1990, but Cramer never again sought public office after the Senate bid.[16] Cramer received 772,817 votes (46.1 percent) and gained crossover votes of 61,716 more ballots than the number of registered Republicans in Florida at that time. Chiles' 902,438 tabulation (53.9 percent) was less than half of registered Democrats, but he gained majorities in fifty-five counties, compared to thirteen counties for Cramer. While Cramer went down to defeat, so did Kirk, who was handily unseated by the Democrat Reubin Askew.[17]

Governor Kirk also lost his bid for a second term to the Democrat Reubin Askew. Kirk and Cramer were the candidates at the top of the Florida ballot, but they had never been close politically. The feuding between the two played some part in the defeat of both men.

With the environment, a national concern by 1970, Chiles announced his opposition to the Cross Florida Barge Canal. This had originally been supported by every member of the Florida congressional delegation. The project, one-third completed, was cancelled early in 1971; the area is now a protected green beltt corridor. Chiles endorsed federal funding to remove waste from Lake Apopka in central Florida, which was known for its bass fishing. Cramer received little credit from environmentalists, although he had drafted the Water Pollution Control Act of 1956 and had sponsored legislation to protect alligators, dredge harbors, remove oil spills, and stop beach erosion. [18]

Death[edit]

Cramer died of a heart attack at the age of eighty-one. He is interred, as are his parents, at Woodlawn Cemetery in St. Petersburg.[3]

References[edit]

  1. FL - District 1 Race - Nov 02, 1954 Our Campaigns. Retrieved July 28, 2021.
  2. FL US Senate Race - Nov 03, 1970. Our Campaigns. Retrieved July 28, 2021.
  3. 3.0 3.1 William Cato Cramer, Find a Grave, accessed March 15, 2021.
  4. Billy Hathorn. Cramer v. Kirk: The Florida Republican Schism of 1970. The Florida Historical Quarterly Vol. LXVII, No. 4 (April 1990).
  5. Alice Cramer Obituary, The Birmingham News, February 17, 2004, accessed March 15, 2021.
  6. FascinatingPolitics (July 3, 2019). How The South Became Republican Part III: Florida & Texas. Mad Politics: The Bizarre, Fascinating, and Unknown of American Political History. Retrieved July 29, 2021.
  7. Wolfgang Saxon (October 27, 2003). William C. Cramer, 81, a Leader of G.O.P. Resurgence in South". The New York Times. Retrieved on March 12, 2021.
  8. "Cramer v. Kirk," p. 404.
  9. Richard M. Valelly (2009). The Two Reconstructions: The Struggle for Black Enfranchisement. University of Chicago Press.
  10. "Cramer v. Kirk," p. 405.
  11. "Cramer v. Kirk," p. 405.
  12. "Cramer v. Kirk," p. 405
  13. Cramer, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, p. 697.
  14. State of Florida, General election returns, November 4, 1952, and November 2, 1954
  15. "Cramer v. Kirk,"" p. 406.
  16. "Cramer v. Kirk," p. 425.
  17. State of Florida, General election returns, November 3, 1970.
  18. "Cramer v. Kirk," p. 418.