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Connie Mack III pens autobiography

By CJ HADDAD - | Sep 16, 2020

Connie Mack III. PHOTO PROVIDED

cjhaddad@breezenewspapers.com

A prominent former U.S. Senator with Cape Coral ties has released a book detailing his storied political career, life and passions.

Connie Mack III penned his autobiography, “Citizen Mack: Politics, An Honorable Calling,” recounting his journey of stepping into the political arena and how that platform gave him the opportunity to be a difference maker.

Published in June, Mack tells the story of a man with a recognizable name carving out his own path.

“It was a great experience,” Mack said of penning his book, which took nearly five years. “People tell you you ought to write a book and you giggle a little bit, and then I got to thinking about my grandfather Morris Sheppard who was in the senate and when he died, he never had a chance to write a book, and I wish I had the chance to read about his life and what went on in his time and what his motivations were.”

Mack is best known for his time as U.S. Senator to Florida from 1989 to 2001, being the first Republican Florida senator to serve two terms. He also served for three terms as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Florida from 1983 to 1989, representing the Fort Myers and Cape Coral area in what was then Florida’s 13th District.

Mack decided to get into the political game for a few reasons, one being his first-hand knowledge of what the federal government was doing to the banking business. He would come home night after night from his job as the president of the National Bank of Cape Coral with distain for the way the small lender had to navigate federal regulations.

One night, Mack’s wife Priscilla said, “If you’re going to complain about something, go do something.”

Mack said another driving factor for him to pursue a public office was the 1980 presidential race between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. Mack recalls the late ’70s into the early ’80s as a very difficult economic time for the country, which made the election even more polarizing. Mack remembers his excitement when Reagan came out on top, along with Republicans gaining control of the Senate and picking up numerous seats in the House. He remembers telling his wife, “This is so important what the country has decided today, I’ve got to be involved in it sometime.”

A conversation with Church of the Brethren Reverend Don Shank in Cape Coral gave Mack the insight he needed to move forward with a life of public service.

“Shank was very special to me, and said something along the lines of, ‘The biggest sin a person can commit is the failure to use the talent that God has given you,'” Mack recounted. “I knew right then I had to run for Congress.”

In his first election, Mack was elected to represent the newly created 13th District, earning 65 percent of the vote in the General Election. In 1984 he won unopposed and in 1986, won with 75 percent of the vote.

Mack said a highlight of his time in the House was his involvement in the creation of the Conservative Opportunity Society, a Republican group with conservative ideals with the goal to become the majority part in the U.S. House.

“I got involved to try and change things,” Mack said.

In the 1988 election, incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Lawton Chiles decided to retire, leaving the seat open. Mack said he could not have anticipated a move to run for the vacancy, but life sometimes doesn’t happen according to plan.

“It’s interesting how life things just kind of happen that keep moving you forward,” Mack said.

In a meeting with then-president Richard Nixon, Mack asked his advice on whether to pursue the Senate seat. Mack recalls Nixon telling him, “Connie, you already know everything you need to know.”

“It really took away that psychological barrier,” Mack said. “It opened the door up a little bit for me.”

Mack did run, and he did succeed, but not without some controversy. He defeated Democratic U.S. Congressman Buddy Mackay with just over 50 percent of the vote in the 1988 General Election.

“I won by less than half a point,” Mack said. “At the time, it was the closest Senate race in the state’s history.

“I went to bed and was 25,000 votes behind and (all of the major media outlets) had called the race for my opponent.”

The next morning, Mack got up, checked the returns, and saw he was only down by 5,000 votes without absentee ballots having been counted. He figured he had a shot.

“I ended up winning with about 34,000 votes, but I was 25,000 votes behind when I went to bed the night before,” he said.

It was eight days before Mackay conceded and was essentially a precursor to the debacle in the 2000 U.S. presidential election.

Having a longer term in the Senate than in the House, Mack realized he had more time to make impacts and could focus on longer-term goals.

One of those goals included becoming knowledgeable about cancer and cancer research.

“I wanted to get involved in the effort to find a cure for cancer,” Mack said.

Mack’s brother Michael passed two years before his first bid for office due to melanoma, a diagnosis he received at age 23.

“I wanted to try to find a way to see that other families don’t have to go through what our family went through,” Mack said. “The entire time I was in the Senate, I was focused on medical research — cancer research in particular.”

After his time in the Senate, Mack served as Chairman of the Board for the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and is still involved with them today on their advisory board.

Mack also is a cancer survivor in his own right and came to the conclusion that the country needed to bolster its financial support to cancer research and led an historic bipartisan effort to double funding for biomedical research through the National Institutes of Health. He pushed spending from $13 billion annually to $27 billion over a five-year period.

Mack also recalls stressful moments when Kuwait was attacked by Iraq in the early ’90s and the Senate had to make a decision to authorize the president to use force.

“That was a major decision,” Mack said. “You’re talking about sending our men and women into harms way and the concern of how many lives would be lost. And I supported Bush’s decision.”

Mack also voted to convict then-president Bill Clinton on articles of impeachment for his now infamous scandal.

The Philadelphia native decided to retire in 2000 despite offers to climb higher on the ticket. Mack was approached by GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole in 1996, as well as eventual president George W. Bush in 2000, to be a vice presidential candidate.

“I had to think where I wanted to go in my political career,” Mack said. “Thinking through the process of being a vice presidential candidate made me realize I did not want to continue on at the national level. The time had come for me to go home and pursue another career.”

Mack joked about having Bush pester him over and over again to be his running mate, even recalling a time where he knew Bush was going to ask him, once again.

“He put his hands on my shoulder and looked me right in the eye and said, ‘Connie, what do I have to do to get you to agree to run?’ And I said, ‘There’s nothing you can do.’ Bush then turned to Priscilla, who could not offer any help of her own.

“That was the end of it,” said Mack, who is happy with his decision today.

Mack’s family moved to Southwest Florida in 1950 from Pennsylvania when he was 10 years old. His father, Connie Mack Jr., was instrumental in the creation of Cape Coral and the “Waterfront Wonderland” it was advertised as. Mack’s father worked with the Rosen Brothers to promote, sell and develop the new city — providing some name recognition as well.

Mack’s grandfather, National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Connie Mack, first brought his team, the Philadelphia Athletics (now Oakland), to Fort Myers for spring training beginning in 1925. From there, Southwest Florida would be an integral part of the family’s history, and they to Southwest Florida.

Mack’s first job was for a surveying crew in Cape Coral in 1958 putting in plot lines in for new homes being constructed and put in the seawall around the yacht basin.

“I was up to my neck in water out there,” Mack joked.

Mack and his wife Priscilla built their first home in Cape Coral, south of Cape Coral Parkway in late 1961, just after their first daughter was born.

Mack worked in land and housing sales in the early ’60s before pursuing a science in business administration degree from the University of Florida. Upon graduating, he returned to Cape Coral and worked for Cape Coral Bank in 1966. After a few years there and a short stint at a bank in Fort Myers, Mack returned to the Cape in 1971 to work again at Cape Coral Bank and eventually joined National Bank of Cape Coral in 1975, working his way up to president until his decision to enter politics in 1982. Mack also served as the president of the early Cape Coral Chamber of Commerce.

Mack said having a front row seat to the development of what is now a city of 200,000 was invaluable.

“I can’t undervalue the importance of experiencing Cape Coral’s growth,” Mack said. “Having been out there for the very early days — to watch that unfold — you couldn’t help but come away with a pioneer’s spirit, a ‘can-do’ attitude. I think that was an important part of my life — seeing things built from the ground up.”

Mack also headed a board that was organized to get the first (and only) hospital in Cape Coral built. For five years he played an essential role of developing land, obtaining financing, finding contactors and more.

“Taking something that was just an idea, all the way through to completion, was an exciting time in my life,” Mack said.

Mack still has family in Cape Coral and has a home in Charlotte County. Today, he dedicates his time and efforts to the Moffitt Cancer Center, where he has bolstered their melanoma program in honor of his brother.

–Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj