David Klement

Obituary of David Earl Klement

David E. Klement, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, think-tank director, and public utility regulator, died June 9 th at home in his sleep. He was 81. Mr. Klement served as Editorial Page Editor of the Bradenton Herald from 1977 to 2007, writing anonymously one and often two editorials a day that reflected the Herald Editorial Board’s views on local issues, plus a bi-weekly signed column in which he shared his personal observations about family, community, and life. At most newspapers, the editorial policy is considered “the conscience of the community,” and directing that policy for 30 years was a role Mr. Klement accepted with grace and humility. Though he often opposed policy-makers’ decisions and criticized civic leaders for actions they had taken or failed to take in the public interest, he earned the respect of most by his careful research of each issue on which he opined. At his retirement party staged by the Herald in September 2007, more than 100 community leaders turned out to honor his community service and wish him well in retirement. During his 45-year career in journalism, Mr. Klement worked at the Daily Oklahoman in Oklahoma City, the Chicago Sun-Times, and Detroit Free Press before moving to Bradenton in 1975. At the Free Press, he shared a Pulitzer Prize with the news team for the paper’s coverage of the 1967 Detroit riot. He rose from copy editor to Night City Editor and Assistant Business Editor at the Free Press. In that latter capacity, he wrote a weekly column on the advertising industry during the era depicted in the long-running TV-series “Mad Men.” He assured family members and friends that much of the behavior featured in that series was an accurate representation of the ad industry he covered, especially the three-martini lunches. Upon retiring from the Herald, Mr. Klement began a second career as Director of the Institute for Public Policy and Leadership at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. This was, he said, a natural progression from writing about public policy issues to presenting public discussions about them in forums and seminars. After two years at USF, Mr. Klement took a leap into the unknown by applying for an appointment to the Florida Service Commission (PSC), an industry about which he knew little but one he quickly began to study. This is the regulatory board that oversees the state’s investor-owned utilities. This came in fall 2009, a time when the PSC was embroiled in controversy over collusion between regulators and the utilities, and then-Gov. Charlie Crist sought to appoint commissioners with unquestioned integrity and no ties to the utility industry. Crist named Mr. Klement as one of two appointees to the PSC, an appointment subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate. During his brief tenure, the PSC considered the two largest rate increase requests in state history, a $1.3 billion hike by Florida Power & Light Co. and a $500 million raise by Progress Energy (now Duke Power). When the board awarded FPL only a tiny fraction of its requested hike, the company launched a $6 million smear campaign against Mr. Klement and Crist’s other new appointee, Benjamin Stevens, initiating fake email chains and making large campaign donations to key senators to buy their votes against confirmation. On the Legislature’s last day in session in April 2010, Mr. Klement failed to win confirmation by four votes. But he was still not ready to retire. Applying the knowledge and skills acquired in directing the USF think tank, he wrote a plan for a new think tank being developed at St. Petersburg College. When the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions was launched at SPC in spring 2011, Mr. Klement was named its first Executive Director. He served in that role for eight years, presenting more than 20 forums, workshops, and seminars each year focused on such policy issues as climate change, the opioid crisis, prison reform, racism, and social justice. He retired from that position in May 2019. But he was still not quite finished. He immediately began to fulfill his long-held dream of writing books. His first, a combined autobiography and retrospective of his best work at the Bradenton Herald titled “Conscience of the Community,” was published in 2020. He was at work on a novel at the time of his death. Mr. Klement was born and grew up on a dairy farm in Muenster, Texas, to John A. and Olivia Otto Klement, who were first-generation descendants of German pioneers in that farming community north of Dallas. He earned a Bachelor’s in Journalism from the University of North Texas and, 30 years later, a Master’s in Mass Communication from the University of South Florida. He married Jo Anne Patterson Ramming on Oct. 14, 1978. Survivors include his wife; children Sara King of Bradenton and Max Ramming of Atlanta; five grandchildren: Emma, Matthew, and Will King of Bradenton, and Connor and Parker Ramming of Atlanta; his brother Jerry Klement of Temple, Texas, and sister Betty Jean Bindel of Muenster. He was a member of Peace Presbyterian Church, where he was an Elder and member of the church governing board. Private services will be at Peace Presbyterian Church, directed by Griffith-Cline Funeral Home. Burial will be in Fogartyville Cemetery. Memorial donations may be made to the Peace Presbyterian Church Building Fund, 12705 State Road 64 E., Bradenton, FL 34212.
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