He was so well known and so widely regarded as a gentleman from a different era that even the Ron Klein, the challenger who won the 2006 election and retired the congressman from politics referred to him as “Mr. Shaw.”
Though he served until January 2007, Mr. Shaw was a product of a previous time in politics, where civility ruled and Republicans and Democrats cooperated to get things done.
During his time in Congress, no one would have mistaken Mr. Shaw as anything but a conservative Republican. But by the political standards in place at the time of his death, Mr. Shaw could almost be seen as a moderate, something he acknowledged in an interview this summer.
He said he never changed his views on fundamental issues such as deficit spending, Social Security and abortion. He one of the most outspoken champions of Everglades restoration and a vociferous opponent of oil drilling off Florida’s coast. He said the former, Everglades restoration, might be seen as liberal environmentalism to some, but to him conserving something so important is inherently conservative. “The Glades is a sacred trust.”
He acknowledged his views on drilling were driven largely by his interest in South Florida. “If I lived in Kansas, I might have felt differently,” he said in the summer interview.
Though he became a resident of Fort Lauderdale, Mr. Shaw was born in Miami and retained a previous era’s pronunciation of the Magic City, “My-am-uh.”
He knew what it took to live in Florida. During one of several hurricanes in the early 2000s, Shaw was one of the local politicians who visited the Palm Beach County Emergency Operations Center. While we exchanged small talk in a hallway, he explained a key to enduring one of a severe storm’s potential unpleasentries: when a storm threatens, fill buckets with water from the pool so you’ll always have water to flush the toilet.
He was elected to Congress in 1980 during the conservative, anti-Jimmy Carter wave that helped propel President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush. Mr. Shaw supported Bush over Reagan for the Republican nomination over Ronald Reagan, the man who ultimately prevailed and became president.
A long friendship ensued. “Some people you just click with,” Shaw said.
When Bush was president, Mr. Shaw and his wife Emilie sometimes joined George and Barbara Bush in the private residential quarters at the White House for takeout Chinese food. Other times it was movies. And Emilie Shaw occasionally played tennis at the White House with Barbara Bush.
Hanging on the wall of the Shaws’ home in Fort Lauderdale is a picture Shaw took of Bush in the White House – showing the president holding a camera that he was using to take a picture of Clay and Emilie Shaw sitting on the bed in the Lincoln bedroom.
It was another anti-incumbent president wave – in 2006 when the public was disenchanted with Bush’s son, President George W. Bush – that Mr. Shaw lost his bid for a 14th term in Congress. He stayed publicly loyal to the embattled president during the campaign, declining to criticize his conduct of the war in Iraq. In the aftermath of the shellacking delivered to the Republicans, Bush sacked his defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. Shaw later said, and some independent analysts agreed, if Bush had gotten rid of Rumsfeld before Election Day that Shaw might well have won re-election.