INFLUENCE Magazine Winter 2020

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A Publication




(WITH A MAJOR ASSIST FROM FIRST LADY CASEY DESANTIS) Golden Rotunda winners: The Southern Group, GrayRobinson, RSA Consulting, Converge, Johnson & Blanton, Ron LaFace, Heather Turnbull, Ron Book, John Holley, and many more.



Requiem It feels as if most folks were not upset to see 2019 in the rearview mirror, although I am not so sure 2020 offers much hope for changing whatever it is people were so upset about last year. 2019 was not an annus horribilis, but it wasn’t great, either. I believe Queen Elizabeth described it best when, in her annual Christmas message, she said the past 12 months have been “quite bumpy.” Who can argue with that? For me and my family, 2019 was proceeding along swimmingly — our daughter, Ella Joyce, continued to grow by leaps and bounds, both physically and emotionally; the business continued to prosper — until tragedy struck in September. That is when my wife’s father, Benjamin Todd, died after a sudden illness. Life has not been the same since. Michelle and I have spent the past few months struggling to come to terms with his death while honoring and mourning him. We made a very nice go at the holidays, which we typically adore, but there were many moments when the darkness extinguished the light of the season. Both Michelle and I, in our individual ways, have written extensively about the life and death of Benjamin W. Todd. The reason I am discussing his death here is two fold: First of all, his passing knocked the publication of this edition of INFLUENCE off of its timeline. I had hoped to be done with the magazine in early December, but those plans changed with Papa Ben’s death. It’s not just that I needed to mourn the loss in my life, but I also needed to tend to my family more than ever. There were days when it was a struggle just to get through the basics of daily life, much less assemble a magazine. The second reason for writing about Benjamin’s passing is because he was an active contributor to INFLUENCE Magazine. His award-winning photography has been featured in this magazine since its inception. And, it turns out, the last commissioned work of Benjamin Todd, a respected and well-liked member of Tampa Bay’s photographer community, appeared in INFLUENCE Magazine. That Papa Ben helped me with my magazine speaks to the kind of loving, trusting relationship he and I had. I always could count on him to handle an assignment, just as I could count on him in so many other ways. I’ve thought of him so many times as we put together this edition of INFLU-


Benjamin W. Todd, 1949-2019. ENCE, missing him every time I had to assign another photographer to handle a job I would have given to him. This edition of INFLUENCE Magazine, with its glorious photo of Florida’s First Family on its cover and its awarding of the Golden Rotunda Awards for the best work in the governmental affairs industry, is dedicated to Benjamin W. Todd, who excelled at an astonishing number of avocations, especially those of involved family man and devoted friend.

Peter Schorsch Publisher




Peter Schorsch

Phil Ammann



CONTRIBUTORS Janelle Irwin Dan McAuliffe Scott Powers Rebecca Renner Drew Wilson

Rochelle Koff Ryan Nicol Noah Pransky Jim Rosica


Kristin Piccolo

STAFF PHOTOGRAPHERS Colin Hackley Benjamin Todd Mark Wallheiser


Rosanne Dunkelberger

Christy Jennings

Abby Hart Mary Beth Tyson

Daniel Dean



INFLUENCE Magazine is published quarterly by Florida Politics, LLC, a subsidiary of Extensive Enterprises Media, LLC. 204 37th Avenue North, St. Petersburg, Florida 33704. INFLUENCE Magazine and Extensive Enterprises Media are not responsible for unsolicited manuscripts, photography or artwork. Editorial contributions are welcomed and encouraged, but will not be returned. INFLUENCE Magazine reserves the right to publish any letters to the editor. Copyright January 2020, Extensive Enterprises, LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited. Tallahassee, Florida


New Year, new address. Same team, same results.


124 W. Jefferson St., downtown Tallahassee.

The conceptual inspiration for Capital City Consulting’s new building is in direct response to the owners’ vision of a sleek, transparent design allowing natural light deep into the long and narrrow floor plate. The high roof extension and second-floor balcony gracefully cantilever above the public walk while transparency at the ground level and a recessed entry allow a ‘community’ access into the building’s rich interiors. While reflecting back to a time of true modernism, the exterior symmetry and brick façades are rooted in Tallahassee’s deep traditions and respond to adjacent historic and contemporary buildings. — S.K. Coffin, EMI Architects 850.222.9075 @CapCityConsult WINTER 2020 INFLUENCE | 5

Our contributors’ (mostly political) New Year’s resolutions.

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rry, politics , no resolu tions am being p romoted to Grandma r the new y ear and my mind y body will be in Bost on ing over B abyDunk .”


“Tweet le ss and read more than just headlines .” DANNY MCAUL IFFE

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“For 202 0, I resol ve continu patience a ed nd openn e s s to under as much a stand, s possible, b oth sides o greatest p f the olitical di v i s ion in our and coun state try since t he Civil W ar.” MARK W A LLHEISE R

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PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson


66 THERE’S A NEW GOVERNOR IN TOWN Despite close ties to President Trump and ultra-conservative leanings, Ron DeSantis has broad popularity after embracing causes dear to the hearts of Democrats. PLUS: First Lady Casey DeSantis has a job too: Active advocate for mental health services for children and those affected by disaster.

60 Corcoran Partners: Influence is a Family Affair

After years with brother Richard Corcoran in the political spotlight, the husband/wife lobbying team of Michael and Jessica Corcoran see a future filled with “big, exciting things.”

74 Nikki Fried’s Fantastic Start

Florida’s new Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner tackles a broad range of issues during her first year in office, while also serving as the “face” of the state’s Democratic Party. 8 | INFLUENCE WINTER 2020

78 The Best in the Business

The Golden Rotunda Awards honor Florida’s top influencers — nominated by their peers —throughout 2019.

124 What I’ve Learned with Nancy Detert

Florida Senator-turned-County Commissioner reflects on legislation passed for the state’s most vulnerable residents — children and elders.

At the Governors Inn, you’ll be welcomed as a friend and pampered as a guest. GOVINNTALLAHASSEE.COM



Our Jasmine Cafe is delicious casual dining with an Asian twist. JASMINECAFETALLAHASSEE.COM








22 Sweet Sensations


When Florida bakers focus their extraordinary talents on desserts and treats, every day becomes a special occasion.

35 Seasonal Brews for the Holidays — and Beyond

PHOTOS: Marybeth Tyson

Josh Aubuchon reviews wintertime offerings from Florida Breweries and special events you’ll want to put on the calendar for next year’s holidays.

40 We Say Goodbye

On the Move

Remembering Gary Roberts and Paul Sanford, practitioners exemplifying the lobbying profession, who died in 2019.

Political Aficionado’s Guide


Briefings from the Rotunda


Fourth Floor Files


The Big Question


52 A Gathering of Influencers Snapshots from Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists’ annual meeting in Orlando.


Insider’s Advice 57 Twitter may have banned political advertising, says RYAN COHN, but it’s still possible to communicate and advocate via social media. 59 No polls are perfect, says pollster STEVE VANCORE, but some are much better than others.


Bascom Communications & Consulting, LLC has worked inside the halls of government, sat inside the war rooms of campaigns, and advised some of Florida's most innuential trade associations, leaders, CEOs and Fortune 500 executives. Our team’s passion for what we do drives our work product every day, translating into success for our clients. | @BascomLLC | | 217 S. Adams St., Tallahassee, FL 32301 | 850.222.2140

Take on Florida by train. Brilliant Move. BUSINESS TRAVEL JUST GOT A PROMOTION High speed WiFi and quiet cars make it easier than ever to take your business on the go.


Aficionado’s  Guide to ...

the Political GOOD







Get your 2020 off to a smart start with these books BY ROSANNE DUNKELBERGER If Santa’s bag of goodies left you pining for more intellectual pursuits, you might consider a stop at your local bookstore. Long-time political operative Sally Bradshaw switched careers a few years back and is now the owner of Midtown Reader, an independent bookstore in Tallahassee. While her shop stocks popular and classic reads, she keeps a weather eye open for new

titles that might pique the interest of Process-minded customers looking for something to spark a conversation, a flight of fancy or a child’s imagination. Bradshaw has curated this short list of books sure to please, no matter the reader’s political persuasion.


BY MALCOLM GLADWELL Gladwell’s latest does not disappoint. The author of “David and Goliath” and “The Tipping Point” has been called “a rock star of nonfiction” by the UK Times, and this book was called a “must read” by Oprah Winfrey. In characteristic fashion, Gladwell uses powerful storytelling mixed with research to talk about how to make our interactions with those we don’t know more productive. In a crazy world where people are talking past each other, he offers some food for thought on improving our communication, not that we could use that these days.



BY TOM BROKAW Brokaw, perhaps America’s most respected journalist alive today, recounts his time as a young reporter during the final year of Nixon’s presidency. Presidential historian and author Jon Meacham calls Brokaw’s story “absorbing and illuminating,” and Brokaw’s firsthand accounts of this story are mixed with humorous anecdotes from the road.


BY JOHNATHAN SAFRAN FOER This is not just any other global warming tome. Foer follows up his popular “Eating Animals” with a prescription for saving the planet, and it starts with what we eat at breakfast. Called “eye opening” by renowned chef Mark Bittman, the book receives a starred review from Publishers’ Weekly and provides a road map that starts on a very personal level.


BY PETER WEHNER ​Conservative scholar and New York times columnist Wehner continues to be a bright light on the right for what the GOP could look like in the future, and a defender of politics as a critical tool to preserve our democracy. How do we become the hope of the world again? And how does Wehner remain such an optimist in the midst of the current climate? The Washington Times calls it “an incisive new book on the death match mindset” that characterizes politics today.


BY JEFF VANDERMEER Kirkus calls this Tallahasseean a master of literary science fiction. VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy (starting with “Annihilation,” recently made into a movie with Natalie Portman and set in the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge) hooks first-time and veteran fantasy/sci-fi readers alike. “Dead Astronauts” mixes a blue fox on a mission with a homeless woman and a giant fish with a secret. A war against a powerful company is fought by three rebels, and a crazy man dreams of a monster. To what end? The fate of the world hangs in the balance. Fiction? I think not.


BY ANDREA BEATY Bestselling children’s author Beaty has done it again, with “Sofia Valdez, Future Prez.” The author of books that empower children to learn and lead, like “Rosie Revere, Engineer” and “Iggy Peck, Architect”, unveils her newest heroine —Sofia — who urges City Hall to turn a dangerous space into a city park after her abuelo is injured.



the Political

Aficionado’s  Guide to ...


Essentials for a New York City visit BY TEYE REEVES

The Empire City. Gotham. The City of Dreams. New York has so much to offer visitors to The City that Never Sleeps, it can be hard to prioritize what to pack, what to do and how to make the most of your time during your trip. A list of New York City travel essentials could go on for days. Consider this list of must-haves and mustdos if your trip is a three-day mini-vacation where you want to make the most of each day and ensure you’re hitting the highlights of what The Big Apple has to offer.

ONE WORLD TRADE CENTER-9/11 MEMORIAL & MUSEUM Everyone remembers where they were when the tragic events unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001. The 9/11 Memorial & Museum offers private tours, often guided by individuals with a personal tie to the events of that day. While the tour is only an hour long, it immerses visitors in the history of the attacks on the World Trade Center and offers an opportunity to honor the victims. This moving memorial located on the original footprint of the twin towers is something all New York City visitors should experience. (

THE GREENWICH HOTEL It’s easy to find a luxurious five-star hotel in New York City with all the amenities you could ever imagine. Unfortunately, most of the luxury hotels are located downtown where the traffic congestion can eat up hours of your day. Consider the understated luxury of The Greenwich Hotel. This hotel has the charm of a European boutique hotel with the simple glamour you would expect of a hotel located in the cobblestoned streets of Tribeca. Its 88 rooms are uniquely styled with Moroccan and Mediterranean aesthetics. Most areas of the hotel are open only to patrons who are staying there, ensuring a quaint but exclusive vibe. Enjoy a cocktail after a day of sightseeing in the open-air courtyard or the fuchsia velvet chairs in the drawing room (

COCKTAILS AT THE AVIARY IN THE MANDARIN ORIENTAL After some shopping on Fifth Avenue, you likely need a drink. Perhaps a smoking cocktail named “How Does Snoop Dog Use Lemongrass” on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental will make you feel better about your purchases. Or not. Either way, The Aviary is a great place to grab a creative cocktail with an amazing view of Central Park ( If you’re looking for an evening outing, explore The Office, a speakeasy located through a hidden door in The Aviary. The drink menu is more classic than The Aviary’s, featuring hard-to-find spirits (


Comfortable and chic. Teye Reeves practices what she preaches for great days of shopping and sightseeing in New York City.

CROSSBODY BAG OR MANPACK A New York day may start at 9 a.m. and not end until well after 11 p.m. A timeless bag that can hold daily essentials while being chic is an absolute must. A bag like the Alexander McQueen brightly colored crossbody bag easily transitions from daytime sightseeing to nighttime dinners with style (

GOLDEN GOOSE DELUXE BRAND SNEAKERS Extensive walking is inevitable in New York, and it should be done in style. Functional yet fashionable sneakers are required when wandering the shops of Canal Street in Soho. Golden Goose Deluxe Brand is an Italian company that creates distinctive and unique sneakers for men and women ( Intermix has the largest selection online (, or you can just visit the Golden Goose store in New York on Broome Street in Soho. If Golden Goose doesn’t speak to you, check out Veja, a socially conscious French brand offering ecologically sustainable sneakers for men and women (


Florida’s prosperity has long been closely tied to trade. In 2018, Florida’s seaports handled $87.3 billion worth of cargo and traded with almost every country in the world. Our ports offer definitive advantages to the state’s consumers and producers by developing state-of-the-art infrastructure to move freight and passengers with ever increasing speed and efficiency. And that results in greater performance for your business.

When you think business, think Florida first.

Port Canaveral | Port Everglades | Port of Fernandina | Port of Fort Pierce | JAXPORT Port of Key West | Port Manatee | PortMiami | Port of Palm Beach | Port Panama City Port of Pensacola | Port of Port St. Joe | Port St. Pete | Port Tampa Bay

502 East Jefferson Street | Tallahassee, Florida 32301 | 18 | INFLUENCE WINTER 2020

the Political

Aficionado’s  Guide to ... TELEVISION

Looking for the real Florida? On TV, it’s hard to find. BY REBECCA RENNER

The Sunshine State has long been one of television’s most popular settings. From iconic shows like Miami Vice and Golden Girls to more recent appearances in Fresh Off the Boat and The Good Place, Florida appears again and again, sometimes as a fully realized and detailed setting, but more often as a cliché. Like New York City, Florida comes prepackaged with viewer assumptions that directors can rely on to create a sense of place without going into too much detail. Florida, in other words, is shorthand for “that wacky American place that isn’t here” — except, of course, for the nearly 22 million folks who call this peninsula home. After seeing so many small-screen Floridas, it seems obvious they aren’t thinking of us, either as viewers or as characters. It’s much easier to rely on the Floridas they know. Television Floridas come in only four varieties: the land of murder and mayhem, the Grim Reaper’s waiting room, a swampy wasteland except for the glamour of Miami, or the reddest of red states, a veritable Redneck Riviera. Those of us who live here know that none of these stereotypes are entirely accurate. What we may not think about is how these stereotypes feed the prejudices deepening the political divide in our country. In the Golden Age of Television, Florida was a destination. It had mystique. Now, at best, it seems like a punchline. Three new shows have taken on Florida’s biggest clichés, to play with them and viewers’ expectations. Have they given us fresh takes on Florida or more of the same mockery?



The first episode of Claws aired on TNT in 2017. Now in its third season, the dramedy starring Niecy Nash as Desna Simms, a nail salon owner and wannabe gangster, has had its ups and downs. The premise is certainly promising for the type of show it is, think less Breaking Bad and more Chuck. Claws is never going to take itself too seriously. Set around a nail salon in Manatee County, the show’s rag tag bunch of nail technicians quickly runs into trouble. It seems honest, hard-working Desna is laundering money for one of the local gangs, an outfit called the Dixie Mafia. Over the seasons, the Dixie Mafia will go from villains to heroes to down-on-their-luck schlubs. But when we first meet them, Dean Norris as Clay “Uncle Daddy” Husser gives us our first dose of real Florida with a backwoods accent so authentic you’ll think he’s a local. The show sets off at a fast pace, with the first episode ending in the murder (or so we think) of Desna’s former lover, Dwayne “Roller” Husser, one of the Dixie Mafia boys, played by Jack Kesy. For the first two seasons, the plot is tight, and trouble is always right around the corner. But aside from Norris’s stellar accent, the representation of Florida in Claws is hit or miss. For the most part, Claws does an excellent job showing our state’s diversity and camaraderie. However, those positives and the plot fall flat in the third season, where the zany antics of the previous runs get turned up to 11: casinos, strippers, rehab, and a bit with the Governor. Oh my.


Florida is a petri dish of scams. We even have the data to prove it. Florida ranks No. 1 for fraud and fourth for identity theft, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Florida really does have millions of scams, both the wacky and the mundane, running 20 | INFLUENCE WINTER 2020

within our borders. On Becoming a God in Central Florida, which first aired in August on Showtime, takes a swing at our nefarious reputation. The scam in question is a pyramid scheme called FAM. On paper, FAM sells products like cleaning supplies and makeup. Unofficially, FAM is built on selling signups, just like the multilevel marketing schemes that plague our social media channels. Krystal Stubbs (Kirsten Dunst) and her husband, Travis (Alexander Skarsgård), have been sucked into FAM. Even though they’re struggling to make ends meet, higher-ups at FAM convince Travis to quit his job, leaving Krystal the sole bread winner with her job at a dilapidated waterpark. When Travis fails, Krystal has no choice but to go wage war on the nefarious FAM folks who have done them wrong, all with her baby in tow. While Dunst gives a strong performance, the show leaves more to be desired the longer it goes on, especially as it veers into satirizing the people it portrays rather than showing their humanity. But how well does it represent Florida? On Becoming a God in Central Florida might as well take place anywhere. The setting is as much like California as it is like here.


Of the three shows listed here, Florida Girls plays the hardest to stale stereotypes. Florida Girls is perfect fodder for viewers who only know our state from Florida Man headlines and haven’t considered the real reasons Florida is in the news all the time. (Hint: It’s our records laws, not the quality of our residents.) Florida Girls arrived on the Pop network in July and has been entertaining viewers from the other 49 states ever since. The show is raunchy and low brow. It focuses on four millennial women who live in Clearwater, with their skimpy clothes and their even skimpier paychecks. As the group of friends attempts to study for their GED exam, “hilarity” ensues at pawn shops and grow houses, dollar stores and machine-gun shooting parties. If this sort of portrayal of Florida wasn’t so predictable, the show’s antics might be funny. Its characters are charming but real, if a bit rough around the edges. But Florida Girls, overall, leans too heavily on stereotypes — and makes no attempts to subvert them — to be worth a watch. Of these shows, Claws is the clear winner. It has a lot of heart and characters to cheer for, even if it slips up sometimes.

What’s in a Name? Everything. The AIF lobbying team is well recognized as the most powerful and influential voice advocating for the state’s business community. Ethical, experienced and well connected—Florida’s decision makers know they can trust our word, our actions, and our people.

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How sweet it is! FLORIDA BAKERS CREATE DESSERTS WITH FLAIR by rochelle koff

Red velvet cookies from Wandering Whisk: Red velvet cookie sandwiches helped launch Jennifer Jacobs’ baking business. Photo credit: Jennifer Jacobs



uring the holiday season, most of us love a big, festive meal. But let’s face it. What we’re most looking forward to is the dessert table. It’s that aromatic pumpkin cheesecake, the gooey pecan pies, decorative cookies and colorful cupcakes that make us swoon.

If you’re not a whiz at whipping up picture-perfect treats, fear not. Florida bakeries are working at a feverish pace to supply that sweet ending for your special occasion soirée. Here’s a look at five of Florida’s most creative bakeries and what makes these places dessert central. One tip: Call early if you have a large or custom order so your favorite shop can handle your request.

TOP: Black Bear Bread Co., known for its sourdough bread, will also be offering stolllen, challah and cranberry walnut for the holidays. LEFT: Restaurateur Dave Rauschkolb, left, and chef Phil McDonald, were surfing buddies before they joined forces and opened the Black Bear Bread Co. in Grayton Beach. BELOW: Black Bear Bread Co., which offers homemade croissants, breads and pastries, serves brews from Stumptown Coffee Roasters. Photo credit: Alissa Aryn Commercia

Black Bear Bread Co.: The cozy bakery, coffee shop and

cafe (serving breakfast all day) features tartines, sandwiches, breads, homemade bagels and specialties that include the French pastry kouign-amann, croissants and cinnamon buns. The pair behind Black Bear is chef Phil McDonald and restaurateur Dave Rauschkolb. Both natives of Fort Walton Beach, McDonald and Raushkolb were “surfing buddies” when they started pursuing another shared passion: food. Rauschkolb, 58, was the founder of the 400-seat Bud & Alley’s waterfront restaurant, Bud & Alley’s Pizza Bar + Trattoria and Bud & Alley’s Taco Bar in Seaside. McDonald, 44, was an experienced chef when they joined forces. At Bud & Alley’s, McDonald created what would become Black Bear Bread’s “starter” dough. “The planets aligned,” Rauschkolb said. “One thing we thought was lacking (in the area) was really great bread.” McDonald and Rauschkolb, working with Stumptown Coffee Roasters, opened Black Bear in 2017. They’ve since added a second building with more seating and a wine bar. “We wanted to create a place that’s a community hub as well,” McDonald said. As for the cafe’s fun name, it comes from a black bear from the nearby state forest that would forage the trash bins for discarded dough. WINTER 2020 INFLUENCE | 23

BAKERIES The cafe’s bread has been an overwhelming success — and not just with bears. Black Bear won national acclaim when its head baker, Debbie Swenerton, was named a 2019 semifinalist for Outstanding Baker in the James Beard Foundation Awards. The menu focuses on items made with naturally leavened bread, the type that McDonald “fell in love with” while working in a Brooklyn restaurant. Before going to New York, McDonald traveled around the country, working in restaurant kitchens for free for two years, learning about the variety of foods and cooking methods. “I learned about seasonality,” McDonald said, “and that’s how I approach Black Bear.” Look for a second Black Bear location opening in 2020 at the Hyatt Place Sandestin at Grand Boulevard. 26 Logan Lane, Unit G, Grayton Beach; 850-213-4528

Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop:

Former firefighter Derek Kaplan is known for his delectable pies, cookies and cakes — big hits all year but especially in demand during the holiday season. His mint and white chocolate candy cane pie and another made with guava and


berries are among the special flavors customers will find in December. But Kaplan’s back story is as compelling as the luscious goodies on his Wynwood and Coconut Grove bakery shelves. Kaplan has been baking since he was 15, squeezing Key limes to perfect his signature creamy pie. “I would walk around door-to-door selling, mostly to friends,” he said. Kaplan’s determination enabled him to pursue his love of baking and cooking. When he was 13, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, but he learned to watch his diet and portions. He later went on to lift weights and play football. He’s happy for fellow diabetics to know “that they can do anything.” At Palmetto High School, Kaplan played three varsity sports and went on to pursue two years of football at Grambling State University in Louisiana. When he became a Miami firefighter, working 24-hour shifts, Kaplan spent his two days off baking pies in commissary kitchens. In 2013, he bought a 600-squarefoot space in Wynwood, and after a year, opened Firefighter Derek’s Bake Shop, where fans started lining up for his pies. After years of juggling two careers, Kaplan went into the bakery business full

time. In March 2019, he opened a second site, twice as big as his Wynwood shop, in Coconut Grove. Kaplan has a repertoire of more than 50 pies, cakes, cheesecakes, brownies, bars, bread puddings and cookies.

Along with his Key lime pies, Kaplan’s signature products include the Salty Monkey, with chocolate ganache, white chocolate peanut butter mousse, bananas and pretzels; and the Cookie Monster, with crushed Oreo cookies, topped with cheesecake and finished off with pralines, whipped cream, chopped chocolate chip cookies, caramel and Ghirardelli chocolate sauce with a chocolate chip crust. While Kaplan likes to offer different flavors on a monthly or quarterly basis “you want to have the products on your menu that customers love. That’s important.” And keeping customers happy has always been a priority for Kaplan. “It makes me happy to put a smile on people’s faces.” 2828 N. Miami Ave., Wynwood, 786703-3623; 3435 Main Highway,, Coconut Grove, 786-502-2396

“We take it a step further by adding freshly ground White Christmas coffee beans throughout the cookie,” Lewis said. The other holiday main attraction has been the Cookie Vom Krampus (named for the whimsical half-goat, half-demon of European folklore), a rich salted triple chocolate cookie with chopped Andes Mints. “Each cookie comes packaged in a special bag featuring the Gideon’s logo adorned in either Santa hat and beard or sprouting the horns of Krampus,” Lewis said. He has also offered two special cakes: a White Christmas Red Velvet Cake and a Spiced Eggnog Chocolate Cake. Gideon’s cookies are “completely handmade,” said Lewis, with each cookie weighing just shy of a half-pound. “The process from mixer to customer requires a minimum of 20 hours to prepare,” he said. “Our cakes aren’t much

TOP LEFT: Derek Kaplan opened his small Wynwood shop, Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop, in 2014. TOP RIGHT: Candy cane pie is one of the holiday specialties at Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop in Wynwood and Coconut Grove. Photo Credit: Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop LEFT: During the holiday season, Gideon’s Bakehouse in Orlando will be making Santa’s White Christmas cookie, a white chocolate chip cookie filled with coconut, sweet caramel, vanilla and nutty flavors plus White Christmas coffee beans. RIGHT: Gideon’s Bakehouse in Orlando’s presents a rich Cookie Vom Krampus (named for the whimsical half-goat, half-demon) for the holidays with salted triple chocolate cookie with chopped Andes Mints. Photo Credit: Gideon’s Bakehouse

Gideon’s Bakehouse:

If you’re in the area, you’ll want to gobble up some of the delectable, oversized cookies at this small but novel bakery in Orlando’s East End Market. Gideon’s cookies were named “Best Cookies on the Planet Earth” by the tourism website, Travel Pulse, and they have received other “Best” awards from publications like Patch,, Insider and USA Today. “The word of our cookies spread through the land,” said owner Steve Lewis, an artist and musician. During the holiday season, Gideon’s has been making Santa’s White Christmas cookie, a white chocolate chip cookie filled with coconut, sweet caramel, vanilla and nutty flavors. WINTER 2020 INFLUENCE | 25


TOP: Assorted holiday cookies are among the specialties available at Madruga in Coral Gables. BOTTOM: Naomi Harris, who was a 2019 semifinalist for Outstanding Baker in the James Beard Foundation Awards, prepares craft breads at Madruga in Coral Gables. Photo Credit: Madruga different, needing 24 hours before they’re ready to be sold whole or sliced up.” Lewis started Gideon’s Bakehouse as a small home kitchen-based business in 2011 and opened his first brick and mortar store, a compact, 286-square-foot space with a literary vibe inside the East End Market in October 2016. His inspiration stems from a boy’s diary written more than a hundred years ago. On the shop’s website, Lewis explained, “In our never-ending search for baking inspiration, we purchased what we thought was a family cookbook from 1898. It turned out to be the diary of a young boy named Gideon who dreamed of opening a bakery to bring his family out of poverty. His recipes were incredibly creative for the day and his personal story touched us. We combined his vintage desserts with our modern recipes and, over 100 years after that young boy planted his dream, Gideon’s Bakehouse was born.” East End Market, 3201 Corrine Drive Orlando. (Gideon’s doesn’t have a public phone number so stop in or check the website to order.)

Madruga Bakery: Owner Naomi Harris and her team are juggling shifts that stretch into the late night and early morning hours to meet the demand for the holidays, creating special treats like cookie platters, cranberry orange spice cakes and bûche de Noël logs along with their trademark breads. Harris is certainly in tune with the South Florida market. She grew up near The Falls shopping center in Kendall and attended Palmetto High School before going to Northwestern University. Harris is a third-generation food entrepreneur. Her great-grandfather started Red Road Food Market in South Miami. Her dad, Larry, and her uncle, Stuart, started the chain, Pollo Tropical, which they sold in 1998. After college, Harris signed up with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and spent a year and a half in Anchorage, Alaska, working at the small, family-owned Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop, a place with an open kitchen that was a community gathering spot. “I fell in love with it,” said Harris, 30. “It was a very special place.” Harris decided to go back to the warmer climes of South Florida but by then, she had fallen in love with baking bread — and found her career. She came back to Miami and perfected her baking techniques through training and apprenticeships. She’s fascinated with the process. Bread “is a living thing, and there are so many factors that change. There’s a lot of back and forth. It keeps you on your toes.” 26 | INFLUENCE WINTER 2020

Harris opened Madruga, which fittingly means “rise early” in Spanish, in January 2017, creating a welcoming atmosphere that she said is “very similar” to the Anchorage bakeshop. At Madruga, there’s also an open kitchen where cooks prepare breakfast and lunch using organic ingredients. In less than three years, Harris has built such


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a devoted following that she was named a 2019 semifinalist for Outstanding Baker in the James Beard Foundation Awards. For Harris, the joy is in seeing customers feel welcome at Madruga. “We’re so happy that people come here every day, that it’s part of their lives.” 1430 S. Dixie Highway, Coral Gables; 305-262-6130

Wandering Whisk Bakeshop:

Customers may find a tropical spin on the baked goods at this Pinellas Park bakery. “I like to add a Florida vibe,” said Jennifer Jacobs, the woman wielding the whisk. The “wandering” part of her company’s name refers to Jacobs’ love of travel, which provides some of the inspiration for her colorful cakes, cookies, cupcakes, cookie sandwiches and macarons. Her recipe repertoire includes flavors like piña colada, sugared orange, espresso and coconut cream. LEFT: Jennifer Jacobs creates a wide array of cookies, cakes, cookie sandwiches and cupcakes at her Wandering Whisk Bakeshop in Pinellas Park. RIGHT: Wandering Whisk’s Jennifer Jacobs adds a tropical vibe to this colorful buttercream cake decorated with macarons. Photo credit: Jennifer Jacobs


“I was never good at drawing or painting,” said Jacobs, “but baking is my form of art.” Festive cookies and cakes are decorated in pretty pastel frosting, but the 31-yearold baker also makes her mom’s more traditional chocolate peppermint bark. “I grew up on this peppermint bark,” said Jacobs. “My mom would make 15 different kinds of Christmas cookies. I’ve been baking as soon as I was big enough to sit on the counter, but it never even crossed my mind that baking would be my profession.” Instead, Jacobs, who grew up in Palm Harbor, studied hospitality at the University of Central Florida. She then moved to a tiny apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and got a job at Madison Square Garden. One of her “behind the scenes” marketing accounts was the Rockettes Christmas show. At home, she baked in an oven too small for a full-size cookie sheet. Jacobs’ career took her to Sony but she left the “struggling recording industry” to return to Florida. She got a job with the Home Shopping Network in St. Petersburg, and her baking hobby reached new heights. When Jacobs brought her red velvet cookie sandwiches to the office for Valentine’s Day, her co-workers loved them. “They asked if they could buy some and take them home, but they ate them in the office. The cookies never made it home.”

Developing more confidence, Jacobs competed in the Morean Arts Center’s annual Great St. Pete Cupcake Contest for two years in a row, winning first place in the People’s Choice Category in 2015 with a banana Nutella flavor, and in 2016 with a chai latte cupcake with brown butter mascarpone buttercream — buttercream is her specialty. She was also a competitor on the Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship. Jacobs didn’t make baking a full-time venture until 2018 when she and hundreds of other employees at the Home Shopping Network lost their jobs after a merger with QVC. “For me, it was a push to pursue my baking business,” she said. “I had to be able to support myself.” In the summer of 2019, Jacobs opened her own boutique bakery. She operates by appointment only, filling custom orders. When she does occasionally hold a pop-up event open to the public, her display case typically empties within the hour. “I had to find a way to make this work,” said Jacobs, “and it’s been great.” 4505 Park Blvd. N., Suite 5, Pinellas Park; 727-440-5995

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Craft Breweries FOR THE HOLIDAYS by josh aubuchon



or the past 10 years, I have been fortunate enough to represent members of the craft beer industry – both as their attorney and as their lobbyist. In that time, I have occasionally brewed my own beer but, more importantly, gained a wealth of experience about the alcoholic beverage industry as a whole, and am probably uniquely qualified to pass along some insight about the craft beer scene around the state. Throughout the holiday season, there are plenty of great annual events and special releases from Florida breweries. Here are a few to help keep the holidays festive! They have already happened, but you can put them on your calendar for next year.


Florida Brewers Guild, Barrel-Aged, Sour, and Cider Festival (Mid-November): Hosted at Intuition Ale Works in Jacksonville, this annual event showcases some the trendier styles in craft beer, namely, as the name implies, high ABV barrel-aged beers, sour beers and ciders. Innovation is key here, with breweries experimenting with different whisky, rum and tequila barrels; colorful sours with flavors such as raspberry lychee, cherry lime, watermelon, pineapple, guava, passionfruit and marshmallow; and experimental ciders and meads. Tampa Bay Brewing Company, Bad Ass Beerfest (Mid-November/December): This annual event is typically held during November/December and is hosted at the brewery’s main production brewery in Westchase. Participating breweries are invite-only and come from all over the world; the 2019 festival featured over 60 breweries and 200plus unique beers. With bands, food trucks, and plenty of world-class beer, this is one of the best fall events in the Tampa Bay area. Old Coast Ales, Night of Pints (late November-January): Sponsored by Old Coast Ales, The BOG Brewing Co., Ancient City Brewing and Dog Rose Brewing, this annual event runs concurrently with the Nights of Lights in St. Augustine. This brewery crawl event also supports a good cause, with charitable proceeds going to Keepers of the Coast and HAWKE Bird and Wildlife Rescue.



Craft breweries like Tampa’s 81Bay (shown here) participate in beer-centric special events throughout the fall and winter months. Breweries throughout Florida creatively experiment with techniques and flavors to match the seasons.


Proof Brewing, Krampus Fest (December): Varying slightly from your typical holiday celebrations, this festival celebrates Krampus, the Germanic half-goat, half-demon who travels with Saint Nicholas to punish children who have misbehaved. Probably a bit more naughty than nice, but worth checking out for those who want more than coal in their stockings.

Special Releases

State Line Peach IPA by Intuition Ale Works, 929 E. Bay Street, Jacksonville: Released annually for one of the best holidays of the year – the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party aka the Florida-Georgia game – this is a fantastic West Coast Style IPA with peaches. It is sure to be a crowd pleaser whether you’re cheering for the Gators or the Dawgs! Family Table, Barrel Edition by Legacy Ale Works, 14965 Old St. Augustine Road, Jacksonville (Nov. 15):

Just in time for the holidays, Legacy Ale Works is producing their very first bottle release. This is definitely one to split with the family, as it is a Bourbon Barrel-aged Breakfast Stout aged in St. Augustine Distillery bourbon barrels. Win-Win by Proof Brewing Company, 1320 S. Monroe St., Tallahassee and First Magnitude Brewing Company, 1220 S.E. Veitch St., Gainesville: This collaboration beer is released annually during Rivalry Week to celebrate the Florida-Florida State game. Proof and First Magnitude alternate where the beer is produced based on the host city. Each year the recipe changes a bit; the 2018 version was a double New England-style IPA with hazy, juicy, and tropical flavors. Aptly named, too, since this beer is a winner! Cinnamon Orange Cranberry Ale by 81Bay Brewing Co., 4465 W. Gandy Blvd., Tampa: Perfect for getting in the holiday spirit, this beer tastes like Christmas holidays at Grandma’s. Even Mickey seems to agree: This beer will be featured at Disney’s Festival of Holidays

during the 2019 season. Here Plums the Sun by 81Bay Brewing Co., 4465 W. Gandy Blvd., Tampa: This one is too crazy and unique not to mention. The beer formerly known as “Winter is Plumming” first made an appearance at the FBG Barrel-Aged, Sour and Cider Festival in 2018. The description defies logic: a plum, cinnamon, vanilla, and coffee sour ale. It is bonkers and delicious all at once. Demonic Companion by Proof Brewing Co., 1320 S. Monroe St., Tallahassee: Released in conjunction with Krampus Fest, this annual beer is a Belgian strong dark ale. This is one not for the faint of heart – a high ABV provides a warming sensation with flavors from melded dark fruit and spice with contorted sweetness. As I was warned by the head brewer: “Sip this incarnated liquid at your own peril!”

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Briefings from the Rotunda


Cleary joins Gunster as government affairs pro


evin Cleary, formerly the Department of Environmental Protection’s Legislative Affairs Director, is now a Governmental Affairs consultant for the Gunster firm in Tallahassee. In addition to his governmental affairs experience, he previously served as an adviser “to major political and issue advocacy campaigns within every level of Florida’s government and offers a keen understanding of Florida’s dynamic political climate,” a recent press release on his hiring said. “Kevin’s unique experience in issue advocacy and strategic communication

allows him to help clients focus on what matters most to their business,” it added. “With a strong belief in the power of partnerships, Kevin is committed to building long-lasting relationships for his clients with crucial stakeholders and leaders in government and across the private sector.” The Tallahassee native and 2008 Florida State University graduate was named one of the “30 Under 30” rising stars in Florida politics in 2014 by SaintPetersblog. He has worked for the Republican Party of Florida and was campaign director and legislative assistant for state Rep. Ben Albritton. Cleary also has been a lobbyist at P5 Group.

Office of Early Learning snags Heflin


llyce Heflin is back where it all began. Heflin, who most recently served as a partner at The Southern Group, joined the Office of Early Learning as its Budget Director on Sept. 16. “Ultimately my heart is in public service,” she said. “I think it’s about having an impact. I want my work to be meaningful. I want to provide that oversight and fiscal control to the state. The way to do that is to be on the inside and make sure that the principle of fiscal conservativism is applied.” Heflin joined Southern in 2016, which Rachel Cone, the firm’s Tallahassee Managing Partner, called “a crucial time for our education practice and did an excellent job at jumping in and filling the role left vacant by the passing of Stacey Webb.” “She ably guided clients through the education budget process, and quickly became a valued member of the Southern family,” said Cone. “We will forever be in her debt and wish her all the best as she returns to her true passion in the education budget space.” Heflin’s decision to join the Office of Early Learning couldn’t come at a more important time for the organization. Gov. Ron DeSantis called on Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to prioritize voluntary prekindergarten programs, and advocates are calling for increased funding for the programs. Heflin said the agency will request an increase in voluntary prekindergarten allocations this year. If approved, it would mark the first time in about six years that

voluntary prekindergarten funding has seen an increase. “Education is always a priority. Every Legislature has to put it first, yet there are always competing priorities both in the budgetary and policy world,” she said. “I’m walking into a legislative session where it’s going to be a topic of discussion. I’m not going to be in a place that’s behind the scenes.” The job at the Office of Early Learning is a homecoming of sorts for Heflin, who started her career in the Budget Office of the Florida Department of Education. She was with the Florida Department of Education for several years, before becoming a legislative analyst for the Florida House of Representatives. Her budget prowess served her well over the years. She quickly became budget chief for the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee, specializing in K-12 education funding. During her tenure as budget chief, she was responsible for the calculations for the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP), the primary funding formula for K-12 public schools. Heflin said she’s passionate about working in education because “it’s where all starts.” “Whether it’s a private care center ... as an infant because their parents have to go back to work, in a VPK room and they’re learning to make symmetric sounds, or in kindergarten and they’re learning to read, those things are critical to whether they graduate high school in 10 years,” she said. “That’s meaningful. It all drives what

they’re going to be when they grow up. And it drives how I think about numbers and projections because it all feeds into what Johnny and Susie and Billy are going to be in 10 to 15 years.” A Pensacola native, Heflin got her undergraduate degree from the University of West Florida and her master’s degree from Florida State University. She is the mother of three children and serves on the Board of Directors for the Tallahassee Community Chorus and the Advocacy Committee for the American Heart Association. WINTER 2020 INFLUENCE | 35


Briefings from the Rotunda

Fausel brings water, climate knowledge to Anfield


n the short time since Natalie Fausel joined the Tallahassee-based Anfield Consulting firm in 2019, she has wasted no time in getting to work. Fausel, who has more than two decades of experience in land use, water resources, and climate resilience, began with Anfield in September. The boutique firm specializes in legislative, agency, and local government representation. “I’ve been working with Rep. Kristin Jacobs in her role as Executive Director of Resiliency Florida, a nonprofit,” Fausel told INFLUENCE. “Moving forward with membership, looking at some of our policy positions with resiliency, very much in line with what the Governor is doing and what Agriculture Commissioner (Nikki) Fried is doing and what the Department of Environmental Protection is doing, and moving the state forward in climate resilience efforts.” It shouldn’t be surprising: Among other posts, Fausel was Palm Beach County’s first Climate Change and Sustainability Coordinator. She led the county’s climate change and sustainability efforts, including representing the county in the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact. She also spent nine years at the South Florida Water Management District. “I’ve also been working with Frank Bernardino and Edgar G. Fernandez on a number of local government issues, mainly in water infrastructure. So we’re working with, for example, Monroe County, Polk County, Broward and Palm Beach County, the City of Flagler Beach,” Fausel said. “I’ve been working them as well in moving forward with some of their local funding initiative requests, and also for another client, Sea and Shoreline, in helping them try to secure some funding in order to replant seagrass beds around the state,” she added. “So a lot of what I do is really focused on my background, which is water resources, water infrastructure, and climate resilience.”


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Briefings from the Rotunda

Carlton Fields expands Tally ops

kari b. hebrank


ari B. Hebrank and C. Scott Jenkins have joined multistate law firm Carlton Fields as the firm grows its Tallahassee Government Affairs office. The two went to Carlton Fields from consulting firm Wilson & Associates. They will work as senior government consultants. Carlton Fields shareholder Nancy G. Linnan, who chairs the firm’s Government Law and Consulting practice, said in a statement: “Kari and Scott both have sterling reputations for client advocacy. “Their extensive regulatory and lobbying experience is a tremendous asset to our team.” Hebrank is an alumna of Florida State University with more than 25 years of legislative and regulatory experience. She specializes in housing, building materials, building codes, construction, sustainability, mitigation, energy, mining, infrastructure and utilities issues. Her resume includes a stint as the Vice President of Government Relations for the Florida Building Material Association and, before that, as Governmental Liaison for the Florida Association of Counties. Jenkins is an alumnus of Clemson University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree, and Florida State University, where he earned a master’s degree. He has 20 years of experience in government relations. His past work includes serving as a lobbyist for a large bank, which required him to keep tabs on the legislatures of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Before that, he was the Senior Vice President/Deputy Director of Government Affairs for the Florida Bankers Association.

C. Scott Jenkins

Becker staffing up before Session


ecker’s lobbying practice is expanding. The firm has been on a hiring spree this year, adding Alejandro Alamo, LaToya Sheals, and Mike Grissom to its Florida team and Alfonso Lopez and Steven Blattner to its Washington practice. The DC team got a little bigger in November with the addition of Anthony Bedell, who joins the firm as Senior Corporate and Government Relations Director. “We are excited that Anthony has joined our team. We know that our clients will benefit from his legislative, corporate and executive branch perspective,” said Bernie Friedman, who chairs Becker’s Government Law & Lobbying Practice. Bedell comes to Becker from the U.S. Department of Transportation, where he was the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Congressional 38 | INFLUENCE WINTER 2020

Affairs — the No. 2 position in DOT Secretary Elaine Chao’s office. He also worked under Chao as her Senior Legislative Officer when she helmed the U.S. Department of Labor. Bedell’s experience spans several arenas that could prove useful for Becker’s federal clientele. His resume in Republican Party politics is extensive — he’s a veteran of more than a dozen GOP campaigns ranging from local races to statewide bids, and in 2008, he was the Chairman of the Budget Committee for the Republican Party of Virginia. He also chaired the Fairfax County (Virginia) Republican Committee in 2009 and served two terms. As far as government relations and comms, he was President of Red Five Strategies and the Director of Federal and State Government Affairs for Intuit, the financial software company that produces TurboTax and QuickBooks, among other products. “Becker has a well-earned reputation advising clients on federal matters. The opportunity to join the bipartisan team was something I couldn’t pass up, and I am glad to help our clients navigate and succeed in today’s dynamic environment,” Bedell said.

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In Mem Remembering


Before Google and even after, Florida insurance executives had no quicker or more authoritative source of information than Paul Sanford. The longtime lobbyist understood tax and insurance laws better than anyone and could explain those complexities briefly and concisely. Upon request, he was happy to go a step further and solve the problem that prompted the question. Confused by a mass of regulations on everything from accidents to term life insurance? Sanford helped rewrite the insurance code in the 1980s and early 1990s. When legislators tried to remove a tax credit insurers had relied upon, Sanford led a successful challenge to the bill. Inside Tallahassee’s Capitol, he had the right touch with Legislators, some of whom he had known for decades. He wined and dined them, advocated for his clients and listened deeply to the responses his arguments evoked. He clashed with lawmakers, then invited them to dinner where differences turned into agreements and sometimes even friendships. Sanford, an esteemed lobbyist for 40 years and an even


better friend, died July 17 after an illness. He was 78 and lived in Jacksonville. He was more serious than flashy, more confident than cocky. He placed his loyalties with friends and family, his clients and the University of Florida Gators, not always in that order. Robert “Hawk” Hawken considered Sanford a mentor and spent the first few years of his lobbying career watching him and asking questions. “You could give him something and he could break it down and put in words the layman could understand,” said Hawken, a former Director of Legislative Affairs for FCCI Insurance Group. “He could take a very complicated subject and delve right into it, he could figure out a solution to every problem.” A lighter side of him emerged at Clyde’s and Costello’s, a popular restaurant near Florida State University. Sanford and his colleagues had a regular table at Clyde’s, where they kicked off countless evenings before heading over to the Silver Slipper, a steakhouse. “He could go to work with the Legislature all day long, party

moriam all night long, but be in our office at 6:30 in the morning, like he had never left the day before,” said Jane Hennessy, Sanford’s business partner for 20 years. Sanford was born Nov. 3, 1940, in Bay City, Michigan. He worked odd jobs after graduation from Melbourne High. He and Mary Sanford married in 1959. He was an adult in every way by the time he entered the University of Florida, where he completed his degree in three years and made Phi Beta Kappa. He put himself through Vanderbilt University’s law school, working nights on the printing press for the Nashville Tennesseean, graduating with honors. The Jacksonville law firm of Rogers, Towers, Bailey, Jones and Gay hired him in 1975 but suggested he cut his hair before showing up for work (which he did). He started his own law firm in Tallahassee six years later, returning to his Jacksonville home on weekends. He represented numerous insurance groups as a lobbyist, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, at a time when HMOs were changing the face of the industry. Former colleagues describe him as a persistent advocate with an innate ability to read other people. “I learned everything from him,” Hawken said. “How to treat your clients, how to stand up for what they believed and what you believe, how to take no for an answer and know when no really means no.” He made his best case within the rules and customs of the Legislature. “He had a knack for knowing when to go to the Speaker’s Office, when to go to the chairman, when to go to the committee,” Hennessy said. “And he did it with grace.” He wined and dined Legislators, reporting more than $21,000 spent on “entertaining of lawmakers” in 1987, according to United Press International. He vacationed with his wife or took friends to a summer home in Vermont. Weekends in the fall revolved around Gators football, when Sanford opened up his orange-and-blue man cave to friends.

“We’d be at his house on Friday night and at the game on Saturday,” Hawken said. Always a professional first, Sanford hit the afterburners for major projects. He played a big role in rewriting the insurance code while serving as an executive board member of the Florida Insurance Council, part of the time as President. When Legislators tried to strip a tax credit from insurance companies, Sanford led a successful push to defeat the bill. He also bore up well after losses. “In this business, where you have ups and downs, successes and failures, enemies and friends, I never saw Paul whine,” said Mike Hightower, a former Blue Cross lobbyist and a backdoor neighbor. “He’d say, ‘Well, you can spend a lot of time thinking about it or do something about it.’” Sanford died as a result of pulmonary problems. He is survived by his daughter, Catherine R. Sanford, and grandson Towns W. Sanford; sister Marjorie Kovacevic and her husband, Nick, brother Mike Sanford and extended family members. His friends are still trying to reconcile the loss, not only to loved ones but to the political world in which he thrived. Term limits and strict rules forbidding any gift from a lobbyist have changed the culture in Tallahassee, they say. “You build relationships by breaking bread with people,” Hightower said. “ You sit down and have dinner or breakfast and you get to know them on a human basis.” These longtime buddies struggle for words to capture Sanford’s essence broadly, then give up. It is easier, and probably more telling, to list any of a thousand acts of generosity over a lifetime — the chair pulled out for a woman, the legal conundrum explained, the respect he gave to others returned. That is the essence too rich to describe in a few words, and that essence survives him.




Gary Roberts had a way of watching his golf buddies strike a ball just so, perhaps a crucial save from a sand trap or a 9-foot putt for birdie. He offered the same two words every time, the same terse assessment by a man who gave no quarter on the course yet gave credit even to the shots that broke his heart. “Good ball.” Values of courtesy and fair play stood higher than winning, values he would carry through his personal and professional lives. Roberts, who combined loyalty and diplomacy to forge a successful 30-year career as a lobbyist, died Sept. 19 after a long illness. He was 73. He fought for his client, Florida Power and Progress Energy (now Duke Energy) 25 years. As a lead lobbyist, he made sure to include team members in all successes. He went out of his way to help so often it wasn’t out of his way anymore, exhibiting courtliness as an acquired habit. He


embraced fellow lobbyists, organizing an annual golf tournament that always drew crowds. And he stayed true to his Florida State University Seminoles, bringing homemade bratwurst on game days for tailgate parties in a garnet and gold Econoline van. Gary S. Roberts was born Sept. 9, 1946, in Shady Grove, Florida, on his grandfather’s farm. The rural environment aggravated his asthma, but the family’s subsequent move to Tallahassee did the trick. Roberts played baseball for years and earned the rank of Eagle Scout. He majored in history and political science at Florida State, intending perhaps to teach. Those plans changed not by deliberation so much as by a confluence of events, starting in his senior year with the unexpected death of his father, Hinton Roberts. Two weeks later, a friend set up a blind date with her Phi

moriam Mu sorority sister. Mary Ann Dingfelder had broken off a relationship and wasn’t looking for another one but went anyway. “I just knew,” said Mary Ann Roberts. “And he said he knew right away.” They married in June 1969 and soon moved to Oxford, Mississippi, where Roberts completed a master’s degree in urban and regional planning. Jobs over the next decade included working at a planning agency in northwest Alabama and serving as city manager of Tuscumbia, Alabama, and Zephyrhills. In the meantime, he taught hunting and fishing to his sons, David and Adam. In those early years, his work and her teaching left neither the time nor money for FSU football. A key moment in that relationship happened at a car dealership. They had planned to buy a sedan, but that changed when Roberts saw the garnet and gold Econoline with the Seminole logo painted on the side. With captain’s chairs and plenty of headroom, the van looked perfect for games and long road trips. “Then we got home and realized we couldn’t fit in in the garage because it was too tall,” Mary Ann said. In 1981, Roberts became a lobbyist for Florida Power Corp., where his instincts meshed well with the demands. “Gary was an honest broker, he was someone everybody trusted,” said Chris Flack, a longtime colleague and the current Vice President of Government Affairs for Duke Energy. “So when he was telling you something, you could take it to the bank.” Sometimes he took his sons along to meetings to give them a glimpse of a world they might one day inhabit. On the way, he reminded them to look adults in the eye, to say “yes, sir,” and “yes, ma’am,” “and always, no matter what, answer ques-

tions with the truth, no matter what it is,” said Adam Roberts, a career lobbyist who now represents the Apalachee Center, a regional behavioral health network, in a variety of roles. His father’s advice remains valuable. “Every conversation always ended with, ‘Don’t ever lose your integrity. Because the second you say anything that is the slightest bit unprincipled, you have lost your integrity, you have lost your values,’” Adam said. Roberts retired from Progress Energy in 2006, then worked independently until 2010. He still went hunting, but in recent years his attitude had softened. “He did not want to harm animals,” said Adam, who recalled waiting in a deer stand when a deer approached. Just as Roberts lined up the shot, the son said, “He intentionally coughed to scare the deer away.” Roberts saw numerous doctors the last several years, his wife said. He responded to the new routine by bringing doughnuts to his appointments, always making sure everyone would get at least one. He did the same for the dentist and his auto mechanic. Gratitude had a way of coming back to him. The last month of his life, a woman at the Publix bakery sent get-well cards. Roberts is survived by Mary Ann; his son David and his wife, Shelly; and his son Adam and his wife, Laura; and grandchildren Christian, A.J., Jack and Adriana. His old friends continue to hit the golf course, where a sand trap can still precede a lucky break and a putt can break the right way to thrill the player and stab his buddies in the heart. When that happens, their response is automatic: “Good ball.” It’s a joke but also an unspoken toast, a way of keeping him in the conversation.


toasting florida politics

SOCIAL scene

FAPL annual conference Members of the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists gathered at the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld from Sept. 11 - Sept. 13 for the organization’s annual conference. Attendees mixed and mingled at a welcome reception with legislators; heard from a wide variety of industry and issue experts; and recognized colleagues who earned their Designated Professional Lobbyist certifications. Senate President Bill Galvano provided the keynote address, focused on the importance of leadership.

Disney World lobbyist Leticia Adams chats up Brad Swanson of the Florida Internet & Television Association during a cocktail reception at the 2019 FAPL Annual Conference.

Adam Basford of the Florida Farm Bureau Federation and St. Johns County Public Schools lobbyist Colin Kirkland take some time off from talking shop at the FAPL meeting at the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld.


BillieAnne Gay of the Florida School Boards Association, Polk County Schools Legislative Affairs Director Wendy Dodge and Jessica Janasiewicz of Rutledge-Ecenia welcome attendees to the premier event for the state’s lobbying industry.

Former state Rep. Marti Coley, who is now at PinPoint Results, shares a laugh with state Sen. Dennis Baxley during the FAPL Conference welcome reception.

On 3 Public Relations President Christina Johnson and Gainesville Chamber Public Policy VP Alyssa Brown share a lighter moment at the FAPL conference in Orlando.

Lobbyists and lawmakers enjoy a little down time at the 2019 FAPL conference as Watson Strategies President Ron Watson reminisces with state Sen. Vic Torres of Kissimmee.

toasting florida politics

SOCIAL scene

CenturyLink Government Affairs lead Christie Mason shares the excitement with Stephanie Smith of Uber during the state’s top lobbying industry event, which featured a keynote speech by Senate President Bill Galvano.

Florida Dental Association Government Affairs Liaison Alex Abboud and Chief Legislative Officer JoAnne Hart were among the hundreds of attendees ready to learn more about all areas of public policy at opening of the FPL Annual Conference.

Liberty Partners’ Ethan Merchant and Tim Parson talk shop during the cocktail reception as attendees prepare for speeches from industry experts on a range of topics at the 2019 Annual Conference in Orlando.

Barney Bishop Consulting head Barney Bishop and FAPL Chair Jeff Kottkamp share a moment of levity before the group’s Annual Conference. Kottkamp opened the event with a welcome speech.

Helping kick off the 2019 FAPL Annual Conference are Krista Landers of RSA Consulting Group and Charlotte County Legislative Manager Cameron Pennant.

Legislators and lobbyists meet and great as state Rep. David Smith mingles with PinPoint Results’ Marti Coley, Tanya Jackson and Robert Beck during the welcome reception of the FAPL Annual Conference in Orlando.



PinPoint Results LLC is a government relations firm specializing in legislative and executive branch lobbying, procurement and consulting.

150 S. MONROE ST., SUITE 303 | TALLAHASSEE, FL 32301 | 850.445.0107



Significant other? Children? Grand kids? Recently married and hoping to acquire a couple of fur babies in our near future! In 25 words or less, explain what you do. Everything, all the time, every single day. Without using the words Democrat, Independent or Republican, conservative or liberal, describe your political persuasion. I believe in working hard to achieve the American dream and a government that enables and encourages a healthy, fair, competitive marketplace that allows citizens, small businesses and the economy to thrive.

Other than Florida, your reading list includes … Currently reading “America’s Bitter Pill” by Steven Brill about money, politics, backroom deals, and the fight to fix our broken healthcare system. What swear word do you use most often? According to my iPhone, it’s “ducking.”

If you have one, what is your motto? “The best things in life are free, the second best are very expensive.”

What is your most treasured possession? My grandmother’s ring that I now wear as my wedding band.

During your career, have you had a favorite pro bono client? While not entirely pro bono, I have had the pleasure of representing a nonprofit organization known as the Children’s Forum for the last year and a half and helping them work on some pretty spectacular early learning and childhood development legislation.

The best hotel in Florida is … Still exploring, but the Mandarin Oriental in Miami definitely doesn’t suck.

Three favorite charities. I have fallen in love with so many local charities through the Junior League of Tallahassee: Hope Community, Hang Tough Foundation and Second Harvest of the Big Bend. Any last-day-of-Session traditions? Enjoying some celebratory drinks on our Adams Street balcony. We really have some of the best real estate in town! What are you most looking forward to during the 2020 Legislative Session? I am really looking forward to working with some awesome bill sponsors on legislation that I am really passionate about this Session that will improve access to health care for Floridians. If you could have another lobbyist’s client list, it would be … I wouldn’t trade my client list for anything, choosing my clients is my favorite part of being a contract lobbyist. Professional accomplishment of which you are most proud? Working with, and for, some of the most well-respected and toughest women in the business. PHOTO: MaryBeth Tyson

Who is your favorite Florida Capitol Press Corps reporter and why? Gary Fineout. He held the record for the most public records requests during my tenure at the Governor’s Office.

Lobbyists are often accused of wearing Gucci loafers; do you own a pair of Gucci loafers? If not, why not? I don’t own any loafers. Heels on the other hand; I do own a variety of designers.

You’ve just learned that you will be hosting a morning talk show about Florida politics. Who are the first four guests you’d invite to appear? Sarah Bascom, because she is always so witty and makes me laugh; Larry Williams, because I always appreciate his honest perspective and his accent makes me smile; Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez, because I adore her and have so much respect for her tenacity; and Rep. Tyler Sirois, because his is so sharp and insightful and is a dear friend. Favorite movie. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” I’ve watched it so many times I could probably recite the entire movie by heart. When you pig out, what do you eat? Definitely a fan of the Olivia Pope diet: red wine and popcorn! If you could have dinner with a historical figure no longer living, who would it be? Margaret Thatcher or Audrey Hepburn.

Amanda Fraser




ADVOCATE FOR FLORIDA’S SCHOOLKIDS In 25 words or less, explain what you do. I help school boards advocate for Florida’s students and 4th-ranked K-12 school system. Without using the words Democrat, Independent or Republican, conservative or liberal, describe your political persuasion. Compartmentalized. If you have one, what is your motto? “It’s amazing what you can get if you quietly, clearly and authoritatively demand it.” – Meryl Streep During your career, have you had a favorite pro bono client? I haven’t had a pro bono client to date, but with my recent appointment to the Florida Association for the Education of Young Children (FLAEYC) board of directors, I’m hoping to get involved with their public policy efforts.

BillieAnne Gay PHOTO: MaryBeth Tyson

Three favorite charities. Tree House of Tallahassee, Grace Mission, Tallahassee-Leon Babe Ruth Alumni Foundation Any last-day-of-Session traditions? Typically, it’s spent lobbying education trains. Outside of that, you can find me at the Governor’s Club with my tribe. What are you most looking forward to during the 2020 Legislative Session? Continuing work on student safety and mental health, seeing friends I’ve missed, and having the streets of Tallahassee busy again. If you could have another lobbyist’s client list, it would be … Florida’s students are such a worthy cause, but it definitely seems alluring to have a book of business consisting of beer and sports. Professional accomplishment of which you are most proud? The time I spent as a teacher, guidance counselor and Advanced Placement director. My work now is an extension of those experiences, but working directly with students and seeing them reach their goals will always be my most important work.

Lobbyists are often accused of wearing Gucci loafers; do you own a pair of Gucci loafers? If not, why not? No. They don’t really go with my pencil skirts. Who is your favorite Florida Capitol Press Corps reporter and why? It’s tough to pick just one. Other than Florida, your reading list includes … LobbyTools, non-fiction and short stories. What swear word do you use most often? Dadgummit What is your most treasured possession? My dad’s wedding ring that my mom gave me after he passed away in 2017. The best hotel in Florida is… JW Marriot Marco Island. You’ve just learned that you will be hosting a morning talk show about Florida politics. Who are the first four guests you’d invite to appear? President Bill Galvano, Speaker Jose Oliva, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, and State Board of Education Chair Andy Tuck. Favorite movie. “The NeverEnding Story” When you pig out, what do you eat? It’s hard to beat a Cypress Burger and pimento cheese fritters OR truffle mac and Kobe/foie gras sliders at Clusters & Hops. If you could have dinner with a historical figure no longer living, who would it be? Marilyn Monroe


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Significant other? Children? Grand kids? One fiancé and a dog who is InstaFamous. In 25 words or less, explain what you do. Advocate on behalf of those who are so busy meeting customer demands they need someone to help them keep government from interfering in that. Without using the words Democrat, Independent or Republican, conservative or liberal, describe your political persuasion. Less is more. If you have one, what is your motto? Treat yo’ self. During your career, have you had a favorite pro bono client? Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra Three favorite charities. Orlando Magic Youth Foundation, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and American Cancer Society Any last-day-of-Session traditions? What are you most looking forward to during the 2020 Legislative Session? Tech legislation. From autonomous vehicles to cryptocurrency it seems like there is a lot more modernization of statute that can and should be done. If you could have another lobbyist’s client list, it would be… No one’s. I love my clients and each one has interesting challenges.

Katie Flury

Lobbyists are often accused of wearing Gucci loafers; do you own a pair of Gucci loafers? If not, why not? No. I am 5 feet tall. I am destined for a life of heels. Who is your favorite Florida Capitol Press Corps reporter and why? Matt Dixon. Have you seen his Twitter? Other than Florida, your reading list includes … Sayfie, Orlando Sentinel… lots of Twitter. What swear word do you use most often? The one you would think. What is your most treasured possession? Reagan my dog. Or my allergy meds when I am in Tallahassee. The best hotel in Florida is … Wyndham Lake Buena Vista (Shoutout Jay Leonard) or any other hotel that is a member of the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association. You’ve just learned that you will be hosting a morning talk show about Florida politics. Who are the first four guests you’d invite to appear? Jason Brodeur and the rest of the team — Jon Yapo, Jonathon Little and Sydnie Tiseo. The format would obviously be a roast. Favorite movie. “Father of the Bride” When you pig out, what do you eat? Burritos. Plural. If you could have dinner with a historical figure no longer living, who would it be? Julius Caesar

Professional accomplishment of which you are most proud? Joining GrayRobinson.

PHOTO: MaryBeth Tyson




In 25 words or less, explain what you do. I represent a range of clients, each with a unique set of problems that they face with government. I’m a fixer. Not the hit man type. Without using the words Democrat, Independent or Republican, conservative or liberal, describe your political persuasion. I’m a centrist. There is a dissertation to give on this, but I’ll spare your readership. If you have one, what is your motto? “Be who you are going to be.” During your career, have you had a favorite pro bono client? Florida Blockchain Association Any last-day-of-Session traditions? All the bourbons. What are you most looking forward to during the 2020 Legislative Session? My last-day-of-Session tradition. If you could have another lobbyist’s client list, it would be… Probably Southern. Mostly because I want Apple as a client. I am an admitted selfrighteous Apple elitist/fanboy. Professional accomplishment of which you are most proud? Changing Florida’s law regarding challenges to development orders. This change leveled the playing field for all parties involved in these lawsuits. Not to mention it will save taxpayers millions from litigious factions.

R.J. Myers 52 | INFLUENCE WINTER 2020

Lobbyists are often accused of wearing Gucci loafers; do you own a pair of Gucci loafers? If not, why? The loafers + suit look is not my thing. I don’t loaf.

Who is your favorite Florida Capitol Press Corps reporter and why? I think I’m supposed to say “of course, Tallahassee’s sweetheart, Matt Dixon!” However, I’m gonna go with [Gary] Fineout. I’ve been reading his stuff since I was in high school. That guy will probably get his own statue in the Capitol courtyard or something. Other than Florida, your reading list includes… Politico, TBBJ, Bloomberg, Tech Crunch, Tampa Bay Business & Wealth, every meme on the internet. What swear word do you use most often? “Ass clown” What is your most treasured possession? Mi casa. The best hotel in Florida is … I’m struggling with this but will confidently exclaim that it is NOT The Vinoy. You’ve just learned that you will be hosting a morning talk show about Florida politics. Who are the first four guests you would invite to appear? Jamie Grant and Jason Pizzo, because I’m truly curious of my own intellectual boundaries, and to know if my brain will actually explode. They are both brilliant. If said explosion of my brain has occurred, how can I capacitate having two more guests on? Favorite movie. Don’t act like y’all don’t know. “Ghostbusters!” When you pig out, what do you eat? Cajun food is most ideal as a delivery system for hot sauce. So that. I’ve got a problem ... well, my esophagus has the real problem. If you could have dinner with a historical figure no longer living, who would it be? Harold Ramis, for sure.

PHOTO: MaryBeth Tyson

Significant other? Children? Grand kids? Bipedal, no. I do have a cat, though, and his name is Fagin.




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{ insiders’ ADVICE

Twitter banned political ads … or did it?


n late October, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced (via tweet, of course) a major change: The social network would stop running all political advertising globally. That announcement shook the world for thousands involved in the political process. After all, so many political proclamations catch fire on Twitter – with a few occasionally tweeted by someone other than @POTUS. At their core, political ads on social media aren’t significantly different than those on traditional media platforms (e.g., television, radio, print). For the most part, they use the same or similar messaging and imagery. But social media advertising offers two major advantages that make it invaluable to politicos: targeting and scale. Social media users voluntarily share a cornucopia of information about themselves, including demographics, location, and interests. Many advertisers use that information to micro-target ad campaigns, showing different messaging to different targets. That heightened level of personalization has created political advertising at scale. At any given time, the Trump reelection campaign is running thousands of ad variations on Facebook, with each version seen by a few thousand highly relevant users. That’s one campaign. Now add in the candidates for the Democrat nomination. On a seemingly typical day in late November, Pete Buttigieg was running 5,800 Facebook ads and Elizabeth Warren was running 2,200. It keeps climbing ... and that’s only in the race for President. Add all the candidates for federal, state, and local offices, as well as ballot measures, legislation, regulations, judicial outcomes – and you get the picture. The political ad review process for social media is today’s version of Lucy and Ethel in the candy factory ... the political ads just keep coming at an unrelenting pace. And that’s why Twitter gave up. Political advertising isn’t a key part of the

ryan cohn says campaigns can still communicate via social media, but the methods are evolving.

company’s core business. Twitter made less than $3 million in advertising revenue during the 2018 midterm elections of its $3 billion in total revenue that year. Simply, the $3 million wasn’t worth the headaches and potential scrutiny from lawmakers and media. So they decided to quit while they were ahead … or did they? After Dorsey’s bold announcement, Twitter released new political advertising policies that didn’t completely rule out all political ads for everyone. Most advocacy groups, non-profits (except 501c4), former politicians, and companies are still allowed to run ads about specific issues and causes. These ads can raise awareness and facilitate a public conversation around important topics or causes (for example, civic engagement, economic growth, environmental stewardship, social equity) but cannot directly advocate for or against a political, judicial, legislative, or regulatory outcome. Here’s an example: An industry trade association can talk about the importance of reforming the health care system, sharing personal testimonials from affected patients and statistics comparing the U.S. system with other countries. However, its ads cannot mention active legislation, urge donations, or encourage voters to support or oppose a specific candidate or political party. Of course, there’s a gray area. Can they refer people to a website to contact their lawmakers and share personal stories of how they’ve been affected by an issue, with no mention of legislation or advocating a vote for or against? That remains to be seen. Now that Twitter has banned (or at least limited) political advertising, many are calling on Facebook and Google to institute similar restrictions. That’s a lot less likely to happen. Facebook made about $300 million on political ads in 2018 and expects that figure to grow in 2020. In

fact, presidential candidates have already spent more than $50 million on Facebook since May 2018. But in case it does happen, now is the time to start looking at alternative ways to communicate with key audiences. Aside from advertising, earned media – think publicity – is a must-have for any issue advocacy campaign. Dorsey based Twitter’s decision around the belief that political message reach should be earned, not bought. Consider working with reporters, bloggers, and other influencers to deliver quality, credible news to all the right people. You can also partner with or gain the endorsement of third-party advocacy groups, think tanks, or nonprofits – which can then promote your issue to their audiences. Share your content and messaging with these groups and ask them to push it out through their communications channels. The media landscape is constantly transforming, driven by the demands of American consumers. New technology will emerge and force us all to adjust how we communicate. Will political ads disappear? Doubtful, but those who stay agile and willing to embrace these changes will have an upper hand in the court of public opinion. Ryan Cohn, Partner and Executive Vice President at Sachs Media Group, is a strategic adviser to many of the firm’s largest clients, forecasting and navigating the changing communications and marketing landscape, and leading digital media initiatives. He has taught at Florida State University and contributed to prominent media outlets including Mashable and AdWeek. Ryan has created hundreds of well-known marketing and issue advocacy campaigns, with several featured on The Today Show, ABC World News, Buzzfeed, Daily Mail, Fox News, and Business Insider.


Circa 2000

Circa 2020


With up to the minute legislative information, we’ve been your unrivaled partner for 20 years. And we’re just getting started. 58 | INFLUENCE WINTER 2020

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When it comes to polls, it pays to consider the source. steven j. vancore beseeches the the media to be skeptical of flawed and biased polling.


he headlines have become all too common: “Are polls broken?” (The Guardian), “Polling got Andrew Gillum very wrong” (Vox), or “Why key state polls were wrong about Trump” (The New York Times). Are we back to the days of “Dewey Defeats Truman”? Are polls really that bad? NO! The science behind polling continues to improve, and highly qualified pollsters do incredibly valuable work even as the technology of polling continues to change with each passing election cycle. The problem that gives rise to these kinds of headlines is the direct result of several (interrelated) persistent problems. Most of the polls that most of the public consumes are — by their very nature — flawed for three simple reasons: 1. They were most likely done on the cheap by media outlets doing low-cost (and therefore often highly flawed) polls for the purpose of generating traffic. These “clickbait” polls are conducted using low-cost technologies that often exclude large swaths of likely voters — if they even use voter files in the first place. 2. They were done by either educational institutions or start-up poll-

sters both with the goal in mind of generating relatively “free” publicity. Again, these polls for public consumption are most often done on the cheap, have real methodology flaws and are gleefully picked up by a non-discerning media. 3. Candidates and campaigns push polls that show their favored candidates doing well or better than expected. They do this to generate headlines, draw back wary donors and often to keep the candidate motivated. These are the polls you see in your email inbox or on partisan websites. Keep in mind that all three of the above ultimately depend on a non-discerning media to share the coverage and generate clicks. If the polls don’t get picked up, you don’t see them. And, correspondingly, the media won’t get to write headlines about the demise of polls. Consider that even the readers of this magazine — by definition, political insiders — don’t know the names of some of Florida’s top pollsters. But they are familiar with such names as Quinnipiac University and more recently Florida Atlantic University as pollsters. And one last — vital — point. While polls certainly have predictive value, they are not crystal balls. The above-mentioned

headline about Andrew Gillum was referring to the Democratic primary where even valid polls had him losing three and four weeks out. Here is the key: He was losing. Returns show that Gillum lost voteby-mail returns (a.k.a. people who voted three and four weeks out) by 14 points just as the polls showed he was. Gillum, it turns out, actually had (brace yourself for a sports metaphor) a fourth quarter comeback. According to returns compiled by the Secretary of State, he won early voting by 10 points and Election Day voting by a whopping 16 points. This was a comeback almost nobody (well, except him and his team) saw coming. And as polls are snapshots in time and not predictors, it’s understandable why the “polls got it wrong.” I hope for a day when our nation’s top media outlets apply the same level of discernment and skepticism as they do for most other subjects and stop consuming and reporting polls irrespective of their quality or the motivations of those promoting them. But I’m not holding my breath. Steven J. Vancore is the President of Clearview Polling and Research and has been polling and conducting focus groups in Florida for over 30 years.





Michael and Jessica Corcoran are taking Corcoran Partners to new heights

by peter schorsch

family focused: After stepping back while his brother, Richard Corcoran, served as Speaker of the House, Michael Corcoran is stepping back into the limelight.



PHOTO: Allison Lynn Photography


Michael and Jessica Corcoran with their four children. “He brings you in, makes you feel like part of the family,” said Audrey Brown, President & CEO of the Florida Association of Health Plans. Photo by Allison Lynn Photography


ou could say Corcoran Partners is experiencing a renaissance. Long known as a powerhouse in Tallahassee, the firm added team members, beefed up its presence in key parts of the state and rebranded ahead of the 2020 Legislative Session. And of course, there’s Michael Corcoran. After working in the background for several sessions to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest while his brother served as Speaker of the House, the firm’s patriarch has stepped back into the limelight. “Coming back and no longer being behind the scenes was easy, effortless,” he said. “It was not hard to come back, because I thoroughly enjoy what we do.” And enjoying what you do is key – especially when your business partner is also your life partner. Ain’t nothing but a family thing Corcoran met his wife, Jessica, in 1992. It was the classic political meetcute. Michael was working on Republi-


can Buddy Johnson’s House campaign; Jessica was volunteering for President George H.W. Bush’s reelection. The rest, as they say, is history. And much of that history has been spent walking the halls of the Florida Capitol or on the campaign trail. Michael worked as Johnson’s legislative assistant, before making the move to the Republican Party of Florida. Jessica served her time in the House as well, even working directly with the House Speaker. They got married in 1994 and opened a political consulting company in 1999. Michael dipped his toe into lobbying, working with Steve Metz for a couple of years. And in 2001, they made another major decision: It was time to hang their own shingle and get into lobbying – together. “You always hear working with your spouse is a no-no,” Michael said. “I can honestly sit here and tell you we’ve never had any stresses on our marriage or otherwise over work.”

Continued Jessica: “Mike is my best friend. I thoroughly enjoy being with him every day.” They launched the firm, then called Corcoran and Associates, on a hope and a prayer – and a little help from some friends. Bill Rubin, founder and Chairman of Rubin, Turnbull and Associates, and Brian Ballard, President of Ballard Partners, were among those who saw the Corcorans’ potential in the early years. “He struck me as a young man you could work with and trust,” Ballard said. “He had all the right qualities of a guy who was going to be a big success.” So, what does it take to be a success? Friends, colleagues and clients describe Michael as a hard worker who is willing to go the extra mile, who has a strong moral code, and who isn’t afraid to jump into the fray when things get tough. “He’s very good at understanding the needs of his clients and how to translate that,” Rubin said. “One of his big strengths

is that his clients have a lot of confidence in him. He’s good at guiding people.” When Audrey Brown was named the President and CEO of the Florida Association of Health Plans in 2013, she met with all of her contract lobbyists to get to know them a bit better. While she was familiar with many of the lobbyists, she said didn’t know Michael or his team that well. They hit it off immediately. It was a good thing too because Brown’s first year on the job would coincide with a Session heavy on health care battles. While the state decided not to expand Medicaid, it did implement a Medicaid managed care program. The association spent the Session fighting to ensure the comprehensive care offered by providers remained intact. “He’s a really sharp guy,” she said. “The first session is the one you want everything to go well. He brings you in, makes you feel like part of the family.” And being part of the family has its benefits – and its challenges.


Michael and Jessica Corcoran aren’t the only Corcorans who made a name for themselves in the capital city. Even before he became Speaker of the Florida House, Richard Corcoran was a well-known fixture in the Florida Legislature. He advised former House leaders and served as a top aide to three former House Speakers – Dan Webster, Tom Feeney and Marco Rubio. He was overwhelmingly elected to the Florida House in 2010, right after finishing up a stint as Rubio’s chief of staff. Once in office, the brawler state Representative quickly rose through the ranks. He served as chair of the House Select Committee on Redistricting before being named the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. And in 2016, he took over as Speaker of the House. “It’s really a blessing to watch your brother achieve the level of success he’s had in politics,” Michael said. “Politics has been a large part of his life. But it comes with a challenge.” The challenge? Balancing your career with your family, even as your brother rails against special interests and the lobby corps. “I think that was one of those no-win situations,” Rubin said. “It’s great when your brother is the Speaker, and it’s awful when your brother is the Speaker. I think Mike thought it might be good to take a step back and be respectful of the lines they draw.” Richard’s tenure as Speaker ushered in new rules. The rules, which are still in effect today, included heightened lobbyist registration that required lobbyists to disclose every bill, amendment and appropriation they were working on. At the time, Richard said the changes were aimed at “increasing accountability, professionalism, transparency and fairness.” Despite the reforms, having a top-tier lobbyist as a brother undoubtedly led to some criticisms. There were news reports that tried to link Michael’s legislative successes to Richard and clients who initially thought meant hiring Michael’s firm was a golden ticket. Ballard said the criticism never stuck, especially because both men “did a magnificent job navigating that.” But Richard, who now serves as the state’s Education Commissioner, WINTER 2020 INFLUENCE | 63


acknowledged his time as the Speaker – and the scrutiny that came with it – was “harder for Michael.” “I thought the best thing was to step back a little bit to allow Richard to do the great things he did and try not to be a distraction to what he was trying to accomplish,” Michael said. “I think people saw that it wasn’t Richard and I hanging out every day in Tallahassee.” And that decision to step back, friends and colleagues said, is just one reason Michael stands out among his peers. “The three things I hear most from his counterparts in the corps are they are super hard workers, they go above and beyond in the category of honorability and do things in the most honorable way, and they’re effective,” Richard said. “That Mike and Jessie get things done, time and time again.”


Over the past two decades, the firm that Michael and Jessica built has become a powerhouse in the industry. But it didn’t happen overnight. For the first few years, it was just Michael and Jessica hustling. They signed some clients right out of the gate, several of which have stayed with them over the years. After about three or four years, they decided they needed some help to carry the load. Their first hire was Courtney Bense, who later left the firm, followed by Matthew Blair. In 2005, Michael’s years of pestering paid off when his childhood friend Jeff Johnston joined the firm. The Corcorans would later bring Amanda Stewart and Michael Cantens on board to help ease the load. “We’ve been blessed to have good people over the years,” Michael said. “We’re a blue-collar firm. We roll up our sleeves and do anything to be successful for the clients.” Those A-list clients include Coca-Cola Beverages Florida, Humana, the University of South Florida, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Fontainebleu Development. “He doesn’t sugarcoat things,” said Jeffrey Soffer, the chairman and CEO of Fontainebleau Development, a longtime client. “Mike is a straightforward, honest, hardworking guy. He’s an honorable guy, not an ego guy.” In 2019, after years of working together, Michael and Johnston parted 64 | INFLUENCE WINTER 2020

Michael and Jessica Corcoran have been partners in life – and business – for more than 20 years. “I can honestly sit here and tell you we’ve never had any stresses on our marriage or otherwise because of work,” said Michael. Photo by Allison Lynn Photography ways, with Johnston telling Florida Politics in September that he looked “forward to continuing to work with Mike for years to come.” For Michael and Jessica, the change marks the beginning of a new era at the firm. They have rebranded and brought on new team members. In October, the firm announced Andrea Tovar and Will Rodriquez had joined the team. More team announcements are expected in the final quarter of 2019, and the first quarter of 2020. “With losses come opportunities,” Michael said. Those opportunities don’t appear to

be going away anytime soon. In fact, the number of new opportunities appears to be rapidly growing. Both Michael and Jessica say they are focused on the future. As always, they are doubling down on hard work and delivering results for clients. And, they have a clear vision and determination to solidify the firm’s placement as a top-tier Florida-based lobbying firm, now and for the future. “We’re looking forward to the future,” said Jessica. “We know there’s a lot of big, exciting things to come.”

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America’s Boldest Governor Aided by a Savvy First Lady - is Florida’s Politician of the Year.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and his wife, Casey, dance during Florida’s 46th Governor’s Inaugural Ball. Photo by: Colin Hackley






o, this is not what Florida had expected; but truthfully much of Florida wasn’t sure what to expect in 2018 when it elected to be its next Governor, someone who perhaps was best known as a fiery congressional backbencher with a deep bromance with President Donald Trump. Yet Gov. Ron DeSantis came into office a year ago setting ablaze all kinds of expectations, along with most of what was left behind by his predecessor. Almost instantly Tallahassee realized there was A New Governor In Town. And it wasn’t too long before it was apparent that DeSantis was on his way to what he has become: Florida’s politician of the year. Even in his first week in office, 40-year-old DeSantis, then Florida’s youngest Governor in a century, was burning down expectations so fast political insiders weren’t sure what to make of him. He cleaned house from his predecessor, rejecting fellow Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s legacy. He appointed Democrats along with Republicans to his administration. He laid down challenging environmental, mental health and addiction initiatives. He suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. And he posthumously pardoned the four young black men who had been falsely accused in the racism-driven Groveland Four case of 1949. With that scorched-earth campaign continuing into the spring, DeSantis rode into his first Legislative Session with a 60% approval rating. He also had an above-water approval among Democrats. By late October his approval numbers skyrocketed to 72% overall. No party affiliation and no demographic group showed much disapproval of his job performance. “The support numbers he has really are astonishing in many ways,” said Michael Binder, faculty director of the Public Opinion Research Lab at the University of North Florida. “He hasn’t alienated his base. He’s been able to keep Tallahassee from ripping itself apart… and

he’s reached across the aisle on issues that not just Democrats but Republicans have really been supportive of.” DeSantis laid out his “Bold Vision for a Brighter Future” agenda for the Legislature in his budget and a list of priorities, and he argued for them with deepin-the-weeds knowledge about the details. Scott had been famous for his singular focus, usually on jobs creation. Yet he also had a habit of showing little interest in, even ignoring, matters that were outside his field of vision. There also is a sense that DeSantis showed refreshing respect for lawmakers’ jobs. Senate President Bill Galvano said the new Governor has been a pleasure to work with, not something lawmakers often said about the previous two. “He realizes the importance of the role that the members of the House and Senate play. He made that very clear early on. In fact, the very first official action after being sworn in was to have a fellowship lunch with the members of the House and Senate and through the process we have stayed in close touch, and have had many close discussions,” Galvano said. “I think that’s the way it should be.” DeSantis also is hailed by many as someone with broad legislative interests. And he engages them in detail. So, for example, when he brought his environmental agenda to the Florida Legislature, he brought in a context full enough to challenge and change Tallahassee culture, said House Speaker-Designate Chris Sprowls, a Clearwater Republican. “Where Ron DeSantis is unique, he’s engaged on a wide array of issues. And I think he’s engaged in a substantive way. The Governor is the kind of person, when you sit down to talk with him, you’re not talking about something from 100,000 feet,” Sprowls said. “He’ll talk to you about the details. He’ll talk to you about the weeds. If it’s a legal issue, he’ll have read the cases. “I think he’s been a transformational Governor in an extremely short period of time,” Sprowls said.




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Gov. Ron DeSantis, right, takes the oath of office, as wife, Casey, holds their son Mason while Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady administers the oath during inauguration ceremonies. Photo by: Colin Hackley The results include a new Family Empowerment Scholarship program to support parents wanting to send their children to charter and private schools, renewal of funding for VISIT FLORIDA, a new Job Growth Grant Fund, an increase in public education’s base student allocation by $75 per pupil. He helped push through a bill that would allow, should the federal government and Canada sign off, direct importation of lower-cost medicines from Canada. He supported strengthening and clarification of the 2018 law allowing for the arming of teachers. He signed the bill banning “sanctuary cities” in Florida. He took a Cabinet meeting and half the Florida government leadership, including Democrats, to Israel, along with bills and grants that sought to cement Florida’s relationship. At the same time he embraced issues that have broad Florida support that the Democrats thought they had owned while Scott had been Governor. He threw full support behind medi-

cal marijuana and hemp agriculture. He pushed through $400 million for Everglades restoration projects, $100 million for springs restoration and $25 million to combat blue-green and red tide algal blooms. He came to the rescue of the Groveland Four, and pledged strong support for the Pulse Memorial and Museum, for which the LGBTQ community had been pushing hard. He openly recognized climate change and created a high-level post for an adviser on climate change and environmental resiliency in Florida. He supported some justice reform measures. This has annoyed Democratic leaders and strategists to no end. They talk about him offering Florida some “shiny objects” while still holding fast to hardline conservative causes. For DeSantis also blocked full implementation of Amendment 4 by supporting and signing Senate Bill 766 requiring felons to pay restitution before they can have their voting rights restored, essentially an impossible task for many. He has

not reestablished the Florida Clemency Board, leaving the current clemency system backlogged indefinitely. They denounce his new scholarship program as another blow to the stability of public education. They contend he dismissed the crusade, supported by most of Florida’s business establishment, to extend equal rights to gays. Despite his recognition of climate change, he has done little yet to promote sustainable energy or address climate change. Democratic operative Kevin Cate argued that it’s a false narrative to suggest that DeSantis is acting as a moderate when he has been holding fast to so many red-meat conservative policies on things like immigration, while also largely ignoring things like expanding health care, improving wages, gun safety, women’s rights, or fracking. By doing anything at all to address even a small handful of issues that Scott usually ignored, DeSantis is looking good to moderates, compared with his predecessor, Cate argued.



Gov. Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis during the designation ceremony for incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson. Photo by: Colin Hackley “Anybody walking into the Governor’s office following Rick Scott would be seen as a beacon of hope, truth, and accountability, no matter how effective or ineffective the person may be,” Cate said. Florida Democratic Party President Terrie Rizzo said DeSantis is still riding a honeymoon bubble of support, and she’s confident it will pop when voters start realizing how he is dragging Florida clos-


er toward Trump’s divisive agenda. “I think it’s important to remember how he got to where he is. He is joined at the hip with Donald Trump and was a strong supporter, and is, of the President. I think it’s always important to remember that he may appear to be a moderate, but in fact he is a hard-right conservative,” Rizzo said. About that President. As a congressman, and in his primary

campaign, DeSantis couldn’t say enough about Trump. Now, he rarely publicly mentions Trump, except when the Governor talks about having a relationship that will help address Florida’s needs for federal cooperation, such as importation of Canadian drugs, hurricane recovery aid, or protecting the moratorium on offshore oil drilling. Long gone are the days when DeSantis was FOX News’ favorite Florida congressman to come and talk about Trump. DeSantis’ office says that’s because he’s


First Lady For Casey DeSantis, serving as First Lady of Florida is a full-time job. The 39-year-old former television anchor serves as a top adviser to her husband, Gov. Ron DeSantis, and plays a much more prominent role than her predecessors on the policy front. She’s the Chair of the Children and Youth Cabinet, a champion for the environment, and an advocate for children’s mental health and addiction services. Her dedication to mental health has been a focal point of her first year in the Governor’s Office. In May, DeSantis announced the Hope for Healing Florida campaign, a multi-agency, coordinated plan that aims to take a look at the state’s resources to address mental health and substance abuse. “We owe it to the taxpayer, the people who are suffering, the people who are looking for hope — to make sure we have accountability and transparency over these programs,” she said during the Hope for Healing launch. “And if at the end of the day we find out we need more resources, then I’m going to be one of the first people going to the Legislature to advocate for more funds.” Her efforts have largely focused on initiatives dealing with youth, and she’s already racking up the wins. She successfully advocated for the State Board of Education to require public schools to provide students in grades 6 through 12 with at least five hours

of mental health instruction. According to a report from the Florida Behavioral Health Association, suicide was the third leading cause of death for people ages 10-24 and the second leading cause of death for people ages 25-34. “Shining a spotlight around mental health and substance abuse (is important because) there’s a lot of stigma around it,” she told the Florida Times-Union. She also has turned her attention to ensuring that Panhandle students have the resources they need to recover from Hurricane Michael. In June, she announced that telehealth mental health services would be available to districts affected by the storm. The program was expected to serve more than 35,000 students. She also backed a decision by the Florida Division of Emergency Management to hire a director of mental health and recovery. The goal of the new position is to address mental health needs in communities after natural disasters and develop recovery mental health and crisis counseling and outreach programs. “This role is just one piece of our continued efforts to make these communities feel whole again,” she said in October. “The distress a disaster can have on residents is just as impactful as the physical destruction left behind, and we will continue to provide much-needed support as we develop and implement various mental health services.”



busy focusing on Florida issues, and national media aren’t interested in hearing him discuss Florida issues. But DeSantis’s popularity is far above Trump’s in Florida now. In terms of politics, it’s a matter of who needs whom. The relationship had been reversed in the summer of 2018 when DeSantis was hardly known outside of FOX News’ audience, even within his 6th Congressional District. The three-term Republican from Ponte Vedra Beach pretty much had been limited in Congress to addressing red-meat conservative issues, starting with unabashed support for the President, but also including a few foreign affairs matters such as cracking down on immigration, building a southern wall, supporting Israel, and opposing America’s foreign adversaries, most notably Iran and Cuba. DeSantis spent most of the first few months of his gubernatorial campaign essentially talking about those federal issues. When Trump, with 90% approval among Florida Republicans, threw his strong endorsement to DeSantis, that essentially tossed Republican front runner then-Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam off the Republican train. To be sure, DeSantis emerged from the primary with a broader general election campaign platform that focused more on Florida. That included pledging to become Florida’s biggest environmental advocate in the Governor’s office in a while, taking deregulation even further than Scott had done, and being a lawand-order Governor who wasn’t going to put up with any local corruption. Susie Wiles, the campaign manager who helped get DeSantis over the finish line in 2018, remains a strong supporter even though the two had a falling out this autumn. She said if anyone wasn’t clear what DeSantis was about, it was because they were paying attention to what his Democratic opponent Andrew Gillum was saying about him, not to what DeSantis was saying. “As a candidate he spent all day every day listening to Floridians. That’s what a good candidate and a good leader does. And in so doing he quickly began focusing on the issues that Floridians, of all persuasions care about. And I believe that’s what you see him focus on as Gov-


Gov. Ron DeSantis, right, is joined by Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, left as they applaud guests in the gallery of the House chamber during DeSantis’ first State of the State address. Photo by: Colin Hackley ernor and why he is doing so very well” Wiles said. Floridians were talking about the costs of prescription drugs, the environment, and schools. That became DeSantis’ agenda. Those who work with DeSantis say they are thoroughly impressed by his intellect and his desire to go into the fine print. He’s not someone to read the executive summaries. He goes right to the full reports. He comes out with fully formed understandings. And then he makes decisions and gives simple and clear directions on what he wants done, they say. He is, after all, a product of Yale University, Harvard Law School, and the U.S. Navy. Orlando lawyer, Democratic fundraiser, and populist initiative organiz-

er John Morgan said that’s what he saw when DeSantis told him he would fully support and implement the state’s medical marijuana program early in his administration. The program had languished in bureaucratic hell under Scott, since Morgan led the 2016 campaign to get voters to overwhelmingly approve it. “You know what he said to me? He said he read everything, and it was unambiguous. Rick Scott knew it was unambiguous but still f***** with people of Florida. Ron DeSantis comes in, he reads it and says, ‘What are we fighting about?’” Morgan said. “These are the kinds of things why he’s at 60 or 70 percent popularity,” Morgan said.

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nikki fried ’ s Fantastic

Our runner-up for Florida Politician of the Year had a breakout 2019 as leader of the loyal opposition.


ikki Fried’s list of accomplishments in her first year as Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture is long and impactful. She worked to establish the state as a national leader in the exploding hemp industry. She led the charge to bring justice to the Groveland Four, reversing what Fried called a miscarriage of justice “whose correction has been 70 years in the making.” She took on the National Rifle Association over gun registration, a mess she inherited after the Department of Agriculture’s well-publicized 2018 meltdown that left tens of thousands of concealed weapons permits unreviewed. Fried championed energy efficiency and climate change, words that often weren’t spoken out loud in Tallahassee. She is a prominent voice against trade deals that adversely impact Florida farmers. She increased her department’s emphasis on consumer services – pause here for a breath if you need to. Oh, and she continued to fight for research dollars so farmers could upgrade their water infrastructure, worked to help the state’s citrus industry rebound, and still found time to get engaged to be married while becoming the leading voice of Florida’s Democratic Party.


She did all that as only the second Democrat elected to statewide office in this century and is the lone member of her party to hold a Cabinet position. You may have heard that Republicans control all three branches of Florida government, but Fried got great big stuff done anyway. “She showed people she is someone who can be worked with, but not toyed with,” top Democratic consultant Eric Johnson said. Or, as famed lawyer John Morgan noted, “She is now the face of the Party. The only face. She has the formula and is the future. I am really proud I supported her. She is bold and brave and forward-thinking.” Fried said it’s all about doing the best job for the people of Florida. “I’ve always felt there are far more things that unite us than divide us. I ran on a pretty common-sense platform of

things I wanted to get done. And I think I’ve shown in year one I’m serious about results, which I know my colleagues across the aisle can appreciate,” she said. So, where do you want to start as we assess Nikki Fried’s strong impact in such a short amount of time? Let’s ask her. “We’ve gotten a lot of big things done in our first year, but to me, one of the biggest was the nearly unanimous legislative approval of the state hemp program. Since the law was signed in June, we’ve made incredible progress,” she said. A law that took effect July 1 allows the cultivation and sale of hemp products. Although hemp is similar in look and smell to marijuana, it contains a much smaller amount of THC – the chemical that gets marijuana users high. Hemp is used in all kinds of CBD-based products, including shoes, sunscreen, clothing, soap, rope, oils, and salves. “In just six months, we’ve finalized numerous hemp rules, including CBD, which will take effect Jan. 1,” Fried said. “That’s a huge success story. We’re right on the cusp of finally having the framework for properly regulating CBD, ensuring consumer safety and reliable testing, and helping build a multibillion-dollar hemp market where everyone has a chance. And the farmers I’ve spoken with, including those in the Panhandle, are excited about the new potential revenue stream.” That brings us to climate change. During Rick Scott’s time as governor, Tallahassee largely treated climate science as a nuisance to be ignored, no matter the cost. But Fried understands the devastating effect changing climate can have on agriculture, and she is relentlessly pushing for the state to take aggressive steps to mitigate a potential disaster. Fortunately, Republicans, starting with Gov. Ron DeSantis, appear to be listening. “It’s been a long time coming, but


PHOTO: Mark Wallheiser

Established the state as a national leader in the hemp industry.

Took on the National Rifle Association over gun registration

Fought for research dollars so farmers could upgrade their water infrastructure

Led the charge to bring justice to the Groveland Four

Championed energy efficiency and climate change

Worked to help the state’s citrus industry rebound



“We cut initial review times for concealed weapons licenses by up to 98 percent, while ensuring that all background checks are being done, period,” Fried said. “Now we’re looking toward phase two of our licensing improvements. I don’t hear much from the NRA these days, because I think even they realize that what we’ve accomplished and what we’re proposing are common-sense public safety measures that I believe will find bipartisan support.” Tallahassee hasn’t used the word “bipartisan” much in the last decade because Republicans controlled everything. They still control most things, but Fried has made a significant impact by working hard, staying focused, and making sense. It’s more than a strategy; it’s an approach that defines her. “That’s the tightrope she has walked,” Johnson said. “She can’t just be a bomb-thrower and run up the score with talking points. That might endear her to the base and MSNBC, but she wouldn’t accomplish much. But she can’t just go along to get along, either. “She has to pick and choose her battles. And I think she has done that.” Florida lawmakers are slowly realizing that the science is real, our climate is changing, and the facts are indisputable,” she said. “But merely acknowledging it doesn’t mitigate it — we need action. “For a decade, we’ve made almost no progress, and Florida remains the nation’s third-highest energy consumer. This is a time for bold and innovative solutions. That’s why this year, we held the first statewide summit to address climate change since 2008, and it’s why I’ve proposed an ambitious legislative agenda on our state’s energy and climate future.” You may have noticed her smiling face looking back at you when you fill up at the gas pump. Her office is responsible for inspections of pumps, and one area of consumer protection is the battle against skimmers that steal credit and debit card information. After her face adorned the inspection sticker, Fried was criticized by some for turning gas pumps into billboards to increase her visibility. Defenders say that wasn’t the idea at all. “The purpose of the stickers was to show people that someone is looking out for you at the pump,” Agriculture Communications Director Franco Ripple said. That’s not the only place Fried has been looking out. After the botched reviews of the concealed weapons licensing program under former Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam, Fried made fixing the issue a key point of her campaign. “I have a message for the NRA — your control over concealed weapons permits is finished,” she said as the election neared. “As Commissioner, I won’t be beholden to you, but to the people of Florida. I will do my job and stand up for what’s right.” Shortly after she assumed office, an NRA email alert to its supporters referred to her as “devout anti-gun” – which is weird because Fried is a gun owner and holds a concealed weapons permit. It didn’t matter. The NRA was rattled by anyone, particularly a Democrat, who might make even basic changes to how guns are administered in Florida. Fried was undeterred. And the result? Her department added 25 workers in that area to deal with the backlog.


TOP: Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has made consumer protection at the gas pump a priority, battling against skimmers that steal credit and debit card information. BOTTOM: Fried is focused on ensuring Florida is prepared for the impact of climate change and sea level rise, proposing an ambitious legislative agenda aimed at the state’s energy and climate future.

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The best, the brightest, and the most influential lobbyists in the state 78 | INFLUENCE WINTER 2020


Lobbying Firm of the Year Legal-Lobbying Firm of the Year


Simply put, they’re the best at what they do: Influencing.

Boutique Lobbying Firm of the Year

For the third year, INFLUENCE magazine presents its Golden Rotunda Awards, honoring the best lobbyists in an array of specialties: health care, appropriations, law enforcement, insurance, and gambling, to name a few.

New Lobbying Firm of the Year

As we did last year, we asked Florida’s lobbying industry to submit nominations for the best of the best, both firms and individuals.

Lobbyist of the Year More Lobbyists of the Year: Appropriations Criminal Justice In-house Agribusiness Local Disruption Education Environmental Gambling Health Care Insurance Marijuana Industry

To determine the Lobbying Firm of the Year and Boutique Firm of the Year, we again asked each of the Top 30 concerns (as measured by reported compensation) to nominate those they thought were the top three firms in each category. The ballots were weighted and the results tallied. For individual lobbyists, we again asked their colleagues to nominate those deserving. The resulting list aims to recognize the most outstanding in their fields. We hope the awards continue to burnish an under-recognized and under-appreciated profession. And no, there’s still not a gold-plated statue for the winners … but maybe one day. And now, the Golden Rotundas, please ... >>



PHOTO: MaryBeth Tyson




L-R, Bottom Row: David Shepp, Kelly Cohen, Brian Bautista, Paul Bradshaw, Rachel Cone, Clark Smith, Oscar AndersonL-R, Middle Row 1: Laura Boehmer, Kate DeLoach, Deno Hicks, Seth McKeelL-R, Middle Row 2: Erin Rock, Carlo Fassi, Chris Dudley, Nelson Diaz, Edgar CastroL-R, Middle Row 3: Sydney Ridley, Jim Smith, Monte Stevens L-R, Back Row: James McFaddin, Matt Brockelman, Paul Mitchell, Sheela VanHoose, Mercer Fearington, David Browning





The Southern Group Call them the best in the business. We are. The Southern Group, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, has been named as the Lobbying Firm of the Year. The firm was chosen by its peers, and the distinction recognizes the diverse group’s client base and the issues its team took on in 2019. “If I was going to describe (The Southern Group) to someone outside of the Process, I would say they are topnotch lobbyists and truly great people to work with,” said Dean Cannon, President and CEO of GrayRobinson and former Speaker of the Florida House. “I have enjoyed working alongside them on behalf of joint clients and I have been on the opposing side of issues with them and would say they are great allies and worthy opponents.” It was known as Southern Strategy Group when Paul Bradshaw launched the firm in 1999 as a one-man shop in Tallahassee. The firm saw exponential growth over the next two decades with offices in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando and Tampa Bay. Kate DeLoach was hired in 2019 to open a Florida Keys outpost, the firm’s sixth regional office. DeLoach wasn’t the only hire. Rachel Cone, the Tallahassee Managing Partner, said the firm focused heavily on talent over the past year, ensuring it remains one of the top-ranked firms in the state. “This year we invested in growth. Erin Rock completed her first Session with us, and Sheela VanHoos joined the team,” she said. “Our firm continued our commitment to hiring the best talent in the field. Sheela brings unmatched experience in government and education. Erin brings legislative and executive branch experience at the very highest levels of government.” Cone continued: “The Southern Group once again led the way in 2019 in putting the most diverse, highly skilled professional leaders on the field, and we couldn’t be more proud of our team.”


That team, Cannon said, is what makes The Southern Group stand out among its peers. “The Southern Group team has always impressed me as consummate professionals, always prepared, extremely hard-working and great advocates for their clients,” he said. “They are not afraid to tackle tough issues or be zealous advocates for their clients, but they do it in a professional manner and are always respectful of the process and the people in it.” Another thing that makes them stand out in a crowded field? The number of female lobbyists on the team. Often considered a male-dominated industry, The Southern Group has a team of 13 female lobbyists with a combined 150 years of experience. The Southern Group consistently places among the top firms in the state as far as quarterly compensation. In the second quarter of 2019, which included the second half of the 2019 Legislative Session, it could have earned as much as $5.92 million in pay across its dozens of lobbying contracts. The firm represents interests across the spectrum. Its roster of clients not only includes some of the largest businesses in the state such as U.S. Sugar and Darden, but some of the most well-known companies the world over, including Apple and Motorola. It also represents a couple of pro sports teams, a handful of colleges and universities, and several local governments, putting its lobbyists in the center of nearly every major policy discussion Legislative Session after Legislative Session. Cone said the work the firm did on behalf of its local government clients was some of the most impactful work of 2019. Cone said members of the local government practice worked to ensure their clients could meet the demands of water quality and infrastructure needs while working to assist some of the counties hit hardest by Hurricane Michael.





PHOTO: MaryBeth Tyson


Johnson & Blanton Johnson & Blanton has grown into one of Tallahassee’s lobbying juggernauts. In 1995, it was John Johnson’s one-man show. Then came the addition of Travis Blanton. A quarter-century later, the firm now features a half-dozen of the most knowledgeable and effective lobbyists in the Capitol. Johnson & Blanton was one of the first Republican-helmed firms to get involved in the health care space. That was a boon for business in the early years, and the expertise the firm has accrued still serves it well today. In 2019, seemingly every hospital had complaints about health care funding, but Johnson & Blanton still managed to deliver results for its clients. The firm also landed some heavyweight clients far removed from its health care roots, including Bank of America, Sea84 | INFLUENCE WINTER 2020

World and Step Up for Students, to name a few. Their success has a lot to do with the lobbyists that make up Team JB, including Darrick McGhee, Diane Wagner Carr, Georgia McKeown and Eric Prutsman. They’re known as hard workers, of course, but they’re also known for their friendliness and likeability, an asset that can’t be overstated when clients find themselves on the chopping block deep into budget negotiations. “Jon and Trav have set a gold standard for advocacy in the Capitol. Built upon the notion that relationships matter, if you find yourself in a foxhole, you simply cannot find a better team to help you get out,” said Steve Vancore of Vancore Jones. All that work wasn’t for nothing. Johnson & Blanton has also risen up the ranks in lobbying pay.

In 2018, they notched $5 million in total earnings based on median estimates. The firm’s first compensation reports through the first three quarters of 2019 have shown solid year-over-year growth. With a strong close, they could breach the $5.5 million level. Those numbers put them in competition with some of the state’s premier large firms, and they only look better when considering there are only seven advocates on the roster. It’s rare for a one-man shop to grow into a top-tier firm, and rarer still for a firm to achieve that level of success while cultivating a reputation as stellar as Johnson & Blanton’s. Looking forward, all signs point toward continued success for Team JB.





PHOTO: MaryBeth Tyson

PHOTO: MaryBeth Tyson




L-R: George Levesque, Jason Unger, Speaker Larry Cretul, Chris Dawson, Katie Flury, Todd Steibly, Kim McDougal, Dean Cannon, Rheb Harbison, Jessica Love.

What’s the distinction between legal-lobbying and traditional lobbying firms? The highlight reel. With a number of high-profile legal victories and a personal best $740 million-plus in client appropriations secured during the last year to boot, GrayRobinson is now Florida’s preeminent one-stop-shop for law and lobbying services. Dean Cannon, who was in 2019 named President and CEO of GrayRobinson, credited his firm’s prowess to the more than 270 lawyers and non-lawyer government relations professionals working across 14 Florida offices and the recently opened Washington shop. “We have a deep bench of both legal and lobbying talent,” Cannon said. He is one of two former Florida House Speakers at GrayRobinson, joined by Senior Government Affairs Consultant Larry Cretul. Other decorated public servants who are now with the legal-lobbying giant include Burt Saunders, a former Florida state Senator; Kim McDougal, former Chief of Staff for thenGov. Rick Scott; and Tim Cerio, former General Counsel for Scott and also an appointee to the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission. GrayRobinson’s extensive network and expertise have within the past 18 months netted them business for at least two marquee legal matchups. After the 2018 election, the National Republican Senatorial Committee retained GrayRobinson in the litigious recount across 38 counties that ultimately sealed Sen. Scott’s victory. The firm was also legal counsel for the Scott campaign. Then in 2019, as Gov. Ron DeSantis sought to have his suspension of Broward Sheriff Scott Israel upheld by the Florida Senate, his office retained as outside counsel GrayRobinson’s George Levesque, who Cannon described as a “lawyer’s lawyer” and noted the implications of Levesque’s success in that unique legal issue. “[Levesque] was the right guy for that high-stakes assignment and he got a favorable result for the Governor, which is certainly something we’re proud of,” Cannon said. Although government relations and the law are separate practices in nature, GrayRobinson occupies the intersection between the two subjects to the advantage of its clients. Jason Unger, Tallahassee Managing Shareholder with GrayRobinson, noted that the firm’s lobbyists and lawyers can work “hand-in-hand” on complexities like procurement matters or beverage regulatory issues, something for which the firm fetches national acclaim. “Working through the lobbying process, sometimes we find legal solutions that we can incorporate into that strategy,” Unger said, adding that a solution for a client could pivot to a legal matter, like challenging an administrative rule that’s to the detriment of the client’s business. Looking ahead, Cannon highlighted the firm’s international direction. They’ve recently added a group of intellectual-property attorneys to focus on international business in South America, Asia and Europe. As for the immediate future of the 2020 Session, Cannon advised: “You never know what the sleeper issue is of the Session until you get there.”


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PHOTO: MaryBeth Tyson

L-R: Elnatan Rudolph, Carlos Cruz, Cesar Fernandez, Jonathan Kilman, Paul Lowell, and Mario Bailey.




Converge Every once in a while, a new lobbying firm comes along and disrupts the Florida government affairs landscape. Usually, it’s because a lobbyist is close to someone in power. That’s not the case for Converge Government Affairs. “Rather than wait for a magic moment that a few lucky firms have, we acted as if it happened,” founder Jonathan Kilman said. “We realized that if we put together extraordinary people, focus on complex

issues and bring our collective relationships to the table, we could both grow quickly and deliver top-tier results.” Converge has accomplished that and more. Compensation reports show rising revenues and a growing list of clients, with a heavy emphasis on innovation and tech. Lyft, Papa, Eaze, Hims, Zillow, Firefly, Revel, Reef, Starsky Robotics and Magic Leap have all signed on in the first year. Like the clients they represent, Converge does business differently — thinking and implementing ideas globally rather than just within the bubble. “Converge is not just a lobbying firm that represents the technology industry. They are in the technology industry,” Sen. Jeff Brandes said. But firms are measured on results, which Converge produces in spades. The firm has been a driving force on autonomous vehicle and ridesharing legislation. Converge also has navigated thorny agency issues for its healthcare clients. “They are everywhere, especially in emerging industries. While most firms just focus on solving problems, Converge lobbyists are looking beyond the horizon to create opportunities for their clients,” said Rep. Mike LaRosa. “That’s rare.”

Like most things in politics, it’s all about the people. And Kilman has been a magnet for top-tier talent. After building the firm’s foundation with partner Paul Lowell and seasoned Capitol veteran Carlos Cruz, things got fun. Converge added rising superstars Cesar Fernandez and Mario Bailey. Government affairs veterans Brad Nail and Craig Hagen followed. That is just half of it. Converge expanded into public affairs services with the founding of affiliate firm Converge GPS. It boasts an impressive roster of its own. Fundraising star Nancy Texeira signed on as a partner and built a support team including phenoms Matt Yost and Christina Bonarrigo Villamil. Ben Pollara, known for leading the successful medical marijuana referenda battle, joined as a partner and recently recruited his deputy, Raymer Maguire. Tech savvy political operative Elnatan Rudolph rounds out GPS’s partner ranks. Rapid growth, client results and highly talented people. That’s why Converge Government Affairs is this year’s award-winner for Best New Firm.






RSA Consulting RSA Consulting takes the prize for Best Boutique Lobbying Firm in 2019, a year that also marks a decade of deepening ties and reach for the Tampa-based company. Its five-member team works on behalf of some of the most visible players on the Tampa Bay scene, including the Tampa Bay Lightning, Amalie Arena, Pepin Distributing and the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. The firm prides itself on individualized customer service and commitment, said Ron Pierce, who founded RSA in 2009. “We don’t want to be just an insurance policy,” Pierce said. “We want to be seen as an extension of their staff.” RSA added 15 clients in 2019, 12 related to state government and three to local government, bringing its local, state and national client list to 60. RSA helped win significant state funds this year, starting with a $2.5 million appropriation for the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority. Sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, $1.5 million for operations costs represents TBARTA’s first boost since the agency was upgraded from a local to a regional planning authority. The remaining $1 million will back feasibility studies, including “hyperloop” technology, or pressurized magnetic tubes capable of carrying passengers at the speed of sound. Various models, by Elon Musk and others, have been floating around for several years. The Hyperloop


Alpha concept, published in Genesis in 2013, would cover the 350 miles from the Los Angeles region to the San Francisco Bay Area in 35 minutes. A conceptual hyperloop design along the Interstate 4 corridor would allow travel between Tampa and Orlando in less than 30 minutes, which is still pretty darned fast. “Ron and the RSA team have been invaluable to TBARTA,” said David Green, the agency’s executive director. “He is very well respected in Tallahassee and quickly introduced me to the Tampa Bay delegation, which supported our appropriations request last year. I look forward to working with Ron on other legislative needs and am hopeful for another successful session.” RSA Consulting also helped persuade Legislators to approve $1 million for Northside Behavioral Health Center in Tampa. The money underwrites crisis stabilization beds typically accommodating Baker Act patients. This alert work comes as local, state and federal authorities signal interest in expanding mental health services. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is opening a proactive unit that will keep up with past Baker Act patients, a move Sheriff Chris Nocco called “definitely the wave of the future.” In October, Mary Mayhew, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary, announced that the agency was

“on the front lines” of coordinating with Gov. Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis in the Hope for Healing Florida initiative, a multi-agency mental health and substance abuse campaign. Similarly, First Lady Melania Trump backs the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) Act, which seeks to reduce opioid use during pregnancy and recognize early childhood issues related to substance abuse. Some of those crises could potentially be addressed through Florida’s Marchman Act. Of course, Legislators are bombarded all day long with worthy causes. To break through, Pierce sees clients as stories that need to be told. “The reason these organizations hire a firm like RSA,” Pierce said, “is because it’s our responsibility to establish relationships with elected officials to make sure they know the story of each one of our clients — who they are, what they do, and more importantly, what their issues are. We become their eyes and ears, and hopefully their voice in Tallahassee.” One story can connect legislators with thousands more. Certainly that’s the case with United Way Suncoast, a client RSA has been backing in Tallahassee. The 10-county region takes on massive projects, from early literacy reading programs to workforce development job training programs and veterans issues.





PHOTO: MaryBeth Tyson

Anfield Consulting Companies shopping for a lobbyist face no shortage of options in Tallahassee. There are small firms specializing in niche industries and large firms that can attack an issue with a dozen-plus advocates. Many times, the decision comes down to the kind of service a principal is looking for. Anfield Consulting provides the best of both worlds. When their clients hire them, they get the hands-on customer service one would expect from a smaller firm, but with the political connections, experience, success rate and force of a much bigger shop. It also helps that their team is made up of some of the most well-liked, downto-earth people in the process. In 2019, founder Albert Balido, Frank Bernardino, Natalie Fausel, Edgar Fernandez and Stephen “Pepper” Uchino — who has since taken over as President of the Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association — secured millions in funding for their clients. Among their many wins: $13 million for the implementation of projects to protect the Florida Keys and springs; $5 million to protect the Indian River Lagoon and the Loxahatchee River and to improve water quality in the nearshore communities off St. Augustine; and $1 million for the continued cleanup of Osborne Reef in Broward County. Their success wasn’t limited to line items, either. They helped usher several substantive bills through the Legislature, including legislation to implement regional water storage aimed at reducing harmful discharges to the Lake Worth Lagoon and a bill to limit the application of biosolids on Indian River County lands. Though many of Anfield Consulting’s accomplishments in the 2019 Legislative Session were on the water-quality front — they are known as the “water quality guys,” after all — the firm isn’t a one-trick pony.

Balido and the team played a key role in passing the most substantive criminal justice reform package in years, much to the delight of Florida Policy Institute and the SPLC Action Fund. In the health care silo, they were able to obtain a funding bump for mental health services and substance abuse programs for the second year in a row. Put simply, Anfield Consulting punches well above their weight class and stretches the definition of the word “boutique.”








From increasing school safety to working to reduce prescription drug costs, Ron LaFace had a hand in some of the biggest issues of the 2019 Legislative Session. An owner of Capital City Consulting, LaFace is considered an expert in everything from insurance and education to transportation and taxes. And he’s the go-to guy when clients need something done. “It means a lot to (Capital City Consulting) that Ron is receiving some well-deserved recognition for all his years of hard work,” said Nick Iarossi, the other owner of Capital City Consulting. LaFace was involved in several hot-button issues, including legislation to implement recommendations made by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. Working on behalf of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents and a variety of school districts, LaFace assisted in implementing the most recent recommendations, which included additional mental health resources and an expanded school guardian program. Working in the education arena is a natural fit for LaFace, who worked for the Department of Education while attending law school at Florida State University. And in 2019, education measures were among the most challenging issues LaFace tackled. Take for example a push to require school districts to share referendum revenue with charter schools. The referendums are approved for a four-year period, and revenues are used to hire new teachers or begin new programs authorized by the voters. The revenue sharing proposal was a top priority in the House, and some legislative leaders wanted referendum revenue sharing to begin in July 2019. That move would have meant many school districts around the state would have had to 92 | INFLUENCE WINTER 2020

PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson

Ron LaFace

begin revenue sharing in the middle of the four-year period. LaFace and his team, along with a variety of other interested groups, fought to make sure that wouldn’t happen. In the final days of the 2019 session, language was added that stipulated the revenue sharing would go into effect when a referendum went back to the voters. Education wasn’t the only big challenge LaFace took on in 2019. He worked on a variety of healthcare issues, including initiatives aimed at reducing prescription drug prices and improving health-related transportation. And with another healthcare-focused

Session on the horizon, look for LaFace to continue to be involved in efforts to curb prescription drug prices and increase the availability of ambulance services for those in need. “Grind is what separates Ron from every other lobbyist in the Capitol. No one will outwork him. He’s not flashy, you don’t see him coming,” said Iarossi. “What you see is the “result of his in-the-trenches’ style at the end of Session. He’s wildly successful because he knows the issues better than anyone else and then works into the wee hours every night.”




PHOTO: Mark Wallheiser

Heather Turnbull Heather Turnbull’s biggest accomplishment of the year came when the firm she has called home for the better part of two decades rebranded to include her name on the plaque. The move was a recognition of her success in the lobbying field as well as a bet that she’ll have staying power in the years to come. Based on the past couple of years, that’s a good wager. Turnbull is well-known for her work ethic, but her stock has risen considerably alongside that of Senate President Bill Galvano, and for good reason. Turnbull was an early, consistent and almost singular adviser to Galvano, and when he took the reins following the 2018 elections, Turnbull’s priorities got his attention. But every rising House Speaker, Senate President and Governor comes to power with an entourage, and many of the people close to them find success while their guy is in power only for it to vanish after they leave office. That’s not the case for Turnbull. Where some have used their connections to push through an issue or two by brute force, she hasn’t. Whatever favoritism she has received, she has handled masterfully, instead using it to build solid relationships with lawmakers and leaders who will hold power in the years to come. That certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed within her firm, hence her elevation to Managing Partner at the newly renamed Rubin Turnbull & Associates. Even more so, it hasn’t gone unnoticed among the other top lobbyists roaming the Capitol. “Heather is at the top of her game in a very competitive field. Her ability to elegantly combine politics, policy and relationships make her an extremely formidable person to compete against,” said Nick Iarossi of Capital City Consulting. “Perhaps the best thing about Heather though is her heart. She puts every ounce of her heart into her work and for her clients while in the Capitol, but also has a big heart as a human being outside of the Capitol. Congratulations Heather! You deserve this honor.” WINTER 2020 INFLUENCE | 93






The push for HB 7103 Sports players become legends for their actions under pressure in the final moments of competition. In the Florida Legislature, government relations professionals can and should be celebrated for similar feats. That’s why lobbyist Alan Suskey is the subject of INFLUENCE Magazine’s Lobbying Play of the Year. He’s responsible for consequential language tacked onto sweeping development legislation (HB 7103) in the 11th hour of the 2019 Legislative Session. Via an amendment, Suskey successfully eliminated what developers have described as a financial incentive for frivolous lawsuits. More specifically, the language — which became law on July 1 — made all parties in a challenge to a development order subject to paying the prevailing party’s legal fees. Before, losing parties like environmental groups were not held responsible if a municipality successfully fought a legal challenge. “We’ve heard from some developers privately that this is probably the single largest positive change in growth management and reduction in bureaucracy in the state of Florida in decades,” Suskey said. Before this year, Suskey said, developers “around the state have been stifled by environmental groups whose only interest in the development is to completely delay and stop the project.” Suskey said that commercial interests — after taking all the necessary bureaucratic steps to align a project with criteria like municipal code and comprehensive plans — were often met with frivolous lawsuits that had little, if any, “legal grounds to stand on.” The lawsuits would typically challenge local governments’ approval of the projects, forcing county and city attorneys to handle the problem. But “the issue for the developer is once the lawsuit


comes into play, you can’t develop your property,” Suskey said. And in the absence of any statutory repercussions, attorneys and activist organizations were encouraged to challenge development — even if they didn’t have a case. In 2018, a developer with interests in Pinellas County began working with Suskey, President of Suskey Consulting, to try to curb the number of lawsuits brought against development interests. “We took a long, hard look at what is potentially enticing these people to file these frivolous lawsuits,” Suskey said. “The biggest incentive that we found was that there is no financial consequence whatsoever for filing a frivolous lawsuit.” After identifying that problem and articulating it to influential lawmakers over the course of a year, Suskey brought leadership to a consensus that it was indeed an issue. The late change, added to the development legislation as it was deliberated on the floors of the House and Senate, drew criticism from environmental groups like 1000 Friends of Florida, which told the Florida Phoenix in May that the amendment would “end citizen-initiated and landowner-initiated [planning] challenges in the state of Florida.” But Suskey maintained that it merely evened the playing field between commercial and activist interests, requiring the latter to carefully consider legal merit before taking action. “We’re not telling anyone that they shouldn’t sue or can’t sue. Every citizen should have access to the courts — that’s a fundamental right in our country,” Suskey said. “But you also shouldn’t be on the hook for frivolous lawsuits if you’re simply a business owner trying to make a business decision based on your private property rights.”

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PHOTO: Mark Wallheiser


Bill Rubin and Heather Turnbull, Tallahassee.






A Lasting Partnership

One of the top lobbying plays of the year came early on when, in January, the Rubin Group elevated longtime partner Heather Turnbull to Managing Partner and rebranded as Rubin, Turnbull & Associates.The move was certainly reflective of the firm’s dynamic.As firm founder Bill Rubin shifted focus to business growth and mentoring the up-and-comers on the lobbying roster, Turnbull took point on the lobbying operations. And the honor was merited, not given.“Naming Heather as our managing partner and rebranding the firm to reflect her integral role was nothing more than simply what she had earned and deserved,” Rubin told INFLUENCE.“Time and again Heather has proven she has one of the sharpest political minds and is one of the best in this business. Our last 16 years working together have been immensely successful, and I believe our future potential is limitless.”But the name change was also significant: It


was one of the first premier lobbying firms to print a woman’s name on its shingle.That didn’t go unnoticed in the Tallahassee lobbying scene. While it was certainly a noteworthy accomplishment to Turnbull as well, she describes the decision as emblematic of the veteran lobbyist who has fostered her career since 2003. “Bill truly has been a pioneer in this industry. When many other firms in Tallahassee boasted rosters of only men, Bill broke the mold and provided me with an incredible opportunity to grow in this field,” said Turnbull, who has been with the firm for more than half of its history. “I am privileged to be working alongside someone like him who has not only encouraged and mentored me, but who continues to support and empower our mostly female staff every day. I know that as Bill and I continue to lead this firm together, we will achieve many more great things on behalf of our clients.”

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Ron Book One of Florida’s most influential lobbyists runs a lean business deep in institutional knowledge and, more importantly, the trust of Legislators and scores of clients. His firm, Ronald L. Book, P.A., employs just three people, including himself, but it has outperformed far larger outfits for years. That’s why Ron Book has earned a Golden Rotunda Award as the Appropriations Lobbyist of the Year. The recognition confirms what his colleagues already knew, that Book’s work ethic and decades of experience make him a formidable competitor. “Nobody gets up earlier or goes to bed later than Ron Book,” said Steven Vancore, who heads VancoreJones Communications. “He is a tireless and fearless advocate for his clients and the results of his work speak for themselves.” The numbers certainly do. Book’s firm took in between $1.8 million and $3.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2018, tops in the state, according to the Sun-Sentinel.

PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson

The second-largest earner in the fourth quarter, lobbying firm Ballard Partners, employs 18 lobbyists. “While we do have a large volume, we’re small on purpose,” said Kelly Mallette, who with lobbying partner Rana Brown and their boss, also made Book’s firm the state’s third-highest earner in the previous quarter. “Because, quite frankly, we trust our instincts and we trust the way we all work together and the way we set the strategy. And we think that that gives the clients the kind of personal attention they want and need.” The journey started 40 years ago when Book, a lawyer, started working with the House of Representatives. He learned that the best lobbyists have no more than five or six minutes to make their case to Legislators, so you had better know the issues backward and forward. “But then you’ve really got to figure out, how can I fit this issue into the political philosophy of who you’re talking to, into their priorities,” Mallette said. “How can you demonstrate that what you’re asking for aligns with their principles?” On that front, Book as an unparalleled reputation for understanding the intricacies of appropriations, to the benefit of nonprofits ranging from Best Buddies International, Citizens for Responsible Pet Ownership and the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and The Buoniconti Fund. Based in Aventura and Tallahassee, Book’s firm represents more than 100 clients, including the Miami Dolphins, since 1982. Over a career commuting between Tallahassee and South Florida, he devoted most of his free time to his three children. He is a founding chair and member of Lauren’s Kids, the organization founded by Sen. Lauren Book, a nationally known authority on childhood sexual abuse and Ron’s eldest daughter. His love for politics “shows in everything he does, from the work to when you are having a moment where you’re conversing in the elevator,” Mallette said. He has rewarded his partners during the uphill sprint of Legislative Sessions with barbecue and cupcakes, sometimes shipped from other states. “Just like he’s looking to do the best job, he’s always looking for the best in barbecue, the best in pizza, the best in ice cream, the best in chocolate chip cookies,” Mallette said. And when the deadlines run shortest and the challenges steepest, the trio operates by this succinct mantra: “It can be done.”

Chris Schoonover If you need help navigating the appropriations process, Chris Schoonover is your man. Schoonover, a partner at Capital City Consulting, is known throughout the capital city as a tireless advocate for his clients’ budget requests. Often described as clear, concise and organized, Schoonover excels at making a compelling case on behalf of his clients’ needs. That’s especially challenging because of limited resources and the high number of competing interests. The projects Schoonover – a former House staff attorney who previously worked at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Governor’s Office under Jeb Bush – advocates for are in direct competition with a wide variety of funding requests. Need an example of his budget prowess? Look no further than the 2019 Legislative Session. Schoonover helped secure $26.8 million in base-level funding increases for Florida International University, Florida Atlantic University and New College of Florida. His ability to secure the final allotment of New College of Florida growth funding has been touted as one of his most significant achievements during the 2019 Session because it will allow the





college to grow by about 400 students. He also worked to secure $2 million in Alzheimer’s research funding at UF Health and $500,000 for the Loggerhead Marine Life Center for an education facility and blue-green algae research, plus critical care fund dollars for safety-net hospitals and funding for Florida Healthy Kids so it can offer CHIP benefits to enrollees. “We see hundreds of participants in the appropriations process. You would be hard-pressed to find someone more organized and laser-focused than Chris Schoonover,” said Rep. Travis Cummings, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “While he is ribbed for his elaborate spreadsheets, such traits contribute to the successes of him and his firm.”




YEAR It has been a long road for criminal justice reform advocates, but lawmakers are finally starting to look at the state’s criminal code with a fresh set of eyes. Culture and history are playing their parts — most Floridians want the state’s criminal justice system to focus more on rehabilitation than punitiveness. But without experts guiding the discussion, doing so is a nebulous undertaking. Enter Chelsea Murphy and Greg Newburn. Murphy, the Florida State Director for Right on Crime, and Newburn, the Florida State Director at the Families Against Mandatory Minimums, have been working with lawmakers to roll back some of the most damaging tough-on-crime laws on the books. “In an often-difficult environment around criminal justice reform, Greg and Chelsea lead from the front time and time again,” lobbyist Alan Suskey said. “They are tireless champions for the causes and people they believe in.” They saw success in the 2019 Legislative Session with the passage of the Florida First Step Act. The bill was by no means perfect — Murphy and Newburn both advocated for more ambitious reforms, such as more judicial discretion in drug crime sentencing, allowing inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes to be released after completing 65% of their sentence rather than 85%, and retroactive re-sentencing for those handed prison time when state laws were tougher on certain offenses. They also had a powerful champion in the Legislature, St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes, backing those reforms. Still, it was a big first step, upping the felony threshold from $300 to $750 and making it easier for felons to get professional licenses that allow them to obtain better jobs. And it was only a first step. The pair have been hard at work in the state Capitol rallying lawmakers behind the reforms they didn’t secure in 2019. Odds are, they’ll get them.


Greg Newburn Chelsea Murphy

Heading into the 2020 Legislative Session, Senate Budget Chief Rob Bradley has taken up the mantle with a bill that would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences

for many drug crimes. Newburn says it’s another “modest step” in the right direction, but it would still be the largest Florida’s ever taken.

PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson


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Alan Suskey Alan Suskey has emerged as one of the Florida lobbying industry’s biggest champions for criminal justice reform. His firm, Suskey Consulting, is working on four ongoing issues aimed at positively affecting current and former inmates as well as to benefit the state. “This is a growing area of bipartisan interest,” Suskey said. “When you meet with the folks that are affected by these different laws and programs, it becomes deeply personal. It’s become very bipartisan where it wasn’t necessarily that way before. When you see the real impact of these things on people’s lives, you just can’t help but to get passionate about it.” Suskey is working with three clients on major criminal justice issues. The first is the Florida Public Defender’s Association. That group isn’t seeking anything too specific but seeks to inform policymaking decisions that ensure defendants have access to indigent defense services. Suskey’s firm works with the group on budget and policy issues. He’s also working with the Innocence Project, a group that seeks justice for people found to have been wrongfully convicted of a crime and to pass legislation to reduce instances of those wrongful convictions in the first place. With Suskey’s help, the group is working on legislation that would incorporate “recording of custodial interrogation,” which would require law enforcement officers to video record suspect interviews. The goal is to eliminate scenarios where investigators claim a suspect confessed to a crime. The recordings would provide proof as to whether or not they did confess and also offer evidence proving whether or not the confession was legally valid. Suskey is also working to reform how individuals who were wrongly convicted are compensated. Under Florida’s current laws, a person can receive up to $50,000 per year, up to a total of $2 million, in compensation for the time they wrongfully served in prison. If an individual claims that money, they waive their right to file a civil suit for additional compensation. Under Suskey and the Innocence Project’s proposal, such wrongfully convicted individuals could file for state compensation and seek relief through a civil suit. The legislation would protect both the individual and the state by requiring the payout from the state to be reimbursed from the civil suit payout. Under that plan, wrongfully convicted persons could seek the maximum possible compensation without it caus-

ing additional financial burden to the state through what some may see as double-dipping. “It’s really a win-win for the wrongfully convicted and the state,” Suskey said. It would remove the risk factor involved with seeking a civil suit by providing immediate relief, but still allow an individual to seek more substantive compensation for the time they lost behind bars. Suskey is also working with Sen. Jeff Brandes to expand the already implemented education and training program for incarcerated individuals. Under the Florida Hires program, inmates have access to vocational training and certification programs to make them job-ready when they are released from prison. “That is generally the best way to reduce recidivism,” Suskey said. The program is in its second year. Suskey is working with Brandes to increase access to more Florida inmates. In another effort, Suskey is working with the group Secure Democracy to increase voter access under Amendment 4. The group is working with lawmakers, under Suskey’s guidance, to make changes to the Legislature’s implementing language last year that ties restoration of voting rights for ex-felons to financial fines and fees imposed by their sentence.






For John Holley, the biggest legislative challenge of 2019 also netted the biggest win. Holley, the Vice President of state government affairs at Florida Power & Light, played a critical role in the passage of legislation that, among other things, requires utility companies to file storm protection plans. Signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis in June, the law enables utility companies across the state to invest billions of dollars into infrastructure to better prepare for future storms. The law builds on the lessons learned during recent storms, focusing in particular on putting electrical infrastructure underground. Floridians were significantly impacted during recent hurricane seasons. Hurricane Irma knocked out power to more than 6.7 million Floridians, or about 67% of customer accounts in the state. It took more than a week for power to be fully restored after the storm. Holley shepherded the legislation through the Process, navigating through a variety of competing interests actively engaged in energy policy throughout the state. His commitment to taking every member, question and concern seriously led to the nearly unanimous approval of the storm protection legislation in both the House and Senate. While the passage of the storm protection plan might have been the crowning moment of the 2019 Legislative Session, FPL is setting its sights on new ground in 2020. In July, DeSantis announced the state would begin outfitting at least seven of the eight Florida Turnpike service plazas with fast-charging and Tesla charging stations. The move was meant to encourage more drivers to switch to electric. FPL is already working in the field, launching an electric vehicle charging initiative in September. The initiative aims to significantly increase electric vehicle charging infrastructure across the state. Look for Holley and his team to help shape the dialogue about electric vehicles during the upcoming Legislative Session, especially as those vehicles become more and more prevalent throughout Florida.


PHOTOS: Mary Beth Tyson

John Holley



YEAR It’s no surprise Robert Coker is considered one of the best in the business. Coker, the Senior Vice President for public affairs at U.S. Sugar, has spent 37 years with the company, becoming a steadfast advocate for the agriculture industry and a respected member of the state’s lobby corps. His commitment to the industry, and the rural communities it supports, was once again reflected in Coker’s legislative work. When it became clear that water quality and Everglades restoration would be a top priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis, Coker seized the opportunity to continue to pro-

Robert Coker mote the work the agriculture community does to encourage sustainability and protect the environment. He worked tirelessly to promote economic development and economic opportunity in rural communities and was instrumental in securing disaster relief for citrus growers. He touted the important role South Florida farmers play in sustaining communities, often highlighting the abundance of crops — from sugarcane and green beans to sweet corn and lettuce — grown in the region. A strong defender of Florida farmers and their property rights, Coker used the 2019 Legislative Session to promote the in-

dustry throughout the Capitol. As a member of the Florida Chamber of Commerce Board of Governors, Coker worked with business groups across the state to advance policies that support the thousands upon thousands of jobs tied to agriculture. Coker’s strong commitment to the agriculture community doesn’t stop at the steps of the Capitol. He is a member of the Florida Sugar Cane League, where he serves on the board; the Palm Beach County Economic Council; the Economic Council of Martin County and the Clewiston Chamber of Commerce.



Kelly Cohen



YEAR If there’s a big new development in Orlando, Kelly Cohen is probably not far away. The lobbyist, strategist, fundraiser, and partner and chief marketing officer for The Southern Group has leveraged decades of close relationships with Orlando’s top leaders to help direct The City Beautiful’s development at a time of almost unparalleled economic and cultural flourishing. Cohen is the Local Lobbyist of the Year. In 2019, her big achievement was the behindthe-scenes advocacy that led to the $20 million federal U.S. Department of Transportation grant for Orlando’s burgeoning, tech-oriented Lake Nona community. The grant, which is the first of its kind for Central Florida, will support planning, design and construction of a Local Alternative Mobility Network in Lake Nona, including infrastructure for autonomous vehicles and a bicycle transportation network. She also continues to be a key player with Orlando City Soccer’s success in transforming Orlando into a soccer city despite the club’s recent disappointments on the pitch. She helped land this year’s Major League Soccer All-Star Game and is a leader in efforts to bring World Cup 2026 to Orlando. Her relationships with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings run deep and professional. She has worked for both and played at least key behind-the-scenes consulting roles on Dyer’s 2019 swamping of two opponents to win reelection a fifth time, following up Demings’ easy 2018 mayoral election against multiple candidates. Neither needed runoffs. “I have watched Kelly grow into a successful businesswoman and community leader,” Dyer said. “She is well respected for her ability to build relationships and partnerships to get results. She is strategic, solution-oriented and works tirelessly on her clients’ behalf One of her best attributes is that she always finds a way to uplift everyone around her. We’re lucky to have her in Orlando.” She also remains highly active in the community. Cohen sits on the Board of Directors for the Orlando Economic Partnership, Creative City, Starter Studio and Orlando Children’s Trust. She’s also on the board of advisers for Clean the World and is co-chair with Ted Maines for the Paws for Peace walk in 2020 to benefit the Harbor House Animal Shelter.






PHOTOS: Mary Beth Tyson

Louis Betz Louis Betz runs one of the state’s most productive boutique lobbyist firms. But what many people don’t know was that he has been doing it despite overcoming a potentially fatal illness. This year was Betz’s comeback. He was diagnosed in 2013 with a terminal lung disease. The only way to save his life was a double lung transplant, which Betz received in late 2018. Despite what was a massive recovery, Betz and his partner, Travis Mitchell, signed 17 clients this year, only six fewer than the previous year. Those clients include what has been Betz’s bread and butter for years — the red light camera firm American Traffic Solutions and taxi companies. But it also includes organizations that work for a variety of charitable causes, including the Tampa Italian Club and the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. “He does a whole lot for the Crisis Center. He was really concerned about women and he just wanted to protect every single girl in this whole state,” said Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen Peters, who has worked with and known Betz for years. “He is loyal. He is dependable. He is incredibly community-minded.

He is a visionary; any adjective that is positive describes him.” But since Betz’s transplant, he has taken on a personal cause. “Ever since he got his transplant, he has been on a mission,” said Sen. Ed Hooper of his longtime acquaintance. “He is passionate about transplant issues.” Betz is now fighting to make the transplant process more equitable in Florida. It’s an issue he learned about first hand. In an interview with Florida Politics after his successful transplant, Betz lamented problems with federal changes to organ procurement policies that he said don’t favor Florida. “These changes have resulted in organ procurement change from a 500-mile radius to a 250-nautical mile radius, but Florida is 160 miles wide by 500 miles long. This is a huge problem for people awaiting transplants,” Betz said in November 2018. He began working and is still fighting to increase Florida’s representation in the United Network of Organ Sharing, which he said disproportionately favors other regions of the country. Betz’s battle transformed him from an already successful and powerful lobbyist into one who is now a force to be reckoned with as a result of his new lease on life. To those who deal with him in Tallahassee, he is a respected lobbyist who fights when he needs to but backs off when he doesn’t. “Sometimes he’ll just call and say thanks for taking a stand. He doesn’t bother you if he doesn’t need to,” Hooper said.





PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson



Brad Burleson, Stephanie Smith, Chris Schoonover It seems like every Legislative Session there’s a new disruptive industry looking to secure a statewide regulatory framework. Rarely does it happen on the first try. It took four years for ridesharing companies to get a bill through the Legislature. Vacation rental companies are still operating on a patchwork system while they await a true statewide solution. For scooters, it was one and done. Brad Burleson of Ballard Partners, Chris Schoonover of Capital City Consulting and Stephanie Smith of Uber — the parent company of scooter outfit JUMP — made it look easy, too. Heading into 2019, county and municipal governments were grappling with how to handle what seemed like an invasion of battery-powered rental scooters. While they provided a much-needed solution in first mile/last mile transportation, they were also clogging sidewalks and, in some cases, posing a danger to pedestrians. In more than a few communities, the disruptive industry was the bad kind of disruptive.

But unlike the cab companies-vs.-rideshare or hotels-vs.-vacation rental battles, there was no entrenched interest fighting against the growing scooter rental industry. There was just an antiquated state law that barred scooters from operating on roads. The solution was elegantly simple: regulate them the same way as bicycles. But municipal governments were still concerned about how many scooters would be within their borders and how safety issues, such as hurricanes, would be handled. At one point, the bill would have blocked local governments from imposing any regulations whatsoever, which had the potential to shift the debate into another front in the home rule war. But Burleson, Schoonover and Smith weren’t baited into losing focus. Instead, scooter companies pledged to play nice with cities and accept local regulation. All they aimed for was the change allowing scooters to jump off the sidewalk and onto the asphalt. Thanks to their navigation, more than a few Floridians can get from the bus stop to work with time to spare.






Adam Giery Adam Giery knows a thing or two about education. Now the Managing Partner at Strategos Group, Giery got his start in the classroom. A former American history and government teacher, he got out of teaching and into politics because he wanted to be a “vested stakeholder in the decision-making process.” “As clichéd as this may sound, I committed my life to the field of education, and while I loved my classroom, the ability to work at a systemic level developing public policy is truly unique,” he said in a 2019 interview with Florida Politics. His commitment to education has paid dividends. While serving as a gubernatorial fellow under Gov. Rick Scott, Giery helped develop “Finish UP, Florida,” the state’s first online adult degree completion program. As the director of education, talent and quality of life policy at the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Giery helped shaped education policy to ensure Florida has a talented workforce for years to come. With a diverse roster of clients, ranging from the Committee for Children to Project Lead the Way, Giery has worked to advance


a host of student-focused priorities during his time at Strategos. “Adam is able to connect with people on a deeper level, even if only knowing that person for a short period of time,” said Andrew Ketchel, a partner at Capital City Consulting. “That trait, coupled with his policy prowess makes him an exceptional advocate for his clients. I’m proud to call him a friend.”





PHOTOS: Mary Beth Tyson

Patricia Levesque Patricia Levesque is not only one of the great minds in Florida policy but in national education policy. The CEO for the Foundation for Excellence in Education and the Executive Director for the Foundation for Florida’s Future, each founded by Gov. Jeb Bush, Levesque leads the teams working to keep Florida as an education model for the nation while helping states at various levels of reform get on the path to success. She previously served as Bush’s Deputy Chief of Staff and served six years in the Florida Legislature in the Speaker’s Office and as staff director over education policy. Most recently, she served as a member of the 2017-2018 Constitution Revision Commission. “Patricia is involved for all the right reasons, with a genuine desire to improve student outcomes,” said Allison Aubuchon, President of Allison Aubuchon Communications and a former Foundation staffer. “It’s unmistakable when you speak with her. She doesn’t do it for the glory and is happy to support reformers behind the scenes — she’s a policy expert, historian and sounding board to champions throughout the nation. It’s always fascinating to listen to her discuss issues because she explains them so thoughtfully and passionately.” Levesque and her team have most recently helped lead the charge in advocacy and policy efforts such as expanding the opportunity for more Florida families to choose the right school for their child’s unique needs, ensuring students who earn high school certificates and training are truly prepared for a future in

college and the workforce, and sharing Florida’s successful policies in other states so every child in the nation has the chance to succeed in school and in life. “Agree or disagree with her position on policies, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with a better understanding of education policy or a better knowledge of Florida’s education history,” added Aubuchon. “She is an asset to our state.”




Before he was a lawyer and lobbyist, David Childs briefly worked as an engineer. Today, as an influencer in the environmental arena, Childs uses his problem-solving background to represent clients either looking to navigate Florida’s regulatory framework or solve issues facing one of the Sunshine State’s greatest attractions: its water. Childs, who has been with the Tallahassee law firm of Hopping Green & Sams for more than a decade, has what his peers describe as an unmatched understanding of the complex and attimes esoteric aspects of Florida’s environmental policy makeup. As Childs put it, “The more intractable the better.” Childs currently represents interests like domestic wastewater utilities, electric utilities and business organizations, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which is a leader in water-quality discussions in Tallahassee. Chamber Executive Vice President David Hart said Childs’ record of integrity and demonstrated understanding of science makes him well-respected in the legislative process. “David possesses the rare blend of both policy expertise and political savvy,” he told INFLUENCE. “You can usually find one or the other, but to have both is what makes him an invaluable member of the Florida Chamber team and such an effective advocate.” Childs is a go-to resource for Legislators and other policymakers, especially those focused on water-quality issues. In recent years, Childs has played a significant role in helping pass legislation like the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act. In 2018, Childs was one of the chief advocates for a successful bill that allowed the state to seek assumption of wetland-permitting responsibility from the Army Corps of Engineers, a move expected



YEAR to expedite the permitting process for developers while also retaining wetland protections. “David is a true triple threat: Substantive expertise, political savvy, and sharp insight,” said Eileen Stuart, now with Hopping Green & Sams after almost 10 years leading fertilizer giant Mosaic’s lobbying efforts in Tallahassee and Washington. “He is a valuable resource for so many decision-makers in The Process because he is uniquely able to translate his wide-ranging expertise into common-sense advice on a wide array of policy areas. He is truly one of the most effective communicators in The Process.” Childs specializes in policy but also contributes to and observes the yearly appropriations process, which in 2019 resulted in record spending — about $625 million — for Everglades restoration and water projects tailored toward preventing blue-green algae blooms. Gov. Ron DeSantis prioritized that spending in his first budget recommendation after his election. “Environmental policy under the DeSantis administration is going to, rightfully, be at the forefront over the coming years,” Childs said. In 2020, Childs is anticipating lawmakers will tackle policy recommendations from the Blue-Green Algae Task Force, a panel DeSantis spawned shortly after taking office. Childs will also be on the front lines of a push to bring residential septic tank owners to a sewer system, which could yield monumental benefits for Florida’s overall water quality. “We’ve got a lot of septic tanks and environmentally sensitive areas,” he said. “They need to be on centralized treatment because they’re part of the cause of some of the nutrient challenges that we have in waters where we’re having algae blooms.”

PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson

David Childs






Adam Basford Adam Basford, who grew up on a family hog farm outside of Marianna, knows how legislation can affect Florida’s farmers. In 2002, an amendment protecting pregnant sows easily passed in the Florida Legislature. Animal rights groups, many of them out of state, had backed the “pregnant pig” amendment, which outlawed gestation crates. But the state passed nothing to help farmers bring their operations into compliance. Basford Farms had to abandon its primary source of income. Faced with a $600,000 cost to make the transition, Basford’s relatives planted perennial peanut, a groundcover that can be used as hay, on land formerly used to produce pig feed. In 2010, Stephen Basford sued the state for “inverse condemnation,” seeking relief for extensive improvements he had made over the years to process 6,000 hogs. In 2013, an appellate court awarded Stephen Basford $505,000. By then Adam Basford was the legislative affairs director for the Florida Farm Bureau, which he had joined nine years earlier to advocate for farmers. He has done that and much more, successfully lobbying for a sales tax exemption for animal health products and farm equipment, Everglades restoration, agricultural education and training, and relief for farmers and ranchers hit hard by Hurricane Michael. Now his peers have recognized his work with a Golden Rotunda Award, naming Basford the runner-up for Environmental Lobbyist of the Year. That doesn’t surprise former Rep. Jake Raburn, who called Basford “just an incredible human of the best people I know.” “His family has been in agriculture for generations, and it’s clear that he’s passionate about what he does because of his background and because of where he comes from,” said Raburn, a former strawberry farmer who worked with Basford to sponsor a certification bill which has created a documented career path in agriculture. A seventh-generation Floridian, Basford joined the Farm Bureau in 2004, the same year he earned a master’s degree in agricultural communication from the University

of Florida. In a Tallahassee political culture that can reward hard partying, “Adam is a down-to-earth family man,” Raburn said, ”He cultivates real relationships with people. That’s more than a surface level, relationships that aren’t about where are we going to go in the evening after work is over.” He has moved up multiple times, serving as assistant director of agricultural policy and three years as national affairs director before his current position. He spends a lot of free time in outdoor activities with his children or advocating for kids from broken homes. “When Adam and I get together we talk about our families,” Raburn said. ”It’s still about cultivating those relationships that in the end are what make the difference.”





Nick Iarossi 114 | INFLUENCE WINTER 2020

Rarely does no action equal a big win – unless, of course, you represent gaming interests in the Sunshine State. With a client roster that includes pari-mutuels, a thoroughbred horse seller and a designated player game operator, Nick Iarossi worked tirelessly during the 2019 Legislative Session to ensure his clients’ interests were well-represented during discussions about the future of gambling in Florida. Sometimes considered someone who takes a 50,000-foot approach to strategy, Iarossi gets into the weeds when it comes to gambling. He can often be found researching and monitoring regulatory and industry developments, keeping himself up-to-date on the business relationships between pari-mutuels, different types of games and their profitability, and the constantly changing regulatory environment. That attention to detail gave Iarossi an edge in 2019, when legislative leaders once again attempted to craft a gambling deal that could have led to major changes in the industry. The effort would have, among other things, included a renewed revenue-sharing agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and opened the door for sports betting at the Seminole’s casinos. However, the proposal would have also taken away the ability to offer games currently offered by several of Iarossi’s clients. And a constitutional amendment requiring voter approval for any expansion of gambling in the state further complicated the landscape. With Bill Galvano – one of the architects of the original Seminole compact – wrapping up his term as Senate President, you can expect 2020 to be another busy year for Iarossi and his clients in Florida.

PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson



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Audrey Brown



In the health insurance thickets, there’s no better guide than Audrey Brown. Having a choice between at-home nursing care, memory care and other add-on services short of nursing homes seems like common sense today. But that wasn’t always the case. As recently as the 1980s, if you wanted long-term care, chances are your health insurer didn’t offer it — but your life insurer did. That situation led to an epidemic of underpricing that is only recently being addressed. Should a recent bill passed by the Florida Legislature prove a way out of the mess, the state will owe a debt of thanks to Brown, the Health Care Lobbyist of the Year. “The first thing that stands out about her is her energy and likeability,” said Nick Iarossi, a co-founder of Capital City Consulting in Tallahassee. “Very friendly, very outgoing. And then when you start getting into the issues with her, people are very impressed with her level of policy knowledge.” As President and CEO of the Florida Association of Health Plans, Brown and her team of lobbyists were well-positioned to argue for HB 673, which addressed recent insolvencies among long-term care insurers. She had served as chief of staff and chief policy adviser to Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty while managing the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. HB 673 was designed to kick in when a long-term insurer becomes insolvent — as most that wrote policies more than 30 years old likely will. The reason goes back to the life insurers writing long-term care, said Ron LaFace, Capital City’s other co-founder and the 2017 Health Care Lobbyist of the Year. “They thought people weren’t going to use them, that they were going to terminate the policies like they do for life insurance, where you have a 5 percent attrition rate where people just never claim the policies,” LaFace said. “But with long-term care, there was no attrition rate.” Life insurers sold off their products, but long-term health policies financed by cheap premiums were underwater. Under HB 673, health insurers would split the cost of long-term care with life insurers or annuities. “The policy made sense, and it was something the health insurers had to do because otherwise, they were going to bear the entire brunt of something that they never wrote,” LaFace said. While the bill took some heat from life insurers during the rollout, it ended up passing the House and Senate unanimously. “Health care and health insurance are very complex issues,” said Iarossi. “And the fact that Audrey has such a grasp of them, combined with her personality and likeability, really make her an effective advocate.” 116 | INFLUENCE WINTER 2020

PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson


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Known by her peers as a dedicated, knowledgeable and detail-driven advocate, Crystal Stickle has established herself as one of the most valuable legislative resources for Florida’s massive hospital network. Stickle in 2019 made the jump from Executive Vice President of the Florida Hospital Association to interim President after the retirement of longtime FHA President Bruce Rueben. Known as the “voice for Florida’s hospital community,” the FHA plays a premier role in The Process and advocates for an array of issues, from Medicaid financing and efficiency to quality of patient care and safety. While the FHA conducts a national search for a permanent replacement to Rueben, it’s relying on Stickle’s expertise and connections for the 2020 Legislative Session. What’s certainly helping the association and its priorities is Stickle’s solid reputation among influential lawmakers. Trilby Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson, who’s in line to lead the Senate after the 2020 Session, said Stickle’s advocacy centers on what “she believes in,” something that makes her unique. “Crystal not only knows every issue she lobbies for inside and out, but she is passionate about her members’ priorities,” Simpon said. “There is no one better in a fox hole than Crystal and I congratulate her on this recognition.”





Ashley Kalifeh When clients approach Ashley Kalifeh for insurance policy or legislative help, they would do well first to reflect on what they’re getting. Kalifeh, a graduate of Vanderbilt University and Florida State University’s law school, came to Capital City Consulting in 2013 by way of the Florida Department of Financial Services, where she served as Deputy Chief Financial Officer and Legislative Affairs Director. She has developed an expertise in diverse subjects that tend toward numerical values and data, such as property and casualty, auto and health insurance markets, education, banking and state contracting. And that just scratches the surface of what made Kalifeh, now a partner in the firm, our Insurance Lobbyist of the Year. “There is nobody out there who understands insurance policy issues and insurance regulatory issues better than Ashley,” said Capital City

PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson

Crystal Stickle

PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson

co-founder Nick Iarossi. “She is incredibly intelligent and also has a lot of institutional knowledge because of her background. So all of these very large national insurers we represent — the USAA’s, the Travelers, the Hartfords, those types of companies — really rely on her, not only to navigate the Legislature but also the executive branch.” Also a big fan of Kalifeh is Sen. Kathleen Passidomo. “Ashley is one of the best in the field,” said the Republican lawmaker. “She knows her issues and knows how government works. She can be trusted to present good information and present all sides of an issue while effectively advocating for her client’s position.” Research Kalifeh did on legal gamesmanship in insurance lawsuits was widely cited by proponents of HB 7065, which established some new ground rules sought by the client, the Florida Justice Reform Institute. The measure passed and is now state law. Under the new rules, a policyholder must give notice of intent to sue a property insurance carrier and to file a presuit demand. The insurer responds with a presuit settlement offer. If the suit moves forward, a court must later compare the final judgment obtained with the presuit offer and award attorney’s fees to one side or the other (or neither) according to a formula. The more closely the judgment approaches the defendant’s presuit offer, the greater the likelihood the plaintiff will bear all attorneys’ costs. At the same time, Kalifeh is a stickler on consumers’ behalf. She advocates that customers use a wide variety of risk mitigation tools to bring down their property insurance costs, from water leak detection sensors to temperature controls or a range of telemetrics that can bring an immediate benefit or aid companies in gathering data. When it comes to explaining to clients why it’s important to get tougher on legal maneuvers that tie up the courts, she said, “The biggest challenge is always communicating how the behavior we’re trying to address is driving losses, and thus, rates. A lot of people put a great deal of time into telling that story as it related to assignment of benefits, and our work on behalf of FJRI was part of that: Excessive litigation on the part of a small group of vendors and lawyers was driving costs up for everyone.”

Tim Meenan The assignment of benefits reform package was certainly the most consequential insurance legislation to come out of the 2019 Legislative Session, and it may well have been the most impactful bill across all policy arenas. It was certainly a win for lobbyist Tim Meenan, who has been on the front lines of the AOB debate for years. But AOB isn’t Meenan’s only policy concern. From workers comp to condo fire sprinklers, if there’s an insurance battle in the Legislature, chances are Meenan is driving the conversation. More often than not, he’s on the winning side. Part of that is because of his deep experience in the industry. Before he put out his shingle, Meenan worked in state government, overseeing the state’s Division of Risk Management and serving as executive assistant to the Florida Insurance Commissioner. While expertise is important, relationships are key to success in the lobbying field. And Meenan has shown a knack for that.




YEAR “He’s well respected by all of his peers in the insurance industry, and I would say he’s well respected by some of the people who are opposed to the reforms we advocate for,” said Alan Williams, a former state Legislator who now works for Meenan’s firm. “He doesn’t take himself too seriously, but he takes his work seriously. He’s a straight shooter.” Williams said Meenan’s blend of knowledge, approachability and work ethic drew him into the firm. Those same qualities have also enticed clients far and wide. Meenan’s client list reflects that. He represents companies that span every nook and cranny of the industry, from Asurion, which covers smartphones and home appliances, to MetLife, a multibillion-dollar corporation that offers life, home, dental and car insurance—and everything in between. “Tim is respected not only in Florida, but across the country. His work ethic doesn’t stop at the state line,” Williams said. WINTER 2020 INFLUENCE | 119





Jeff Sharkey and Taylor Biehl

When it comes to lobbying, Capitol Alliance Group’s Jeffrey Sharkey and Taylor Biehl are known for having green thumbs. Most cannabis-related policies and discussions in the past few years have borne the fingerprints of the two lobbyists. Through their firm and two associations, the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida (MMBAFL) and the Florida Hemp Association (FHA), Sharkey and Biehl have been, if not the chief facilitators, at least a part of the conversation of every major marijuana discussion in Tallahassee. “Jeff started working with us early on as we were considering a medical marijuana application .… Jeff kept us up to date on what we needed to know, and his advice gave us insight on what to include,” said Jamie Treadwell of Treadwell Nurseries, one of the earliest licensed medicinal cannabis vendors. “Jeff has always treated my family with the utmost respect and has always been helpful in sharing information and an ‘industry perspective.’ “I mean, Jeff was thinking about this field and working on it before most people. We saw that with medical marijuana, and we’re seeing that now with hemp. Jeff was researching it years before anybody else was even talking about it. So I feel like he’s always taken a leadership position, and he and his team have always cared about helping folks enter the market, giving them the tools to be successful.” Sharkey and Biehl created the MMBAFL as lawmakers in 2014 first backed the use of a low-potency strain of marijuana for patients with certain conditions. Since then, the two have been “central to the legislative and policy discussions” of the regulatory framework for medical marijuana, Sharkey said. “We are true, tried and tested in our abilities to successfully navigate the ever-growing and burgeoning cannabis industries,” Biehl said. The two noted that medical marijuana activity has hit a bit of a speed bump. The Florida Supreme Court has been asked to rule on the constitutionality of legislation guiding the expanded use and potency of medical marijuana backed by Florida voters in 2016. But as one aspect of the industry is in limbo, another side has the potential for seemingly unlimited growth. “While medical marijuana is on pause until either the Supreme Court rules or the Legislature comes back and tries to address it, the hemp industry is really burgeoning,” Sharkey said.

Biehl and Sharkey both helped craft language creating a statewide hemp program that was signed into law after the 2019 Session. That came two years after Sharkey and Biehl pushed the envelope on hemp by founding the FHA and authoring a hemp-pilot research plan for universities, which was signed into law in 2017. Sharkey said he expects the state to receive thousands of applications for hemp permits, and the many uses of hemp – from building materials to a wide range of cannabidiol (CBD) products – means hemp demand could quickly outpace that for medical marijuana. “You know, oftentimes lobbyists serve as intermediaries between the Legislature and the executive, and they’re – I would say – information conduits, oftentimes relaying opinions back and forth and in,” said state Rep. Ralph Massullo, a Lecanto Republican and dermatologist who sponsored last Session’s hemp bill in the House. “Jeff certainly fills that role very, very well.” He added that Sharkey “and the associations he has are able to not only help us here in Tallahassee, but they’ve reached out to growers and processors throughout the state and gotten them up to speed on rules. He came down to my district and he met with a group of farmers that I’d put together and explained hemp and what they were doing in the (Agriculture) Department even before the rules were released. He’s just been instrumental, I think, in moving the hemp agenda forward as he has with medical marijuana, as he has with Tesla and some of the other firms that he represents.” Indeed, cannabis, though a focus of Biehl and Sharkey’s work, is just one part of a larger theme of other unique clients and interests the two represent in Tallahassee. For example, they’ve also worked on behalf of tech entrepreneur Elon Musk’s Tesla and SpaceX companies, and they’ve also represented musician Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville enterprise. But hemp is of special interest to them. “It’s like the green rush again,” Sharkey said. “That industry, CBD industry, will be bigger than the marijuana industry.” Currently and in the near future, Sharkey and Biehl are helping those interested in the industry get a head start. “We’re trying to educate people and network resources from other states to help farmers understand the hemp business model: cultivation, processing, manufacturing.”



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What I’ve Learned

Nancy Detert 75, Venice Advocate for children and elders in the House and Senate, Sarasota County Commissioner, political peacemaker. INTERVIEWED BY MARGIE MENZEL

WHAT SHE’S MOST PROUD OF IN HER LEGISLATIVE CAREER: Well, I’ll tell you, I have exceeded my personal expectations. The Senate was just so great that I was able to accomplish a lot of things, and I’m really grateful for that. What I call my “obituary bill” is extending foster care from age 18 to 21. It’s something I tried in the House and couldn’t get done. It’s an expensive thing to do, but it’s so worth it. So I was able to get that done in the Senate, and everyone agrees it’s unfair to put foster kids out on the street on their 18th birthday. This way they have the option to stay ‘til 21, and that was a huge lift. And President Don Gaetz was nice enough to name the bill after me. So that is a huge honor. I’d say that’s my No. 1 issue. (Chuckles.) And we did about 10 other foster care bills, which helped get them a driver’s license, keep siblings together… so that was great. And then my final bill, the year I left, was the elder-care guardians bill, and I think that was very important, too. We were not protecting the elderly who are vulnerable to predatory guardianship. So I called that one the “They Took My Mom and They Won’t Give Her Back” bill. So we were able to develop under the Department of Elder Affairs a guardianship program – at the time, we didn’t even have an 800 number that you could call. This way, there are some protections that didn’t exist before and are very important. I did a couple of great veterans’ bills that I forgot I did until I got to spend more time at home. I did a bill so that veterans can bring their discharge papers to the driver’s license bureau to prove that they’re a veteran, and then they get a “V” on their driver’s license. So anytime there are discounts for veterans, it’s an easy way to prove you are a legitimate veteran… And then recently I was reminded that I did a bill on free parking at all our airports for disabled veterans.


PHOTO: Allison Lynn Photography

I have exceeded my personal expectations. The Senate was just so great that I was able to accomplish a lot of things, and I’m really grateful for that. WINTER 2020 INFLUENCE | 125

WHAT I’VE LEARNED So I think that was a pretty well-rounded list that tried to touch as many people as possible and made real changes that were helpful in people’s lives. WHETHER SHE’S SURPRISED TO SEE TROUBLES IN THE ELDER GUARDIANSHIP OFFICE SINCE SHE LEFT: No, because it was a growth industry, number one. And No. 2, I did the program in 2016. You had to have some time for implementation, and it has to be regulated in all 67 counties by the clerks of the court, and it was a role that they weren’t used to having. So there’s going to be some set-up stuff, and then you have to fund it. As long as someone who’s interested in the topic is sitting there watching it, it’ll happen. But because of term limits, I go and my replacement has a different agenda. And the next guy has a different agenda. And then they forget about things that were passed, and they don’t put the money in to implement it, and it’s a growth industry. So with those things in mind, what they probably need is a blatant case – and there are many of them – and they need to prosecute them and get some headlines on the topic so people know there is help out there. Because we do laws all the time and nobody knows we did them, and they don’t know what recourse they have for these kinds of offenses. HER ADVICE TO THE LEGISLATURE ON IMPROVING FLORIDA’S CHILD WELFARE SYSTEM: Well, that any case involving damaged children is going to be a headline-grabber, and the best way to prevent that is to, once again, fund it. But even funding it, we’re having trouble finding people that want to go into that career. To find enough caring caseworkers that want to go to college and then make $35,000-$40,000 to start — and then if a child dies, it’s all your fault — there aren’t too many people that want to sign up for that. While I was there, we tried to do some student loan forgiveness ideas…. We need to pay them better. It’s a big responsibility, and I hope the loan forgiveness program will help more people to look at that career. Caring caseworkers are what we need, and we need a lot of them. And then, on that same topic, after you go away, you hope that the next group won’t dismantle what you did, because it takes a long time to get these laws passed. We almost need a marketing department for the Legislature, to get the word out about good laws that were passed. You hear about people going to China and Russia to adopt kids when we have kids in foster care available for adoption 126 | INFLUENCE WINTER 2020

Maybe when they get tired of fighting, they’re going to want the peacemakers back to heal it all up again.

at any age. In fact, one of the things I support is adopting kids that have aged out of foster care, because they still have no family, nobody to celebrate holidays with, nobody to talk to on a personal level, to have that little safety net where you think you belong somewhere. So I wish that we would do a PR program on how people can help, because I know lots of caring people that want to help out in these areas, but they just don’t know there’s a need. ON LEAVING THE SENATE TWO YEARS EARLY AND RUNNING FOR THE SARASOTA COUNTY COMMISSION: I loved my time in the Senate, and in the eight years I was there, I felt I did as much as I could do. And I did not quit to run for the County Commission — I was quitting anyway. I did not sign up for a decade up there, but I did win the 10-year seat due to redistricting. I just really never planned on being there 10 years; I wanted to go home after eight. And then someone called me locally — after they already knew I was leaving the Senate — and they said, “Why don’t you run for County Commission?” So yeah, it was the absolutely right move because I get to live in my home, which I’ve been absent from for 16 years. I get to see the fruits of my labor in action. So it’s nice to ride by buildings and think, “I got them the money for that.” And I think I’m the only one that has landed in the County Commission – locally, in Sarasota, anyway – coming back from Senate rather than using the County Commission as a stepping stone to go up to the Senate. (Chuckles.) So it’s nice to be able to bring that experience, because as a Senator, one of the things I would tell county commissioners is, “You don’t communicate with the Legislature well enough.” I mean, everyone operates in their own little stovepipe, and intergovernmental agencies aren’t working with each other. They’d come up and ask for stuff, and I’d say, “We already passed a law about that.” They’d write a letter to a department person, and I’m like, “Why didn’t you just call me up?” Because I consider the local Senator to be your lobbyist in Tallahassee. If you need something, just call me. They were so busy going through the chain of command and writing letters that not enough was get-

ting done, because it goes pretty quick up there in a 60-day Session. And if there’s money available for water projects, it’s nice if we would communicate with our local people and say, “This is available – do you have a need for it? I’ll put in a request for money.” That kind of cooperation helps. And I still have those contacts, so locally I can go up to the Department of Transportation, meet with agency heads regarding local problems, and it’s a good working relationship. ON THE POLARIZATION OF POLITICS SINCE SHE LEFT THE LEGISLATURE: Well, frankly, when I left the Senate, there was a congressional seat open – my congressional seat – and I could have run for that and had a good chance of winning it, but I would have absolutely no intention of going to Washington in this atmosphere. Nothing can get done; it’s totally non-productive; I think they all need to stop it. And I hope that’s not happening in Tallahassee, because our little joke was Democrats and Republican don’t fight – House members and Senators fight. And in the Senate, Democrat, Republican – we all got along. I can say that with 100 percent certainty. There was hardly a speck of partisan politics in the Senate. There is more so in the House because there’s 120 of them. When there are fewer people, it just benefits all of you if you just get along. We had Democratic chairmen, even though it’s an all-Republican Legislature. Democrats had good shots at chairmanships. Their bills were all heard. Their money requests were funded. I felt everyone was collegial. ON HOW MODERATE REPUBLICANS CAN REBOUND FROM BEING AN ENDANGERED SPECIES: I don’t know. And this happened before … I think under George W. Bush … a lot of moderate Republicans lost their congressional seats. It’s like the moderates are the first to go. When people get in a radical mood, they want somebody to fight for their radical idea; they really don’t want a peacemaker, I’m thinking. It’s the only reason I can give. Maybe when they get tired of fighting, they’re going to want the peacemakers back to heal it all up again.


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The Big Question


over me all year long like a yappy little devil sitting on my shoulder. Instead, I’m going to spend my energy on keeping the one-foot square I stand on every day as decent and kind as possible.

BETH MATUGA CHRIS CARMODY GRAYROBINSON Each year I resolve to try something, quit something (or cut back) and set a goal. Here they are. Try: stand-up comedy (that isn’t a joke). Quit: being late (I know I’m not that important). Goal: Run 2,020 miles (not impossible, but I need to figure out when I would sleep).

STEVE CRISAFULLI FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER To attend the best Smithapalooza ever and watch my boy Ryan Smith become the husband to the love of his life, Ms. Kelly Kibbey.

task on my list was launching my own consulting firm. I’m happy to report that I marked that off my list as DONE! My list has one more outstanding item: golf lessons so that my 10-year-old actually enjoys playing nine holes with me without rolling her eyes.

TANYA JACKSON PINPOINT RESULTS My New Year’s Resolution is to NEVER AGAIN have a New Year’s Resolution. Every resolution I make seems to hang

In 2020, I resolve to be better at selfpromotion. Does anyone know a publication that could help with that?

MATT SPRITZ THE SPRITZ GROUP My resolution for the new calendar year is the same as my goal when I wake up each morning - try to bring a little bit of heaven’s light into the world by doing good deeds and charitable acts.

As a perpetual list maker, I am not one to make New Year’s resolutions. I find myself constantly making lists, checking them twice and, with great pleasure, crossing out tasks that I have completed or goals I have accomplished. This year the biggest 128 | INFLUENCE WINTER 2020




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