Meek, Kendrick 1966–
Kendrick Meek 1966–
U.S. congressional representative
As the son of United States Representative Carrie Meek—a legend in Florida politics—Kendrick Meek was sometimes viewed as an ambitious young man looking to trade on his mother’s famous name when he entered politics in the 1990s. Meek rapidly developed an identity of his own during his years in the Florida legislature, however, making several high-profile moves that caused political problems for the state’s powerful governor, Jeb Bush. Kendrick Meek was elected to the U.S. House when his mother retired in the year 2002.
Born in Miami on September 6, 1966, Kendrick Meek absorbed the world of politics firsthand as he grew up. He sometimes slept under his mother’s desk in the Florida House Office Building as she worked late on state business, and, he told the Florida Times Union, a trip to the grocery store with his mother could take two hours as she stopped to listen to constituent concerns. Carrie Meek, whose grandmother was a slave and who became one of the first African Americans elected to Congress from Florida since the Reconstruction era, told her son about how she baked Girl Scout cookies for state legislators during her own childhood but couldn’t deliver them because she was barred from the segregated statehouse grounds. As a teenager Kendrick Meek worked in those same legislative halls as a page.
Meek’s family life was unsettled due to his mother’s two divorces, and later, after his marriage to Leslie Dixon of Brooklyn, New York, he would make a strong commitment to family life. He struggled with dyslexia in school but attended Florida A & M University on a football scholarship. Meek worked hard to overcome his learning disability and graduated from Florida A & M with a science degree in 1989. A star at the position of outside linebacker, Meek was told by football coach Ken Riley that he had the ability to try for a professional career. Carrie Meek in her own day had been a track star at Florida A & M.
Another facet of Meek’s personality emerged in the football setting as well: team players, Riley told the Florida Times Union, called Meek the “clubhouse lawyer” and turned to him to resolve disputes. Meek extended his political education after college when he got a job with the Florida Highway Patrol, a dream he
At a Glance…
Born on September 6, 1966, in Miami, FL; son of U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek; married Leslie Dixon; children: Lauren, Kendrick B. Jr. Education: Florida A & M University, BS, 1989; Florida Highway Patrol Academy, Law Enforcement Standards course, 1989. Religion: Baptist.
Career: Florida highway patrolman, ca. 1990–93; Florida state government, state representative, 1994–98, state senator, 1998–02; U.S. House of Representatives, representative from Florida’s 17th District, 2002-.
Selected memberships: lifetime member, NAACP; 100 Black Men.
Selected awards: Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Outstanding Service Award, 1990; Ebony magazine, 50 Leaders of Tomorrow, 1995; Florida Conference of NAACP Branches, Gwen Sawyer Cherry Memorial Award, 1997.
Addresses: Office —1039 Longworth House Office Bldg., Washington, DC 20515, District Office—111 NW 83rd St, Suite 315, Miami, FL 33169.
had had since childhood, and was assigned to the security detail traveling with Democratic Lieutenant Governor Buddy MacKay. Meek turned into an on-the-job student of state government, attending meetings with MacKay even when it wasn’t required. After rising to the position of captain in the highway patrol (and becoming the state’s first African American to achieve that rank), Meek took a sales job with the politically well-connected Wackenhut Corporation, a firm in the growing security and prison field.
Even while in college Meek had begun building a political network as president of the Florida chapter of the Young Democrats organization, so it was no surprise when he decided to run for the Florida state legislature in 1994. He raised eyebrows when he challenged incumbent State Rep. Elaine Gordon while she was battling a brain tumor and suffering frequent hospitalizations, but Gordon (who eventually recovered) dropped out of the race and Meek was elected. A similar episode occurred four years later when Meek challenged veteran African-American legislator William Turner, who had already announced his intention to step down after one more term and who was troubled by heart problems. But the popularity of the Meek name carried the challenger to victory once again. “Meek shares his mother’s driving ambition and, some say, may be a shade more ruthless,” noted the Miami New Times.
As a legislator, however, Meek made headlines on his own. In the Florida House he worked with the Republican leadership to provide compensation for two African-American men who had been mistakenly convicted of murder 35 years before, a goal that until then had eluded the few blacks in the legislature. Then, in the state senate, Meek found himself in the thick of the increasingly acrimonious national debate over affirmative action programs. Florida governor Jeb Bush proposed a new program called One Florida that would scrap race-based preferences in favor of guaranteed admission to the state university system for the top 20 percent of each public high school’s graduating class. Many African-American leaders objected to the plan because Bush had not consulted them before revealing it and because it threatened to lower black enrollment at the state’s flagship universities.
Meek and a fellow legislator visited Bush’s office in January of 2000 hoping to discuss the issue, but Bush indicated that he was too busy to meet with them. Meek said they would be happy to wait, and Bush responded that the pair would need blankets because the wait would be a long one. Meek took Bush up on the dare, staging an overnight sit-in that drew wide publicity. Bush at one point was heard telling an aide to “kick their asses out” (according to the Palm Beach Post and other papers), although he later claimed the episode helped Meek in his effort to register black voters for the 2000 U.S. presidential election, an effort widely credited with helping candidate Al Gore make an unexpectedly strong dead-heat showing in that heavily disputed contest.
In 2002 Meek emerged once again as an irritant to Bush and as a figure around whom his opposition could rally. The issue this time was a Meek-sponsored amendment to the state constitution that would limit class sizes in Florida schools. Meek was inspired to create the legislation when his daughter, Lauren, started kindergarten in a classroom with 33 other students. The measure put Bush on the defensive in the 2002 gubernatorial election as he was forced to answer questions about state education budgets. Bush won a close election in November of 2002, but Meek’s amendment was also enacted by voters.
Meek’s constituents, Miami talk show host Victor Curry (who had earlier criticized Meek over the William Turner controversy) told the St. Petersburg Times, “see him as a guy who is not intimidated by the Bushes [President George W. Bush and his brother Jeb], and there are not many people up there in Tallahassee, black or white, Republican or Democrat, who are not intimidated by the Bushes.” Even Jeb Bush grudgingly complimented the young lawmaker’s skills, telling the St. Petersburg Times that “I wouldn’t put him in the statesman category but I would put him in the category of a very effective politician.”
The 2002 fall elections also saw Meek himself move up to a higher office. His mother, Carrie Meek, announced her retirement from the U.S. House on July 7 of that year, leaving her son in place with a large campaign organization and potential challengers with only two weeks to bring a campaign together. Meek cruised to election in the fall without serious opposition. Members of the Horida delegation on both sides of the aisle praised his learning curve in Washington during the early months of his first term, and political observers looked for Meek, still well shy of 40 years of age, to make potentially as much trouble for President George W. Bush in Washington as he had for his brother in Tallahassee.
Florida Times Union, January 20, 2000, p. A1; March 27, 2000, p. A10.
Jet, October 7, 2002, p. 4.
Miami New Times, January 18, 2002.
Palm Beach Post, October 31, 2002, p. 10.
St. Petersburg Times, March 13, 1993, p. B4; January 19, 2000, p. A1; August 21, 2001, p. B6; July 14, 2002, p. D6; November 23, 2002, p. B1.
Tampa Tribune, April 9, 1995, p. Florida/Metro-1.
“Career Highlights of Senator Kendrick B. Meek,” Senator Kendrick B. Meek’s Official Website, www.meeknow.com/bio/ (July 15, 2003).
—James M. Manheim
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