INFLUENCE Magazine – Winter 2022

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Meet the future of Florida politics

R I S I NG STARS – CLASS OF 2022 –

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Guide to Tally: Good sushi, cool murals, new faces

Wilton Simpson, Jeff Brandes, lobby ups & food fights galore

Desmond Meade: What I’ve Learned


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PUBLISHER’S | NOTE

@PeterSchorschFL

Make Politics Fun Again

R

emember when politics were, dare I say, fun? I do. Like many of us during the past 22 months of this seemingly never-ending pandemic, I splurged on an eBay purchase I probably didn’t need: A near complete collection of George magazine. It had been quite some time since I read any of the issues, and what marvelous fun it was to relive the publication’s glory. You might remember it. Co-founded in 1995 by John F. Kennedy Jr., son of the late President, the glossy viewed politics through the lens of lifestyle, boasting creative covers and topics that blended politics with pop culture and everyday issues. It’s tagline, “not just politics as usual” perfectly summed up all of its creative intrigue. You’ll remember the iconic cover showing supermodel Cindy Crawford dressed as George Washington, or countless others, from Barbra Streisand as Betsy Ross to Demi Moore decked out in colonial garb as a puppet controlling a soldier. George was a great way to take a dense topic and make it fun. American politics are anything but these days. Some days feel like we’re living on a knife’s edge. Because we are. There are culture wars surrounding critical race theory. There are political divides on things as seemingly nonpolitical as keeping safe from a pandemic. There are battles raging over police forces and age-old disputes over immigration, jobs, taxes, health care and on and on. Things were polarized even before the pandemic. But they’ve gotten worse. A shocking 53% of younger Americans and 46% of all Americans believe the nation is headed for civil war, according to a 2021 national survey by pollster John Zogby. It might sound like I’m getting a quartet of violinists together on the deck of the Titanic, but I’m not. I lay all of that out to say, damn it, it’s time to bring some fun back to politics. It wasn’t so long ago when Florida politics were a lot more fun. Ah the good ole days of the Legislative Session, filled with the annual, and hilarious, press skits. Booze flowed for staff and there was food, so much food. An occasional scandal kept us all on our toes. I recently reminisced with a friend in The Process about light-hearted, funny Christmas cards from PR firms and videos and fruitcakes delivered during the holidays to offer levity. Now, the Capitol sits mostly empty, and not just because of the pandemic. Even when it’s not empty, it’s not very fun. Bring back the days of raising a glass at Red Dog, Blue Dog, where “celebrity” bartenders from both

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Ella and Peter Schorsch, December 2021. sides of the aisle poured drinks for charity and everyone set their partisan squabbles on a shelf for some laughs. My goal for INFLUENCE Magazine in 2022 is to get back to all that. Reading the past few editions — this is No. 20 for those keeping count — it all struck me as a little grim. So this year, put on a smile and read about our Rising Stars, who are sure to bring joy to us older veterans. We have recent graduates and newcomers to The Process galore. And their stories delight. Whatever you do, enjoy it. Because important, serious work doesn’t have to be drab or dreary. Welcome to the new INFLUENCE.

Peter Schorsch Publisher

Peter@FloridaPolitics.com


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WINTER 2022

features

94 RISING STARS They’re young, they’re savvy, they’re talented, they’re ambitious and this cohort of twenty- and thirty-somethings are destined to be superstars in the future of politics in Florida. Above: George Feijoo, Dane Bennett, Lilly Higginbotham Erickson, Landon Hoffman, Ali Jones, Amanda Fraser, Cody Farrill, Jessica Fowler, Jared Willis, Sebastian Leon, Megan Sweat, Nicholas Primrose, Aly Coleman, Christopher Hodge, Tyler Sununu

120 Food Fights

Session always features legislation that pits powerful, popular or well-monied interests against each other. From subjects as impactful as redistricting to the silliness of picking a state pie, 2022 is chock-full of knock-down, drag-out issues sure to cause a tussle.

102 Lobby-ups Of Note

From swim-up bars to K-9s for suffering warriors to a relocated All-Star bowl game, advocates are being hired to lobby where no one has lobbied before.

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108 Florida’s Hometown Guy

He may be one of the most powerful and wealthiest members of the Legislature, but Senate President Wilton Simpson is still guided by his roots and hard work in small-town Trilby.

114 The Contrarian

The Legislature bids adieu to term-limited Sen. Jeff Brandes after the 2022 Session. His libertarian bent has led him to break with his own party on subjects such as marijuana and prison reform, while championing the future of transportation in Florida.


Simply a GREAT TEAM. Florida

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SEE THE IMPACT: simplyhealthcareplans.com Winter 2022

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departments 23 The Art of the Eel

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Tallahassee is loaded with creative, delicious sushi possibilities — from traditional raw fish and vinegar rice to more modern takes on this artistic and healthful Japanese cuisine.

14 30 Historic Hotel Gets a Facelift There’ll be no room at the (Governors) Inn this Session, but operators of the downtown boutique hotel plan to open in time for football season after completing extensive renovations.

38 Big Art With an assist from benefactors, government and local arts organizations, murals have been popping up throughout Tallahassee.

54 ‘Crazy and Fun’ The colorful, bedazzled pop art of New Orleans artist Ashley Longshore has attracted collectors from throughout the Sunshine State.

192 What I’ve Learned Desmond Meade turned around a life of homelessness, drug addiction and prison to successfully advocate for restoring the right to vote to “returning citizens.”

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54 On the Move

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Political Aficionado’s Guide

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Out and About

66

Briefings from the Rotunda

77

Fourth Floor Files

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Insider Takes

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the Political

Aficionado’s  Guide to ...

FILM

“A Taste of Love” was filmed in Dunedin and St. Petersburg during the summer of 2021. The film stars Erin Cahill as Taylor, who returns home to visit her parents, and Martin Kove, known for his roles in “The Karate Kid” and “Cobra Kai.”

Can Florida’s film incentives get a premiere? By Jacob Ogles

“Bad Boys” in 1994 catapulted TV actors Will Smith and Martin Lawrence to big screen success. A young, unknown director named Michael Bay shot virtually all of the film in the underused market of Miami and elevated that Magic City’s celebrity status as well. To this day, tourists who love the buddy cop classic still flock for photographs in front of prominent locations like the Biltmore Hotel or the art deco apartment district. Yet when filmmakers reunited for “Bad Boys For Life,” the latest entry in the franchise released in 2020, the principal shooting took place in Atlanta, a nine-hour drive north of Miami. Why choose Georgia nightclubs and streets as the backdrop to a story about Florida cops, a tale that includes Miami as a core part of its DNA? Like so many decisions, it came down to the bottom line.

The state of Georgia offers major film productions tax incentives worth as much as 30% of the total cost of the project. It has helped to turn Atlanta into an East Coast film capital — and siphon away projects even if the scripts set the plot of shows in Florida. And it’s driving Sen. Joe Gruters nuts. The Sarasota Republican represents a district with one of the state’s most prominent film programs, at Ringling College of Art & Design. In a region that less than a decade ago provided backdrop to flicks like “Spring Breakers” and “Parker,” Gruters is now seeing jobs leave Southwest Florida for other Southern states. “I get so many calls from constituents, from former film studio workers that have been displaced, from former Floridians who want to come back to Florida,” he says. All want more movies made in Florida

so they can live their lives in the picturesque state. The Senator has filed bills each year he has served in the Legislature aimed at revitalizing the industry. In November, he filed his latest legislation (SB 946) to offer a financial incentive for productions to shoot in the Sunshine State. As filed, the measure calls for creation of a “Targeted High Wage Production Program,” a performance-based program to be overseen by Florida’s Film Commissioner. He notes with the film industry paying an average salary of $87,000 a year, the field boasts wages 60% higher than the state average. From an economic development perspective, that makes for jobs any state would covet. Yet here comes the issue, a decade after the last film incentives program sunset, again potentially working uphill. In the House, Rep. Dana Trabulsy, a Fort Winter 2022 INFLUENCE

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Pierce Republican and freshman lawmaker, filed companion legislation (HB 217). She sees Florida in a perpetual FOMO state. “Florida is the only state in the Southeast, and one of just 17 states in the country, without a program to compete for film and television projects. Florida is at a significant competitive disadvantage,” she wrote in a Florida Politics op-ed. “The result: In recent years, Florida has lost close to 100 major film and television projects that would have spent more than $1.5 billion in Florida, used 250,000 hotel room nights, and provided 125,000 cast and crew jobs for Floridians.” Her bill calls for a tax rebate program. Gruters has used that mechanism in prior bills, but this year uses a tax credit model instead. The program in either bill would offer filmmakers a value worth 20% of a project cost or $2 million, whichever is less. Film leaders hope this year, one of these bills will be the key to bring more film back to Florida. John Lux, Executive Director for Film Florida, said it’s helpful having a political leader with Gruters’ pull championing the cause. Lux said he was “extremely pleased that someone with the stature of the Chair of the Republican Party of Florida supports the industry enough to file a bill in support.” “The bill is excellent and would do a lot to bring high-paying jobs to Florida for our residents,” Lux said. “The bill has great minimums for required spending and Floridians hired along with a minimum for veterans being part of the cast and crew. Those points are the same as in previous years.” The program as imagined in the legislation would offer tax credits to film productions, but only if they meet certain criteria. Only film or digital media projects with a budget of $1.5 million or more and television shows with an episode budget of $500,000 or more (and producing at least seven episodes) could apply. But to receive the credits, a production must have at least 60% of its cast and crew

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be Florida residents with at least one military veteran on payroll, and 70% of production must take place in the state. Filmmakers must promise a good faith effort to employ local providers for equipment and other costs whenever possible. All forces behind the legislation seem to have little commitment to a rebate or credit model, as long as something gets to the Governor’s desk. “From an industry perspective, a tax credit or a rebate are both industry standards,” Lux said. “Legislatively speaking, we believe the tax credit in the Senate offers additional flexibility, which we support as our goal is to pass a bill.” Gruters said he’s not trying to match the hyper-generous offerings of Georgia, a program so magnetic as to pull Marvel Studios’ slate of blockbusters into sound stages in the greater Atlanta area. “We don’t have to give the people what everyone else is offering,” he said, “We just have to be in the game, show some nod to the industry.”


Back in the incentives-happy days of the early Gov. Rick Scott era, Florida budgeted $300 million on a first-come, first-served basis. The incentive quickly made Florida the No. 3 state for film production. In the meantime, the state continues to pump out some of the strongest cinematic talent through programs at Ringling, Florida State University in Tallahassee and Full Sail University in Orlando. Barry Jenkins, an FSU alum, filmed the Academy Award-winning “Moonlight” in Mi-

ami, but took his latest Amazon production, “The Underground Railroad,” out of state. Full Sail Hall of Famer Steve Cainas cut his teeth in the backlots of the Orlando private university, but when he coordinated production for the critically acclaimed “Baby Driver,” he set the action around Peachtree Center instead of the Amway Center. Yet Florida has the weather, the infrastructure, and the academic foundation to be the Hollywood of the Southeast. And that could be a boon for years. Gruters in particular feels an excitement over the tourism prospects. And while his program calculates benefits in the formula for family-friendly fare, he feels any production could generate an audience of devoted fans eager to see where films were shot. Many people travel to see settings for “The Walking Dead” despite it painting Georgia as a post-apocalyptic wasteland overrun by the undead. Tours still take visitors to locations in the original “Bad Boys.” There’s every reason Florida would want to invest a little and add to the list. And if that film could see a sequel greenlit a decade after its initial release, could Florida’s incentives program yet earn a sequel worthy of box office success? “A Taste of Love” is scheduled to be released early this year. “I could gather my team and shoot anywhere in the country but choose Pinellas County for the friendly work environment, beauty of the area and talented crew here in Florida,” producer Elayne Schneiderman Schmidt said.

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the Political STUFF

Aficionado’s  Guide to ...

Leather up W

If you’re looking for a mid-sized bag, the Sierra Weekend Duffle will fill the bill. It has a detachable shoulder strap as well as handles and includes a reinforced bottom protected by metal feet. $269.95

hen you’re on the road, there’s something about a leather suitcase or carry bag that exudes elegance and attracts attention. At least that’s the personal experience of Arron Gober, who has added a line of leather goods to the offerings at his Tallahassee-based shop, Arron’s Fine Custom Clothing. Gober been carrying leather gear for years and “people comment to me all the time,” and ask where they can get them. While it gets style points, leather also is durable. And the dings and scratches that accrue over the years give it a patina that practically shouts “well traveled.” Weekender and duffel bags are roomy enough for short car trips — Gober warns to “never, never” check them on an airplane. The leather backpack, however, can hold up to a 17-inch laptop and is perfect to use as a carry-on bag. His leather goods are American-made and exclusively come in the classic saddle tan color. He currently carries 22 bags and leather accessories priced between $399.95 for a tri-fold garment bag to $8.95 for a luggage tag. For details, visit arrons-fine-custom-clothing.square.site.

The Alma leather backpack has room to spare and compartments galore. This tote has padded shoulder straps and a top-carry handle as well as antique brass-finished hardware. $279.95

Handsome on the outside, easy to clean on the inside, the Andres Leather Hanging Dopp Kitt is the perfect mix of form and function. There are pockets for items big and small, a hidden hanging hook, and elastic loops to hold toothbrushes and razors. $89.95 14

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Although its name is Hombre, this tote bag with handles and a shoulder strap is the perfect accompaniment for a woman to carry her essentials during a day at the Capitol. It has a laptop compartment (up to 12 inches), pocket sleeve holders for business cards and more. $279.95.


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the Political

Aficionado’s  Guide to ...

TECH

m

i

a

m

i

America’s new tech mecca By Jesse Scheckner

M

iami is renowned for its beautiful beaches, warm weather, delectable cuisine and Latin American influences. In 2021, thanks to Florida’s business-friendly climate, limited pandemic restrictions and the efforts of Mayor Francis Suarez, the “Magic City” also became America’s hottest tech mecca. Tech companies are hardly new to Miami, which has benefitted for years from startup-supporting communities like Refresh Miami and Knight Foundation investments like the city’s first co-working space, The LAB, and its largest annual industry conference, eMerge Americas. But Miami still lagged far behind San Francisco, New York, Boston, Seattle and other major cities as a desirable home for tech professionals. That is, until a now-famous Twitter exchange prompted many tech and finance leaders to reconsider Miami’s

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spot in the mix. In early December 2020, Delian Asparouhov of Founders Fund — which has since joined fellow venture capital firm Atomic and e-commerce company OpenStore in signing long-term leases in the city’s Wynwood neighborhood — wrote, possibly in jest: “ok guys hear me out, what if we move silicon valley to miami”? Suarez replied seriously a few hours later: “How can I help?” The rest is history. Over the next few months, the Greater Miami area — Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties — grew into the No. 1 region in the U.S. for tech job growth, according to an analysis by the Computer Technology Industry Association. By the second quarter of 2021, Miami’s tech job listings rose 29%, outpacing other hotspots like Dallas, Philadelphia and Phoenix.

“Florida is leading the nation, and Miami is leading Florida,” Suarez said, citing the city’s tech-luring success, 3.7% unemployment rate and 25% drop in homicides among its 2021 wins. Tech businesses that either relocated to South Florida or sizably grew their footprint there include Microsoft and Spotify; cryptocurrency, blockchain and nonfungible token companies Bit Digital, Blockchain.com, Compass Mining, eToro and Okcoin; fintech and e-commerce firms Legend Advance, Loupe, Milo and OKY; tech consultants Amberdata and Slalom; health tech companies BraveHeart Wireless and Olios; and scores of others. The stir around Miami made it a natural host for the Bitcoin 2021 conference in April, which drew 12,000 guests and headliners including former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, skateboarding legend Tony Hawk

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“Florida is leading the nation, and Miami is leading Florida.”

–Francis Suarez

PHOTO: Abby Hart

and former Congressman and two-time presidential candidate Ron Paul. The area also saw 22% growth in venture capital dollars as a deluge of money firms moved to South Florida, including SoftBank, which more than doubled its January 2021 investment commitment in Miami by infusing 12 startups with ties to the city with a combined $250 million. One such company, crypto exchange FTX, became the new arena sponsor of the Miami Heat in June through a 19-year, $135 million deal with the county. Two months later, Miami launched its own cryptocurrency, MiamiCoin, which through November has earned the city more than $7 million. Suarez also launched Venture Miami, a tech, finance and business think tank aimed at positively harnessing the city’s growth. A new vertical under its banner is a

partnership with Florida International University supporting female entrepreneurs of color in accessing capital, building revenue and upscaling. Suarez has also spoken with Elon Musk about potentially using tunnels to circumvent Miami-Dade’s increasingly congested roadways. “I’d describe him as a visionary for understanding how well technology can shape the future of a city and society to benefit everybody,” Atomic CEO Jack Abraham said. “He’s open to ideas and real dialogue, and that’s not something we’re used to coming from the Bay area, where there’s almost no conduit to government.” For some, however, Miami’s tech explosion is far from a blessing and is instead a distraction from its worsening problems. Living costs have skyrocketed. Almost 63% of Miami renters spend half their income or

more on housing — the highest percentage among the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, a new report by rental listing company Apartment List found. Environmental issues also persist, from flood events to the toxification of Biscayne Bay, where fish kills are now regular occurrences. The city’s dysfunction on that front was punctuated when its chief resilience officer and head of public works quit in August after just one year on the job. Meanwhile, Miami has spent only a quarter of a $400 million bond voters approved in 2017 to address those issues. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, including but not limited to the expansion of affordable housing, workforce housing and environmental issues,” Rep. Richard Grieco said. “But I believe (Suarez) and the Miami Commission are up to the task in 2022.”

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the Political

Aficionado’s  Guide to ... TV

F

PHOTOS: The Workmans

or nearly 16 years, TV newsman Troy Kinsey used a golden voice, confident tone and rhythmic delivery to inform viewers daily of Tallahassee’s biggest news. A self-described “big fish in a small pond,” the California-native earned his keep soon after arriving in 2006 by garnering the admiration of lawmakers, reporters and viewers alike. News biz and Kinsey — it seemed then — were synonymous. However, things change. Passions shift. Interests evolve. And over time, some things in life grow too bold to ignore. So after a lifelong infatuation with aviation, the Bay News 9/ News 13 correspondent (serving Tampa and Orlando) is leaving news and signing on for a new, mile-high adventure: piloting. Kinsey in December sealed a deal with Envoy Air, a subsidiary of the American Airlines Group. It’s an achievement years in the making, starting with his first flying lesson in 2013. “I knew from the very first takeoff on that lesson that as much as I thought I was made to report the news, I was even more made to fly airplanes,” Kinsey said. The transition should, frankly, surprise outsiders alone. A plane owner and part-time flight instructor, Kinsey is also synonymous with aviation, often sporting aviator sunglasses and telling tales of his latest charter. “It’s such a bittersweet thing,” said Phil Willette, Kinsey’s camera-toting wingman.

Taking ofF By Jason Delgado

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For nearly seven years, the pair chased news together inside the halls of the Florida Capitol Complex. The relationship, Willette said, was effortless. “He’s going to be incredibly tough to replace,” he added. “Whoever walks in, they’re going to have some big shoes to fill.” The son of a California lawyer, Kinsey made his debut before a national television audience early in life as a Long Beach eighth-grader in the summer of 1994. At the time, his local school board pitched plans to enact a school uniform policy districtwide. It was a plan, Kinsey says, he and others didn’t fancy. “I wasn’t too keen on the prospect,” he recollects. But in an impressive show of teenage angst, Kinsey enlisted the help of his legal-minded father, and the pair filed a lawsuit that, among other results, set Kinsey on a national media tour. He spent hours on-set awaiting interviews on networks such as ABC and CBS, marveling at the inner workings of broadcast news. “I became really intrigued by what was going on behind the scenes… and the incredible responsibility that everybody in these operations had as a team,” Kinsey recalls. “And so that kind of put me on the path of no return.” But like Kinsey, TV news has changed, too. Newsrooms are smaller. Budgets are tighter. And the expectations now are two-fold. Still, the transition from newsman to airman, Kinsey says, is bittersweet. If nothing else, it prepared him well for life as a full-time aviator. “I feel my experience interviewing politicians and interfacing with lobbyists

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makes me uniquely prepared to deal with the challenges of transporting unpredictable passengers from point A to point B,” Kinsey quipped. There is more to Kinsey, though, than a wrinkle-free suit and a distinct broadcast style. He is perhaps better known among Florida politicos for his uncanny ability to impersonate Florida governors. He takes great pride in the routines, particularly his “claim to fame” impersonation of former Governor, now Congressman Charlie Crist. “I also do a pretty mean Rick Scott, and some would say I do a decent Ron DeSantis. But if not for the Press Skits, I don’t think I would have become as well known within the Process,” Kinsey said. Press Skits is among the things Kinsey will miss most. Capitol Press Corps leaders shelved the fundraising event in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, marking the end of a decades-long run. Event leaders, he lamented, have yet to bring it back. “I think it became a convenient excuse for people who figured, well, it’s just too hard to produce the show on an annual basis,” Kinsey added, noting the event raised thousands of dollars for journalism scholarships. “It’s a shame.” There is a long list of friends and acquaintances happy to see Kinsey


step into a new role, and yet saddened to watch him leave. Among them is Crist, the former Governor Kinsey spent hours studying to mimic. “A hearty congratulations to Troy!” Crist said in an email. “I’ll miss his insightful reporting from Tallahassee, but I couldn’t be prouder to see him achieving his dream. From the Sunshine State Capitol to the skies!” Trimmel Gomes, a longtime friend and journalistic colleague, praised Kinsey both on and off-air. Gomes, who has known Kinsey for nearly a decade and a half, hosts the Sunrise Podcast for Florida Politics and is principal of Gomes Media. “Troy Kinsey has always been fiercely competitive, so much so that even in friendship, you’d regret not giving a disclaimer such as ‘this is off the record’ before certain conversations,” Gomes said. He also applauded Kinsey’s aviation chops, noting Kinsey earned his private pilot license in two and half months — a feat that typically takes others a year. The pair have flown together several times since Kinsey’s first flight, including a recent visit to the Bahamas. “His passion and dedication are laser-focused, from taking lead at Press Skits with his impersonations to soaring to new heights in record time becoming an airline pilot,” Gomes added.” I’m excited for Troy, and I know he will continue to do great things in the future.” There is more in store, however, than aviation. As Kinsey tells it, pilots often navigate hours of down time between flights. It’s time, he says, that won’t go to waste. “For the first time in 16 years, my voice is not under contract and is on the market,” Kinsey says. “If there are any politicians out there who might be in need of a silky-smooth baritone voice, your man’s right here.” Kinsey will also relish the ability to speak freely about politics once again. Among all the issues on

“His passion and dedication are laser-focused, from taking lead at Press Skits with his impersonations to soaring to new heights in record time becoming an airline pilot.”

the former newsman’s list, there is one that reigns king: the aircraft sales tax elimination proposal. Lawmakers in the upcoming Legislative Session will take up a bill to nix the levy on aircraft purchases. If lawmakers don’t kill the tax, Kinsey will. “If I ever get elected to office, if it hasn’t been done by this time, my No. 1 priority is going to be to eliminate that aircraft sales tax,” he said, explaining: “I think it’s important that we get more people buying airplanes in Florida, basing them in Florida, so that we can begin to grow Florida’s aviation economy in a way that I think we haven’t been doing.” Next on the hit list: term limits. They, he said, have thrust lawmakers into the back seat of the lawmaking process. “The lobby shops on Adams Street are driving the process,” Kinsey added. Though he plans to remain living in Tallahassee, Kinsey will begin flight training in Texas in December. There’s a good chance, he says, you’ll end up aboard one of his flights and hear his distinct, baritone voice once again. Winter 2022 INFLUENCE

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A UNIVERSITY FOR THE FUTURE

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Florida. We produce the thinkers, discoverers, innovators, healers and doers that society needs to solve our most serious challenges.

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Yes, there’s good

SUSHI in Tally!

By Rochelle Koff | Photography by The Workmans

Y

oshie Eddings remembers a time when customers would look at an array of sushi and ask: “Are you selling the bait?” That was 30 years ago. Since then, the acclaimed sushi chef has built a reputation first at Harbor Docks restaurant in Destin and later at Chuck’s Fish. Eddings set up the sushi operations, training the chefs, at Chuck’s five locations, including Tallahassee.

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FOOD

“... sushi transforms to the taste buds of an area.” –Kwan Lun

P23: Top: Sushi Appetizer (4 pieces of nigiri sushi - Tuna, Escolar, Salmon, Yellowtail) Bottom: The Rainbow Roll brings together tuna, salmon, tilapia, avocado, krab stick and smelt roe. P24: Sashimi Chef Special (Tuna, Salmon, Yellowtail, Escolar)

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Film companies also turned to Eddings to cater movie sets, preparing stellar sushi creations for stars such as Tom Hanks, Sharon Stone, Richard Gere and Jodi Foster. In three decades, Eddings would see sushi evolve from curiosity to culinary craze. There are now reportedly more than 16,000 sushi restaurants in the United States. Big urban markets such as New York City and Los Angeles are destinations for some of the best sushi restaurants in the country, and perhaps the world. So where does that leave smaller cities like Tallahassee? “Sushi has became more available and more acceptable to people everywhere,” said Masao Seki, who has been a sushi chef and now works as a cook at Boru Boru, which serves casual, Japanese-influenced food like rice bowls, salad bowls, poké bowls, ramen noodles and bao sandwiches. “I think sushi transforms to the taste buds of an area,” said Kwan Lun, general manager and part owner of Boru Boru on Tennessee Street. “I feel sushi in Tallahassee is pretty Americanized.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing, said Lun. In a town with such a large college population, sushi adaptations like rolls are introducing students to new ingredients. Modern sushi has taken different shapes, with sushi burritos gaining popularity, Lun said. It’s basically like a big maki roll with rice and filling wrapped in nori or seaweed with lots of variations, combining ingredients like tempura shrimp, California crab, fried salmon skin and spicy tuna. Poké bowls, a main dish of native Hawaiians, is another trend using raw fish but it’s a dish of small chunks of fish with rice and toppings. Sushi rolls dominate some menus, with items like the California Roll (with avocado and crab) or the Philadelphia Roll, (with cream cheese and smoked salmon). Chefs may add deep-fried tempura flakes, adorn the roll with spicy mayo or shape it like a dragon. To add a touch of whimsy, many have names like Volcano Roll, TGIF Roll or even Sex on the Beach. At Little Masa in CollegeTown, the restaurant is popular with a student demographic “more interested in trying something without raw fish,” said Holden Giles, general manager of this offshoot of Masa. Making such changes wasn’t easy for Eddings, who is currently a partner in Chuck’s with her son Cris, and the founder, Charles Morgan. “It went against my soul but you have to always think about others,” she said. “You want to make customers happy.” A pioneering sushi chef in Florida, Eddings is happy to see there are more diners interested in authentic presentations, aficionados that appreciate the simple elegance of raw fish and vinegar-rich rice.

“We’re finding more people who are going back to basics and really want to taste the fish,” said Eddings, who prepares sushi the way she learned to make it in her father’s Tokyo restaurant, where she acquired proper knife skills as a teenager. Some restaurants will offer an Omakase (chef’s choice option). At elite spots across the country, an extravagant Omakase option can run hundreds of dollars. Most local places offer a version of this but it may not be on the menu so try requesting it. At Masa, for instance, you have an Omakase dinner for $50, $70, $100 or more. “People who have traveled and have had more traditional sushi may ask for it,” said Sarah Kuta, general manager at Masa for nearly 12 years. “We’ll talk to them and narrow down what they like. Some people will just say ‘surprise me.’” At Kiku Japanese Fusion, you can also find a less formal option in the “Trust Me” roll from the chef. Sushi chefs may be more diverse these days. At Masa, there are chefs with roots in Thailand, Taiwan, Korea and Mexico. “People think sushi is just about chopping,” said Masa’s sushi manager, Victor Rodriguez, who is of Mexican heritage. “You have to learn how to perfectly slice a piece of fish. There’s a lot to it.” Sushi can seem deceptively simple but there is artistry involved, perhaps as subtle as the slashes and scores left by the chef’s knife, the attention to balance of ingredients and texture. To get a better look at the craftsmanship behind these creations, sit at the sushi bar. Many chefs will be happy to educate you while they work. If you’re a newcomer to the world of sushi, here are a few tips from experts to help you navigate the menu. Keep in mind that if your friends don’t like sushi, there are plenty of other dishes on these restaurant menus. Sushi is actually an umbrella term for different combinations of raw fish and rice. The term sushi actually refers to the seasoned rice that’s a base for the raw fish, not the fish itself. Sushi rolls are called maki, but are usually simpler in Japan – just the seaweed nori wrapper, sushi rice and usually one kind of fish. Sashimi is raw slices of fish, and is usually served as a warmup for nigiri, which are the raw pieces of fish on top of sushi rice. This is the main event in traditional omakase (chef’s choice) dinners. Hand rolls are like maki but they’re often packed a bit more loosely, and are meant to be eaten – as you might guess – by hand, like a burrito, rather than as sliced pieces. Finally, chirashi is a bowl (or sometimes a platter) of sushi rice with pieces of sashimi arranged on top; you can mix it together and eat how you’d like. If you’re looking for a good place for sushi, here are six fan favorites we’ve discovered in Tallahassee.

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FOOD

Chuck’s Fish: Located in downtown Tallahassee since 2020, Chuck’s offers an extensive sushi menu, created by Yoshie Eddings, with a mix of traditional items and fun rolls. You’ll find sashimi and nigiri, primarily with choices of tuna, salmon or yellowtail but there can be more unusual selections like sea urchin. The restaurant uses local tuna but generally imports other fish from the Pacific for sushi. On the long list of rolls: the Red Dragon (with soft-shell crab), the Cowboy (with steak, avocado, green onion and a spicy sauce), the Eel Roll (with smoked salmon) and a Veggie Roll (cucumber, vegetables, avocado and spicy sauce). The sashimi appetizer, chef’s assortment, is a colorful array with lovely slices of raw fish: salmon, hamachi, yellowtail and tuna, nestled amid sliced cucumbers and slivers of carrots. Along with a sushi bar, there’s plenty of space for outdoor dining on the patio and deck. 224 E. College Ave.; 850-5977506. chucksfish.com.

Kiku Japanese Fusion:

The Jalapeño Hamachi appetizer features thinly sliced yellowtail with jalapeños with sunomono dressing.

You can watch the lineup of sushi chefs from most spots in the attractive venue. The restaurant, owned by Michael Wang, serves both chef’s choice options for sushi, sashimi and chirashi as well as a lineup of flavorful specialty rolls. Look for picks like the Pink Lady Maki Roll (with tuna, salmon, eel and avocado); the Candy Bar Maki Special Roll (spicy tuna, tempura flakes, cucumber with tuna) and the Lobster Maki Special Roll (lobster tempura, masago, seaweed salad). 3491 Thomasville Road, Suite 12; 850-222-5458; kikubogo.com. There’s also another location at 800 Ocala Road; 850-575-5458.

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FOOD

Izzy Pub and Sushi: Located in the heart of Midtown, Izzy is the hipster sushi space in town. Its name is short for Izakaya, a casual venue for drinks and simple bar food. But Izzy serves a sophisticated sushi menu along with small plates. The space is a bit smaller and more intimate than many in Tallahassee but there’s also an outdoor patio with seating next to Midtown Reader. Sushi chef/owner Xinzheng “Alex” Fang offers nigiri, and sashimi choices include octopus, sea urchin or umi, fatty tuna, mackerel and Japanese yellowtail as well as sushi combos, “love boats,” and chirashi dinner. Specialty rolls include the Godzilla (with soft-shell crab, coconut shrimp tempura, spicy tuna and barbecue eel); The Big Easy (crawfish, crab, lobster, shrimp, avocado); and the chef’s choice, Trust Me roll. 1123 Thomasville Road; 850-222-5000. izzymidtown.com/

Osaka has several options of Inside Out Rolls, Fried Rolls, Soy Wraps and Specialty Rolls, showcasing choices like The Dirty Old Man (tuna, salmon mixed in a spicy kani salad on top of a California roll); Caterpillar Roll (shrimp tempura, spicy mayo with barbecue eel, avocado); and the Alaskan Roll (salmon, cucumber and avocado). The Chous have also opened Osaka restaurants in Destin and Panama City. 1489 Maclay Commerce Drive; 850-9005149, Tallahassee; theosakasteakhouse. com; 34745 Emerald Coast Parkway; 850650-4688; Destin; 15533 PCB Parkway, Panama City Beach; 850-588-8403.

Sakura Sushi & Grill: The restaurant features assorted choices of sushi and sashimi and chirashi bowls as well as a broad selection of rolls. The Tallahassee Roll (with shrimp tempura), Crazy Dragon (spicy, crunchy tuna) and Sweet Heart Roll (spicy crunchy tuna and avocado). Owners Jamie Li and chef/business partner Andy Dong are also behind the restaurants Midtown Noodles Bar and J’s Asian Street Food. 1318 N. Monroe St.; 850-222-9991; facebook.com/SakuraTallahassee/

Masa: The Asian fusion and sushi restaurant comes from the family of venues launched by longtime Tallahassee restaurateur and local legend, Lucy Ho. Masa is operated by Lucy Ho’s nephew, Shawn Lee, and business partner Ken Ho (not related). The lengthy sushi menu features lots of vibrant, flavorful combinations. Masa is is well known for signature rolls like the Volcano Roll (a California roll topped with a pan-fried spicy shrimp and krab mix); Cucumber Delight (using thin slices of cucumber instead of seaweed as a wrap for tuna, salmon, avocado, asparagus and a housemade sunomono sauce) and the Rainbow Roll (avocado and krab with tuna, salmon and smelt roe). You’ll find an extensive list of sushi and nigiri selections, among them eel, mackerel, tuna, flying fish roe and yellowtail. You can add a quail egg for $1.50. 1650 N. Monroe St.; 850-727-4183; masatallahassee.com/

Osaka Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar: Michael Chou emigrated from Taiwan to get a university education in the United States and after college wound up in the restaurant business. Then more than 20 years ago, Chou and his wife, Annie, opened Osaka in Tallahassee. Their sprawling space features 14 hibachi tables as well as a sushi bar with lots of booths or seats at the bar. 28

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Top: Mr. Destiny Roll (Creamy Kani Salad and Avocado, with Tuna, Tempura Flakes and a Drizzle of Unagi Sauce) Bottom: Rainbow Roll.


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reborn Ready to be

The hotel known as the governors inn is undergoing more than just a face-lift.

By Tristan Wood | Photography by The Workmans

In the basement hallway, which some claim is haunted, is the original Governors Inn opening sign from 1984.

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“modernize The vision is to

the

hotel

while still maintaining its historic and classic flavor. – William Mateer

Looking west toward the front of the Governors Inn, the original stable beams are visible as renovations are underway. Once renovations are complete, this view won't be seen again.

he once-bustling Governors Inn hotel hasn’t had a visitor since spring. A couple of blocks from the Florida Capitol, the hotel that has housed politicians, lobbyists and celebrities since it opened in 1984 now sits empty. Its antique furniture was removed. The walls gutted. But unlike so many businesses after the COVID-19 pandemic, the historic business is not shutting down. Governors Inn is getting a face-lift. The 41-room hotel shut its doors in May to begin extensive renovations expected to run into the millions of dollars. The plan is to complete the renovation by summer 2022, with a reopening later that year, said Mark Moravec, Vice President of operations for TMFB, the company representing the property’s owner. The revamp started after Craig Mateer, an Orlando businessman and member of the Florida State University Board of Trustees, purchased the hotel in 2020 for around $2.9 million. The goal is to revitalize the four-star boutique hotel, keeping it a staple of downtown Tallahassee, said William Mateer, Craig’s son and Principal Executive of the Mateer family of Florida, the property owners. The vision is to modernize the hotel while still maintaining its historic and classic flavor, he said. “We’re bringing some new life back to a staple in the downtown Tallahassee area,” Mateer said. “It’s loved by many people who have a lot of memories there. We really wanted to revamp that and bring something new, cool and fun to the downtown area.”

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www.dacfl.com | 850.583.2400 201 East Park Avenue, Suite 200B, Tallahassee, FL 32301

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The site of the hotel was

originally a stable, with the structure dating to the 1800s. This is most evident inside the building, where exposed stable beams are still visible.

Governors Inn’s history goes back farther than the hotel’s operation. The site of the hotel was originally a stable, with the structure dating to the 1800s. This is most evident inside the building, where exposed stable beams are still visible. Every room and suite were uniquely decorated with antique furniture and named after past Florida governors. Renovations will include modern upgrades to all guest rooms and suites, as well as the lobby and public spaces. A new lounge and patio are also being added to the front of the building, but the addition will cut three rooms from the hotel, dropping its room count to 38. Despite the changes, they are keeping some of the original antique furniture pieces, including beds and armoires, Moravec said. The antiques are currently in Atlanta being refinished and restored. As for the furniture and other objects in the hotel that weren’t saved, it was donated to four Tallahassee organizations: Tallahassee’s Homeless Coalition, ECHO Outreach Ministries, Boys Town North Florida, and Tallahassee Community College’s Emergency Medical Services Technology program. Food, appliances, furniture, linens and paper goods were included in the donations. Top: Future second floor rooms on the south side of the Governors Inn. Left: The original safe from the Governors Inn still remains in the former lobby.

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“surpass

expectations,

The transformation of this property will all owner as well as the city of Tallahassee’s.

– Andrew Hungerford

Cover of the Interior Design Drawings for the Governors Inn renovations. Inside contains models of the new lobby, bar, rooms and suites.

The design and construction of the renovation is being handled by three Florida firms: Hungerford Design Inc., Architects Lewis+Whitlock, and Childers Construction. Andrew Hungerford, Chief Executive at HDI and a Florida State University alumnus, said he is excited to be involved with the project. “With multiple FSU graduates on our team, we take special pride in this project that we hope will produce years of enjoyment for patrons, alumni and new guests alike,” Hungerford said. “The transformation of this property will surpass all owner expectations, as well as the city of Tallahassee’s.” Renovations are running on schedule, Moravec said.

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Required demolitions are complete and some construction has begun, but some aspects of the project are awaiting permitting from the city. Moravec said he is optimistic there will be no issues with permitting because City Hall supports the project. “The City of Tallahassee is quite excited that we are taking this building and transforming it, trying to change Adams Street,” he said. The hotel is slated to open again during the first week of August, just in time for FSU’s 2022 football season and before the 2023 Legislative Session.


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F E AT U R E

With blank walls as their canvas, artists add color and meaning to local buildings

T

allahassee has turned into a mural-opolis, with what seems like every wall in town covered by colorful artworks. Some are one-step-above-graffiti cartoonish fantasies while others are rich with symbolism and meaning, painted by internationally renowned artists. The epicenter of the mural explosion has always been Railroad Square, an artists’ enclave that has kept its funky, dilapidated vibe as Gaines Street and CollegeTown gentrify around it. But the wall art movement has now expanded throughout the city, in part spurred on by the pandemic since it’s a perfect social distancing activity. If you’ve stopped at a red light, chances are you’ve seen the handiwork of a collaborative initiative to cover unsightly graffiti. Local artists’ work has been turned into 3D By Rosanne Dunkelberger art by wrapping nearly 50 electric and trafPhotography by The Workmans fic control boxes throughout town. The Council on Culture and Arts (COCA) has been supporting art and artists in and around Tallahassee for the past 35 years. COCA has a robust website (tallahasseearts.org) that includes a section specifically devoted to public art that includes most of the murals — along with photos, descriptions, and locations — that can be found around town. The site also includes walking tours of public art through the Downtown and Gaines Street areas.

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Project Daring Completed in August, one of the largest and most recent additions to the local mural scene honors three trailblazing Florida women, all enshrined in the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame. They include novelist Zora Neale Hurston, conservation biologist and founder of the Florida Defenders of the Environment Marjorie Harris Carr and Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, the first female chief of the Seminole Tribe. The artwork was commissioned by the Junior League of Tallahassee and designed and executed by Tallahassee artists Savannah Salinas and Olivia Barattini. Located on the Century Link building at East Park Avenue and North Calhoun Street.

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Greetings from Tallahassee This massive mural is a modernized take on the vintage postcards that feature local sights within the letters of the location. Tallahassee sights include the Historic Capitol, canopy roads, and Florida State and Florida A&M universities. It was painted in 2020 by Kollet Hardeman, who grew up and began her artistic career in Tallahassee but has since relocated to Austin, Texas. The mural was sponsored by Railroad Square and Mountain Shore Properties, which developed the nearby Hyatt House hotel. Located on the back of The Other Side Vintage in Railroad Square, facing the Capital Cascades Greenway.

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F E AT U R E

Coexist Another Paul Bradshaw commission at the Freight Yard, this work juxtaposes an astronaut chimpanzee with a goldfish. Whatever might these two subjects have in common? “We are all different and come from different backgrounds, but we all live together and rise together,” explains the COCA write-up. Street Art Tallahassee’s Chiara Saldivar designed the mural, which was created by Matt Ketchum — aka “bigteeff.” Located at 825 Railroad Ave.

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Nick Napoletano Mural In keeping with his Freight Yard art aesthetic, Paul Bradshaw hired Charlotte, North Carolina, artist Nick Napoletano to cover a wall at the site after seeing his work in Atlanta. One of the most interesting aspects of the work is unseen. In preparation for creating the mural, Napoletano and artist Sydney Duarte wrote positive messages on the wall, then covered them up with the finished artwork. Duarte told a local television station as she was working on them in October 2019 that the images are supposed to encourage viewers to “lead with an open heart, embrace everything that is coming your way and don’t worry.”

The Butterfly Effect It’s hard to miss the Orion Motorsports storefront — just travel down South Monroe Street and look for the way-larger-than-life butterflies. The work was created by Kenny Maguire in 2020. Located at 1215 S. Monroe St.

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Black Lives Matter It was the summer of 2020 and America was reeling from police killings of people of color — most notably George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota — and the continuing protests that followed. At the urging of the Capital City Chamber of Commerce and the Tallahassee Downtown Improvement Authority, the Tallahassee City Commission discussed some sort of Black Lives Matter art in the community. Within a month, the black and dividing-line gold message was painted in a well-traveled city intersection. The city powers-that-be took some heat at the time because it’s unclear who green lighted the mural (using a $7,400 stencil) that was painted ($900) using city money and employees. Located at the intersection of Railroad Avenue and Gaines Street.

Never Forgotten Coast After Hurricane Michael devastated many towns and farms throughout the Panhandle, Alex and Chelsea Workman, a Tallahassee-based husband-and-wife creative team, founded Never Forgotten Coast. The pair collected stories and photographs as part of their project and provided $60,000 in small grants to businesses in the area and partnered with local designer Jesse Taylor to start the Never Forgotten Coast campaign — signified by an outline of Florida and a heart on Northwest Florida. Located at the intersection of West Van Buren Street and South Adams Street.

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F E AT U R E

Music Alley The former site of the Tallahassee Mall was renovated and reimagined and ended up becoming an entertainment venue, elementary school, and state offices — with a lot of blank wall space. One of the complex’s three murals centers around a young woman listening on a set of headphones and the world she is transported to by the experience. Executed in 2016 by Cuban-born artist Reinier Gamboa along with Parker Robinson and Cory Ryan. Located at the Centre of Tallahassee, 2415 N. Monroe St.

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Freight Yard After developing a collection of net-zero luxe rental apartments in the All Saints neighborhood next to Railroad Square, uber-lobbyist Paul Bradshaw commissioned the three-artist BAET Collective to paint this pink neon mural on the lowest level in 2019. While BAET members have now gone their separate ways, Peter Koenig described his inspiration this way: “I was very interested in bold, graphic color palettes and drew a lot of inspiration from the idea of a nightclub/John Wick sort of aesthetic.” Located at 506 All Saints St.

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F E AT U R E

Egrets A decorative pedestrian bridge over South Monroe Street was envisioned as a place-maker for the redevelopment of the “SoMo” area, but it also caught a lot of flak from detractors who considered it a pricey boondoggle. After its completion, Street Art Tallahassee, COCA and governmental agencies hired Canadian tagger-turned-muralist BirdO (Jerry Rugg) in 2016 to create art on the walls of the underpass beneath it. The surreal paintings are typical of his animal hybrid style, with a nod to egrets, birds often found along Florida’s coasts and wetland areas. BirdO has traveled the world creating murals, including at Miami’s Art Basel. Located on South Monroe Street near Cascades Park.

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Where

proven science and

cutting-edge technology

meet over three decades of real-World experience.

HTTP://CLEARVIEW-RESEARCH.COM

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All hail

! By Tamara Lush orkmans Photography by The W

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“She’s crazy and fun at a time when people aren’t crazy and fun.” – Susie McKinley

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rreverence is not a word to describe these past few years, especially when it comes to national and state political circles. But an irreverent Southern artist who paints with every color in the rainbow and bedazzles her work with sparkly gems has captured the hearts — and walls — of many in the state’s political world, regardless of party affiliation. Ashley Longshore, who has an Instagram-worthy gallery on Magazine Street in New Orleans, is the new darling of art collectors from Tallahassee to Tampa. Her work is best described as Andy Warhol-esque pop art, with a dose of politics, gender and consumerism mixed among the glitter that’s sprinkled like fairy dust on the canvases. But there are also shades of Robert Rauschenberg and James Rosenquist, with references to political figures — if Rauschenberg and Rosenquist had painted Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz accompanied by the words, “Not Even Carbs Can Save You Now.” “I like the way she’s crazy,” says collector Susie McKinley, the editor of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association magazine. “She’s crazy and fun at a time when people aren’t crazy and fun.” The New York Times called Longshore’s paintings “glittery, bawdy, feminist work.” Among her enthusiastic fans: Tommy Hilfiger, Blake Lively, Christian Siriano, and Diane von Furstenberg. Longshore’s stock in the art world has soared in recent years. In 2018, she was the first solo woman artist to exhibit at Bergdorf Goodman in New York. 2019 brought a lipstick collaboration with Maybelline. In 2020, she decked out the Royal Poinciana’s iconic surfboard Christmas tree in Palm Beach with plenty of sparkle. McKinley discovered Longshore’s work when her daughter, Megan McKinley — who is director of finance in U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s Florida office — told her mom to check out the New Orleans artist on Instagram. Megan had gone to school with a woman who now works for Longshore, and she suspected her mother would appreciate the aesthetic. “As a child, I was really drawn to Peter Max and Andy Warhol, lots of colors. I would tack images of magazines on bulletin boards,” McKinley says. She was immediately captivated. And so was her husband, lobbyist Will McKinley. “Before Ashley Longshore, he really didn’t care that much about art at all,” Susie McKinley says. Now several of Longshore’s pieces grace the walls in the couple’s Tallahassee home. One is a smaller painting of actress Elizabeth Taylor. Because Longshore will customize certain paintings with glitter, crystals or glittery gems, the family decided

“ … it is more clear than ever that we must find joy in the simplest of things. Sure, being on a yacht in Italy is great, but it isn’t better than eating cake naked in bed with your dog.” – Ashley Longshore

to ask the artist to add the birthstones of Will and Susie, along with their two children, as adornment. “I just love all of the fun, the flowers, the bugs, the sparkles. All the irreverence,” says McKinley. There’s that word again…. The Tallahassee power couple recently acquired a three-by-four canvas of Queen Elizabeth II. It was a gift from Will to his wife for their recent anniversary. Another fond memory was when McKinley took her mother to New Orleans, and they stopped by Longshore’s gallery. McKinley’s then 86-year-old mother loved sitting in a clear, 1970s swing chair in the shop. Longshore’s quirky personality shines into every canvas and bleeds into her social media, where she shares photos of herself dancing in sparkly outfits, videos of random people doing hilarious things, and of course, her own art. In October, she posted one of her paintings, a still life of four champagne bottles. The canvas held the words: “Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos were blasting off to space. I was drinking champagne and waiting for my edible to kick in.” Wrote Longshore in the caption: “Social media has created an environment rampant with comparison. It is wildly unhealthy. This series explores highbrow activities vs. shit that makes me happy … it is more clear than ever that we must find joy in the simplest of things. Sure, being on a yacht in Italy is great, but it isn’t better than eating cake naked in bed with your dog.” Winter 2022

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More of Longshore’s philosophy is captured in her first book, “You Don’t Look Fat, You Look Crazy: An Unapologetic Guide to Being Ambitchous.” It’s an ode to drinking champagne, wearing designer heels and “pulling up your big girl panties,” to use a phrase that pops up frequently in Longshore’s work. Ana Cruz, a Democratic lobbyist and Tampa’s First Lady, was blown away when she first saw Longshore’s vibe online, and even more so when she visited the New Orleans studio. “I walk up to the door and the door says, ‘no homophobes,’ ” said Cruz. “It’s like she had my heart right then and there.” She bought her first piece, a round portrait of Audrey Hepburn with goldfish in the background. She then added an Abraham Lincoln and a Frida Kahlo to her home. Cruz and her mother visited the Bergdorf exhibit, and “soaked it all in, with champagne.” “Every bonus I got, quarterly, I would think about another big piece,” she said. Finally, she purchased a large portrait of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Cruz was so thrilled that she snapped a photo of herself sitting next to it on the sofa, while kissing the frame. “Ashley’s just such a larger than life artist. So real. She’s not scared of anything,” Cruz said. Cruz talks about Longshore to whoever will listen, and several Tampa people have fallen in love with the work because of her enthusiasm. “Art brings me so much joy. It’s a feeling that is, like love. The feeling I get is very intangible. I can’t imagine living without art,” Cruz said. “I feel bad for people with nothing on their walls. Art really does make a space into a room that can make you feel something. Anything. We’re so numb nowadays. Everyone’s on their phones, life is so fast. You’ve got to stop and look at a piece of art and let yourself feel what it does to you.”

“Art brings me so much joy. It’s a feeling that is, like love. The feeling I get is very intangible. I can’t imagine living without art.” – Ana Cruz

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“She’s funky, she’s fresh, she’s accessible.” – Anthony Pedicini

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“I thought about the Queen’s strength, and it would help me. I would have bad days, and I thought about her long reign and what she’s been through in life.” – Michelle Todd Schorsch

Cruz introduced GOP strategist Anthony Pedicini to Longshore’s upbeat paintings. “She’s funky, she’s fresh, she’s accessible,” says Pedicini, who owns multiple Longshore paintings. One is a stunning piece of Winston Churchill covered in red and pink lipstick kisses — and a Warhol-like pattern of bulldogs in the background. Pedicini has been enthralled with Longshore ever since Cruz turned him on to her work. He pondered several pieces, including one of a $100 bill, with the words “Are All the Secrets True” scrawled on the canvas. “I just thought it was clever. What does that mean to you?” he said. In the end, he settled on Churchill, a small frame of Audrey Hepburn, and one of Theodore Roosevelt. The paintings are hung in his homes in Tallahassee and Tampa, and in his office. Michelle Todd Schorsch, wife of INFLUENCE Magazine publisher Peter Schorsch, has purchased two Longshore paintings for their home: a portrait of Lincoln for their living room and one of young Queen Elizabeth for their bedroom. Lincoln’s “beard and eyebrows are pink and purple glitter,” says Michelle. “He just draws your eye no matter where you are on the first floor of our house.” Schorsch said that while she was in a hospital ICU for a serious health issue, the four-by-four painting of the queen arrived. When she went home and regained her strength in bed, she stared at the painting. “I thought about her strength, and it would help me. I would have bad days, and I thought about her long reign and what she’s been through in life.” Schorsch has her eye on a painting of Justice Ginsburg, and her daughter Ella Joyce has tried to talk her into buying Longshore’s portrait of Alexander Hamilton, since she saw the musical. Longshore, who declined an interview, has said in previous articles that she likes to portray the achievement of the American Dream in her work — something that she identifies with personally. “I don’t have to ask nobody for anything. That is power, that is our freedom in America, and also as women,” she told Paper City magazine in 2019. “If you have your own money — you can love who the hell you want to. You can live where the hell you want to, you can buy what you want without permission. I don’t know about y’all, but to me that’s power.” Can’t get to New Orleans? Don’t want to drop five figures on a painting yet? Just want to lie in bed and eat cake with your dog while finding out more about Longshore’s work? Or maybe you’re looking for the perfect gift for the badass woman in your life. Check out Longshore’s new hardcover book, published Nov. 23. Titled “Roar!: A Collection of Mighty Women,” it’s a visual feast of Longshore’s portraits of inspirational women. Among the pieces contained within the gorgeous coffee table book published by Rizzoli: Poet Maya Angelou, artist Frida Kahlo, and on the cover, Ginsburg. Winter 2022

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Florida

Florida’s nursing home residents deserve better What’s happening in Florida nursing homes and other long-term care facilities during the pandemic is an unacceptable tragedy. More than 11,000 long-term care residents died because of unsafe conditions. That’s one in six COVIDrelated deaths in the state. Our seniors deserve better. It’s time to hold nursing homes and other long-term care facilities accountable for providing a safe environment and quality care for residents. AARP is fighting for seniors in nursing homes to make sure safe, high-quality care is a priority.

Learn more at action.aarp.org/FLCare facebook.com/aarpfl | @AARPFL | aarp.org/FL 62

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Paid for by AARP


Join us in fighting for

FREEDOM. Visit AmericansforProsperity.org Winter 2022

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The universe of Kathleen Passidomo Kathleen Passidomo has been in the Legislature for more than a decade, but with her primed to take over as Senate President next year, it’s high time to get acquainted with her orbit. There are a few hundred thousand people in the Naples Republican’s inner circle. That’s not a cop-out. While many elected officials say they put constituents first, Passidomo is one who truly follows through. Well before she entered public office, Passidomo put serving her community front and center — how else do you explain the Naples Daily News naming her “Citizen of the Year” in 2000? The next ring out is where you’ll find her trusted confidants. Passidomo’s husband (and General Counsel), John Passidomo, is the anchor in this corner of the galaxy and the couple’s three daughters — Catarina, Francesca and Gabriella — also have astronomical sway. But Tucker may very well outshine them all. The golden retriever has the distinguished title of “Comforter in Chief.” Further out, but still within the Goldilocks zone, is where you’ll find her closest colleagues in the chamber. It’s a mix of Republicans from all corners of the state, including Ocala Sen. Dennis Baxley, Gulf Breeze Sen. Doug Broxson, Panama City Sen. George Gainer, St. Augustine Sen. Travis Hutson, and Gainesville Sen. Keith Perry. Fittingly, the ring also includes Melbourne Sen. Debbie Mayfield, who represents the Space Coast. The furthest ring in the Passidomo System is composed of lobbyists and consultants. Don’t be fooled by their distance from the center — each has earned the Senate President-designate’s trust over the past 10 years, and they’ll surely have her ear when she takes the gavel in November. The orbit includes Carol Bracy of Ballard Partners, David Browning and Nicole Graganella Kelly of The Southern Group, Robert Coker, Leslie Dughi of Metz Husband & Daughton, Jeff Hartley and Teye Reeves of Smith Bryan & Myers, FPL lobbyist John Holley, Capital City Consulting founder Nick Iarossi, Fred Karlinsky of Greenberg Traurig, Lori Killinger of Lewis Longman & Walker, Crystal Stickle of Magnolia Advocacy and Rubin Turnbull & Associates managing partner Heather Turnbull.

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Tallahassee Downtown welcomed a new wine and event space called Poco Vino on Oct. 25th. The dream of businesses owner and sommelier Amanda Morrison and lobbyist-turned-sommelier Augustin “Gus” Corbella came to life in an incredible downtown space on South Adams Street. They have a curated natural wine selection, trained wine experts to help you find the best wine, and multiple unique event space options for your meeting and party needs.


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1. Co-owners Gus Corbella and Amanda Morrison at the ribbon cutting ceremony. 2. Chris Dudley, lobbyist and Tallahassee Downtown Board Chair, gives remarks. 3. Florida Retail Federation CEO Scott Shalley laughs with Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey. 4. Rep. Allison Tant gives remarks at the ceremony. 5. Local sommelier Traylor Roberts and Poco Vino Creative Director Christina Anduiza-Roberts talk with Mayor Dailey. 6. Morrison sabers a bottle of champagne to signal the official opening of Poco Vino. Winter 2022

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Trunk or Treat On Oct. 28th, the Capitol Police hosted Trunk or Treat at the Capitol Complex. They were joined by other state and local organizations and agencies, as well as other first responders from the community. Open to the public, kids of all ages came dressed up and ready to participate in various games and activities. They collected candy and information about community resources and safety tips.

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1. Families participating in Trunk or Treat in the Capitol courtyard. 2. EOG Deputy Director of Policy, Chris Emmanuel, at Trunk or Treat with his son. 3. Superheroes Captain America and Batman made an appearance. 4. One of many agency representatives in attendance, DARE mascot Daren the Lion giving a high five. 5. Costumes varied from princesses and police officers, to robots and koala bears. 6. Each agency or organization had a trunk set up, with many emergency vehicles decorated for the event. 7. FWC brought air boats for kids to look at and learn about. 8. First responders handing out candy.

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Pre-Session The Leon County Delegation, made up of Reps. Allison Tant, Ramon Alexander and Jason Shoaf, and Sen. Loranne Ausley (chair), held its annual meeting Oct. 25 ahead of the 2022 Legislation Session. This meeting is where local officials, members of the public, and other interested parties have an opportunity to present legislative proposals or express opinions to their elected state officials.

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1. Rep. Allison Tant, Sen. Loranne Ausley, and Rep. Ramon Alexander sitting during the delegation meeting. 2. The room was full of community members, with many others joining virtually, including Rep. Jason Shoaf. 70

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Talking 2020 Wall Street Journal senior White House reporter Michael Bender was joined by POLITICO reporter Gary Fineout at Bender’s book signing on Oct. 28 at Midtown Reader. Fineout and Bender discussed the book, Bender’s journey of writing during a pandemic, and insights from the Trump White House. "Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost" was released in July 2021.

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1. Michael Bender and Gary Fineout discussing the book at Midtown Reader. 2. Midtown Reader owner Sally Bradshaw welcoming guests to the event. 3. Bender taking questions from the live audience. 72

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Showtime Earvin “Magic” Johnson came to Tallahassee to talk about mental health. Simply Healthcare hosted a roundtable discussion inside the Historic Capitol's Senate Chamber. The panel included Johnson, Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Shevaun Harris, Chair of the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics Lisa Gwynn, and Apalachee Center President Jay Reeve. They spoke to local high school and college student athletes about the stigma surrounding mental illness, as well as the importance of prioritizing their own mental health and what to do when they need support.

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1. The discussion was held in the Historic Capitol's Senate Chamber. 2. Magic Johnson with Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Shevaun Harris. 3. Lisa Gwynn, Chair of the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, joins in the discussion. 4. Florida State University men’s basketball coach Leonard Hamilton introduces Magic Johnson at the “Ditch the Stigma” roundtable on Nov. 2. 5. Johnson is joined by an athlete from Tallahassee’s St. John Paul II High School. 6. Johnson leads a discussion with Tallahassee high school and college athletes about mental health.

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Advocacy. Strategic Counsel. Experienced Insight. We are a team of high-energy, results-driven lobbyists and advisors determined to help our clients succeed in today’s fast-changing governmental and political landscape. What’s different about us? As a boutique consulting firm, we take a true team approach to serving clients at the local, state and federal levels of government. When you engage our firm, you get all of us—from our principals to our consultants, all of our diverse experience, our deep relationships built for decades, and our complete dedication to your success. We’re proud of our long-time client relationships and our reputation for achieving results while maintaining the highest ethical and professional standards. Get to know us at RubinTurnbull.com.

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Miami

Washington, DC


Briefings from the Rotunda

5 minutes with Dawn Shirreffs Florida Director, Environmental Defense Fund

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Dawn Shirreffs has led the Environmental Defense Fund in Florida since 2020, moving from Miami to St. Petersburg where the group is based. Since taking over, Shirreffs has championed climate change solutions, using a variety of methods to educate the public and policymakers and leading efforts to fund the buildout of electric vehicle infrastructure in the Sunshine State and make Florida’s Chief Resilience Officer position permanent. 2021 accomplishments. Faced with an unrelenting COVID-19 crisis, Shirreffs maintained her organization’s mission throughout 2021, including through EDF’s Let’s Tackle Climate Change initiative. She championed public awareness through robust Super Bowl advertising and lobbied for the Sustainability & Resiliency Grant Program in the 2021 Legislative Session. Shirreffs also led the completion of the Rural Economic Impact Report and was integral in creating a state Chief Resilience Officer position, which led to its first report. Shirreffs also helped produce EDF’s Keeping Florida, Florida film series and a virtual reality experience program to boost education initiatives. Chief Resilience Officer. After being without a Chief Resilience Officer since March 2020, Shirreffs helped fill the role before Gov. Ron DeSantis named Wesley Brooks to the position in late November. Brooks will be tasked with preparing Florida for the environmental, physical and economic impacts of sea level rise, a key function of Shirreffs’ leadership and the EDF mission. Don’t tax EVs. “Thankfully, the Florida Legislature voted against a new tax on electric vehicles that would slow adoption and Florida’s Department of Transportation is advancing a master plan to help us catch up with other states’ EV charging infrastructure in ways that help with hurricane evacuation and focus on equity and rural communities,” Shirreffs said of failed 2021 efforts to alleviate lost gas taxes through an electrical vehicle user fee.

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It’s expensive to be cool. While she celebrated several wins in 2021, Shirreffs is looking ahead to a challenge that will hit pocketbooks: the cost to cool homes. Without action on climate change, Shirreffs cites a 2017 study showing Florida will see a more than 5% increase on electric bills annually, or about $1.2 billion every year. “At a minimum, Florida should enhance opportunities for residents of all income levels to invest in energy efficiency measures that will decrease their electric bills, while also reducing climate pollution.” Her role. As Florida Director, Shirreffs works to integrate, enhance and scale EDF’s existing assets in Florida, working with a growing team to mobilize influencers and constituencies to reach and build relationships with members of Congress. Shirr-

effs holds a bachelor’s degree in growth management and environmental studies from Rollins College, a master’s of public administration from Florida International University and a nonprofit management executive certificate from Georgetown University.

What’s next? Shirreffs’ work is not done. Throughout 2022, EDF will work to build, fund and implement its Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Plan, fully resource the Chief Resilience Officer position and build a robust statewide sustainable energy strategy. That strategy will include incentivizing efficiency, prioritizing renewable energy and protecting Florida Families from rising fuel costs.

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Briefings from the Rotunda

Alan Suskey’s latest move

As the managing partner at Shumaker Advisors’ Tallahassee practice, Alan Suskey leans on his personal experience and legislative expertise to provide clients with a unique perspective.

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ike all of the best lobbyists, Alan Suskey shapes perspective, the attribute that comes with time and distance from the task at hand, just as the muscles of the eye adjust to light. The managing principal of Shumaker Advisors Florida has a deep background in legislation, technology and procurement, which the Tallahassee firm leverages for national reach into regulated industries, state agencies and public policy. An unforgiving clash of worlds shaped his own perspective. Suskey is old Florida, at least six generations away from the grandfather who numbered among one of North Florida’s first settlers. He grew up in Cottondale in Jackson County, an hour’s drive from the Capitol building where an uncle from Fort Lauderdale, Jim Scott, served 24 years in the state Senate, including a stint as President. Suskey was drawn to his uncle’s stories and what he saw of Tallahassee. “Through him I always had a love for politics,” he said. “But I never knew where I was going to fit in in the political world.” After graduating in 1999 from Cottondale High, Suskey enlisted in the Army. Around the same time, U.S. and NATO forces were bombing Serb positions in defense of ethnic Albanians, part of the Kosovo War. That campaign had ended by the time the 18-year-old Suskey deployed to Germany, his base for the next six years between two tours in Iraq. His unit was on a remote training exercise Sept. 11, 2001, when a commanding officer arrived and gathered the soldiers to tell them the news: Hijacked planes had attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. “We were two or three hours away from where we were stationed in Germany,” Suskey said. “We made the drive back and put our gear away, and that was the first time we saw the footage of what happened. And the conversation quickly turned to, ‘Well, life is different now, especially for us. We all knew that we were very quickly going to be deployed.” Suskey was part of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the leading edge of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He remained in Baghdad a year, returned to Germany for eight months and then back to Iraq an additional 13 months. Facing bullets and roadside bombs while fighting a dictatorship left deep impressions. “I can remember standing in a field in southern Iraq,” he recalled. “We had taken some dignitaries on a tour, including in a Chinook over one of the mass burial sites. And as far as you could see, there were nothing but garbage bags. These were mass graves. And people were going through, trying to find some sort of personal memento of

a family member who had been killed under the Saddam Hussein regime. “And I think that anybody who sees that will very quickly know that we were there for the right reasons.” Suskey participated in numerous Best Warrior competitions, the Army’s annual competition testing physical and mental skills across all major categories of service. The exams are supposed to be challenging, virtually impossible to study for, and include a second phase in which senior officers grill contestants on military bearing and responsibilities down to specific regulations and their numbers.


Briefings from the Rotunda

Over eight years of service, Suskey distinguished himself repeatedly, starting with winning Company Soldier of the Month as a private first-class. He racked up wins as Battalion Soldier of the Quarter, Brigade Soldier of the Quarter and Brigade Soldier of the Year. He won the competition for Fifth Corps (now V Corps), a command and control corps in Europe; then Soldier of the Year for U.S. Army Europe. The only honor that remained was the

big one — the Army’s Best Warrior Competition held each year in Fort Lee, Virginia. He came within a few points of winning that, too, the equivalent of a photo finish. He left the Army as a staff sergeant and worked on Capitol Hill as a military aide for then-U.S. Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young. Suskey moved to St. Petersburg in 2008, where he managed legislative policy and appropriations requests for SRI International, a research institute working

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with the Department of Homeland Security. Two years later he co-founded Three Bridges Advisors with former U.S. Rep. David Jolly, himself a Bill Young protege. In 2014 he founded Suskey Consulting in Tallahassee. The former firm’s Vice President, Donovan Brown, put his lengthy legal and political background to use communicating with legislators and advising several state agencies. He has since moved on to found Capital Advocates but continues to work alongside Suskey as of counsel to Shumaker Advisors Florida. Meanwhile, government consultant RJ Myers, channeled knowledge gained in more than two dozen campaign wins into relationships with elected officials and fluency in health, energy and transportation. He joined Suskey at Shumaker when the firms merged in October. Once or twice a year, Suskey escapes to Napa Valley for wine tasting with Sarah, a Tallahassee lobbyist and his wife since 2018. He also reserves time each year to spend with men he served with in Iraq. Here he can talk about experiences he has shared with no one else, including his wife. The slivers of beauty and lessons from those years still guide his path and help him think on his feet. “A lot of times you have to go with your gut,” he said. “And what your gut tells you is either the right answer or the right thing to do. You’re making split-second decisions.”

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Kalel joins Sunrise Consulting

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here’s a new face at Sunrise Consulting Group. The firm recently announced Andrew Kalel has joined the group as a government affairs consultant. “Andrew brings an enthusiasm for legislative appropriations, building relationships, and playing the role of the connector,” Shawn Foster, President and CEO of Sunrise Consulting Group, said in a statement. Before joining Sunrise, Kalel was the joint legislative affairs director for the Offices of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel. In this role, Kalel was successful in building the organizations’ first legislative program and devised a strategy aimed at increasing awareness of the agencies’ mission, purpose, and policy and budgetary needs. During his time there, the offices saw a more than 30% increase in funding and the passage of several pieces of legislation critical to agency operations. Kalel previously served in project management at Shutts & Bowen, where he supported large government affairs projects by serving as a liaison with the Executive Office of the Governor, tracking legislation, and gathering and analyzing political research. He also obtained his insurance adjuster and broker license, serving as a catastrophic adjuster after Hurricane Matthew. A 2015 graduate of Florida State University, Kalel will be based in Tallahassee.

Ballas to serve as VP at Public Affairs Consultants

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ublic Affairs Consultants has tapped Erin Ballas to serve as the firm’s Vice President. “Erin brings a sense of family to our firm, ensuring our clients always receive excellent service,” said Keyna Cory, the firm’s President. “We are thrilled to continue to develop as a firm with Erin’s enthusiasm and passion for the process.” A veteran government affairs professional, Ballas got her start at Public Affairs Consultants in 2008, joining the firm as a legislative intern. A Florida State University alumna, Ballas has served in a variety of roles at Public Affairs Consultants, including a legislative assistant and associate partner. “Erin has always been an essential asset to our team,” said Jack Cory, founding member of Public Affairs Consultants. “She will continue to help our firm grow and provide the best services to our clients.” The firm credits Ballas and her experience forging strong relationships, crafting legislation, and securing funding with its significant growth over the years. “I have enjoyed every day with Public Affairs Consultants. Our work ethic is unmatched, and we believe in our clients. Our firm is made up of two of the hardest working individuals in politics, and I am blessed to call them my partners,” she said. “I look forward to continuing to grow the firm and help our clients achieve their goals.” Ballas will continue to live in Tallahassee with her husband, John Ballas, and two children, Dayton and Jett.

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PHOTOS: The Workmans

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Joyner named CEO and EVP of Florida Citrus Mutual

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he Florida Citrus Mutual Board of Directors has selected a seventh-generation Floridian to lead its organization. The Board announced that G. Matthew “Matt” Joyner has been tapped to serve as Chief Executive Officer and Executive Vice President effective April 1. “Matt brings a unique perspective and skillset to Florida Citrus Mutual having worked side-by-side with both legislators in the halls of Congress and growers in the groves of Florida,” said Glenn

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Beck, President of Florida Citrus Mutual. “We are excited and encouraged for the future with him at the helm.” Joyner currently serves as the director of government relations at Florida Citrus Mutual. A University of South Florida alum, Joyner worked in financial services before joining the staff of then-U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam in 2001. In that role, he served in a variety of capacities, including working his way up to chief of staff. In 2011, Joyner joined the Florida De-

partment of Agriculture and Consumer Services as federal affairs director and later became deputy chief of staff. Joyner succeeds Michael W. Sparks, the current CEO/EVP, who recently announced his intention to retire. Sparks will stay onboard until June 30 to help with the transition. “Mike Sparks has led us through some of the toughest times this industry has ever seen,” said Tom Mitchell, the past-president of the organization. “Florida Citrus Mutual and the Florida citrus industry will be forever grateful for his service and leadership.” Founded in 1948, Florida Citrus Mutual is the state’s largest citrus grower organization, currently representing nearly 2,500 grower members.


Thank you! Thanks to our incredible clients, we have reached a milestone in the firm’s history. We now represent 500 clients collectively among our offices in Florida, DC, Boston, and Tel Aviv! We are grateful to our clients for their confidence and trust in the Ballard Partners team.

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Washington DC | Tel Aviv | Boston | Tallahassee | Fort Lauderdale Miami | Jacksonville | Orlando | Tampa | West Palm Beach Winter 2022

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PHOTO: The Workmans

Trish Conners joins Stearns Weaver Miller

Rojas to serve as FSU legislative affairs manager

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ina Rojas is heading back to Florida State University. The Florida State alumna has been tapped to serve as the legislative affairs manager in the university’s Office of Government Affairs. Rojas will report to Chief Legislative Officer Clay Ingram and will help support key government relations strategies aimed at furthering the university’s policy and budget priorities. “We could not be more excited to have Lina join our team,” said Ingram. “Lina’s experience in the legislative and executive branches of state government along with her passion for higher education make her perfectly suited to serve as our legislative affairs manager.” Rojas most recently served as a policy adviser to Senate President Wilton Simpson. Before that, she worked in the Florida Senate Majority Office where she crafted messaging for public policy and legislative achievements. “Lina has been a tremendous asset to the Florida Senate President’s Office, serving as a policy advisor for education and handling all of President Simpson’s appointments to boards and commissions,” said Kathy Mears, chief of staff to Simpson and the former chief legislative officer at Florida State. “She has a special passion for higher education, which coupled with her knowledge of the legislative process will serve Florida State University very well.” Before her time in the Florida Senate, the Miami native spent five years in the Executive Office of the Governor under both Gov. Rick Scott and Gov. Ron DeSantis. During her stint in the Governor’s Office, she worked in external affairs as well as in the Office of Policy and Budget as a policy and budget analyst for the state university system.

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he former Chief Deputy Attorney General has joined the ranks of Stearns Weaver Miller. The law firm announced recently that Patricia “Trish” Conners has joined the Tallahassee office as a shareholder in the antitrust, competition and consumer protection group. Conners spent 36 years serving seven Florida attorneys general in various senior executive positions, including chief deputy. As chief deputy, Conners oversaw more than 1,110 employees and engaged in a wide array of matters. During her time as deputy attorney general for enforcement, she oversaw the office’s antitrust and complex enforcement, civil rights, consumer protection, false claims and lemon law arbitration divisions. She also previously served as the director of antitrust and complex enforcement.


HEAR THE STORIES BEHIND THE POLITICS. In 2001, Conners was the first woman to be appointed to the chair of the Multistate Antitrust Task Force of the National Association of Attorneys General, serving in that capacity until 2005. At Stearns Weaver Miller, Conners will advise clients, both plaintiffs and defendants, regarding antitrust, competition and consumer enforcement issues. She’ll also provide compliance counseling and training to clients, as well as provide strategic counsel regarding investigative, litigation and settlement strategies. Conners is an active member of various antitrust law organizations, including the American Bar Association’s Antitrust Law Section. She is also on the board of the Florida Bar in antitrust and trade regulation, is a long time member of the Advisory Board for the American Antitrust Institute, and was recently elected to serve on the Board of Directors for The State Center, a nonprofit that helps provide training to state attorneys general antitrust and consumer protection staff.

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Briefings from the Rotunda

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Converge Public Strategies launches firm advisory board

Shutts & Bowen expands Orlando team

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hutts & Bowen is staffing up, announcing that Donna Valin has joined the firm as a partner in its business litigation practice group. Valin, who is also a member of the firm’s hospitality practice group, will focus on complex commercial disputes, consumer protection, regulatory compliance and governmental affairs. “Donna is no stranger to rolling up her sleeves and digging in. She’s really made a difference for individuals and companies alike while working with regulators and enforcement agencies across the country,” said Bud Bennington, the senior litigator who heads the Orlando hospitality team. “Her attitude, experience and vast knowledge of the industry instantly makes Donna incredibly valuable to our team, and we are excited about her future with Shutts & Bowen.” Before joining Shutts & Bowen, Valin served as a bureau chief for the state Attorney General’s Office in the Consumer Protection Division. During her tenure, she oversaw all bureau litigation, handling hundreds of complex disputes involving multistate and multiagency matters. She was instrumental in spearheading and leading the Attorney General’s Military and Veterans Assistance Program, and she led several statewide initiatives. “I look forward to collaborating with the firm’s Business Litigation lawyers to help consumers and companies avoid scams, and most importantly to be made whole again after an injustice,” she said. “Shutts has a stellar reputation for its work in the hospitality industry and I am thrilled to be a member of such a successful team. Vain received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida and her law degree from Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law.

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onverge Public Strategies, a top-tier public affairs firm, has assembled a who’s who of government affairs professionals to provide top-level insight. Converge announced it has launched a board of advisers to its government relations practice. The board will meet regularly and participate in an annual conference hosted by the firm. “Converge is fortunate to have some of the best minds and most-connected professionals in public affairs not just to cheer us on, but to lend us their hard-earned expertise and wisdom,” Jonathan Kilman, Converge Chairman, said in a statement. “Their affiliation with our firm makes a statement about our position in the public affairs market today.” The initial board includes Prashanthi Rao Ramen, the Vice President of global government affairs at Cruise, an autonomous vehicle company; April Mims, Senior Vice President of public policy at Hims & Hers, a telehealth company; Ron Bilbao, Vice President and head of public affairs for North America at REEF, a mobility and logistic innovator; Cesar Fernandez, director of public affairs for Pacaso, a tech-enabled second home innovator and Converge alum; and Chris Massey, operating partner for government relations, social impact and DE&I at Craft Ventures. “The opportunity to participate in a Board of Advisors for Converge Public Strategies is a win-win for the board members and Converge,” said Mims. “We have the opportunity to support Converge and Converge provides board members a platform to collaborate with our peers and gain support from a top-tier public affairs firm we trust and respect.” Based in Miami, Converge Public Strategies is a national public affairs firm that provides government relations, communications and digital services to clients.

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Briefings from the Rotunda

BundleTrack US is simplifying the fundraising tracking process

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ook out, candidates: Tracking contributions may be getting a bit easier. Noreen Fenner, a longtime political campaign treasurer, recently launched BundleTrack US, a state-of-the-art contribution tracking system. The online program is designed to help track contributions from request to delivery. The system, among other things, coordinates lists of contributors, generates status reports and ensures credit is given where credit is due. Fenner is no stranger to campaign fundraising. Since 2015, she’s served as the President of PAC Financial Management, a full-service firm specializing in financial management of political committees and candidate campaigns. Before joining PAC Financial Management, Fenner was a legislative and executive branch lobbyist for 13 years, working with Tidewater Consulting Inc.

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A current look into public safety from Florida’s most influential people and national leaders

FSACast A Florida Sheriffs Association Podcast

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INFLUENCE Winter 2022


FOURTH FLOOR>FILES

Building strategies with the Golden Rule in mind Significant other? Children? Grand kids? Loving and supportive husband of six years, William Arnold; spunky 3-year-old daughter, Frannie; and our two lovable labradoodles, Mac and Charlie. In 25 words or less, explain what you do. Build strategies toward solutions on behalf of our clients and work with elected officials and executive branch leadership to accomplish goals. If you have one, what is your motto? Be a principled person with integrity and determination, think before you speak, and the Golden Rule — Treat others as you’d want to be treated.

What swear word do you use most often? Usually, the F word

During your career, have you had a favorite pro bono client? Not a client, necessarily, but the Tree House of Tallahassee. I believe in their mission and am chairing their 2022 charity event, Fast Cars and Mason Jars. It’s during the thick of Session, so I consider it a labor of love.

What is your most treasured possession? My family and small circle of lifelong friends.

Any last-day-of-Session traditions? Dinner with my husband after Sine Die.

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? Probably my four best friends from childhood. We all grew up in Florida and have differing political views and opinions, but there is a lot of love and respect between us. I think the content would be interesting and entertaining.

What are you most looking forward to during the 2022 Legislative Session? Florida’s Capitol buzzing with people and continuing to learn about and work on our client issues. If you could have another lobbyist’s client list, it would be… None. I think our client list is bar none. Professional accomplishment of which you are most proud? Being an integral part of passing legislation to address workforce challenges in the health care space and balancing marriage, parenthood, friendships, and a successful career. Lobbyists are often accused of wearing Gucci loafers; do you own a pair of Gucci loafers? If not, why not? No Gucci loafers here. I prefer to splurge on vacations and experiences. PHOTO: The Workmans

Other than Florida Politics.com, your reading list includes … For work: Politico.com, Tampa Bay Times, News Service of Florida. For fun: lots of children’s books with my daughter, Garden & Gun, Real Simple, anything by Liane Moriarty, and biographies and memoirs. I just finished Meghan McCain’s “Bad Republican.”

Who is your favorite Florida Capitol Press Corps reporter and why? Christine Sexton. She is a thorough health care reporter, and her journalism is reliable.

The best hotel in Florida is… Amelia Island Ritz Carlton

Favorite movie? “It’s a Wonderful Life” When you pig out, what do you eat? Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream If you could have dinner with a historical figure no longer living, who would it be? Abraham Lincoln for his humane and humble leadership and his ability to pull our country back together through tremendous turmoil.

Melody Arnold

Winter 2022

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FOURTH FLOOR>FILES

Do what’s right, not what’s easy Significant other? Children? Grand kids? Married (up) to Patricia Levesque. Blessed with the complete set of kids: Luke and Isabella. In 25 words or less, explain what you do. I advise. I advocate. I argue. I counsel. Not necessarily in that order. If you have one, what is your motto? Do what is right, not what is easy. We were made to do hard things. During your career, have you had a favorite pro bono client? Yes. I represented a mom who fell on hard times but she got her life back together and had her visitation rights to see her kids restored. Any last-day-of-Session traditions? No. There are enough end-of-Session traditions without me creating more. What are you most looking forward to during the 2022 Legislative Session? Setting the all-time record in fewest bills passed (as long as my bills still pass). If you could have another lobbyist’s client list, it would be… I love my clients. It would feel like cheating to look at someone else’s. Professional accomplishment of which you are most proud? Obtaining the first state appellate decision recognizing the legislative privilege in Florida and negotiating the 2010 Gaming Compact. Lobbyists are often accused of wearing Gucci loafers; do you own a pair of Gucci loafers? If not, why not? No. In my experience, stylish shoes are rarely comfortable. Who is your favorite Florida Capitol Press Corps reporter and why? Jim Rosica because I always felt like he gave me a fair shake. Other than Florida Politics.com, your reading list includes… The Federal and Southern Reporters, The Dispatch, and Axios What swear word do you use most often? Since my mom might read this, I’d rather not say. What is your most treasured possession? My time. I try not to put too much value on stuff. The best hotel in Florida is… The one where the conference is that is sold out because I booked too late. 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? Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Rod Smith, and Dan Gelber Favorite movie. “The Godfather” and “The Godfather: Part II.”

George Levesque

If you could have dinner with a historical figure no longer living, who would it be? Always a tough one, but I tend to favor Calvin Coolidge, one of the more underrated presidents. I don’t speak Greek, so Alexander the Great is a nonstarter.

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PHOTO: The Workmans

When you pig out, what do you eat? When? I’m not sure I understand the question. I eat anything.


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INFLUENCE Winter 2022

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FOURTH FLOOR>FILES

Navigating the American Ninja Warrior of Florida politics Significant other? Children? Grand kids? I have a very patient husband, Jesse, two spirited little ladies, Ruby, 11, and Ellis Pearl, 8, but the real MVP is my little papillion, Olive.

Lobbyists are often accused of wearing Gucci loafers; do you own a pair of Gucci loafers? If not, why not? No, I don’t wear flats and if I owned loafers, they would be Valentino.

In 25 words or less, explain what you do. Help people navigate the political equivalent of American Ninja Warrior in 60 days or less via, and I cannot stress this enough, a LOT of talking, of phone calls, text messages and meetings. My daughter once stated that all I did for my job was talk on the phone and then asked if that was even a real job. This is also a fair characterization.

Who is your favorite Florida Capitol Press Corps reporter and why? Christine Sexton, whether you like it or not, always gets the health care scoop first. I am also a fan of her other half – Gary Fineout. May we never forget his ear pressed to the door of a closed meeting.

If you have one, what is your motto? FAFO During your career, have you had a favorite pro bono client? Yes, Calhoun Liberty Hospital. The hospital was barely operational after Hurricane Michael came through. Through the help of many, we were able to get them back online to serve the community and they are now in the process of building a brand new hospital. It was an honor to work with such wonderful and resilient people who never gave up and continued to provide care to those in need without a roof or electricity. Any last-day-of-Session traditions? Sine die is the most dangerous day of the year. I make sure to stay in the building until the hankie is completely on the floor then celebrate surviving another Session.

PHOTO: The Workmans

Crystal Stickle

What are you most looking forward to during the 2022 Legislative Session? Getting to the finish line, that and being allowed back in the building If you could have another lobbyist’s client list, it would be… I don’t envy others, you do you. Professional accomplishment of which you are most proud? As someone who has spent most of my career focused on health care, I am most proud of the various bills over the years I have worked on to create transparency, improve quality of care and increase access for Florida’s patients.

Other than Florida Politics.com, your reading list includes… Twitter, Modern Healthcare, Politico and The Hill What swear word do you use most often? I am an equal opportunity employer. Whatever fits the situation. What is your most treasured possession? The 100-year-old ring of my great grandmother’s that I now wear as a necklace and the pearls my grandfather brought my grandmother back from his service in the Korean War. The best hotel in Florida is… The Biltmore in Coral Gables 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? Former Sen. Bob Graham, Former Gov. Jeb Bush, Former Senate President Toni Jennings, Senate President Wilton Simpson and moderator Carl Hiaasen. Favorite movie. “The Goonies” When you pig out, what do you eat? Pizza, New York only please If you could have dinner with a historical figure no longer living, who would it be? Former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, without a doubt. He was a true character.

Winter 2022

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INFLUENCE Winter 2022


{ insider TAKES

Unaddressed health care staffing shortages could lead to worker crisis

By Jennifer Ungru

T

oday almost every industry is facing a workforce shortage. But unlike restaurants and retail, most health care entities need to be 24/7, 365 days a year. For front-line health care workers there has been little to no break for more than 18 months and making matters worse, they are now experiencing a compounded crisis exacerbated by high burnout rates. Fields cannot replace workers at the same pace at which they’re leaving. More than 21.4 million people call the Sunshine State home, and 4.5 million are over 65. Soon, the state will not be able to handle the health care needs of our residents. The ranks of nursing professionals and home care aides for the aging Baby Boomers are dwindling due to stress and burnout, and inadequate numbers of younger individuals seeking to enter the nursing profession are adding to the current crisis. A new report commissioned by the Florida Hospital Association and the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida reflects a 25% turnover rate for Florida nurses overall with even higher turnover rates of 35% for licensed practical nurses and certified nursing assistants. The shortages are not just impacting providers in facilities, they are impacting the state’s overall ability to deliver health care services in Florida. In October, the Home Care Association of America conducted a survey of its 4,000-member agencies confirming this trend. Preliminary results show: 66% had 10 to 40 home care aide vacancies; 42% are denying 11-20 cases each month; 12% denying 2140 cases a month due to staff shortages; 95% have increased starting wages in the past year; 40% are offering sign-on bonuses; 64% have raised wages by $1 or more per hour. During the Florida Legislature’s final week of interim committee meetings in preparation for the 2022 Session, both the

House and Senate heard from providers on how the staffing shortages are leading to access-to-care issues and worsening health outcomes. The Senate Health Appropriations Committee also discussed chronic Medicaid underfunding for various providers and its compounding impact to staffing vacancies. While there is no one single legislative fix that can attack this crisis, there are adaptations that policymakers can consider in light of the challenges and impacts the coronavirus pandemic has inflicted on our health care workforce. While increased Medicaid rates in the Governor’s recommended budget would address some immediate needs, fixes to the education and the regulatory framework would ease systemic issues. This could include: Continuing and broadening grants to pay for additional training. Alternative clinical options during training to open additional training opportunities and locations. Allowing and enticing trained medical staff to teach will allow for more people to train simultaneously, growing the workforce. Review of current licensure process for individuals and entities to see if requirements meet the current and emerging health care practices. Raising public awareness and perception of the occupation of professional caregiving. The Legislature has passed a few measures to help, considering additional measures that could lessen the burden will put Florida’s health care workforce on the path to recovery and growth. Jennifer Ungru leads Dean Mead’s Government Relations & Lobbying practice. She served as chief of staff for the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), from 2012 to 2015. The agency oversees the state of Florida’s Medicaid program and regulates more than 45,000 health care facilities. During her tenure, the agency implemented major health reforms, including the movement to Statewide Medicaid Managed Care.

Winter 2022

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insider TAKES}

Democratic school closures elected Glenn Youngkin

I

n early November, Glenn Youngkin did what many national political strategists thought was impossible — he was elected Governor of Virginia. A Republican had not won a statewide election in Virginia since 2009, and most people believed the state, which had once been solid red, was irretrievably blue. In 2016 Donald Trump lost Virginia by 10 points, and the current Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam won his election four years ago by 9 points. Most considered Virginia unwinnable for the GOP, and with good reason. How did Youngkin, an investment group CEO and political newcomer, beat Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe, an experienced politician with substantial name ID? How could a state that most considered reliably Democrat suddenly shift so far to the right? As with most questions of electoral consequence, the answer is complicated, but as someone who lived it, it is simple: Democrats disastrously fumbled the narrative on education, and parents lost trust in them to do what was best for their children. After watching their children struggle with pandemic-related school closures and restrictions, parents were fed up and took their concerns to the ballot box. I saw the frustration play out firsthand, as a resident and parent in the liberal, affluent, and diverse D.C. suburb of Alexandria, Virginia. The public schools in our town were closed to most children for over 18 months. Private schools, including the ones that our own Alexandria Public Schools Superintendent sent his child to, were still open, with few outbreaks of COVID. Several months into the pandemic, I became active in our local “Open Schools” advocacy group. We made yard signs, issued press statements, attended every School Board meeting, and advocated for a fair and safe return to in-person learning for the children in our community.

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During this tumultuous time, I met countless frustrated parents who previously wouldn’t have ever considered voting for a Republican, yet suddenly felt truly abandoned by their own party. As other states began to return their students to classrooms, parents who had loyally voted for Democrats their whole lives waited for leadership from the Democratic Governor. Instead they saw numerous press releases from teachers, unions and Democratic leaders telling us that reopening schools wasn’t safe — even while private schools and public schools across the country managed to find ways to reopen. Democrats stayed silent when the children of Virginia — especially minority and low-income children, who were most impacted by closures — needed them to speak up. It is clear that Virginia Democrats just didn’t get it. They believed Republicans were fanning the flames of overblown fears of potential critical race theory doctrines or vaccine mandates, but in doing that, they missed the point: Parents had seen behind the curtain, and they were fed up. They watched their children wither behind computer screens for over a year while the Democratic Governor and Democratic leaders did nothing about it. Exhausted mothers and fathers looked on in horror as their children deteriorated in virtual school while their peers enrolled in in-person private schools and states such as Florida continued to thrive. McAuliffe, in one of the most tone-deaf political moves of the election cycle, inexplicably selected American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten as his closing event surrogate during the final stretch of his campaign against Youngkin. Can the seismic shift in Virginia be completely credited toward the systemic failures of Democratic leadership to reopen schools? Perhaps not, as there were other economic, cultural, and classist fac-

By Kirsten Borman Dougherty tors at play. However, education played a prominent role. A WashingtonPost/Schaar School poll on Oct. 26 shows that education was the top issue on voters’ minds heading into the election, and exit polling shows that voters’ trust of Democrats on the issue of education was underwater. What is the lesson for Republicans hoping to replicate Gov.-elect Youngkin’s win in Virginia and for Democrats needing to avoid it? While the messaging of Youngkin’s campaign can’t be exactly replicated across the country, it is clear we are facing a parent-led reckoning in the public education system. Republicans have the right message at their backs. They would be well served to keep education at the forefront and to continue to put the concerns of parents at the forefront — while also listening to and valuing the input of teachers. And for Democrats? The “party of education” cannot take this issue, or the voters who care most about it, for granted. Even in states like Florida where school closures were minimal, conversations regarding learning loss, school choice, and declining education standards are crucial. For decades, Democrats have maintained a significant polling advantage over Republicans on the issue of education, something that many Democratic candidates continue to take for granted heading into the 2022 midterms. Can Youngkin’s victory be cloned in other swing states and districts across the country in 2022? The answer to that is uncertain. But candidates from both parties discount the power of fed-up parents at their own peril. Kirsten Borman Dougherty is a Republican fundraising consultant and founder of the Alexandria, Virginia-based fundraising firm, KB Strategic Group. She spent eight years in Tallahassee as a political operative and fundraiser.


Results Matter. Public Affairs Strategic Counsel Political Communications Legal Communications Crisis Communications Media Relations ALIA FARAJ-JOHNSON PRESIDENT

T. 850.212.8317 E. Alia@AliaStrategicGroup.com ALIASTRATEGICGROUP.COM Winter 2022

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insider TAKES}

Capitol insiders reveal where they go, what they miss, and what they want

T

here’s this thing in Tallahassee where folks who have been here a long time reference landmarks that once were, but are no longer, when giving directions. It sounds something like this: “Head up Monroe, and turn right where the Old Albertsons was.” The social geography of Tallahassee has changed a lot over the years — particularly when it comes to the places politicos gather. In less than 20 years, the go-to spots have shifted dramatically. The Silver Slipper, Café Cabernet, and Paradigm, once staples of after-hours brokering and cavorting, have been razed or replaced. Even Cabos, the iconic Tallahassee restaurant across the street from The Moon (where for years people in The Process have met for drinks and laughs before the annual Press Corps Skits), recently closed its doors for good. So where do today’s electeds, aides, lobbyists, and staffers go? Where should newbies to The Process go to be seen (or not)? Through Florida Politics’ Influencer Poll, we asked that and more — and insiders told us.

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For places people go to see and be seen (or not)

Influencers are in overwhelming agreement when it comes to where folks should go specifically to “see and be seen.” The Governors Club Lounge was named by more than 6 in 10, followed by Il Lusso, with 1 in 3. Many others were about tied: Andrews, Savour, Eve on Adams, and — a short drive from the Capitol — Food Glorious Food. We also asked where folks go when they don’t want to be seen. Not surprisingly, many declined to reveal their private haunts. But here are a few strong contenders, though I wouldn’t suggest going to the top two without an invitation: another person’s private home or office. As far as public spots where you might run into a politico who doesn’t wish to be found: Water Works, Clusters & Hops, and Corner Pocket.

For lunch or coffee near the Capitol

Where to go for lunch, within walking distance of the Capitol? Insiders again name the Governors Club as the top pick. But for something less exclusive, An-

By Karen Cyphers

drew’s, Metro Deli, and Goodies Eatery are the spots cited most often. The Egg Café and Harry’s, both in Klemen Plaza, follow. While cited by just 1 in 10, Earley’s Kitchen on the Lower Level of the Capitol is a fine choice, particularly on rainy days – and if you’re looking for a bump in your step count, OG Subs, Au Peche Mignon, or Brick House are also cited.

For downtown drinking

For at least as long as legislative business has been conducted in the “new” Capitol, watering holes have been an easy walk away. That’s still true today, even if you’re not among the more than half of respondents who boast membership in the Governors Club. Il Lusso, Savour, and Bar 1903 are also high on the list. The newest arrival on the scene, Poco Vino – though not exactly a bar – boasts bottle service, private tastings, and chef dinners that are a must-do. Perhaps the most tenured on the list is Clyde’s & Costello’s, which draws civic and college crowds alike. Hotel-based options including Eve on Adams and Level 8 are also frequent mentions. And you won’t need to call an Uber if you’re already staying an elevator ride away.


For socially distanced socializing

If you’re concerned with social distancing, which about three-quarters of our influencers say they are, Tallahassee offers three solid categories of places to go: parks, patios, and rooftops. For parks, politicos cite Cascades Park, the Chain of Parks, and Tom Brown Park. Patios are plentiful: Proof, Andrew’s, Kool Beanz, the Governors Club, Food Glorious Food, Table 23, and others got strong mentions. And if you’re looking to get out above the skyline, try Eve on Adams or Level 8.

Where to stay (and what to do with The Doubletree’s décor)

Let’s start off by clearing up what nearly all influencers think should happen with the Doubletree’s décor once it’s sold to the highest bidder: Give it a complete redo. One insider put it gently: “The Doubletree looks like a French prostitute bedazzled a Restoration Hardware and should be taken down to the studs.” Nevertheless, the décor doesn’t deter occupancy: The Doubletree is cited among the top two options where process people would stay in Tallahassee, alongside Aloft. The preference between these two does seem to vary according to political orientation: Half of Republican influencers pick Aloft as the top option, while half of Democrats choose Doubletree. The Governors Inn places third, followed by Hotel Duval. That said, just half of out-of-town insiders say they stay in a hotel during visits to Tallahassee. The remainder either own a place of their own in town (1 in 5), use a short-term rental (1 in 4), or stay at a friend’s place (1 in 10).

Uniquely Tallahassee

What’s “uniquely Tallahassee” to one person may not be to you, and responses to the question vary about as much as the people who offered them. The most common response, cited by about 1 in 5, is Shell Oyster Bar, located close enough to the Capitol to make for a convenient lunch yet somehow feels a world away once you’re there. This is followed by the iconic Wakulla Springs and visits to the 22nd Floor of the Capitol. Florida State University is cited by dozens of insiders, who recommend walks around the campus and College Town and attendance at various sporting events including football, basketball, and baseball. Bradfordville Blues Club is a long-standing staple, and leisurely drives down the town’s many canopy roads won’t disappoint. There’s also the Old Capitol and its historic museum, as well as Maclay Gardens — and, as one insider offered but many enjoy, Cheeseburger Wrap Thursdays at Metro Deli.

The Silver Slipper was built by Pete Mouchas in 1938. This view is looking south from the original location’s entrance to the big dining room. This area was formerly a dance floor flanked by the private dining rooms with outside doors. Photo: State Archives of Florida The Capitol’s Plaza Level also includes a small nondenominational chapel, although relatively few visit for a moment of reflection or repose: Just 1% say they pop into the chapel often, and another 9% “every now and then.”

What’s missing from downtown

There’s plenty you still can’t get or do in downtown Tallahassee. Insiders are screaming for a few new outlets within walking distance of the Capitol. A whopping 85% say they would like a drugstore (and a not-insignificant portion suggesting a Trulieve-type med store, too), followed by salons (37%), co-working spaces (26%), and a florist to replace long-time staple Elinor Doyle Florist, which left downtown a decade ago (23%). More than 1 in 10 say they would take a massage therapy break between meetings, and nearly that many say they could use a cobbler or liquor store nearby. But the most telling response is broader – about how the downtown landscape and culture could be transformed. Citing the Ballard building and Il Lusso as an example, lobbyist Gus Corbella offered, “Tallahassee would do well to emulate most state capitals (and bustling Southern towns) by encouraging more retail, bars, restaurants, art galleries, cafes, and entertainment spaces downtown, creating a more vibrant atmosphere well into

the night. Law firms and lobby shops should, where possible, be on upper floors of buildings, encouraging more commerce on the street level.”

What’s most missed

This brings us back to what once was, but is here no longer. The most-missed destination is the Silver Slipper, cited by 4 in 10 influencers as among the top three places they wish was still around. Those who’ve been around long enough to recall its history, its semi-private dining options, and its overall ambiance lament its loss. This is followed by more recent downtown dining options Jasmine Café, missed by 36%, and Avenue Eat and Drink, missed by 29%. Other notables are Po’ Boys – surely not missed for efficient service, but the food and space were great; Café Cabernet, where many say their earliest political lessons were imparted; Gordos on College; Chez Pierre; Cabos; Marie Livingston’s; Uptown; and the recently departed Starbucks at Klemen Plaza. The former Albertsons on Monroe, by the way, is now a SkyZone trampoline park. Which, come to think of it, wouldn’t be the worst place to hold a meeting or two. Karen Cyphers, PhD, is a partner and director of research at Sachs Media. She can be reached at karen@sachsmedia.com.

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Session

2022 F L O R I D A

Pool drinks, self-driving cars and more:

10 interesting lobbying registrations for 2022

T

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well, a business. It’s not always flashy,

place. Need an example? Here are 10.

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conversations

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Session

2022 F L O R I D A

CAVNUE

Swim-up bars If you walk through any resort in Florida, chances are you’ll see scores of tourists laying out in the sun, with an icy cold beverage in hand. Is there anything that screams “relaxing vacation” more than sipping on a Mai Tai poolside? Yes actually: Sipping one in the pool. While you might be able to wade into the shallow end with a drink in your hand, in many cases you’ll need to climb out of the pool to order your next cocktail. But that’s not the case everywhere. In other states and the Caribbean you wouldn’t even have to leave the water. Pool-side bars — as in, bars where a few inches of concrete separate the bottles from the water — aren’t legal in Florida. That’s ironic not only because Florida is a tourism Mecca, but because the top company that designs and builds pool-side bars is headquartered in the Sunshine State. Martin Design Aquatic Engineering would love to see its designs showcased at Florida’s premier resorts, so it has tapped the team at GrayRobinson to help them change the arcane building codes blocking poolside bars. Bills that would legalize them have already been filed by Clearwater Sen. Ed Hooper and Winter Springs Rep. David Smith that would direct the Florida Building Commission to work with the swimming pool industry to develop rules that would make it happen.

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The Legislature has taken an interest in tech and social media companies in recent years, and there’s little doubt that the trend will continue in the 2022 Legislative Session. Last year, lawmakers passed a data privacy bill to crack down on social media censorship by levying fines as high as $250,000 a day for deplatforming — or banning — candidates for public office. It also

INFLUENCE Winter 2022

Chances are the next car you buy will know how to drive itself. The tech for self-driving cars is already baked into some models you see on the road today. The only thing separating them from being truly autonomous are regulations. Currently, drivers must touch the steering wheel every few minutes to let the car know they’re ready to take over if need be. That’s arguably a good thing, since autonomous vehicle technology hasn’t matured to the point that it can read the road as well as a person. It will be a while before hardware and software can account for unpredictability of other drivers or, one day, the various intricacies of other manufacturers’ AV implementations. A Virginia-based start-up company, CAVNUE, thinks it can accelerate the process and it has the credentials to back that up. CEO Tyler Duvall is a former Acting Under Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation. Chief Safety Officer Nicole Nason is the former Administrator of the U.S. Federal Highway Administration. Chief Technology Officer Jaime Waydo led systems engineering at Waymo. In essence, the company ties everything together by helping AVs of all kinds communicate with each other and, in a way, with the roads they’re on. The tech is live on the route between Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan, but the company thinks Florida would better test their mettle. They aren’t looking for a massive check — they would be fine footing the upfront costs to install the initial infrastructure and recoup it later, possibly via tolls. They’d also be happy to go toe-to-toe with other AV companies in an open procurement. They just want to get the ball rolling, and they’ve hired GrayRobinson to get it done.

opened the door for users to use companies over deplatforming and other perceived wrongdoings. Though it was signed into law, a court challenge has halted its implementation. The Legislature also flirted with a proposal that would put strictures on how tech companies share or sell consumer data. It died over concerns it would lead to a massive number of lawsuits against tech companies.


Shef.com Uber Eats, DoorDash, GrubHub and Postmates. Over the past two years, we’ve become intimately familiar with their delivery fee structures, drop off etiquette and their lists of exclusive restaurants. They’re a great way to take care of dinner without leaving the house, but they share one shortcoming: Nothing they bring to your door can compete with a top-tier home-cooked meal. Enter Shef.com. It’s basically Etsy for food. If one of your neighbors knows how to make a mean vindaloo, Shef can connect you to them and get a batch delivered to your doorstep. The company already operates in New York and California, but they can’t break into the Florida market without a little help from the Legislature. That’s because current state regulations on cottage food businesses don’t allow cooks working out of their home kitchen to sell food that requires refrigeration. Basically, macaroons are OK, manicotti is a no-go. Shef has tapped the team at Lewis Longman & Walker to help them get that changed. Lori Killinger, Executive Shareholder and Chair of LLW’s lobbying practice, foresees a little pushback from traditional restaurants but believes the concerns will be diffused once they, and lawmakers, learn more about the service. For one, Shef isn’t an on-demand service and isn’t trying to be. If you want food delivered in an hour, you’ll need to fire up a different app because your neighbor isn’t going to drop what they’re doing to make a Publix run. If you want that vindaloo, you’ll want to put the order in a couple days in advance. There’s also a feel-good element here: Shef launched a program that helps Afghan refugees get back on their feet by waiving fees and providing them the resources to get started. Assuming the Legislature lets Shef come to the state, you can help by putting in an order for some qormah and a batch of mantus.

TikTok, a booming social media network, has a vested interest in both issues. It’s also drawing attention from state and federal lawmakers over its alleged negative effects on the well-being of younger users. But, unlike the U.S.-based businesses also under the microscope, it faces additional scrutiny for its ties to China. CFO Jimmy Patronis banned the app from being installed on phones issued to Department of Financial Services employees and, last year,

Tampa Bay Wave Some new businesses succeed, others fail. Tampa Bay Wave’s goal is to set new ventures up for success. The incubator provides entrepreneurs with guidance, mentorship, exposure, cost savings strategies, client introductions and classroom training. Since 2013, Tampa Bay Wave has raised more than $445 million in capital and helped more than 400 businesses, leading to the creation of more than 3,000 jobs. As the name implies, the organization takes groups of businesses in waves — whenever the program announces a new class, hundreds of businesses apply but only 15 or so make the cut. Each cohort shares a common theme. Past business accelerator classes have focused on woman-owned tech companies and cybersecurity. Tampa Bay Wave hopes its next class will be composed of veteran-led startups, and it would like a bit of cash in the state budget to facilitate the process. Tampa Bay Wave has hired the team at RSA Consulting Group to help get the project included in the 2022-23 budget. Lobbyist Melody Arnold says the veteran-run businesses that are eventually accepted into the accelerator program would be connected to resources at NASA and Veterans Florida in addition to the training and benefits the organization has provided to its past cohorts. Arnold said Tampa Bay Wave “really puts Florida on the map as a great place to launch your startup.” The pitch is helped along by Tampa Bay Wave’s solid track record. Success stories include prescription delivery service MedZoomer, mortgage adviser Home Lending Pal and PikMyKid, a platform that makes the process of picking kids up after school safer.

the Trump administration floated a national ban if the company didn’t sell itself to an American company. Microsoft came close to acquiring the company but the deal fell through, and TikTok remains in the hands of Beijing-based tech company ByteDance. To help it manage the multifront defense, the company hired the team at Metz Husband & Daughton, who will work alongside in-housers Eric Ebenstein and Andrew Kingman to assuage concerns and keep the videos flowing.

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K-9 for Warriors As the old saying goes, dogs are man’s best friend. At K-9s for Warriors, that’s gospel. Founded in 2011, the Jacksonville-based nonprofit trains and provides service dogs to military veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or military sexual trauma. The concept has proven effective in helping those veterans cope with their disabilities or traumas. A 2021 study produced by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found that veterans with PTSD who were paired with service dogs showed less suicidal ideation and more symptom improvement than those without a service dog. K-9s for Warriors has proven effective, too. The organization has provided service dogs to more than 600 veterans since it launched. Demand, however, far outstrips their training capacity. The nonprofit is booked through 2025 and has enough applications in the review stage that a new applicant wouldn’t have a chance at being paired with a pup until 2028. K-9s for Warriors is hoping the Legislature can help it increase its output. The ask: $12.5 million. That money — matched dollar for dollar by donors — would fund the creation of a new training center. Once complete, the organization says it could pair another 200 to 250 veterans with a service dog each year. “The Campus for K9 Operations will fundamentally change both the volume and demographic of the veteran population we’re able to pair with a service dog,” said CEO Rory Diamond. “This facility will also reduce the time our future Warriors have to wait between being accepted into the program and receiving their service dog, which can be life-altering to veterans experiencing severe symptoms of PTSD, including suicidal ideations.” Capital City Consulting is taking point on the mission, with lobbyist Chris Schoonover handling the lead. In addition to the training center funds, he and the Capital City team will ask lawmakers for another $750,000 for wrap around services, support and training for warriors who have already been paired and to fund housing, meals, equipment, veterinary care and 120 hours of on-site training to 12 new warriors.

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Hula Bowl In the pros, an all-star game is generally a low-stakes affair. It used to determine home-field advantage in the World Series, but the MLB nixed that rule a few years ago. Other than that, the winners get no spoils. In college, however, it’s the opposite. The Hula Bowl, an unofficial NCAA football all-star game, features a roster of players who plan to leave it all on the field. True, many of the players who suit up don’t expect to get picked up by an NFL squad until the later rounds of the draft, if at all. But that only makes them hungrier. The Hula Bowl has been played in Hawaii since it launched in 1960, but this year the Sunshine State will play host. Ballard Partners lobbyist Adrian Lukis, who recently added the Hula Bowl as a client, said Gov. Ron DeSantis deserves credit for the unprecedented move. “They were attracted by the Governor’s policies — by ‘The Free State of Florida,’” said Lukis, who served as DeSantis’ Chief of Staff before joining Ballard Partners this year. The move is just one of the interesting storylines for this year’s Hula Bowl. The other? McKenzie Milton’s homecoming. The University of Central Florida quarterback turned FSU QB will be behind center in the Bounce House for the first time since he suffered a gruesome knee injury at the end of the 2018 season. He missed two full seasons before taking a support role at FSU. Despite his limited playtime this season, it was a remarkable accomplishment for a player that at one point wasn’t expected to ever walk again. It even earned him “Comeback Player of the Year” honors from the Mayo Clinic. The Hula Bowl will be his last outing as a college player and, by extension, his last chance to get an NFL scout’s attention. But the Hula Bowl didn’t hire a lobbyist to get Milton an NFL gig. They want to get a sense of the political landscape in their new home state. At least one lawmaker who has been at the forefront of college sports issues will be at the Bounce House for the Florida debut: Rep. Chip LaMarca.


Clearwater Marine Aquarium The past few years haven’t been great for humans, but they were worse for manatees. The affable aquatic mammals have been dying off in record numbers — more than 1,000 died in 2021, demol-

ishing the previous record set in 2013. The deaths have been pinned on algal blooms and human activity killing seagrass, the staple of their diet. Either way, the species is back on the brink, just four years after they were removed from the endangered species list. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium hopes to turn the tables by expanding its manatee rehabilitation programs, including by converting the facility formerly occupied by Winter the dolphin into a space to house struggling sea cows. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is hoping the Legislature will kick in

Energy companies Electric vehicles aren’t powered by gas or diesel, but they still need juice. EV owners can plug in at home, but just like drivers whose rides run on gas or diesel, the fuel light can flick on anywhere. The gas station business is simple. Station owners order fuel, trucks drop it off and drivers fill their tanks. For EVs, it’s more complicated. Drivers plug, charging stations deliver power and stations get a utility bill. And that last part is where the wrinkle lies. The cost to station owners is unpredictable and it can be ludicrously high. That’s because of something known as a demand charge. The utility grid can only supply so much power, so utility companies raise rates on commercial accounts that pull a lot of power during peak hours. It’s the reason why some factories operate overnight shifts — by running during low-demand hours, they can save a lot of cash on their monthly bill. As far as EVs are concerned, if a lot of drivers plug in during peak hours, the stations could be on the hook for hundreds of dollars per charge. The lobbying situation here is just as complicated. Stakeholders include utilities, electric car companies, station owners and gas station chains. The state’s largest utility company, Florida Power & Light, has lobbying contracts with several firms, including Ballard Partners, Dean Mead, Rubin Turnbull & Associates, The Southern Group, The Mayernick Group and Ron Book. Meanwhile, RaceTrac Petroleum is working with the team at Lewis Longman & Walker, Marathon Petroleum Corporation is repped by Michael Corcoran and the team at Corcoran Partners, and the Florida Petroleum Marketers association has TSG in its corner. To boot, Tesla has signed with Jeff Sharkey and Taylor Biehl at Capitol Alliance Group. The main battlefield will be legislation filed by Sen. Keith Perry and Rep. David Borrero (SB 920/HB 737) that would require the Public Service Commission to, among other things, adopt rules to ensure “fair and reasonable electricity pricing” that will “promote the widespread offering of electric vehicle charging.”

$3 million to help fund the conversion and projects at other facilities, and it has hired lobbyist Alan Suskey to help make sure the funding is included in the 2022-23 budget. Suskey, who recently became managing partner at Shumaker Advisors Tallahassee practice, said the aquarium is planning $10 million in manatee rehabilitation projects and it expects donors will contribute $7 million of the overall cost. The two Republicans representing Clearwater — Rep. Chris Latvala and Sen. Ed Hooper — have already filed appropriations requests for the project

Turo Last Session the Legislature approved a bill that laid out a framework for car sharing businesses to operate in the state. The law requires car sharing companies to collect sales tax and charge the same dollar-a-day surcharge imposed on traditional rental car companies. The package also requires car-sharing companies to ensure that the driver and owner of the car have proper insurance. If for some reason that coverage lapses, it mandates that a car-sharing company would have to pick up the liability to minimum standards in any claims. It was a major win for Turo — the biggest name in the emerging car-sharing industry. But it was not without controversy, with concerns over whether the law does enough to assure public safety when private individuals are turning over their personal cars to strangers to drive. Turo had been represented by the team at Metz Husband & Daughton, but because that firm also had clients in the rental car space, the company switched over to the team at Smith Bryan & Myers. So far, the concerns haven’t spawned any bills that would undo or make substantial changes to the framework. Still, Turo is prepping for the possibility and plans to mount a stout defense if lawmakers put forward any bills that would harm its business model. Winter 2022

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Not ThisMessing Around Session will cap off Wilton Simpson’s impressive run By Andrew Meacham | Photography by The Workmans

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T

he coming Session will be the last for Senate President Wilton Simpson, closing out a decade in his first elected office. The Pasco County Republican was an oddly intuitive fit in leadership, known for quick decision-making and polite, almost courtly treatment of legislative colleagues. Since succeeding Bill Galvano in 2020, Simpson has managed to keep Gov. Ron DeSantis in his corner and Democrats at the trading table. He makes his presence felt at home in a similarly understated way — a prolific volunteer and leading philanthropist who would just as soon keep his name in the background when possible. How he got here is not just scenery for the story: A hardscrabble start is inseparable from his subsequent rise, which in turn fuels a muscular outreach to children and mothers in crisis. He set a tone for approachability as Majority Leader under Galvano, during which time he never lost a vote in committee, said Kathy Mears, his Chief of Staff. “Which is rare,” she added. “Usually you lose a couple.” She thinks the secret is her boss’ willingness to share victories. “A lot of people only see the bad in people,” Mears said. “He naturally sees the good. It’s not like Pollyanna, he just knows how to draw out people’s strengths, to fuel people. A lot of people say he’s an absolute master at deal-making because as long as he gets everything that he needs, if your request is reasonable you’re going to get everything you want.” Simpson, 55, is also one of the Legislature’s wealthiest members, closing out 2020 with a net worth of more than $31.5 million, as well as a prolific fundraiser. All of which sounds a long way off from his childhood. He was born in Lakeland, but a divorce and subsequent custody decision threw his future into doubt until he was adopted by stepmother, Gloria Simpson, and her husband, Jimmy Wayne Simpson. The blended family lived in Plant City, growing at times to take in more foster children. “My dad worked seven days a week to make a living,” Simpson said, “doing what he had to do to get by.”

Business picked up after the elder Simpson switched to asbestos removal. The family moved to Trilby, a once thriving railroad stop surrounded by businesses. A fire in 1925 destroyed 17 buildings, most of which were uninsured. The “census-designated place” in northeast Pasco County never seems to have recovered, especially after the Seaboard Coastline Railroad depot closed in 1976. Agriculture was another matter. The asbestos removal business, Simpson Environmental Services, would go on to add lead paint removal, mold remediation and demolition over the years. Simpson Farms opened in 1978 around eggs and soon required young Wilton’s involvement after school. By the eighth grade, he and a classmate ran the farm single-handedly on weekends. His father jokingly preached an original formula for success: to only work “half days,” meaning 12 hours out of every 24. He did not limit himself to that, nor does his son today. “Many times my first call or text of the day is 5:30 a.m.,” Mears said. “And I have often been on the phone at 10:30 at night. He is just an absolute worker.” Politics entered indirectly, like a street lamp shining through a window. At 14 in 1980, he watched candidate Ronald Reagan debating President Jimmy Carter. He identified with Reagan’s rejection of burdensome taxation, as if penalizing success. “What I noticed from about 7 or 8 years old on was that whatever we were doing seemed to have a lot of government in it,” he said. Even the volunteer activity that made up so much of rural life — like everybody pitching in and giving the church a new roof — required a government signoff through a building permit. “I did not feel the government did a very good job,” he said. “Business needs to be front and center.” The businesses took up most of his own time. Simpson played free safety for East Pasco High School his junior and senior years and hoped to play college ball. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” Simpson said. “My dad said, ‘Are you going to play football and go to college, or are you going to stay here and work on the farm?’”

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“.. his counterpunches are legendary.”

Through their own construction company, the Simpsons added buildings to house chickens, part of an increase in birds over time from 64,000 in 1978 to more than 1 million by 2001. Though gratifying, successes like that did not define him. His greatest joy was his family. A high school friend arranged a group outing to a movie theater, where he met Kathy Shotts of Dade City. “It wasn’t exactly a blind date,” Simpson said. “We had friends in common who knew us both. The rest is history;” They married in 1997 and later had two children, Lauran and Wilton Jr. Simpson earned an associate’s degree at Pasco-Hernando State College and took over the businesses. The more successful they became, the more he volunteered for the Kiwanis Club and Habitat for Humanity and served on the boards of Health Resource Alliance of Pasco and the Pasco County Farm Bureau. He delivered eggs to Sunrise of Pasco County: Domestic and Sexual Violence Center, and pig and steer meat to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America in nearby Lacoochee. Both have learning labs, arts and athletic outlets for kids. 110

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In 2010, he and Kathy opened a diagnostic and treatment center for breast cancer. With philanthropy of this size there was no point in hiding the name. The Simpson Breast Health Center offers state of the art imaging and other services in Zephyrhills. In 2012, Simpson ran to complete an open two-year term in the Florida Senate. As luck would have it, his Republican primary opponent moved weeks before the election and the only remaining Democrat dropped out. Fellow East Pasco resident Rep. Will Weatherford, the incoming House Speaker designate who had done client relations work for Simpson, told a newspaper that Simpson “personifies the American story.” Reached for this story, Weatherford said he still sees his old friend as an icon who has “worked extremely hard for everything he’s got.” Admiration for his civic commitment and style have often transcended politics. Richard Riley of Trilby was happy for Simpson in 2012 and remains so today even though he votes for Democratic candidates. Recently, when a landowner put a piece of property up for sale, the

tenant – the Trilby Post Office – appeared on the verge of moving miles down the road to Lacoochee. That is, until Simpson came to the rescue by buying the property. “I’m still not very supportive of his politics,” Riley said. “But I’m very, very supportive of the way he takes care of his hometown.” It should be noted that for all Simpson’s manners and decorum, he is no pushover. A sign in his office quotes Al Capone: “Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness. I am kind to everyone, but when someone is unkind to me, weak is not what you are going to remember about me.” “He never throws the first punch,” Mears said. “But his counterpunches are legendary.” That open seat delayed the start on the term limit clock until 2014, meaning he will finish this Session with 10 years in the Senate. Looking back, he’s proud of the first major legislation he passed, the Everglades Restoration Act; the balanced $101 billion budget passed in 2021; Florida’s amended Right to Farm Act, which went into effect in July, raising standards for nuisance lawsuits against farms; and school choice expansion passed this year, allowing families of four earning less than $100,000 K-12 education funding of their choice. In September, he opened a campaign account to run for Agriculture Commissioner in 2022 to replace Nikki Fried, who is running for Governor. He’ll go into that with the enthusiastic support of Gov. DeSantis and former President Donald Trump, who called Simpson “a great supporter” who helped conservatives get elected. Among his goals for the coming Session are raising the pay for state workers, recently increased to $13 an hour, up to $15; and a tweak to compensation standards of foster parents. Simpson believes social service authorities should be empowered to pitch extended family members to take in kids in transition, as he was once taken in. Right now, he said, relatives get paid less than nonrelatives for providing foster care, hence the state is “disadvantaging relative caregivers.” “We have to stabilize those kids very early,” he said. “And you know what, if we do, for every one of those children we are successful in stabilizing early, it will give them an opportunity to have a better life and they’re going to live to be 80, 85 years old.”


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(in an EV, of course)

Drives Off

Jeff Brandes

By Janelle Irwin Taylor Photography by The Workmans


S

en. Jeff Brandes is on his way out, leaving behind a legacy filled with transportation technology wins, occasional intraparty disputes and a legacy of being contrarian, often for the better. Brandes is facing term limits in the Legislature’s upper chamber this year. And while his future political plans are unknown for now, his mark has been made in Tallahassee and in his St. Petersburg home district where he has championed libertarian policies that often go against the grain in Florida’s conservative political climate. If there’s an apt image of Brandes’ departure from Tallahassee next year, it’s of him driving off into the sunset in a swank, techy autonomous vehicle, saluting lawmakers he has led over the past decade plus in the AV space, with cheers from the business leaders he has helped lay a footprint in the Sunshine State. For years, Brandes has led the charge to make Florida one of the friendliest states in the nation for transportation technology. While that has emerged in the autonomous vehicle space, it has roots that go much further back. Brandes cut his teeth on transportation technology with battles in the 2010s and

beyond over ride sharing policy, fiercely advocating for, eventually successfully so, statewide policies that would allow companies like Uber and Lyft to operate uniformly across municipal boundaries. In 2015, Brandes first sponsored legislation to create a statewide law governing rideshare regulations for Uber and Lyft and companies like them, at the time referred to as transportation network companies. That year’s legislation was the culmination of a year of bickering with regulators over regulations amid concerns such companies didn’t meet safety requirements such as insurance and background checks. It was a fierce debate pitting tech start-up disruptors against the taxi industry, a deep-pocketed sector desperate to hold onto their share of the transportation-for-hire space that was rapidly changing with the emergence of app-based ride-hailing services. Brandes struggled to get the bill across the finish line that year and again in 2016. But in 2017 he was successful with Senate Bill 340, whose House companion was signed into law and took effect that July. It wasn’t the first time Uber or Lyft operated in Florida, but it was the first time they did so legally.

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F E AT U R E whether that would meet muster and continued to raise the issue even after the Legislature cleared the Compact.

Criminal justice

That fight loosely coincided with another far from the halls of the state Capitol. Brandes led the charge in Hillsborough County, which neighbors his home Pinellas County. There, the local Public Transportation Commission was waging war with Uber and Lyft at the behest of powerful taxi companies. In hindsight he was on the right side of history, or at least on the side of technology and changing business trends. The Transportation Commission was eventually abolished and its reputation tarnished amid revelations the local agency was in cahoots with taxi companies all along. That battle defines Brandes’ legacy not just because it was a landmark victory for the libertarian-leaning Republican, but because it’s a space he has become all too familiar with occupying.

Going against the grain

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lature. It’s not uncommon for him to be the sole vote for or against initiatives or to vote against his own party’s priorities. Most recently, he was the lone no vote on Senate Bill 2A in the 2021 Special Session, which implemented the Seminole Gaming Compact to expand gambling at Tribe-owned properties to craps, roulette, fantasy sports and sports betting. For supporters, the Compact was a path to at least $4 billion in state revenue through 2030. But Brandes saw trouble ahead. And he was right. The Compact was struck down in federal court because it violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that allows betting only on tribal lands. The Compact would have allowed sports betting on mobile apps, with the contention such an allowance was in-bounds because the servers for betting were located on tribal land. Brandes questioned from the beginning

Bucking his party hasn’t been Brandes’ only contrarian move. Brandes also often finds himself aligned with Democrats, particularly through his work on criminal justice reform. “It’s an area of policy where there was virtually no leadership, no vision and the people with no voices had no champion,” Brandes said. “Nobody was standing up and saying the prison facilities are falling back, there’s no education, there’s no rehabilitation.” So Brandes stood up to be that champion. Over the years he has sponsored or supported legislation calling for everything from walked-back mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines to expanded compassionate release policies and youthful offender expungement. Here, Brandes is unlikely to find his win. Brandes has filed three bills for the 2022 Legislative Session related to criminal justice reform. One would reduce sentencing guidelines for certain reoffenders and delete a provision in state law barring reoffenders from early release. Another would protect offenders with serious mental illness from facing the death penalty. The other would designate a $75 fee to expunge criminal records to the Law Enforcement Operating Trust Fund. None were heard in committee during the Legislature’s preliminary meetings ahead of the Legislative Session. While that doesn’t guarantee he’ll be unsuccessful, criminal justice reforms have proven tenuous in the conservative Legislature. But Brandes has been successful in raising awareness for the issue. As state prisons continue to face myriad challenges with overcrowding and staffing shortages, more and more attention has been paid to Florida’s heavy-handed approach to incarceration. Florida is home to the third largest prison population in the nation. Despite reductions in the number of new people sentenced, the state’s prison population has not declined, largely because the state has one of the strictest mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines in the country and a requirement that inmates serve at least 85% of those sentences. Brandes has fought unsuccessfully to change that threshold. But he has found some successes, including a 2018 bill requiring courts, jails, prisons, state attorneys and public defenders, among others, to collect and share data to drive policy decisions. “We do all these little tiny things that are tactical, but are they playing out to a larger strategy,” Brandes asked. He hopes the answer is yes.


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The cannabis battle

Brandes was also an early champion for cannabis policy in Florida. He supported decriminalization and was a major champion for Florida’s now legal medical marijuana landscape. Even with the passage of Amendment 2 in 2016, Brandes has continued to fight for expanded allowances, including by allowing smokable product. Brandes is sponsoring six bills relating to cannabis in the 2022 Legislative Session, including one that would permit adult use regardless of medical need. Other efforts would expand the amount of medical marijuana recommendations a physician can provide, allow medical use renewals to be granted through telehealth, protect patients from being blocked from other medically approved therapies based on their use of medical cannabis and allow certain qualifying out-of-state visitors to access medical cannabis while in-state. Brandes, to the consternation of some pot hardliners, many within his own party, also opposed caps on THC for medical cannabis products. THC is the euphoria-inducing chemical in cannabis. There, Brandes showed his savvy. Instead of sticking to a libertarian argument that it’s none of the government’s business how a patient receives care, Brandes leaned on logic. He argued capping THC levels in legal products would only drive patients to use more of the same product. Think taking two Tylenol instead of one. And that, the argument goes against those who think using cannabis is unsafe, particularly if it’s smoked, only forces more of the offending practice. This is one of those battles Brandes is winning. A Pew Research study in 2021 found fewer than 10% of adult Americans think cannabis should be strictly illegal. About 60% of respondents in that poll said cannabis should be legal for recreational use. The sentiment is taking hold in Florida, where even Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis as one of his first acts in office demanded the Legislature revise law to allow smokable cannabis within its medical marijuana framework. And it’s an area where he has found more consensus across the aisle than from within his own party.

A friend to Democrats?

Because Brandes has a self-proclaimed libertarian bent, he often finds himself siding with Democrats on the losing side of legislative battles, particularly in the cannabis and criminal justice spaces. For some, he became a stand-in for former Sen. Jack Latvala, a comparison Brandes doesn’t like to talk about much. For years, Latvala was a moderate voice who never backed down from opposing his own party if he thought it was the right

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thing to do. Formerly considered one of the most powerful politicians in Tallahassee before he was sidelined by scandal, Latvala sided with Democrats on a variety of issues, including pushing for cheaper in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrants, environmental land protection and issues important to labor unions. While you could hardly compare the two on their individual priorities, Democrats lost, if not an ally, at least a moderating vote when Latvala resigned. Brandes, at least in part and perhaps unintentionally, took up the torch. Like Latvala, he voted against some of the more extreme whims in the lower chamber, including last year when he sided with Democrats in voting against the controversial “anti-riot” bill Democrats saw as an attack on freedom of speech and, worse, a law that targets minorities. But don’t let the occasional alliance paint the entire picture. Brandes is his own man, and there have been plenty of times he has been anything but a friend to the left. Take his efforts last year, which he is reviving in this year’s Legislative Session, to side-step the minimum wage increases voters approved at the ballot box in 2020 that would bring the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by late 2026. He sponsored legislation in the 2021 Session and is sponsoring it again this year to allow employers to pay “training wages” to certain employees on a temporary basis. Brandes argues the measure would foster more employment among those deemed hard to hire, such as younger workers and those with criminal records. Democrats say it is merely an attempt to thwart the will of voters. After all, there is nothing in Brandes’ proposed legislation that would force e m p l oye r s to keep an employee on after the training wage expires instead of, say, letting them go and hiring another worker at the lower rate — a move that would allow a perpetual lower wage.

A different kind of Republican

It’s possible not everyone will miss him. Leadership this year yanked Brandes from his position chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee after he ruffled leadership’s feathers over his opposition to the anti-riot bill and another cracking down on social media companies. He even called the 2021 Legislative Session an exercise in “spaghetti politics,” noting lawmakers “threw everything up against the wall (to) see what stuck.” His comment, delivered during a legislative recap in June, reminds that Brandes is not in politics to make friends. “I won’t just go along to get along,” Brandes said of his frequent splits with leadership and his own party. And unlike some who have shifted their political careers over the years to align with some of the still-ongoing challenges under a party defined by former President Donald Trump, Brandes expects he’ll continue to affect The Process in one way or another, though he’s not yet sure what that might look like. He expects to maintain his role with the annual Autonomous Vehicle Summit, which he began. And he hopes to continue to be a voice on criminal justice and insurance reform. “The vision is not carried by legislators, it’s carried by people like Jeb Bush,” Brandes said, referring to the former Florida Governor’s work on education that continued into the years since he left office.


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t’s not Session if someone’s ego and agenda doesn’t end up beaten and bruised. It’s the battles large and small that give The Process its flavor. Maybe that’s why these legislative brawls so often get labeled as food fights. Whether it’s liberal versus conservative, big counties against small ones or industries arguing over how to share the same marketplace, tension wins attention this time of year. What’s on the cafeteria match card for 2022? Medical disciplines, development interests and even a literal feud between just desserts all take their corners in the cage match we call lawmaking.

Net metering

Should solar power exist primarily at large power company properties or on Florida rooftops? Since 2008, Floridians who install cells on their own property have enjoyed financial incentives through net metering that allows consumers to buy and sell energy to companies. But businesses like Florida Power and Light have long argued the state needs to prioritize a power grid. Some lawmakers are already girding for battle. “FPL’s anti-metering agenda is motivated by the bottom line for them,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat. “There is a value to distributed solar they ignore because they lose money.” But legislation already filed by Sen. Jennifer Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, would require the Public Service Commission to propose new net metering rules. The legislation promises to redesign net metering to avoid cross-subsidization of electrical services, but many see it as an industry exerting power to control the switch. “Energy policy always stirs up a lot of energy,” said Sen. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Democrat. “I know net metering this year will be large.”

ghts e!

Nursing home reforms

By Jacob Ogles Illustrations by Andy Marlette

The coronavirus pandemic impacted staffing levels at Florida’s nursing homes significantly at a time when facilities needed their nurses the most. The health and safety of Florida’s seniors is critical to the economy and national reputation; this is the state whose “Seniors First” policy to vaccinate older Floridians in part through nursing home outreach became a model for the nation. But expect some friction between an industry hurting for well-trained staff and a state government supplementing long-term care costs that wants some standards on training and staff-to-patient ratios. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat, made clear he sees a need for more accountability in the industry, especially as it turns to the state for greater help. “If we’re giving for-profit nursing homes $100 million in rate increases to deal with staff shortages, shouldn’t we require it to be used for increased compensation to CNAs/LPNs/RNs?” he said, suggesting the requirement of qualified nurses must be tied to any added help to the industry.

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Eyeball wars

It’s the medical battle few can take their eyes from — at least in health care committees of the Florida Legislature. Already in committee weeks, the struggle between ophthalmologists and optometrists played out live for House members. Under state law today, ophthalmologists alone may provide surgical procedures on the eyes, but optometrists, who provide 72% of eye care in the state, want the ability to offer more care. The latter group argues their last great win, the right to offer oral therapeutic privileges as of 2013, has resulted in no official complaints. Still, ophthalmologists say there’s a reason there are fewer of them in Florida. It takes nearly nine times as much medical training to be part of the surgical profession. The good side to scarcity is also that there’s no incentive to perform unnecessary surgeries in Florida, something board certified ophthalmologists argue would proliferate should every eye doctor be allowed more ability to wield an optic laser.

Data privacy

The battle between Gov. Ron DeSantis and corporate Big Tech played out in 2021 and ended with codified fines for social media platforms that censor politicians. But the cyber wars also delivered the Governor one of his biggest legislative losses when a data privacy bill sponsored by Rep. Fiona McFarland passed the House but collapsed amid back and forth with the Senate. McFarland closed the year determined to come back with a better bill, one that would satisfy some of the concerns raised by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida TaxWatch and others. Basically, corporate interests expressed fear last year about what new regulations could mean for small businesses, especially those that use email information for company newsletters and promotion of deals and special offers. Many would welcome some regulatory framework on data privacy but don’t want their abil122

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ity to market directly to consumers disappear altogether. If anything, there may be more resistance to regulations mounting in the Legislature, with some members of the House opining on background that too bullish a structure will stifle business, especially as the state works to lure more tech companies away from California and Texas.

Dessert Storm

Sure, Florida in 2006 already named Key Lime Pie the official state pie. But is there room on the dessert bar for more than one home-cooked sweet? Plant City area Rep. Lawrence McClure, a Dover Republican, filed a bill that would designate Strawberry Shortcake as Florida’s official state dessert. Food historians, of course, note it was quite the fight to place Key Lime Pie on the rotunda wall, with North Florida pecan farmers directing all their influence to block the South Florida fruit from getting baked into state statute. Could a competing honor for shortcake make that historic win even more bittersweet? McClure insists he’s not trying to burn the pie. But as it happens, he represents a region best known for an annual strawberry festival, and that’s not a coincidence. “Strawberries represent about a billion-dollar economic impact,” McClure said. “But not many people know it.”

Public hospital reach

The elimination of Florida’s certificate of need process allowed for hospitals to extend their physical presence with less red tape, and that has happened with HCA opening three new hospitals and some public entities like Sarasota Memorial Hospital more aggressively expanding its footprint. But private and public hospitals long warred about whether the tax revenue collected for publicly owned hospitals gave an unfair advantage. Expect an industry fight to continue whether taxpayer-supported hospitals should be able to build beyond the district where they collect. Sarasota Memorial CEO David Verinder, for his part, has noted just a fraction of the hospital’s revenue comes from ad valorem taxpayer collection. The rest arrives courtesy philanthropy and bills, just like any hospital. Restricting the use of tax revenue in a taxing district makes sense, but shouldn’t projects funded with other money go wherever a hospital can afford the land? That’s the public hospital argument but expect free market players who don’t have that extra 15% pad to their budget to push back on that.


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Homeowner’s insurance

The final bill to pass in the Florida Senate last Session sought to reform Florida homeowners’ property insurance rules, but advocates left nonplussed at many of the items negotiated away in talks with the House. Then a court ruling gutted part of it, erasing limits placed on aggressive solicitation by roofers and other contractors. Sen. Jim Boyd says he’s coming back for another round. The Bradenton Republican insists he doesn’t expect all-out war this time. But he would like to see roofing policy changes he proposed last year reconsidered and to see if the Legislature can pass rules that stop contractors seeking to scam insurance companies without hampering legit-

imate advertisement of services. “I still want to give some relief for the rate process side, which also doesn’t cause a lot of disruptions,” Boyd said. But that could mean revising rate increase structure for Citizens Property Insurance, something that prompted populist pushback last Session. And whenever something helps insurance companies, expect plaintiff attorneys to stand at attention.

Medical Mary Jane

In less than a decade, medical marijuana has gone from an issue lacking the political will to be legalized in Florida to legitimate industry worth millions and with a growing level of influence in Florida’s Capitol. But there remain serious struggles, especially when it comes to smokable products. Reps. Spencer Roach and Andrew Learned, a North Fort Myers Republican and Brandon Democrat respectively, surprised many with a bipartisan proposal to update Florida’s cannabis laws and impose restrictions limiting the availability of some products for patients under the age of 21. Based on past attempts to limit THC levels in plants, which have all gone up in smoke during the generally pro-marijuana DeSantis years, there will be resistance from patients and manufacturers to such change. But the bill sweetens the deal by lengthening license terms and the time between required doctor visits.

Redistricting

The fight ahead of Session largely played out in the margins. The Senate published maps to generally favorable

reviews, with congressional and Senate maps largely hueing close to jurisdictions as they stand today. Then the House published maps that, well, weren’t welcomed as warmly. One of the two congressional maps all but erased an Orlando district now represented by Democrat Stephanie Murphy. House maps, meanwhile, laid the groundwork for incumbent-on-incumbent struggles throughout the state. But public hearings to date have largely avoided overt partisan gripes as members, including some clearly fighting for their political future, lay out arguments about street boundaries, communities of interest and the definition of effective minority control. A largely academic exercise with enormous political stakes must reach some type of resolution by the end of Session, and the direction lawmakers move could determine if years of court battles will follow. Whether people want to put too many statements on the record and expose themselves to future subpoenas remains to be seen but haggling over lines holds enormous consequences for many a member. “I expect that to suck a lot of the air out of the room,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican and one of many looking at maps that potentially land them in districts with colleagues.

Anesthetic semantics

A professional organization representing more than 5,400 professionals rebranded this year as the Florida Association of Nurse Anesthesiology, part of a deliberate effort to seek more recognition in medicine and under the law. With it, the group put aside the label of nurse anesthetists, but the fight between certified registered nurses in the field and the medical doctors delivering medication remains fierce. While it has become commonplace for nurses to administer anesthesia without the supervision of a physician, Florida still won’t allow independent practices to be run by CRNAs as opposed to MDs. It’s one of the remaining fights between medical professionals in terms of scope of practice, which only raises the profile of the discussion.

Charging up

DeSantis last year signed legislation launching a study on the future of electric vehicles in Florida. One of the matters lawmakers will have to tackle this year: Where can the cars, which could make up a third of those on the road by 2040, stop to charge up? Lawmakers return to Session this year during National Clean Energy Week, a great launch point to roll the conversation

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forward. Additionally, the Legislature last year dedicated a hefty chunk of its federal “Biden bucks” toward the funding of charging stations. But where will these plug-in stations land, and what sort of long-term revenue sources must come into play for maintenance and expansion? An increase in electric vehicle use brings with it an inevitable drop in gas tax revenue, and lawmakers have wrestled for years for a way to ensure electric drivers pay their fair share for transportation infrastructure without disincentivizing the switch to battery-fueled travel. Meanwhile, the gas station lobby has grown tired of power companies providing many of the charging stations rather than the traditional places for fueling vehicles. Sen. Keith Perry, a Gainesville Republican, has filed legislation that would change an existing system that allows utilities to recoup the installation cost of charging stations from customers, a bill that has the backing of the Florida Petroleum Marketers Association.

PIP pep

After years of debate about Florida’s no-fault auto insurance laws, the Legislature last year passed legislation scrapping the state’s personal injury protection insurance. Then DeSantis promptly vetoed the bill before an uncertain future of underinsured drivers hit the road. Speaker Chris Sprowls has downplayed suggestions the issue will make it back on the agenda in the 2022 Session, but rumors persist the matter will be debated once more. DeSantis’ veto message last year acknowledged problems with PIP but ultimately concluded the last repeal effort did not “adequately address the current issues facing Florida drivers and may have unintended consequences that would negatively impact both the market and consumers.” The question may be whether lawmakers can find any way forward without colliding with those concerns and crashing into the veto pen once more.

Puppy framework

Cities and counties across Florida have put bans in place on so-called puppy mills, effectively barring the retail sale of pets and pushing people to shelters for supply instead. Pet store giants like Petland, though, have argued what Florida really needs is less bans and more of a regulatory framework under which businesses operate. Petland last year voiced support for legislation by Sen. Manny Diaz and Rep. Brian Avila that would tie a licensing process around stores’ necks but still allow 126

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them to run in the state. This year, the company hired a fleet of lobbyists to advocate for a statewide system that preempts the growing patchwork of local ordinances.

School rules

Albritton figures no Session can ever fly by without some type of education issue grabbing the attention of Tallahassee. This year, he anticipates especially heightened interest in the authority of school boards after a year of tension about mask regulations, quarantine requirements and a host of other matters tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. Expect the reach of the Governor and the rights of school districts to provide the groundwork for all-out war. Sen. Joe Gruters and Roach this year have also filed legislation that could make school boards into partisan bodies, and term limits on school board members remain a concept the House loves but few in the Senate have embraced.

Bed tax rails

Florida law today requires 40% of tourist development tax collected by counties to go to the promotion of tourism in the region. But a proposal by Eskamani, one that might offer surprising appeal to Republicans, could lift that restriction and let counties do what they choose. In Orange County, that means leaving the promotion of Central Florida to the Walt Disney Worlds and Univer-

sal Studios of the universe. But the shift could allow counties all over Florida to alter how they do business. The Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, a force in Tallahassee, has voiced opposition to taking a tax on hospitality and using it for purposes other than promoting Florida to visitors. But considering the disfavor for agencies like VISIT FLORIDA in the House in recent years, the Capitol seems ripe for further discussion on flexibility for those dollars.

Abortion

With the U.S. Supreme Court apparently on the verge of overturning Roe v. Wade, every state capital in the country appears ready for a battle on limits to a woman’s right to choose, Florida included. While DeSantis has shown little taste for a Texas-style law giving citizens to right to bring civil action against those providing or assisting with an early-stage abortion, there seems an appetite in Florida for limits before the final trimester. But legislative leaders have said they will consider a so-called “heartbeat bill” that bans abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. There seems to be more momentum behind a potential “pain-capable” bill, one that would put the brakes on procedures around 15 weeks when a fetus can, according to some researchers, begin to feel pain.


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But lawmakers who support abortion rights have already started to build resistance. Eskamani, previously a Planned Parenthood policy advocate, said any restriction on a woman’s medical decisions about her own body should be recognized by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as “extreme.”

Condo inspections

After a condominium collapse in Surfside killed 98 people in June, expect additional scrutiny on building inspections for high-rises and the requirements for both builders and condominium associations. But what form any reform takes may be an open question. Several lawmakers expressed a need for information whether the Surfside disaster took place because of a lack of regulation or a failure to enforce the laws already on the books. It’s possible both enforcement and regulation increases will come out of Session, but either way, it’s going to be a battle.

Omicron

A Special Session late in 2021 was supposed to wrap up any government response to COVID-19. The state passed responses to counter a federal vaccine mandate and took steps to discourage businesses from imposing their own vaccine requirements.

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A surge in omicron infections, though, appears certain to rekindle the fight over whether the state needs to step up its game on detection, treatment and containment of the coronavirus. The new omicron variant is the most contagious version of the COVID-19 virus yet. Democrats have already issued calls to reopen state-run testing sites, including Democratic gubernatorial contenders Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and Sen. Annette Taddeo. Meanwhile, Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo has said the Department of Health would look to “unwind the testing psychology” and step away from detection efforts with asymptomatic individuals.

Taxation

If there’s one promise Republicans like to deliver on during election years, it’s cutting taxes. DeSantis’ proposed budget cuts gas taxes by $1 billion (granted with the help of Biden bucks filling in the loss). The GOP Legislature also wants to put some measures in place that keep Florida’s corporate tax rate low, around the 5.5% levels that existed after the Trump tax cuts went into place, though that’s going to require some negotiations with the federal government, which may not be so eager to give DeSantis that type of a win. Then again, sometimes the fight is the win in politics. But ultimately, many Republicans just hope to do no harm; read raise no income taxes. “I’m not naïve and don’t expect all 160 legislators to sit around, hold hands and sing kumbaya,” said Rep. Bob Rommel, a Naples Republican. “But if there are food fights this year or years to come, we need to remember the formula. No

income taxes, less regulation and protecting individual liberties. Let’s not change the formula like the failed experiment Coca-Cola did in 1985 and change the formula that works.”

School athletics

Lawmakers have wrestled before with the Florida High School Athletic Association, whether over the handling of transgender athletes or allowing students to profit from name, image and likeness use by businesses. Now, the state may just open the door to letting schools compete outside the FHSAA umbrella entirely. Rep. Mike Beltran, a Lithia Republican, ahead of Session, filed a bill that would allow other associations that meet certain guidelines to petition the state for designation as competing Athletic Associations. “I am about choice, choice for schools, choice for students, and choice for coaches. I reject ‘one size fits all’ and a state-created monopoly. My bill ensures that students are in the best competitive environment to foster their own growth as individuals,” Beltran tweeted. Such a bill would certainly result in a rush for that ball — if fellow lawmakers allow the proposal to go into play.

Critical race theory

What, did you think legislation banning the topic from grade-level curriculum marked the end of this headline-stoking debate? DeSantis in December unrolled a proposal for legislation, dubbed the Stop WOKE Act, that would also prohibit teaching critical race theory, the analysis of institutional racism’s impact on American history and society, even at the college level. It also would allow parents to sue in the event the forbidden subject gets taught in their own children’s classrooms. “We also have to protect our people and our kids from some very pernicious ideologies that are trying to be forced upon them all across the country,” DeSantis told a supportive crowd at a Wildwood press conference. But the proposal drew both loud rebukes from Democrats —Sen. Shevrin Jones said the legislation was “wanting to stop teaching Black History” — but hushed concerns from Republicans fearful of legislation encouraging litigation and silencing free speech.


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Shining Bright By Peter Schorsch, Andrew Meachem, and Renzo Downey. With additional reporting from Christine Sexton, Rosanne Dunkelberger and Jacob Ogles

To preview Florida’s political future, check out INFLUENCE Magazine’s 2022 cohort of Rising Stars

U

PHOTOS: The Workmans

nlike Greek mythology tells it, the superstars of The Process didn’t spring out from the head of Zeus, fully formed and ready to rumble in the Rotunda. No, it takes time, effort and a whole lot of knowledge before jumping into the 60-day fray that is Session. This issue honors 35 twenty- and thirty-somethings who, despite their relative youth and limited experience, are on the fast-track to success. The Rising Stars come from different backgrounds and are working in all aspects of the Political Process including lobbyists, electeds, association staff and state regulators. Some were born into politics, several found their calling while interning in college, and still others started in entry-level jobs and worked their way up. The Stars also have much in common: energy, focus, intelligence and a drive to always learn more about the subjects that make the Sunshine State tick. To a person, they credit the guidance and mentorship of their bosses and other, more seasoned practitioners for their success. Some of those old hands were singled out as up-and-comers over the years by Florida Politics. Perhaps the next Ron Book, Simone Marstiller or Gov. Ron DeSantis is in their number.

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Marissa Amato

t’s all about positive thinking for Marissa Amato, who wants to make the most of her Capitol connections this next Session about gratitude and giving back. Amato, 23, has been learning the ropes for 13 months, as a full-time legislative aide to Rep. Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill, who is facing term limits in 2022. “He has a big election cycle coming up,” Amato said, referring to the Florida Senate seat Ingoglia is expected to seek as a “true conservative voice for the people of Florida’s Nature Coast.” “I’m just getting involved with that and following him on his journey,” Amato said. Her own political journey started in October 2017, interning for Sen. Darryl Rouson, a Democrat and Ingoglia’s polar opposite. A former sorority sister who had interned there told Amato about plans to add another slot ahead of the 2018 Session. She went to the office and applied in person. “You have these rose-colored glasses on and you’re learning The Process,” she said. “That was my first adventure in getting my toes wet.” She grew up in Winter Haven and was proud of the city’s deep legacy in sports teams playing or passing through. As a child, she thought she would become an athletic agent, Amato said. “As I got older I realized, ‘Wow, I really enjoy the political arena, and I want to dive more into that.” She earned an undergraduate degree in political science at Florida State University and in December completed FSU’s Master of Applied American Politics and Policy degree. Along the way she interned for a year at the Florida Lottery; worked one stint as a legislative assistant for Floridian Partners and another for Sen. Wilton Simpson as a paid intern. Amato volunteered over consecutive years to raise funds for an annual breast cancer education and awareness run. When a legislator she had worked with, Rep. David Borrero, co-sponsored a House bill to establish an annual “Victims of Communism Day,” Amato listened to refugees’ harrowing accounts for hours. “That was something awesome that I got to work on,” she said. “Because I think that we as Americans have privileges that not many other people from other countries have. And so, I think to be able to work with those people who aren’t as fortunate, to hear their stories and how they have come to the United States, and how they have made a life for their family. It’s very touching to me because it just shows how lucky we are.” The bill passed, and Florida, like many other states, now recognizes Victims of Communism Day on Nov 7. A long-term cause, society’s abandonment of stray cats, commands ongoing attention. Amato volunteers with It’s Meow or Never for Ferals, a local nonprofit that tries to find foster homes and preaches trap-neuter-release practices. She has helped organize adoption events since 2019. A funding button she set up on Facebook in July met its goal of $200 for It’s Meow or Never. She does all this, she says, because “I think animals are so innocent, I hate hearing the horror stories and it’s nice to be able to give back.”

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Dane Bennett

O

nce you leave The Process, it’s hard to come back. That’s what Florida Home Builders Association Director of Government Affairs Dane Bennett found out in 2017, when the realities of the business world meant Tallahassee was his best shot to stay in Florida. He had escaped Tallahassee once after working five Sessions as an aide to Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto beginning in 2013. Soon after leaving for Tampa in 2017 to work at WellCare Health Plans, Bennett deployed with the Marine Corps to Okinawa in Japan, about as far as one can get from Tallahassee. When his tour was over and WellCare Health Plans was bought by the St. Louis-based Centene Corporation, Bennett said the writing was on the wall. If he wanted to maintain an upward trajectory in his career, he either had to move to St. Louis or pull some strings in Tallahassee. “I’d tell a friend it was like my first lobby gig was convincing my wife to move to Tallahassee from Tampa,” he said. Bennett, 35, has amassed about a decade of government and policy experience, including working government affairs and public policy for WellCare and in his current capacity with the Florida Home Builders Association. Bennett technically got his start in state government while in school at Florida State University. During the peak period of the Great Recession, he worked for the Department of Economic Opportunity, processing unemployment claims. After graduating with a master’s in public administration, the two-time Seminole landed a job in Benacquisto’s office. The Senator was supportive of his decision to join the Marine Corps and later to move to Tampa to be with his girlfriend, now wife, Amanda. The couple welcomed their son, Slater, into the world in September. “To be able to kind of leave and come back, it’s hard to get out of The Process and then get back in,” Bennett said. “One of the hardest things about this profession and this job is getting the job.” However, the time away hardly seemed to slow him down. Florida Home Builders Association CEO and Chief Lobbyist Rusty Payton calls Bennett a “bright shining star” who injects energy into the workplace. Bennett says there’s a misconception that home builders and developers are billionaires when, in reality, they are the definition of mom and pop small businesses. Plus, with Florida

attracting thousands of new residents, it’s important to keep housing affordable for all, including first responders. “Obviously, people are voting with their feet and they want to be in Florida, but we have to provide the housing,” Bennett said. However, after a little more than two years at the organization, he is already on to a new opportunity, with Payton’s blessing. He will head the new governance program for the Jacksonville-based Baptist Health, reporting directly to the health care system’s CEO, Michael Mayo. The system, which is continuing to expand with a new hospital in Clay County, has never had someone dedicated to government affairs. Bennett will be the first.

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Kevin Cabrera

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hen Kevin Marino Cabrera joined high-stakes global public strategy firm Mercury as Florida senior vice president in January 2021, he brought a wealth of political and government relations experience packed into less than a decade in the field. His work history tells the story of a driven young man who has taken on successively loftier tasks, smoothly crossing over and back between the public and private sectors.


Those who have seen him in action attest he is far from his acme, the limit of which will be determined only by his ambition. “Kevin is one of the hardest working guys I’ve met in the political process,” said lawyer Carlos Trujillo, a former state Representative and the immediate past U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States. “He’s a guy without an ego, willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.” Cabrera entered politics from the trade and logistics sector, first working on Florida Supreme Court Justice John Couriel’s campaign for the Florida House before joining Carlos Curbelo’s congressional campaign as a field director, a role he traded for a director of constituent services job after Curbelo won office. From there, Cabrera became the South Florida field director for the Libre Initiative, a Latino conservative advocacy nonprofit. Then former Gov. Jeb Bush hired him to lead his 2016 presidential campaign in the area. In that campaign and others, Cabrera habitually worked overtime. He became known for his easy, welcoming smile, the first person to show up at events, shake

hands and ensure things ran smoothly, his attention to detail spanning issues large and small. “Sometimes in our industry, people want instant gratification. Some people like to think it’s their name on the ballot. They don’t want to work long hours for little to no pay. Kevin never complained,” said Verizon Government Affairs Manager Giovanni Castro, a former chief of staff to Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. “He’s someone who will do whatever it takes while having a great demeanor and a positive mindset — really calm and helpful, very intelligent.” In late 2016, Cabrera’s fast-rising reputation among Florida’s political operatives earned him a partner position with the Southern Group lobbying firm, where he stayed for two-plus years further honing his craft. Then Donald Trump came knocking. Trump, who had never ceased campaigning since winning the presidency, needed someone to lead his re-election efforts in the Sunshine State. Cabrera, a GOP true believer whose earnest enthusiasm for politics and influence had already brought him regional acclaim, stepped up to the proverbial plate.

As Florida State Director for Donald J. Trump for President and the Republican National Committee, Cabrera, among many other things, created and helmed a voter-contact program 200 staffers strong. The result was the highest level of registered Republicans in Florida history, delivering the state to Trump and paving the way for registered Florida Republicans in late 2021 to outnumber registered Florida Democrats for the first time in history. Not bad for a guy only in his third decade on Earth. Now in a key role at Mercury, Cabrera — who is married to Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera — continues his upward trajectory, making moves on behalf of clients corporate, political and otherwise. But his greatest moves still lay ahead, said past client Max Alvarez, President and owner of Sunshine Gasoline Distributors. “One day he will own his own firm,” he said. “And it will be one of the prominent lobbying firms in our country, for sure in the state of Florida, where he’s so well known and has done such a tremendous job.”

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Christina Castillo

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hatever Christina Castillo has done, she has done well. A list of recognitions and accolades follows the Miami native into conversations. She has delved into legislative work, and in 2016 managed the re-election campaign of Rep. Jeanette Nunez, whose passions for cybersecurity and cracking down on human trafficking she shares. At the same time, she was drawn to the law and could read endlessly about the balance of power that makes up our democracy, the Federalist Papers and the American experiment. A 2015 graduate of Florida International University, she stayed on as a legislative assistant to Nunez, who after her win had risen to Speaker Pro Tempore. After entering Florida State University’s law school, Castillo served as a legislative fellow to the Rules Committee, then clerked for the General Counsel, part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive office. She was invited to become a Florida Gubernatorial Fellow, a select and rigorous program aimed at future leaders. Fellows are assigned a department in which to immerse themselves for that year, to tackle social problems and draft mock policy to defend before a board of governors. Castillo landed in the Department of Education. The policy she created, TROOPS (Teacher Recruitment Opens Opportunities Post Service), a strategy aimed at encouraging veterans to teach in public schools, won the Governor Jeb Bush Award for Outstanding Achievement. Castillo graduated cum laude the same year, an occasion that seemed to trigger as much reflection as celebration. “I thought law school was a good fit,” she said. “I wanted all those skill sets that I could apply in my professional career, but then ultimately decided that maybe I wanted to go back into government, because I’ve always been very passionate about studying the founding fathers and the principles of our country.” At 28, she serves as deputy chief of staff to Nunez, now Florida’s first female Hispanic Lieutenant Governor. “She’s an absolute rock star,” Katherine San Pedro Delburn, a partner in Ballard Partners’ Coral Gables office, told INFLUENCE. “She reminds me a lot of myself. Loves The Process, is hungry to succeed, and incredibly loyal and dedicated.” Lately, she has been enjoying reading books by and about Supreme Court justices. “Created Equal,” a memoir, reminded her why Clarence Thomas is her favorite justice. “He never wallowed in adversity,” Castillo said, “and never limited himself based on circumstances, whatever those might have looked like at any given moment in his time. His humility, his compassion, his ability to overcome adversity are all qualities that I try to emulate and carry with me.”

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Aly Coleman

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ly Coleman is the Vice President of accounts for On 3 Public Relations where she handles statewide media relations for clients, including recently helping to plan and execute the annual Child Protection Summit hosting more than 3,000 child welfare professionals from across the state. While Coleman has quickly made a name for herself in the political communications world, it wasn’t the career she imagined for herself when she took her first job in The Process. “It was kind of a happy accident,” she said. “I started my career at Volunteer Florida, but at the time, I didn’t realize it was a quasi-state agency that interacted with the Governor’s office fairly regularly. Eventually, the relationships I made there allowed me to move on to DCF, where I gained invaluable experience supporting the legislative affairs team and engaging with the state House and Senate.” Coleman describes her work at the Florida Department of Children and Families, where she spent 18 months as deputy director of communications, as the most challenging — and most rewarding — of her career to date. On paper, her responsibilities included developing the agency’s external communications strategy and identifying opportunities to engage with DCF’s 12,000 staff members. But the job also required impeccable emotional endurance. She faced a daily barrage of disturbing stories and unimaginable retellings of abuse and neglect. Even though that meant “good days were still extremely hard,” she

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said it infused her work with a strong sense of purpose. “I recognized that I accepted this challenge in an effort to make a difference, to use my writing and media relations skills to contribute to the important work being done across the department and throughout the state, which was incredibly rewarding in and of itself,” she said. In early 2021, Coleman got a call from On 3 Public Relations President Christina Johnson and left DCF for the private sector. DCF was a grind, yes, but she said she doesn’t see her decision to move on as “throwing in the towel.” “I felt content, even confident, with my decision knowing that I persevered through the often-personal toll the position took on me, and I harnessed my unique strengths to support my colleagues as they worked tirelessly to ensure that all children had loving homes and families were given the opportunity to succeed,” she said. Her professional passions are, without a doubt, writing and politics. That passion helped her earn dual degrees in political science and public relations at FSU — with honors, no less. But it also led her to jump at the opportunity to work at On 3. She said the opportunity was “best of both worlds.” Coleman’s strategic writing and media relations skills — developed at Volunteer Florida and battle-tested at DCF — have continued blooming as has her interest in understanding the public sector and political process in Florida. And with Johnson (whom Coleman describes as a “public relations genius”) serving as her mentor, expect her to become a fixture in Florida’s political PR world for years to come.


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Jonathan Cooper

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onathan Cooper is about as close to a lifer at his firm, Cornerstone Solutions, as you can get. Born and raised in Naples, Cooper originally had a different career path in mind. “I was actually on track to go to law school,” he said. Cooper attended Florida Atlantic University for undergrad and took the LSAT in preparation for his journey to law school. “I’ve always believed in service,” Cooper said. “And I have always been attracted to justice, if you will. I wanted to be a prosecutor and then, eventually, my goal was to work in criminal defense. That was partly because I always felt that it was important, growing up, to fight for the little guy. And I always wanted to be someone who was there to help people in the most difficult times.”


But then Cooper heard from a university professor about an internship opportunity with Cornerstone Solutions during his senior year. Cooper took the opportunity, was offered a full-time position afterward and has been with the team since. Cooper started at Cornerstone, a South Florida firm founded by political veteran Rick Asnani, doing data entry, stuffing envelopes, putting signs in the ground and learning what it’s like to operate a campaign from the ground up. “What’s been really unique about my experience has been, while I’ve been with the same firm for coming up on 12 years now, I’ve had multiple different roles and responsibilities,” Cooper said. That has allowed the experience to stay fresh and has made him more effective at his current gig. Cooper now serves as Cornerstone’s Vice President, overseeing the political campaigns and communications division. “How can I today be able to put together a plan for a candidate if I’ve never done the things that I’m saying we need to do to be successful?” Cooper noted. His first campaign management role came in 2011 when Jeri Muoio ran for West Palm Beach Mayor. Cooper said that was his first race “being involved soup to nuts.” In the four-person contest, a candidate needed more than 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff. “We were able to get 51% in the first election,” Cooper recalled. He was living in West Palm Beach at the time, giving him an added satisfaction that he helped shepherd the candidate he most believed in into the city’s top job. “It’s not just about winning the election,” Cooper said. “Obviously I love to win. I mean, that’s partly why we do what we do. And I love the thrill of it. But we’re making a difference as well.” Cooper has been involved in several other major projects at Cornerstone. He worked on the reauthorization of the Children’s Services Council and helped push forward the Broward County transportation tax. When COVID-19 hit, Cooper was a major factor as the firm worked with West Palm Beach city hall to put together a program that allowed for resource sharing and communication between the public sector, private sector and nonprofit sector. “In crises that are occurring, if one side is not talking to the other, you might often find duplicative services,” Cooper explained. “What we tried to do was eliminate that and also eliminate the friction. What you don’t want is leaders fighting amongst themselves for resources or over things that are not getting done.” Cooper said he has worked hard in the decade-plus to get to where he is today, but that Asnani’s leadership was a major factor in his success. “Rick is obviously my mentor,” Cooper said, “He allowed me the opportunity to grow. He allowed me the opportunity to take on really big projects and big opportunities with guidance and assistance that you need to be successful.” That has kept Cooper at the firm for more than a decade. And with an election year in 2022, there is still plenty of work to do. “We’ve created a structure through Rick that allows us to make this a career that’s rewarding, both financially and personally.”

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Ebo Entsuah

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e’ve all heard the old saw, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” And then there’s that other one: “Third time lucky.” Both seemed to be in play for Ebo (pronounced ehbow) Entsuah, who won a seat on the Clermont City Council in January on his third try. At 28 years old, he is the youngest member of the Council for the growing Central Florida city of 50,000. In his first run, when he was 25 and a relative unknown, Entsuah knocked on 3,000 doors and lost

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by about the same number of votes. “That was my first time at all running any type of campaign and I learned very quickly it’s a very tough and very intense thing to do,” he said. “I decided the next year, I’m going to try at least one more time and see what happens.” For his second try at a two-year term, “I had built a bit more name recognition and knocked on doors and I only lost actually by about maybe 200 votes,” Entsuah said. His win came a year later when the Council


member who defeated him resigned, and he won a Special Election to fill the seat. When he had to register to run to retain the seat, he was unopposed. Entsuah credits his drive and stickto-itiveness to his family, who emigrated from Ghana to Canada and moved again to the United States, where he grew up in Clermont. “My parents always told me to … believe in yourself and your abilities, so that’s where I get it from,” he said. “I watched them work hard. I watched them go through hard times. It definitely left an imprint on myself and that’s why the perseverance aspect is so heavily ingrained in myself and in my family.” All became naturalized American citizens in 2016. That self-confidence came into play during his undergraduate years at Florida State University, when he was a football walk-on — and ended up on the 2013 National Championship team. He earned bachelor’s degrees in international affairs and sociology and has since graduated with a juris master’s. “It’s a unique program from the Flor-

ida State College of Law that allows you to take some courses that juris doctor students are taking but also other courses,” he said. “I wanted to learn more about the legal system and regulation, but I do not want to be a lawyer.” Entsuah started out in 2017 as an intern in Washington for then-U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and worked his way up to a legislative aide position before returning to his hometown the next year. Currently his day job is working as a principal for Advanced Energy Economy (AEE), a national association of businesses advocating for a move to clean energy and electrified transportation. Entsuah is a Republican, although his elected position is nonpartisan. “Lake County is overwhelmingly red,” he explained. “But lately Clermont itself, I’d say realistically, has probably been a bit more purple compared to some of the other Lake County cities.” At first, other Council members thought he might be too young and impressionable. “It was an uphill battle but now, we have a better understanding of how everybody works and everybody kind of

gets each other,” he said. In nominating Entsuah, Clermont native Mandie Jones pegged him as “definitely someone to watch for in Florida politics.” “Ebo is politically savvy, hardworking and humble which is a very rare combination in the political world,” said the Washington-based senior manager in government and regulatory affairs for Encompass Health. Entsuah isn’t making hard-and-fast predictions about his future. “I just want to take things day by day and do what’s best for my citizens and my residents,” he said. “I love education and the education sector is definitely something that maybe one day I would love to go back into full time, but we’ll see what happens until then.” In December, Entsuah announced “the best promotion I could ever ask for” on LinkedIn, gaining the title of “husband” when he married Morgan Pena, who also grew up in Clermont, left for a while, then returned to their hometown.

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Brooke Evans

rooke Evans doesn’t have time for a quarter-life crisis. At 25, she’s bounding up the ladder of political success, landing a lobbying position at The Mayernick Group, one of Florida’s top-grossing influence shops. She has been with the Mayernicks only since October but already has made a big impression. “My husband and I started our own firm and had a tremendous drive early on, right out of college. We see that in her,” said Tracy Mayernick who, along with her husband, Frank Mayernick, is one of the firm’s four lobbyists. “She wants to learn things; she wants to come up with new ideas. She wants to go out and find clients, and that’s just kind of the whole package for us.” Evans’ “package” includes a lobbyist boyfriend, Patrick Steele, also a 2022 Rising Star. “I think they complement each other incredibly well. They both have a lot of drive and have big futures in this Process,” opined Tracy Mayernick. “Coming from a couple …. that’s a great asset to have in the Process — someone who understands what the job is and understands what is required to be successful within it and supports that.” With a dad in the military, Evans lived in England for a while — picking up a British accent she has since lost — and in cities around the United States. The family settled in the Central Florida town of Lake Mary in 2008, a home base she returns to often to visit her parents and younger brother. Evans majored in political science at Florida State University. “I was interested in politics because my parents always had the news on when I was growing up, but when I was in college I had no idea what I wanted to do with it at all,” she said. Her path in The Process began with an internship with Tallahassee consulting firm Front Line Strategies. After Evans graduated, the company offered her a position in 2018 working in the Republican primary campaign of Shannon Elswick in HD 32, which would ultimately be won by the current incumbent, Rep. Anthony Sabatini. “He had a pretty rowdy base, so there was really no way we would beat him” in the district that encompasses part of Lake County, Evans said. She would sign on with another race downstate for the General Election, which would be won by her candidate, Rep. Toby Overdorf, and she served as district secretary after his win. “He wanted to give (me) that full experience too, so he let me come up to Tallahassee for all of Session and (I) basically helped take on some of the duties as a legislative aide.” Evans would quickly move on to work as a member services liaison in the House Majority Office with a focus on education issues. Because of her work there, she’s banned from lobbying the Legislature for the next two years. But she doesn’t see that as slowing her roll. “I’m just hoping it goes by really quickly, so I’ll be focusing on the executive branch,” she said. In her spare time, Evans is studying to earn a master’s degree from the University of Florida in mass communications, with a specialization in global strategic communication, which she describes as “kind of a hybrid of communications and political affairs, which is my favorite.” As far as future aspirations, “I’m really interested in the track that I’m on right now and staying with The Mayernick Group and bringing them business and benefiting the firm,” she said. “After that, I have no idea. I’m kind of a just go-with-the-flow type of person and see what kind of opportunities arise and let those guide me. I don’t have a roadmap set out.” Whatever the future brings, her boss is sure it will be a bright one. “I do believe this is just the beginning for Brooke and we are incredibly excited that she’s getting her start with us,” said Tracy Mayernick. “I would love to see her keep growing and growing — with us obviously — in The Process.”

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Lilly Higginbotham Erickson

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illy Higginbotham Erickson had barely started political communications work when she decided she didn’t want to do anything else. The realization came not in pitched battle but alone and far from the war, as a pang of withdrawal. Her internship in the Executive Office of the Governor from February to May 2019 had coincided with crucial opening months for newly elected Gov. Ron DeSantis. Higginbotham was 22 and about to graduate from Florida State University, where she majored in writing and editing. They met days before DeSantis’ first State of the State address, in which the Governor hit the high points of his agenda and asked legislators to back him. Higginbotham also wrote talking points and composed tweets that appeared on the Governor’s Twitter feed. It was this proximity to decision makers she found riveting, the acceptance of those messages and tweets confirming that either DeSantis had suddenly become averse to needless conflict or else her instincts had been correct and she had gotten this. “I was in the Governor’s Office and I took a break, and while I was gone, I really missed it,” said Higginbotham, now 25 and Communications Director for Johnson and Blanton, a Tallahassee lobbying firm. “I felt like my hand was not on the heartbeat of what was going on in the state and I really missed that.” She grew up in Tallahassee and always believed she would end up writing. “I didn’t necessarily imagine that I’d be writing political things,” Higginbotham said. “But as I grew up, I grew to love politics. And that whole world into this has been the perfect opportunity to blend those two things that I really enjoy together.” The firm has shown solid growth in recent years in lobbying fees collected. Her job as spokeswoman means she is more likely to be found creating written materials than, say, tracking bills. But person-to-person communication is a company credo and Higginboitham’s highest priority. “I want people to know what they need to know before they need to know it,” she said.

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Cody Farrill

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he pandemic pressed many of Florida’s public servants well beyond their job descriptions, but few were pushed further than Cody Farrill, who normally oversees policy development and communications strategy. As millions of residents failed to receive unemployment benefits meant to address lost income because of COVID-19, the CONNECT system, Florida’s online portal, all but froze. Fewer than one-quarter of eligible filers received timely payments in June, according to federal data. At one point, the state started distributing paper applications because of online breakdowns. Farrill, 29, proved one of the few links in that chain that held. He spent countless hours on the phone, troubleshooting a system failure. He is not an IT specialist. He is the Chief of Staff of the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration, having at the time served as Deputy Chief of Staff of the Department of Management Services. “It’s a mix of being, one, fearless; and two, the hardest worker in any room you walk into,” Zach Hubbard, a government consultant who previously worked in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Office of Policy and Budget, said of Farrill. “Through the whole unemployment crisis, the guy worked 22-hour days for weeks straight,” Hubbard said. “He was on the phone with constituents and legislative aides all day, just trying to get people their unemployment checks.” Farrill waves the praise aside. His boss at the time, Secretary Jonathan Satter, had asked him to try to aid the surge in claims, he said. Working out all of the kinks took six months. “I’m not in public service to one day be a lobbyist,” he said. “Having been born and raised in the Central Panhandle and after attending undergrad in Alabama’s black belt, I naturally look for opportunities that help people and their communities.” Farrill grew up in Panama City, a fifth-generation Floridian – but not, he emphasized, the kind of fifth-generation Floridian “who has the opportunity to just automatically be able to enter politics.” His father owned Treasure Island Seafood, a commercial fish market. “I learned at a young age that you had to be OK with cutting fish even if you were the owner of the business, because you’ve got to get the job done,” he said. He was in the fourth grade in 2000 when the presidential election recount was stalled for three months. “I remember that to this day,” he said. Weeks later, his dad took him up the elevator in the state Capitol to meet Gov. Jeb Bush and shake his hand. “That day I just knew I wanted to work in politics,” he said. He graduated from Troy University in Alabama and served as student body president. He interned for Congressman Steve Southerland of Panama City and then state Rep. Jimmy Patronis. After graduation, he entered the state’s Gubernatorial Fellows Program, which trains select candidates in public service and policy. Farrill and teammate Elizabeth Hyatt won the Governor Jeb Bush Award for Outstanding Achievement, given to just one mock bill each year. Their proposal, “Florida TeleHealth Network: A Strategic Initiative to Transform the Delivery of Healthcare,” came six years before a pandemic washed over the country and medical practices scrambled to offer telehealth. Throughout the second term of Governor Rick Scott, Cody served as Deputy Legislative Affairs Director for the Florida Department of Transportation. When Hurricane Michael slammed the Panhandle, Cody was deployed to the State Emergency Operations Center to support his hometown, overseeing legislative affairs. It was after Hurricane Michael when he was introduced to Governor DeSantis’ team and subsequently served as an aide to First Lady Casey DeSantis at the onset of the administration. “He’s like a chameleon,” Hubbard said, “where he can blend into any role and then within a month, be an expert in that field.” DeSantis appointed him to the AHCA Chief of Staff position in March 2021, supporting Secretary Simone Marstiller. Farrill’s priorities for the agency center on delivering cost-effective transparent health care. “Generally, the biggest part of my job is working to advance Governor DeSantis’ health care agenda, to create a more innovative, transparent, and high- quality health care system.” he said. In his spare time he hikes or kayaks or fishes the waters of his native Panhandle. Sometimes simplest pleasures are best. “I really enjoy getting away sometimes having fried shrimp and grits at a little fish house on the coast,” he said. “It’s the forgotten coast. Getting in and around, and getting away from Tallahassee.”


George Feijoo

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eorge Feijoo has always relied on grit, on pushing himself, intent on going as far as he can, as quickly as possible. At 32, he already has amassed a decade’s expertise in more than a half-dozen branches of the insurance industry. As a lobbyist for Floridian Partners, he thrives on the most current needs and innovations and recently advocated for the state’s first peer-to-peer car sharing arrangements. In weekly pickup basketball games at his church, Feijoo prides himself on his hustle, diving for loose balls, snagging rebounds and passing to the open teammate. His favorite player is the Miami Heat’s P.J. Tucker, a power forward with a career scoring average of 7.9 points per game. As the youngest of four children of Peruvian immigrants and the only one born in the United States, Feijoo grew up believing that little would come to him that he did not make happen. The family shared a basement in Queens for seven years, then a two-bedroom apartment in Miami. At 15, Feijoo went to work in a call center, selling Direct TV. He worked the photo desk at CVS, the hardware department at Sears. He has held down a side job as a contemporary service worship leader at First Baptist Church since his student days at Florida State University, where he majored in actuarial science. He moved up the ranks at the state’s Office of Insurance Regulation, from insurance examiner to senior analyst to senior management analyst supervisor. “I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder and I’ve worked hard because I had a chip on my shoulder,” Feijoo said. Proving himself fed not only his own growing family but also a desire to compete and win and make his parents proud. Feijoo worked 52 weeks a year for 10 years, during which time he also earned an MBA at Florida State and took virtually no break between the OIR and joining Floridian Partners in 2016. He came at the behest of Richard Koon, the OIR’s former deputy insurance commissioner and a key mentor. A year later Koon left Florida Partners to found his own consulting firm. Without that steady hand, Feijoo wondered how long he would survive. He thought about his wife, Samantha, and their desire to start a family. “It was the scariest time in my life,” he said. “But it ended up being the best thing.” That’s because Koon wasn’t the only one who saw promise in Feijoo. Thirty-plus-year veteran Gary Guzzo, along with partners Charlie Dudley and Jorge Chamizo, also paved the way for an even deeper immersion in lobbying and insurance regulation. “I could not have gotten here without their belief in me,” he said. Some constants, including his passion for guitar and basketball, never change. He still opens First Baptist’s indoor gym at 6 a.m. Wednesdays for full-court games. “I’m addicted to the game,” he said, despite gruesomely dislocating his pinkie the day before Thanksgiving. He was back on the court three weeks later. But as his accomplishments have grown — and he has witnessed the birth of his children Olivia and Luka — a need for winning for its own sake or proving doubters wrong has receded. “I’ve done great work because of that drive,” he said, “but I think there’s a shift. The perspective for me going forward is on continuing to do good work. But not because you desire to prove yourself to others anymore. I think I’ve kind of passed that Rubicon. You do it because it’s the right thing to do.” This past summer, Feijoo and Samantha celebrated their 10th anniversary with another change of pace, a weeklong vacation in St. Lucia.

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essica Fowler says her journey into The Process is “far from traditional,” but it has led her to the highest levels of policymaking as the Florida Department of Education’s Deputy Legislative Affairs Director. The 29-year-old was Tallahassee born and raised and was aware it was Florida’s capital city, but “never really put it in perspective of how big of a deal it was in the sense that Legislative Session was … bringing all of these policymakers together to make the very important decisions in my hometown.” Her life’s trajectory changed one night in 2014, when she was 21 and a student at Tallahassee Community College. Her single father, William Russell “Rusty” Fowler, volunteered to drive a busload of high school students home from an out-of-town track meet when a drunk-

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en driver pulled out in front of the vehicle and crashed. He was killed instantly. Dealing with her dad’s funeral and estate, “a lot of things were put on pause for months after that year in some aspects of life,” she recalled. “Although the pain of losing him often outweighed everything else, (I knew) if I wanted to be successful in my professional career, I had to pick myself up and work harder than anyone else around me and that’s what I did and I strive to do to this day.” Her father used to paraphrase a quote from Theodore Roosevelt saying, “nothing worth having comes easy,” a message Fowler took to heart. “I didn’t come from a line of judges or politicians or anyone in The Process that knew people that knew people,” she said. “The way that I was going to make a name for myself was to work harder than anyone around me … and build a good reputation for myself.” A few months after the accident, she got a fulltime job as program coordinator in the Department of Education’s Office of Early Learning (now the Division of Early Learning). Working hard at her administrative duties, “I quickly learned how important it was to get early education right for youngest learners,” she said. Fowler said that’s where she “learned the ropes of education,” a subject she called “a beast.” Fast-forward five years when she was offered the opportunity to work as a legislative analyst at the Education Department. She has since been promoted to her current position under Bethany Swonson, now Chief of Staff to Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. “That really pivoted my policy focus from early learning to a more holistic view of the education system, which was also my first real encounter with the legislative process,” she said. With the support of her managers at work, Fowler returned to college and is now three classes short of getting a degree in interdisciplinary social science at Florida State University. Fowler credits her success to her godparents and Education Department mentors, many of whom are climbing the ladder of success themselves. They include Swonson, DOE Legislative Affairs Director Alexis Calatayud, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Deputy Chief of Staff Alex Kelly and Kristin Piccolo, Executive Director of the Florida Education Foundation. Swonson has high praise for her protégé. “Jes Fowler is one of those dynamic professionals with raw talent who is such an honor to watch grow daily,” she said. “From Day 1 she has made our team more resilient and continues to take on more responsibilities and navigate complexity with grace …. From the simplest task of tracking policy to the most dynamic, advocating for impactful policy and implementing laws with fidelity, Jes has mastered each with the proficiency of a veteran. “Truly, there are no limits on her potential to do good,” Swonson continued. “Watch out, Florida (and the world), Jes is coming to make it a better place.”


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Amanda Fraser

lthough she’s just 29, Amanda Fraser has five Sessions under her belt as a registered lobbyist, currently serving as a governmental consultant for the Colodny Fass law firm. She has made a career in different realms of The Process, shepherded along by “a lot of strong female politicos,” including fundraiser Meredith O’Rourke, lobbyist Claudia Davant and her current boss, Katherine “Katie” Scott Webb. Fraser moved to Tallahassee when she was in first grade and has lived there ever since. She started off as an international affairs major at Florida State University. “As I took more and more classes and got into my major, the more I started selecting more political science-based classes,” she said. So, Frasier decided to double major and earn degrees in both subjects. She was awarded a master’s degree from FSU in American Politics and Policy in 2015. Fraser considers herself a political “anomaly” in her nuclear family. “They’re all very math and science people,” she said, and her husband of two years “does nothing in politics,” working as a project manager for a local firm. While still an undergraduate, Frasier was introduced to O’Rourke, finance director of then-Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign. She started as an intern fundraising with The O’Rourke Group and later became an employee. “I’d say that’s where I caught the bug, working for Meredith O’Rourke,” she said. Fraser would intern with Corcoran & Johnson during her graduate studies and then work in Scott’s office after getting her degree. She had a short stint in legislative affairs at the Florida Department of Management Services that included her first Session, and then she moved on to lobby for the boutique firm Adams St. Advocates in 2018. She moved to Colodny Fass in March 2021, just in time for the Capitol-free Session. “It was interesting,” she said. “We were literally dialing it in trying to get ahold of (legislators) in any way we possibly could without actually physically being in the building.” Despite the restrictions, an overhaul of the state’s homeowner insurance regulations (SB 76) passed during the 2021 Session. With that and a Legislature preoccupied with redistricting, Fraser envisions “monitor mode” and glitch fixes for her firm this year. Coming up on her first-year anniversary at Colodny Fass, Fraser said for the time being, she’s right where she belongs. “I feel very fortunate. I love my current firm. I love who I work with,” she enthused. “Insurance is obviously a very convoluted subject. I’m learning as much as I can to serve my clients as best as I can.” And so far, Webb, who manages the law firm’s Lobbying and Governmental Consulting Division, is happy with her protégé. “Amanda has blown me away with her ability to quickly absorb and understand new subject matter, no matter how complicated,” Webb said. “She is tenacious, organized, and takes initiative. We are lucky to have her at Colodny Fass.” When Session is over, Fraser and her husband enjoy the outdoors in their boat. “We are constantly outside,” she said. “Whether the coast or the lake or river or whatever body of water we can find.”

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Jonathan Guarine

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onathan Guarine had no business being on the Senate floor when, as a college freshman, he walked up to Sen. Tom Lee after the 2016 Organizational Session and handed the Senator his resume. It’s no wonder that someone with that kind of confidence could pen the report that was perhaps what made the difference in bringing last Session’s consumer data privacy bill to a halt. Guarine got his start in state government and policy as an intern in

Lee’s office. Now 23 and a research economist with Florida TaxWatch, he was the primary author of TaxWatch’s analysis that found it would cost Florida businesses $36.5 billion to implement the Florida Privacy Protection Act as initially proposed by lawmakers, plus between $301.2 million and $9.7 billion over the next decade to keep up compliance. Guarine crunched the numbers, making them readable and accessible to anyone, including lawmakers and

those in the Governor’s Office. What they showed was that small businesses would be disproportionately affected by the measure. “We wanted to help shift that conversation to how you achieve what you originally set out to do, which was to implement consumer data privacy in a way that minimizes those costs for people, should they be captured in that, like small businesses, for example,” Guarine said. Upon the report’s release, the Senate went back to the drawing board, wrote a scaled-back version and scrapped the private cause of action, one factor that ballooned the bill’s costs by allowing individuals to sue businesses, possibly frivolously. However, the House and Senate couldn’t reach a consensus before the end of Session, killing the bill — at least for 2021. Guarine came to the budget watchdogs at Florida TaxWatch as a research fellow in 2020. He stood out as an insightful and principled young man who accepts counsel, is the opposite of arrogant and works like a sponge, said TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro. “He is really the epitome of the future of leadership of an important public policy think tank like Florida TaxWatch,” Calabro said. “Who, in their first one or two years, could write a report that could bring a halt to the consumer data privacy act by saying, you know, how much does this cost to implement and track the method by which it’s assessed from California?” Before and after his time interning in the Florida Senate, Guarine was a congressional intern for Rep. Bill Posey and Sen. Marco Rubio. In 2018, he joined Enterprise Florida as an external affairs intern. Guarine’s biggest mentor, former Enterprise Florida Vice President Bruce Grant, like Calabro, described Guarine as a “sponge.” But the semi-retired exec, now an adjunct professor at Florida State University, said the two of them didn’t coordinate that line. “I was very happy to help him get a good guy,” Grant said, referring to Calabro and TaxWatch getting Guarine. “If you’re an employer, you’re looking for people like Jonathan. They’re not a dime a dozen. They’re one in a million.” For someone who has already found success in his first full-time job, Guarine believes he has learned a tough personal lesson. While you may be passionate about what you do, and even if you stay impartial and data-driven, whether your work gets picked up comes down to politics. “Sometimes, at the end of the day, it just isn’t received at all,” Guarine said. “Politics always will play a role in policymaking, and I think that’s a hard thing at times.”

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Blair Hancock

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e like our heroes to be adventurous, to take significant risks when necessary and to have some wins under their belt before we call on them to save us. These heroes could be doctors or plumbers or astronauts, or maybe just a stranger who said the right thing at a painful moment. Blair Hancock has the kind of traits people depend on, plus less celebrated attributes that keep heroes alive. Things like restraint and alertness, or the ability to lead or follow without worrying about who gets credit. She joined GrayRobinson in Washington in February and was later named to The Hill’s 2021 Top Lobbyists list. She has been living in the nation’s capital since 2018, first as a lobbyist for the University of Florida, then a year as a congressional liaison in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “Just being able to translate Washington back to the state is something I think I do really well,” said Hancock, 28. A case in point: Hancock delivered several webinars in March and April explaining President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, breaking down how $350 billion in direct allocations to state and local governments could be used. On visits to her home state, she was in a position to discuss the $10.2 billion available in Florida. She is grateful for the opportunities and people who helped her get to GrayRobinson, a full service law firm with offices in Washington and Florida. A wealth of contacts through work experience, from campaigning for U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho to a stint in then-Gov. Rick Scott’s executive office in Washington, got her closer to a pulse of opportunity, including her legislative fellowship on the Economic Affairs Committee and a master’s degree from Florida State. A lead from someone she had met through Scott’s office led to the 13 months at the Housing Department, whose sometimes embattled director served as a personal model of integrity and decorum. “I had to help him prepare for testimony before Congress,” she said of Dr. Ben Carson, “and you know how things can be in Congress. Very partisan. Preparing for that ‘gotcha’ moment.. You know what, he never let it all get to him. And just the way that he approached everything with, you know, sheer dedication, that’s something I’ve tried to do, too. Just to be 100 percent present and give my clients the attention to detail that is required from a brain surgeon.” She values relationships with colleagues for the sense of consequence and cooperation their teamwork produces. The legislation shapes policy, and by extension the country, in multifaceted ways. The variety of issues keeps the work interesting, and the hours they put in challenges a stereotype Hancock never liked of lobbyists only as deal makers. “They are kind of like dream makers,” she said. “Clients come to us with a wish or a request, and it’s our job to help them achieve it.”


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Shakhea Hinton

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n her position as Central Florida Regional Director for Florida Rising, Shakhea Hinton is required to be a good listener — and an even better talker. Formed by the merger of New Florida Majority and Organize Florida a year ago, the new organization was created to focus on building political influence in marginalized communities. When it comes to Florida Rising choosing what issues to tackle, it’s the 34-yearold’s job to go into communities in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties and ask Black and Brown people to share their most pressing needs. “We are member led … the members that we have in our organization decide what our organizational focus is going to be statewide,” she explained. “During the pandemic … our members voted on fair housing as one of the top priorities for us as an organization. And so what my organizers and I have been doing within Central Florida is partnering with (Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida) and assisting them with their emergency or rental assistance programs.” That said, the group has a lengthy agenda of progressive causes to advocate for in the 2022 Session. As for talking, one might think communicating with politicians not predisposed to favoring such policies would be daunting, but Hinton is up for the challenge. “I am able to convey a message to anyone. You put me in a room with them, we can sit down over coffee or cocktails and I am going to find a commonality with you and get you to understand the importance of what I’m trying to convey,” she said. She describes her approach when advocating about the hot-button issue of “defunding the police.” “I think if folks would sit down and have a genuine conversation about what that term actually means, it would change the connotation to what it was intended for,” she said. “We’re looking for police reform. We’re wanting to have resources placed in communities that actually deserve them instead of more guns.” Hinton attended Bethune-Cookman University and was looking forward to having a career in broadcast journalism after graduation. She moved to Chicago to work on a master’s degree but found herself drawn to social services, dropped out and returned to her hometown. “It baffled my family and friends,” she said. Now, “I advocate for the folks that I grew up with, so it makes it even more special.” She married her college sweetheart and they live in DeLand with their three children, Atticus (a tribute to “To Kill a Mockingbird,”

her favorite novel), Abbott and Adaled. Hinton said she volunteers at her church and is guided by her faith. Another Central Florida activist has high praise for Hinton’s work. “Shakhea is the epitome of grit and grace. She grounds herself in the needs of everyday people and does not take no for an answer when it comes to securing prog-

ress and prosperity for the people of Florida,” said Rep. Ana Eskamani, whose House District 47 includes part of Orange County. “Whether it’s helping a mom secure affordable housing or speaking to a crowd of thousands to protect abortion access and advance racial justice — she knows that none of us are free unless we are all free, and leads by those values.”

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Christopher Hodge

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or most of his young life, as early as it was possible to plan a career, Christopher Hodge knew he would be a physician. He loved molecular microbiology, which was surely in medicine’s ballpark. And so as an undergraduate at the University of Central Florida he regularly shadowed an orthopedic surgeon on his hospital rounds. Hodge admired this doctor, appreciated his generosity and could imagine that or similar teaching relationships extending through med school. Until the shift when the 42-year-old surgeon had a heart attack.

INFLUENCE Winter 2022

The surgeon survived, but the incident raised questions for Hodge. Had the doctor’s zest for long hours, taking catnaps on a couch, put him at risk? How much was the doctor’s heart attack limited to him and how much could be blamed on a business model that rewarded, practically demanded, carrying the largest possible load? “It was such a wake-up call,” Hodge said. “I asked myself if this was still a calling. It wasn’t that I couldn’t cut it in med school. It was, what are the circumstances that led to being overworked? Was it because he was in private practice, or was it a policy?” It didn’t make sense that medicine meant to extend life, to improve it, should itself be unsustainable and vulnerable to breakdown. Instead of med school, Hodge went to graduate school, on track for an MBA at the University of Florida. New connections formed. A friend in one of his classes was interning with Rep. Julio Gonzalez, who was talking about health policy. Hodge also joined the campaign in time to see student survivors of the Parkland school shootings challenge legislators. Gonzalez lost his primary but Rep. James Buchanan picked up Hodge as a legislative aide. Time at Gainesville exposed him to the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the university’s research arm backed by federal grants. Increasingly, he found himself drawn to agriculture, Florida’s second largest industry behind tourism. He was interested in the sea grasses and coastlines IFAS studied, the microbiology of a pandemic and the institute’s mission to ensure sustainable agriculture. That meant lobbying for federal dollars, a skill Buchanan helped him develop. “He really let me get in on the meetings and discussions about where my interest is now, to be that advocate. To learn the process at that time in the Florida House, you have to be there to pick up on the nuance of relationship building,” Hodge said. “That’s very beneficial, almost a second degree.” The attention paid paved the way for a new career. Since October, Hodge has worked as the assistant director of governmental affairs at UF/IFAS. Outdooors has always suited Hodge, who was born in Gainesville but has lived in Orlando, Pensacola and the Tampa Bay area, just fine. His favorite pastime away from work is to hit the beaches or trails, sample oysters in Apalachicola. Asked about any bucket list must-do’s, Hodge said, “I would truly appreciate traveling around, seeing different practices in Europe and Asia. I’ve been to South America, I’ve got family in Colombia and have watched the sea farms first-hand down there. “But professionally, I really enjoy being an advocate for agriculture in Florida. It’s complex, there are a lot of challenges in the field right now. But there’s a technological boom and the future is bright.” He talked for another minute about agriculture’s looming high-tech future, “precise horticulture” that can mass produce specialty pumpkins or ornamental plants, hops research and urban agriculture. “It’s really endless in regard to what we can work toward,” he said.


Landon Hoffman I

n his years on Capitol Hill and his careers in the military, medicine and business, Rep. Neal Dunn has seen his fair share of ambitious, talented, up-and-coming young people. But the retired urologist who represents the largest congressional district east of the Mississippi River considers Landon Hoffman — his deputy director in Florida’s 2nd Congressional District — the cream of that impressive crop. “This crowd is all driven to excel. They all perform very high level,” Dunn said. “There are no show dogs; all are working dogs, and Landon stands out.” One of the 27-year-old’s greatest assets, said Dunn, is his ability to connect to and communicate with people from a wide range of ages and backgrounds, particularly important in a district that includes all or part of 19 mostly rural counties in the Panhandle and around the Big Bend. “If he says he’s doing something, you can take that to the bank,” Dunn said. “For a young man, (he has) uncommon depth.

He has a very mature empathy. A lot of the things that you only learn with time, he seems to have learned quickly.” Tallahassee born and raised, Hoffman left town to attend the University of Mississippi and earn a degree in political science in 2016. His political career started during those college years as an intern for former U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney. “That was really when I knew this was kind of exactly what I wanted to do,” Hoffman said. After college, he went on to work on Dunn’s first campaign for office and would go to work for the Congressman after the election. Hoffman took a side trip for two years to lobby for Florida Farm Bureau Federation as the assistant director for State Legislative Affairs under Director of State Legislative Affairs Adam Basford, who he considers one of many mentors. Hoffman was lured back to his present position with Dunn, but considers his years on the other

side of the advocacy process as useful. “I did two Sessions there …. (and) I’m very thankful for my time at Farm Bureau and everything I learned,” he said. “It gave me a really valuable two years of state legislative lobbying experience along with what I’ve done at the federal level.” Hoffman was Dunn’s campaign manager for his re-election in 2018 — when he beat the Democratic candidate with 67.4% of the vote in the R+18 district — and much of his time now is spent in that role. Dunn and Hoffman’s boss in Tallahassee, District Director Will Kendrick, both commented on the breadth of the young man’s acquaintance. “I jokingly call him the Mayor of Tallahassee because he knows everybody,” said Kendrick. “What comes with that personable piece is the fact that he cares. People in this district don’t really care about how much you know, they need to know how much you care. And I think Landon exemplifies the fact that he shows how much he cares.” Dunn has his own tales to tell, including the fact that constituents will sometimes call his personal cell phone and ask for Hoffman. “I was at the National Republican Senate Committee’s Christmas party. …. People just kept coming up to me and talking about Landon in conversation after conversation,” the Representative said. “Wow, I knew he networked well, but I didn’t know he networked that well.” Dunn’s Tallahassee office is in City Hall. When Hoffman is walking from the parking lot to his office, his father, Ken Hoffman, the Vice President for Regulatory Affairs at Florida Power & Light will give him a shout-out from the balcony of his office across the street. His twin sister works less than a block away at the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association. Hoffman married his wife, Lili, in a small COVID wedding with family in October 2020, and a year later they renewed their vows with full wedding blowout. The pair shared their first kiss in sixth grade, dated through middle and high school, then went their separate ways to college. “We reconnected a month or so after we graduated from college and have been together ever since,” he said. In her nomination of Hoffman as a Rising Star, Washington-based lawyer and public policy professional Courtney Veatch called him an “all-around rock star.” “Landon possesses the emotional intelligence and the understanding to communicate, connect, and make every person feel like they are the most important person in the room when you talk to him — because in his eyes, he knows you are,” she wrote. “If I ever have a question about any Florida political rumblings … Landon is my primary barometer.”

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Ali Jones

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t first, Ali Jones thought she might try medicine. The daughter of public school teachers, she wanted to be able to change young lives for the better. A high school internship with a nonprofit opened her up to a world of possibilities beyond medicine and education, yet with connections to both fields. Today Jones, 27, works for the state’s Department of Education as the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Program Implementation. There are times when social workers have brought young children to her door. Jones became a licensed foster parent in 2019, which qualifies her to provide temporary placement for kids in crisis. “I had extra rooms,” she said. “I felt called to do this.” She has since taken in 15 children up to 8 years old. They don’t stay long; Jones travels in her job. She offers what the child welfare system calls “respite care,” a short-term stay until the children, who have often been through the “worst of the worst,” can find permanent homes. “I try to show them what real love looks like for the brief period of time I can,” she said. Being able to do that, Jones said, has given her far more than she could repay. Her first placement was also her youngest, a 5-week-old infant brought to her home at 11:30 p.m. ‘“I didn’t get much sleep but he did,” Jones said. Jones was a high school senior when she accepted an internship with Kidz1stFund, a nonprofit started by Florida State University football coach Jimbo Fisher. While that organization targets research funding for Fanconi anemia, it opened doors. The executive director in 2014, Cameron Ulrich, “taught me everything there is to know about being a professional, how to be a strong woman, how to be a person of integrity,” Jones said. Fisher, meanwhile, led the Seminoles to a perfect 14-0 season and a national title. Jones still has the championship ring the coach gave her. “I will never be that cool again,” she said. After several years, Jones worked for Sen. Lizbeth Benaquisto, who chaired the Florida Senate’s Rules committee. Jones advocated for the Florida Children’s Council, an association of children’s services statewide. Its CEO, Brittany Birken, remains a potent influence. “She was probably one of the most pivotal people in my life,” Jones said. “She taught me how to navigate this Process with honesty and fight for children and see the best in people. She is still one of my best friends and a huge mentor.” Later, while managing the Florida Education Foundation, Jones contributed to the New Worlds Reading Initiative, a free literacy program developed by the University of Florida’s Lastinger Center for Learning and championed by House Speaker Chris Sprowls. As a child she read constantly, burning through every Nancy Drew in the library and turning to Hardy Boys mysteries. She reads to the children who sleep under her roof. “Sometimes it’s the first time,” she said, “because maybe no one had read a book to them before.” One of her foster kids, a 5-year-old boy, could not fathom owning shoes. “He was so excited to have those damned shoes he slept in them,” Jones said. She slipped them off his feet in the night, but they were back on his feet before he had dressed. “It was a little bit of a struggle,” Jones said. “But then he realized that he got to keep those shoes.”


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am Kerce has spent most of the past five years as Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs for the Department of Juvenile Justice. But in the last half year, Kerce has been rewiring himself for the same role but at a new agency, the Department of Management Services. “It’s a whole other world,” Kerce said. “DMS touches so many areas, so that’s something that’s definitely exciting about this agency.” Kerce, 27, got his first job at DJJ in the legislative affairs arena after graduating from Florida State University in 2017. He spent more than four years there before transitioning to DMS in July. During his time at DJJ, under both Gov. Rick Scott and Gov. Ron DeSantis, the department succeeded in securing additional prevention dollars to keep children from going deeper into the juvenile justice system. “At DJJ, you’re surrounded by a lot of people who were not politicians,” Kerce said. “They were doing that work for 20, 30 years, worked their way up from certain levels and really cared about the kids and the work that they did.” When it came to DJJ and now DMS matters, Kerce clarified that he is not an expert. “In the majority of the areas that I advocate for, I’m someone who does my best to learn issues and then tries to communicate from those experts within each division to try to get their message across because, again, they’re advocating for what, in their experience, the best calls are or the best course of action,” Kerce said. One of DMS’s priorities for the coming fiscal year is to continue upgrading the Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System, as is improving cybersecurity. DMS hopes to harden cybersecurity through the Florida Digital Service, which the Legislature established in 2020 to focus on the delivery of state services with cutting edge technology. Rep. Allison Tant said she first met Kerce through her legislative work while he was still at DJJ, and he immediately stuck out as even handed and a problem solver. Now that he has moved to DMS, whose employees and operations largely fall within Tant’s district, he has become her first point of contact for most things related to the agency, such as workforce issues, procurement issues and technology issues. That’s despite their partisan differences. “He sees the whole person, and I think he’s really a good resource for anybody in state government to have working on their team,” Tant said. Working in politics and policy is something Kerce has been interested in since his early years at Leon High School in Tallahassee. He has enjoyed working in state government particularly because he has a chance to advocate for proposals and policies he believes in.

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Sam Kerce

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But perhaps his biggest lesson has been that the wins don’t come easy. “I think a lot of times, especially young people like myself, you have that kind of desire for that instant gratification, that instant, and a lot of times that’s just not how the process is. It might not get done in a Session. It might get done in numerous years, but it’s building blocks you’re laying each year to try to get something passed.” Kerce is also one half of a power couple. His wife, Alice Neira, is also one of INFLUENCE’s Rising Stars for her work in education advocacy. She currently is a Deputy Legislative Director at the Foundation for Florida’s Future. The two married in October.

Kerce has a little extra time on his hands now that they’re through wedding planning, but he fills much of it with the Capital City Kiwanis Club. He was recently elected president of the local affiliate of the international organization dedicated to improving children’s lives. He also helps manage the Florida Key Club. “Especially coming out of COVID, we know the needs are so great throughout COVID, but especially with K-12 and children as to go back in and try to make up some of those learning losses that they experienced — especially as Title I schools and in those kind of settings — you need that extra help,” Kerce said.


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Lauren Lange

r. Rogers’ life lessons for children have a home in the Governor’s Office, at least with Lauren Lange. “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” That Mr. Rogers quote helps drive Lange, the special projects coordinator in the Governor’s Office of Policy and Budget. “That’s what I’ve always tried to do within a sometimes difficult field, is be a helper and go out there and do what I’m passionate about to make the world a better place,” Lange said. “I know that sounds cheesy.” Cheesy or not, it has worked out, at least as evidenced by the 26-year-old’s already lengthy resume. She has worked in the Legislature as an intern and a legislative aide, the Department of Children and Families, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and more. In her year and a half in the Office of Policy and Budget, she has already held multiple positions. Now as the special projects coordinator, Lange’s role is to be a problem solver, addressing things that spring up on a day-to-day basis. She says she has always been fascinated with politics and problem solving. “I think that working in policy gives you the unique opportunity to combine them both,” Lange said. “Obviously, politics plays a role, but, at the end of the day, policy is really about thinking about the problems that we have — that Floridians have — and figuring out, thinking critically, about how we solve these problems.” Lange works under Office of Policy and Budget Director Chris Spencer and his deputy, Chris Emmanuel. “Lauren is a sharp, bright and dedicated public servant who has the rare talent of being both a strategic thinker and a detail-oriented executor,” Emmanuel said. “She’s someone you want in your corner when you are dealing with complex issues or tight deadlines.” For someone whose favorite quote comes from a famed children’s television presenter, it’s perhaps unsurprising that much of Lange’s resume is sprinkled with experience in child policy. Her first internship, at the Florida Coalition for Children, helped sculpt her career path. Mentors there opened doors for her, she said. Lange started at the Coalition for Children in the first half of her senior year at Florida State University. Before she graduated in 2017, she also interned in the Governor’s Office of Adoption and Child Protection. And after her time as a policy aide in the Florida House plus a stint on Ron DeSantis’ gubernatorial campaign, she then started working legislative affairs in DCF. Even at HHS, she was a child welfare management assistant. Lange started at HHS in late 2019 after receiving a master’s in public policy from FSU. But she moved back to Florida months later to become a legislative aide during the 2020 Legislative Session for then-Senate Majority Leader Debbie Mayfield. “Federal politics is a lot larger,” Lange said. “I felt like in Florida I was making a bigger difference with a smaller pot. I also found I was really passionate about Florida and state issues.” That perspective is encapsulated in another quote that’s dear to her, from productivity guru David Allen. Lange keeps the snippet on her phone background. “You can do anything, but not everything.”

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Melissa Langley

fter graduating magna cum laude with a criminology degree from Florida State University, Melissa Langley found herself considering options. Sure, there was law school, which she had told herself she wanted to do. But the closer she got to understanding what the day-to-day practice of law entailed, the less enamored she became. Around the same time, The Fiorentino Group had a tough mayoral race brewing. The Jacksonville firm was working with Lenny Curry, an accountant and first-time Republican candidate. Curry would make it to the runoff and face Democratic incumbent Alvin Brown, Jacksonville’s first African American Mayor. Marty Fiorentino needed a steady hand for the firm. He hired Langley, a Jacksonville native and a stickler for detail, as development and political coordinator. She coordinated Curry’s finances through a blanket primary in March 2014, won by Brown, to Curry’s victory in May by a 3% margin. “She is my right hand,” Joe Mobley, a Fiorentino principal, told INFLUENCE. “Extremely bright and hard working.” Langley remains the firm’s steadiest hand, the one who has charted every key date or deadline, the one who has written it down. “It’s about having a plan, something I admire about this firm for all of our clients,” said Langley, 29. “We have folks here who have worked in private business or who have served inside the House and Senate. “We truly take a team approach: How can we come together and get this bill passed? The whole 360-degree view. How can we completely solve this client’s problems?” Promoted in 2019 to community relations and political director, Langley manages the firm’s fundraising, plans special events and stays engaged with the community. In 2018 she took a 16-month leave to serve as an AmeriCorps liaison in Washington while also managing AmeriCorps Director Chester Spellman’s special initiatives. Back at TFG, she enjoys the range of client issues, from health care to education and technology. And when something as big as a pandemic hits, the firm has Langley to conduct crisis management in real time. “Tracking all of that federal legislation like the Patient Protection Program, those rules were being enforced almost as they were coming out,” she said. “So being able to truly sit down and dive into that legislation and monitor what was happening I think played a key role for our clients to be a little bit ahead and at least have some answers about what they would be facing.” Before joining TFG, Langley coordi-

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nated interns for the Republican Party of Florida and herself interned as a fundraiser for Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. She married Prescott Braude in 2021 and looks forward to carrying out travel plans. “In this firm we truly take on clients we care about,” she said. “While sometimes it’s hard being newly married and moving to Tallahassee for 60 days, realizing that there is a true mission behind it is what keeps us going.” In retrospect, the choices and opportunities have lined up. “You can still influence policy and legislation without being an attorney,” she said. “I wouldn’t change this for the world.”


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The Long Term Care Labor Crisis is Here Now 9 out of 10

Florida Health Care Association Members say their workforce needs have gotten worse since 2020.

52% are reducing admissions to try

59% of facilities are operating at a

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loss or negative total margin.

74% at least once in the last month

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needed to bring in temporary staff through an agency to fill shifts.

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had to ask staff to work overtime or take extra shifts.


Sebastian Leon

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or Sebastian Leon, a vision that began more than 20 years ago is still taking shape, though long since realized. Essentially, his mother wanted greater opportunity for her two sons in the United States than they would find in Lima, Peru. In October, Leon’s boss, Sen. Rick Scott, named him his Deputy Director of State Operations. The promotion affirms what his peers already knew: Leon, 27, is both talented and highly motivated. In a time when Americans tend to narrate according to one crisis or another, he has never forgotten where he came from or how far he has come. “It’s kind of like waking up every day and living in a state of purpose,” Leon said. “A lot of people take it for granted.” Leon was 7 when he arrived with his parents and younger brother in South Florida. The family lived in Fort Lauderdale. As his mother, Aurea Carrasco, warned him countless times, citizenship just gets you to the starting line. “My mother always instilled in me, ‘You’ve gotta work hard. There are no excuses.’” He lived in Tallahassee since entering Florida State University, then completing its Master’s in Applied American Politics and Policy program. “I am a double (FSU graduate),” Leon said, proud of his alma mater. In recent months, he mostly travels between meetings with stakeholders, conducting strategy and messaging sessions and overseeing Scott’s nine field offices. Leon first caught Scott’s eye in 2016 as an intern at the Capitol doing outreach. He was sending out law school applications when Scott’s office called, this time to offer him a job as an appointment analyst in external affairs. “They said, ‘Hey, you know, we’d love to take you back,’” Leon said. “I just felt, when the Governor’s Office calls you can’t say no. That kind of canceled my plans for law school.” He has thrived in a close-knit office of handpicked peers, which might explain some of Scott’s messaging success. “It’s a plan with a vision and a great team to kind of back that vision up,” Leon said.

The Senator’s office felt the same way, promoting Leon to regional operations director covering Northwest Florida operations, and now deputy director. Sara Clements, Vice President of state government relations at McGuireWoods Consulting, described Leon as a smart and skilled communicator. “He makes it his business to try to meet as many people as possible,” she said. “He’s a genuinely nice, fun person but also works really hard at his job, and is a really great face of the office.” Leon finds himself returning to those early days, and the present moment. “I would never in my dreams thought that I would be working in the Governor’s Office,” he said. “I am living the dream.”

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Anna Grace Lewis

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he decision to take a political science class her freshman year was hardly the stuff of crisis. Anna Grace Lewis had come to Florida State University on a joint dance and academic scholarship. Classically trained since elementary school in Asheville, North Carolina, she lived ballet most of the time. That was as it should be. FSU’s School of Dance is one of the coun-

F E AT U R E try’s most respected academies. Poli Sci brought an opportunity to study public policy in Australia. Why not, she reasoned. The course sounded exciting. And it wasn’t like a few months abroad would cause her to miss Florida, a landscape she associated with Disney World and not much else. But something happened in Australia. Lewis was mesmerized by world politics, affairs she hadn’t always fol-

lowed before. She is a tactile learner who lays out the newspaper like a smorgasbord, a lifelong reader who needs to hold cloth or paperback books. Once the information gets into her head, it stays there. On her return, a hackneyed motivational question suddenly irritated her: “What do you want to be doing five years from now?” The answer: Not dancing. This was not a sad realization. “I was so excited and so ready for something new because for so long when you’re dancing 30 hours a week, you don’t have time to do anything else,” she said. “You might be interested in politics. You might be interested in learning to play tennis but you can’t, you can’t do any of that. You might want to volunteer on the weekends, but you have rehearsal.” Lewis gave up the dance portion of her scholarship and relied on the academic part. She took comparative government and international affairs. She volunteered with Big Brothers and Big Sisters and began mentoring a young girl. In the meantime, Lewis realized she wanted to absorb everything she could about Florida and its politics and that she even loved Tallahassee and the FSU campus. She was in her first semester of her senior year in 2020 when the Florida Chamber of Commerce, where she had previously interned, offered her a position. Lewis could fill in for the chamber’s government policy coordinator, who was going to law school, so long as she would be free for the coming Legislative Session. That meant Lewis would have to graduate in December and not in May. “I called my parents and I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do,’” she said. Among other things, she had anticipated winding up her senior year in a pleasant way and was deeply involved in student government. “And my parents said, ‘It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.’” Lewis took the offer, and at 23 is now the Florida Chamber’s policy director. “I have been working toward this,” she said. “It came sooner than I thought it would.” Going with this flow worked out similarly well as leaving her dance scholarship. “Walking out that door, 10 more doors opened,” she said of that decision. “I have not looked back.” In December, Lewis took her little sister mentee to a Tallahassee Ballet production of “The Nutcracker.” While the stage lights still trigger her nerves — an ingrained fear of missing a step, a transition, a cue, a fear of forgetting — she knows traits such as endurance and resilience honed over those same years will never really leave her. “That said,” Lewis acknowledged, “there is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment a ballerina has after a show.”

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Drew Meiner

n their years of working together, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Drew Meiner have shared multiple victories. For one Governor’s Cup charity golf tournament, that included teaming up on the green for a collective victory to earn the EOG, a trophy that sits outside the Governor’s office. Meiner first teamed up with DeSantis in 2014, when Meiner left what would be Republican Bruce Rauner’s successful bid for Illinois Governor to join DeSantis’ congressional re-election campaign. Now Meiner, 31, is DeSantis’ longest serving staff member and a close confidant. Meiner said he was approached with an opportunity to move from Illinois to Florida to run the campaign. He did his homework and mulled over the proposal a couple of days before taking the leap. “I could tell that he was definitely somebody that I was aligned with philosophically and felt like it was a good opportunity and made the move and haven’t looked back,” Meiner said. Meiner has worn many hats for DeSantis, be it on the campaign side, in external affairs and more. Currently, he is the Governor’s appointments director, and DeSantis has issued thousands. “At the end of the day, we think we’re making the best pick at that time,” Meiner said. “I would say we’re always putting our best foot forward on appointments. I think we’ve made some really strong appointments — the Governor has.”

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Since taking over appointments, Meiner has overseen about 700, not including judicial appointments. Plus, he has recently been asked to take on additional responsibilities working with state agencies. “Drew’s importance to the entire EOG operation can’t be overstated,” said the Southern Group’s Monte Stevens. “He has deftly navigated the changing leadership to put himself in a position of substantial influence on the plaza level.” Over his many years of service to DeSantis, Meiner and the Governor’s staff have also put in long, dedicated hours. Part of the drive that keeps him moving has been the realization of the opportunities to improve Florida. “Now is the time where we’ve got this great opportunity right here in front of us, and even though the hours may be long, we’ve got a lot of opportunities to do good,” he said. For Meiner, one of the cooler opportunities he has had has been to compete in and spearhead the Governor’s Cup. In three years, the charity event, which pits the executive team against the legislative team over two days, has raised around $1.6 million, according to Meiner. The first two years, the money raised went to First Tee, a golf-centric after-school program for children. In December, they raised money for the Gold Shield Foundation to support families of fallen officers. However, the traveling trophy hasn’t done much traveling because the executive team is three for three. As for plans for the future, Meiner has a wedding scheduled for after Election Day. Professionally, he says he’s only focused on doing everything he can to support DeSantis. “When I came down, he was a first term Congressman, and he and Casey didn’t have any kids,” Mainer said. “Here we are, seven-plus years later, he’s in the Governor’s Mansion, and they’ve got three kids, so it’s just funny how things go.”


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zone administrator for the Florida District of Key Club, a high school service organization with nearly 20,000 student members across the state. She works with student leaders to create and promote service opportunities for students in the Big Bend area.

Alice Neira

lice Neira hadn’t even finished her graduate studies in nonprofit management at the University of Central Florida before her work already began affecting change. Working as a gubernatorial fellow under then-Gov. Rick Scott, Neira, now the Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs for the Foundation for Florida’s Future, was assigned to the Department of Juvenile Justice where she identified the need to better engage families in the juvenile justice system. Part of the fellowship included writing a policy paper to successfully complete the program. Neira determined increased engagement was a crucial component in improving case planning, lower recidivism and render positive fiscal impacts. Her research on the issue helped lead to the creation of the Office of Family Engagement the next year. “Seeing that I could help make a difference through policy made me want to continue this work,” Neira said. After graduation, Neira went on to work for the Gunster law firm where she served briefly as a government affairs coordinator before going on to work for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. The foundation is a bipartisan nonprofit founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush that develops policies to improve educational quality. Neira currently serves as a senior advocacy associate. As the Deputy Legislative Director for the Foundation for Florida’s Future, Neira lobbies lawmakers to pass legislation identified to improve education quality, such as early childhood literacy, funding, and personalized learning. Both groups she works for are known for promoting access to school choice. “During my time at the Foundation, I have worked with a talented team of policy experts and advocates to advance numerous policies in Florida and across the country, which has been extremely fulfilling and rewarding,” Neira said. “As we know, elected officials have a great responsibility of representing their constituents and passing policies in the best interest of their constituents. While elected officials can be well-rounded, it is impossible for them to know everything. Therefore, elected officials rely on policy experts and lobbyists. This is where I like to come into the Political Process — to help inform legislators, write legislation, and stand in support or opposition of policies.” Neira has spent her entire career so far working in the education advocacy space, and she doesn’t see that changing anytime soon. “Some people love kids, and I am one of those people,” she said. “Witnessing the innocent curiosity of a little kid or the spark in their eyes when they learn something new and knowing that there are endless possibilities to help every child succeed is what inspires me to do my work.” She’s inspired by her niece and nephew, who offer a personal side to the power and value of quality education. “The work is not done until every student is given the opportunity to explore pathways, whether college or career, that can lead them to finding employment they enjoy and can make a healthy living on,” Neira said. Born in Peru, Neira moved to the U.S. with her family when she was just 6 years old. “We moved to Miami and I was enrolled in a public school where I was not thriving and the teachers did not have many resources. My parents worked hard to save money to buy a home in a ZIP code that would allow me to enroll in a better performing public elementary school, and, subsequently, public middle and high school,” she said. The change made all the difference for her, but her siblings weren’t as lucky. They stayed in the poor-performing schools and eventually found themselves entangled in the juvenile justice system. Both eventually dropped out of high school. While they happily found their way eventually, the experience left its mark. “Our childhood led me to witnessing these inequalities first hand and seeing my parents work hard made me realize that many people don’t have the opportunity to buy into better performing schools,” Neira said. Her work with children doesn’t stop at advocacy. Neira also serves as a board member for the Capital City Kiwanis Club, a group dedicated to kids in the community. As part of that service, Neira also serves as a

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Lara Medley Prewitt

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L

ara Medley Prewitt fell in love with doorto-door campaigning at age 6. That’s when her father Darryl Medley, a staunch supporter of President George H.W. Bush, would take his children campaigning in the neighborhoods of Polk County in the fall of 1992. “As a way to relieve our mother of children on the weekends, he would take us door knocking and bribe us with the promise of McDonald’s,” Prewitt recalls. At an age when most children don’t know who their local Congressman is or even what Congress does, she met Charles Canady as he campaigned for his first term in the U.S. House. Canady won, Bush lost and Prewitt became hooked on the political process. By age 11, she had become a fixture in the local Republican Executive Committee office, where she placed calls to get Republican voters out to the polls supporting a roster of local candidates on the 1996 ballot. By 2012, she managed her first campaign — for thenRep. Seth McKeel of Lakeland — while still in her early 20s. Come 2020, Prewitt worked for the Republican Party of Florida, helping coordinate the efforts of 15 critical state House races and ensuring Pasco Republican Chris Sprowls not only ascend to Speaker of

McKeel and later Rep. Colleen Burton, who also hired Prewitt in her legislative office. She took on a high-stakes campaign for Sen. Kelli Stargel in 2018 in a race that helped ensure the GOP held control of the Florida Senate. “When I worked at the party, I was more involved with the polls we were running and learned a lot,” she said. “The ad buying was a whole new experience I’m really grateful for the experience.” She also learned the lessons all political professionals had to figure out amid a pandemic, dispatching volunteers with masks and gloves as they canvassed neighborhoods. Sometimes a COVID-19 scare in the office would tie everyone to their phones, but she maintained the importance of a ground game through the cycle. “I still firmly believe the best way to reach with a message on a specific candidate is door-to-door contact,” she said. In the end, she played a direct role funneling resources to 15 critical districts, and Republicans won in 14 of those. As for the future, Prewitt moved to Tallahassee with husband, Brandon. She doesn’t know what campaign she may lead next year but has already fielded offers.

the House but with a larger majority control of the chamber than his predecessor. “Lara played an integral role in that success by spearheading a new initiative to significantly improve on-the-ground execution by our campaigns,” Sprowls recalls. “Her work in training campaign managers, setting benchmarks and overseeing quality control moved the needle on our races. Both then at House Campaigns and now in the House Speaker’s Office, Lara brings a steady, positive presence to the team along with a gift for astutely observing what is happening in The Process, and an inexhaustible willingness to roll up her sleeves to help in any way she can to get the job done.” Prewitt, now 35, enjoys an ascending reputation within Republican circles as a dedicated campaigner. “She has the ability to keep calm under high pressure situations and is an excellent mentor,” said Vickie Brill, another political consultant working in the Capitol for Sen. Joe Gruters. “I’ve heard from several how she coached them through the ups and downs during the campaign cycle.” She also has picked up skills since her days as a first-grader handing out flyers. She learned to manage a field operation for

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Victoria Price

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s an undergraduate at the University of Florida, Victoria Price held down a job at the admissions office, part of which included organizing and giving tours. She was so good at it that after showing one group around campus, a guest offered her a job on the spot.

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Price spent that summer in Ames, Iowa, interning for a job-posting website called AgCareers.com. The news on the site about the field and its career opportunities led her to drop political science from her double major (with public relations), adding a minor in agriculture. “I realized that there was an industry that needed a lot more advocacy of people to speak for them and I felt like I could do that,” said Price, 26. After graduating in 2017, she landed a communications job with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. The Tallahassee position placed her under IFAS top lobbyist Mary Ann Hooks, who grew up in the cattle industry and had previously represented the Florida Farm Bureau Federation. “At that point, I still fully intended to be the voice (for agriculture) rather than in politics,” Price said. “But I realized that you could still be a voice and in politics, and I wanted to get involved in the political scene.” In a way, college afforded Price a return to her roots. At age 4, she helped her grandfather, a cattle rancher, campaign for his Baldwin County, Alabama, commissioner’s race. Her father grew up on that ranch and married the girl next door. On Sundays the family made the half-hour drive from Gulf Breeze to the ranch. When her grandfather switched from livestock to pecans, the kids helped load the trucks on harvest days. Even so, Price spent most of her time in Pensacola’s beach community. “I was the city girl of the family,” she said. As for politics, she recalled, “I knew nothing other than ‘Scandal’ and ‘House of Cards.’ I was just trying to soak up everything.” That she has done, becoming a fluent spokeswoman for the industry. She spent four years at IFAS, first as a legislative assistant and then as assistant director of governmental affairs. She returned to the University of Florida in the meantime, earning a master’s degree in natural resource policy and administration. A registered lobbyist since 2019, Price helped IFAS secure windfall grant funds in the last Legislative Session. That piqued the interest of Chesapeake Utilities Corporation, which serves nine states. “I had no intention of going anywhere,” Price said. “Then I got a call that Chesapeake is expanding and they need some help in Florida. They really were impressed by my background and how I’ve been able to grow in a short time and be successful, lobbying-wise.” The company promotes its natural gas and alternative energy projects. Agricultural residues – the oils, shells, peels, leaves, rinds and husks used to manufacture biofuels, antioxidants and other chemicals – can easily turn into agro-industrial wastes that increase greenhouse gasses, according to a published report in Bioresources and Bioprocessing. Used properly, they can create biofuels or power waste-to-energy plants, and it is that side Chesapeake seeks to represent. “It’s basically taking that waste from a farm, putting it through an anaerobic digester and then taking the byproduct, both fertilizer and natural gas,” Price said. “The fertilizer can be used for agriculture, and the natural gas adds to the supply that is already there. We can use it to fuel cars, make food in our homes or create power for customers.” She speaks easily, fluidly, packaging complex subjects into understandable nuggets that tell a story. An on-the-job learning curve that began with IFAS has since gone parabolic as she advocates for Chesapeake Utilities and its eight associated energy corporations on a broad range of environmental measures or teams up with governments to create sustainable energy. Hours not thus consumed she fills with Orange Theory workouts or the beach or Gator football, fishing with her fiance and their yellow lab, Tucker, or taking one-tank trips to see relatives, all of the things that make up the renewing and sustaining of souls.


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Holland Holland & Knight Celebrates Celebrates 50 Years in in Tallahassee Tallahassee For50 50years, years,lawyers lawyersand andpolicy policyadvisors advisors in in Holland Holland & Knight’s Tallahassee office For office haveguided guidedclients clientsthrough throughcomplex complex government government regulations regulations and procedures. have Ourhighly highlyexperienced experiencedstate stateteam teamcounsels counsels clients clients on on ever-changing Our developmentsatatevery everylevel levelof of government. government. developments Checkout outour ournew new“Florida “FloridaCapital Capital Conversations” Conversations” podcast, hosted by Check PartnersNathan NathanAdams Adamsand andMia MiaMcKown, McKown, exploring exploring regulatory regulatory and and legal Partners legal issues in the state and how they affect companies doing business in Florida. issues in the state and how they affect companies doing business in Florida.

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Nicholas Primrose

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icholas Primrose has landed well at a string of jobs for more than a decade, each seemingly by chance yet each appearing obvious in retrospect, even preordained. He has worked as a legal adviser for two Florida governors and, at 35, serves as chief compliance officer of the Jacksonville Port Authority. He has held to fiscally conservative principles throughout, an orientation he said he learned at the knee of his mother in Chicago, who divorced her husband when Primrose was just a year old. “My mom had no college education and she never took any handouts,” Primrose said. “So that’s kind of just how I grew up, that you’ve got to put in hard work, and everything in life will come. That kind of led me to be conservative.” After majoring in political science at Lake Forest College in the Chicago area, he earned a master’s degree in public policy at DePaul University, where he met like-minded people while interning at the Illinois Policy Institute, a libertarian think tank. “And at that time Gov. (Rod) Blagojevich was indicted, and we were going through the budget finding pork barrel spending,” Primrose recalled. He authored a report titled The Biggest Loser, in which he took on Chicago’s home rule sales tax and unfunded pension liabilities. “If you were going to buy a $1,000 TV in Chicago,” he said, “you’d actually be spending, you know, a couple hundred dollars more there than if you just drove two minutes to one of the sister counties that had a lower tax rate.” Primrose then followed family members to Central Florida because “most Midwesterners move to Florida eventually,” he said. He entered Barry University’s law school in Orlando. After graduating, he worked as a civil defense lawyer for Farmers Insurance and was president of the Orange County Young Republicans Club. There he met Meredith Sasso, a fellow Federalist Society member working as an assistant general counsel for Gov. Rick Scott. She urged Primrose to apply, leading to what he now considers “a leap of faith.” “I owe a lot to her as a mentor,” Primrose said of Sasso, now a judge on the 5th District Court of Appeal. Daniel Nordby, Scott’s general counsel at the time, also offered indispensable guidance. In 2018, Scott tapped Primrose, who served as the Florida

F E AT U R E operations director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, as his lead attorney in Scott’s mandatory recount against Sen. Bill Nelson, which Scott won by 10,033 votes. Patrick Kilbane, a lawyer who then chaired the nominating commission of the 4th Judicial Circuit, was impressed by what he saw in Primrose. “I got to see Nick progress,” Kilbane said. “I got to see his leadership sort of mature and be really effective, as a young guy tasked with some significant responsibilities and being in a very prominent position. He’s humble, he’s nice, he’s approachable. He treats everybody well, he doesn’t say a bad word about anybody.” After his own victory, Gov. Ron DeSantis kept Primrose on as deputy general counsel in the Governor’s Executive Office. He later appointed him chair of the Florida Election Commission, a position he still holds. Another fortuitous meeting through Florida politics was Paige Davis, a campaign manager for CFO Jimmy Patronis. Primrose and Davis later married. Primrose will be the first to acknowledge he’s not always nice. In 2020, he made national news briefly by asking Daniel Uhfelder, a lawyer who confronted beachgoers in a Grim Reaper costume as a protest against DeSantis’ COVID-19 policies, to drop his lawsuit to have beaches closed. If he didn’t, Uhfelder said, Primrose hinted he might complain to the Florida Bar. “It was a threat,” Uhfelder said. “He was trying to bully me.” But most of the time, Primrose sees collegiality as more effective than conflict. At JAXPORT, he is using clogged shipping lanes in Los Angeles, Long Beach, California, and Savannah, Georgia, to invite merchants to unload in Jacksonville or Miami. That resourcefulness is one reason Kilbane backed Primrose for chief of regulatory compliance. “I’ll support him in whatever he does,” Kilbane said. “Nick is one of those guys that when you meet him, you’re like, ‘That guy is going to do something.’ I don’t know what he’s gonna do. But it’s gonna be big.”

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hile most in The Process could be considered smoothtalking salesmen, Patrick Steele considers himself more of a mechanic. As Deputy Legislative Affairs Director at the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), Steele is focusing his professional life on improving the nuts and bolts of the systems that serve Floridians. “We’re the third largest state in the country and the 15th largest economy in the world. We’re a huge market with huge needs and even greater challenges,” he said. “I’m highly interested in the innovation aspect of how we’re going to take the state’s, kind of outdated tools that we have — the way that we collect and use data — and then transform it to something that can save us a ton of money and help us operate far more efficiently.” That said, Steele is no stranger to the political world. Back in the day, his grandfather, Valentine “Val” Steele, was chair of the Brevard County Commission, and his uncle, Jason Steele, a state Representative. “I’ve always been door knocking and doing campaigns,” he said. Attending Florida State University, “obviously you’re a stone’s throw away from the Capitol, so you just naturally get involved.” As a student, he interned for campaigns, including the presidential run of Gov. Mike Huckabee. After graduating with a degree in political science and government in 2016, he worked as a legislative aide to now-Majority Leader Sen. Debbie Mayfield and Rep. Jamie Grant. Steele credits Grant, who now serves as Florida’s Chief Information Officer, with introducing him to the possibilities of technology and innovation in the state. “He’s been pretty transformative in terms of the way I think about state government and how it operates and functions,” he said. Steele was most recently deputy legislative affairs director for the Department of Environmental Protection and carried that title to the Agency for Health Care Administration last July. His agency is responsible for about a third — $35 billion — of Florida’s annual budget, and his office rides herd on the legislation that could impact AHCA. “We’re … tracking and analyzing policy, being the intermediary between the elected officials and the agency, looking at the rules that we’re implementing,” he said. “It’s all encompassing, but we are essentially the liaison between (legislators) and the state agency. We have really smart experts at AHCA and they know the issues intimately. We help relate those to the Legislature (and) break down legislative meetings to the internal folks.” While he’s working more than full time, Steele is also pursuing an MBA at FSU, with a specialization in management information systems, and is set to graduate in July 2022. It would allow him to “stick around the realm that I got involved in with Jamie Grant — within the tech and innovation — which is where I’d like to go moving forward.” To further his ultimate goals, Steele also is certified as an Amazon Web Services Cloud Practitioner and is pursuing a certification in Google Data Analytics. “People are starting to value these certificates as something more than just paper … something that you actually need to perform this,” he said. “If I had a choice, I think the focus of where I’d like to be is in health care and information systems modernization, technology modernization.” Steele is half of a 2021 Rising Stars power couple. He has been dating Brooke Evans, a lobbyist for The Mayernick Group, for two and a half years.

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LEGISLATIVE FLY-IN January 11-12, 2022 Augustus B. Turnbull III Conference Center Tallahassee, FL

Eric Johnson, President 75 NE 20th Street Wilton Manors, FL 33305

(202) 306-6046 Johnsonstrategies.net Winter 2022

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Megan Sweat

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he new spokeswoman for the Florida Chamber of Commerce operates by two immutable laws, both self-created and self-enforced. “Keeping a positive attitude is really important,” said Megan Sweat, 28, who in September took over as media relations director. Second, she said, “If you want something to get done, you’ve just got to do it. Be your own leader, your own taskmaster.” The media director’s prime mission – and constant creative challenge – is to keep thinking of new ways to tell Florida’s story. Florida 2030 Blueprint, a visioning project, has been going on for years, touching such things as manufacturing jobs and literacy, climate change and making Florida the No. 1 destination of overseas tourists. A 28-page report by the Florida Chamber Foundation lays out the issues. In the meantime, the Chamber tries to keep its messaging sharp and enthusiasm high. Fortunately, Sweat has considerable experience in those areas. A native of Vero Beach, she graduated from Florida State University with a marketing degree and secured national corporate clients and large nonprofits while working for the Zimmerman Agency. Seasoned veterans and up-and-comers round out the team, said Ivette Franklin, the Chamber’s Executive Vice President. “It’s a really great mix,” Franklin said. “And that helps us do the work that we do and have different perspectives and fresh thinking. So Megan is one of a kind.” Sweat relishes the outdoors when she can, hiking or boating with her husband, Connor, and their dogs, a golden retriever named Annie and Maverick, a border collie.Then it’s back to crafting events and advertising, fundraisers and other sessions that can bring corporate clients together with foundations and government. “It’s about building relationships,” Sweat said. “That’s really important to help you succeed.” Her enthusiasm and drive buoy those around her. “She is constantly thinking of that next step and asking what we need to get ahead of,” Franklin said. “Trying to make sure that we are always delivering a premium experience.”

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GEO Group, in partnership with Florida, is helping returning citizens reenter society as productive and employable individuals.

TO LEARN MORE, VISIT WEAREGEO.COM/FLORIDA Winter 2022

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ew Hampshire was “a million miles away” for Tyler Sununu, who grew up in South Florida; but he is certainly aware that politics is a family tradition. Sununu serves as the Executive Director for the Florida Association of Rehabilitation Facilities. New Hampshire Gov. Christopher Sununu and former U.S. Sen. John E. Sununu are his second cousins. They also are sons of John H. Sununu, chief of staff for President George H.W. Bush. Tyler Sununu acknowledges he’s “not that close” to his father’s side of the family, and there is an age gap between the 33-year-old Florida Sununu and his second cousins, who are 47 and 57. Nevertheless, “it’s definitely something that you think about,” he told Florida Politics. “And you know, I’d like to run for office myself one day. It would be nice because I believe you can make a difference. And if I didn’t think you could make a difference, I probably wouldn’t be lobbying, either. I think you can make a difference with both.” Sununu is trying this year to influence the lives of people enrolled in the Medicaid iBudget Waiver program. The program provides people with intellectual and developmental disabilities access to the home- and community-based services they need to keep them out of an institution and the rehabilitation facilities that offer the care. He is helping to lead the charge for a $240 million bump in payments to increase Medicaid rates the state pays facilities for those services. Gov. Ron DeSantis included a $31.6 million increase in his proposed budget unveiled earlier this month. It was the first time, advocates for people with disabilities say, increased funding has ever been included in a Governor’s legislative budget request. Though less than what he has been pushing for, Sununu took that as a good sign. He understands the request is big, but he says it’s justified and stands prepared to defend the ask. “I try to be as honest and full of integrity as possible. I give all the data that we have about a problem (to the Legislature) and present it. And I am kind to people. And I hope that will yield results,“ he said. “As long as you treat people well, you’re kind, you’re honest, and they can trust you, normally things work out. So, I hope that will yield results this year.” While politics may be in his nature, Sununu takes nothing for granted. He has worked in long-term care over the last decade, learning to nurture what could very well be an innate skill set.

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Tyler Sununu

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Aging expert LuMarie Polivka-West recalls getting what she described as a “cold call” from Sununu. “He was reaching out for assistance and said he wanted to do something in health care. And I thought, ‘this sounds like a good opportunity to take someone who is very young and just starting out and direct them to long-term care,’” Polivka-West told Florida Politics. “He was totally into it.” When Sununu reached out, Polivka-West was the senior vice president for policy and program development for the Florida Health Care Association and an adjunct professor at Florida State University. She recalls teaching him what she calls the basics, such as the differences between Medicaid and Medicare, and then progressing to long-term care policy and The Legislative Process. Sununu, she said, may have been the first “intern” the Florida Health Care Association had. After graduating from FSU with a master’s degree in public health administration in 2011, Sununu worked at the association for 18 months before becoming licensed as a nursing home administrator and working at the facility level. He spent nearly the next eight years in that occupation. “What I learned is, it’s a very hard, very demanding 24/7 job where you are caring for people at their hardest points and their families,” Sununu said. “I learned how to talk to people. How to love people. How to balance running a business with all the regulatory challenges that a nursing home has, while still trying to keep the lights on and provide great care.” After starting a family with his wife, Sununu returned to association work, taking a job with another nursing home association, Leading Age Florida, as the director of nursing home policy. He left that post this past March for the Florida Association of Rehabilitation Facilities job. Though nursing home care had been the focus of his career until last spring, Sununu says the transition from advocating for skilled nursing care to lobbying for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities has been smooth, in many ways because the populations being cared for require long-term care. “It’s still caring for people, the vulnerable, in need,” Sununu said. “It’s still dealing with the Medicaid budgets where it’s a challenge to be adequately funded, and you have to fight for every dollar.”

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Tara Taggart

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he path to accomplishment for most of 2021’s Rising Stars has zigs and zags, as they quickly hop from job to job, picking up knowledge and experience along the way. Not so for Tara Taggart. After the requisite internship joblets in organizations hither and yon, she signed on with the Florida League of Cities and has been climbing straight up the ladder of success there for more than five years. The 26-year-old lobbyist found her calling while attending Florida State University. “No one in my family was really politically engaged. It’s not really something we ever talked about (and) was not on my radar whatsoever,” she recalled. “I thought I was going to do something in business. But then freshman year I had a lot of justmade friends that were either interning up at the Capitol or working for a firm … doing odd jobs and it sounded really cool.”


She changed her major to political science and government, earning her degree in 2016. Taggart got her master’s of public administration in 2020. She hails from Sarasota and has a Tallahassee boyfriend and two “furbabies,” a cat and a dog. In her undergraduate years, Taggart worked in a variety of internships that gave her a crash course in The Process, starting with her first post as a volunteer intern for the Republican Party of Florida, during then-Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign, where she started out door-knocking. “It was one of those internships where if you just show up and work hard, they’ll give you more to do,” she said. “I went from there to helping with social media upstairs with more of the full-time staff.” At the same time, she worked on the re-election campaign of then-Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, with a focus on administrative tasks related to fundraising. An internship at the PACE Center for Girls immersed Taggart in her first Session. “I really got to see firsthand how the lobbying process worked and how you meet with legislators,” she said. “I was like: ‘This is awesome. I can see myself doing this’ and really saw that one person can

make a difference.” She would get a different perspective of lobbying with the public affairs firm Strategos Group. Taggart joined the League of Cities after graduating in an administrative role assisting the legislative director and lobbyists. “Over time, I think people saw that I could take on a little bit more,” she said. “I’m thankful a lot of my mentors here gave me those opportunities to … do projects that were outside of the scope of the traditional administrative role.” Three years later she was promoted to legislative policy analyst and, in October 2021, rose to her current position as a legislative advocate. “My wheelhouse here at the League is a wide array of municipal administration issues,” including public safety, public records, cybersecurity, procurement and economic development, Taggart said. In addition to lobbying during Session, she is tasked with meeting with elected officials and high-level staffers representing the state’s 411 municipalities in advance to hear their legislative wish lists and prioritize issues. Andrew Kalel, a government affairs consultant at Sunrise Consulting Group, has high

praise for Taggart’s abilities. He put it this way in his nomination: “What I respect about her so much over many in my age group is that she truly has worked her way up in her career,” he said. “She didn’t just receive a position as a favor, or because she knew someone. She started as an administrative assistant, and just worked hard. I think that speaks volumes, in and of itself.” Gil Ziffer, aformer Tallahassee City Commissioner and president of the League of Cities in 2017-18, spoke of Taggart’s “drive and persistence” and “fun-loving personality.” “Tara’s not bashful about wanting to help and as a result has been given some of the tougher legislative issues faced by cities,” he said. “Tara is charismatic, enthusiastic and knows how to channel her energy to succeed at what she’s doing. The Florida League of Cities and its members are so fortunate to have her.” The feeling is mutual. Taggart isn’t in any hurry to find another position elsewhere. “I love my job and I love the people I get to work with,” she said. “I really think my team is one of the best in the business …. so I don’t see myself going anywhere — unless something really great falls in my lap.”

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o matter where Keenen Vernon has gone in his 27 years, it seems as if education and leadership have followed. And should he reach the pinnacle of his ambition in the future, both will be waiting for him when he arrives. “I’m very happy where I am doing what I do. I have so much to learn,” said Vernon, currently legislative assistant to Sen. Keith Perry. “There’s a secret in politics where you don’t talk about your end goal. I want to say what’s on the tip of my tongue … which is (to become) Commissioner of Education one day.” Vernon’s journey in The Process began as a teenager in high school in Pompano Beach, when he was active in student government. He was named a Gates Millennium Scholar, which comes with scholarships for up to 10 years of higher education for students of color attending the University of Florida. He now is taking full advantage of that opportunity, finishing up coursework at UF for a doctorate in educational leadership and administration — which will make him a triple Gator. While an undergraduate at UF, Vernon became active in campus activities, ultimately serving as president of the Inter-Residence Hall Association. That position led to him being tapped into Blue Key, UF’s leadership honor society, and serving on the alumni committee. “That’s the time I gained a lot of connections,” he said. Former Sen. Bill Montford, now CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, recognized Vernon’s potential when, as an undergraduate, he interned under FADSS General Counsel Joy Frank in 2018. “You could give him an issue or a project and he would quickly grasp the merits of the issue,” Montford said. “Not just the facts, but (he would) also quickly pick up the political landscape of an issue.” Montford and Frank gave Vernon a nudge toward the classroom, to get on-theground experience in education. He taught language arts to sixth- and seventh-graders at a rural Title I school in Sebring for a year after earning his undergraduate degree and working toward his master’s. “I saw firsthand how … here’s Tallahassee and this new policy and how that trickles down,” he said. “That was, that was a tough gig. Working with students can be very challenging, especially in middle school.” Vernon jumped at the chance to return to Gainesville, working for Perry, whose District 8 encompasses all of Alachua and Putnam counties and the northern half of Marion County. “Working as his senior legislative aide

has been probably one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve ever had,” Vernon said. “I’ve had so much opportunity now to learn and grow in the political process.” One of his proudest accomplishments was helping to get funding for a pilot program the Senator championed offering comprehensive early childhood music education. “It’s currently a two-year pilot program, we have a bill to extend it to three years and after the three years we are hoping it’s expanded

statewide,” he said. With certified music education teachers, “students are learning vocabulary, they’re learning language skills. We’re tying all of these components together, but in a way that is strategically focused on literacy and math skills.” Montford said he sees nothing but opportunity in his mentee’s future. “We’re real proud of him,” he said. “He’s got a bright future and we’ll be watching him.”

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Keenen Vernon

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Jared Willis

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ared Willis wasn’t always interested in The Process, but his work in commercial real estate launched him into what has now become a booming career as an influential lobbyist with one key realization. “I began to notice how politics and policymaking impacted the world around me,” Willis said. Now the government affairs manager for Strategos Group, Willis is tackling policy from a number of angles, including criminal justice, health care and mental health. A former legislative aide to incoming Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, Willis has served in a number of roles over the years, with organizations such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Osteopathic Medical association, and has a broad field of experience ranging from real estate development to local advocacy. But he has hit his stride with Strategos, and people are taking notice. “Jared has emerged as a trusted adviser to many members in the Legislature and is an excellent advocate,” said Strategos Managing Partner Adam Giery. Willis has since become a leader in the government affairs space, both within the firm and in the overall lobbying and policymaking community as a whole. “When I think about him from my vantage point, I think he has the perfect balance between acumen and integrity,” Giery said. “He has the focus of a leader to commit to a project to its finality; a commitment to deliver on promises to legislators, clients and the company.” But Willis’ success in Tallahassee isn’t just about his accomplishments or accolades. It’s also about passion. He recalls a meeting with students from Broward County discussing health care issues in the state. A student asked a question about mental health care and noted its importance in schools. “The question took me back to 2018, when I was working for Senator Kathleen Passidomo in the aftermath of the Parkland massacre. As that year’s Legislative Session descended into pandemonium, Senator Passidomo, like a general in battle, fought like hell for meaningful mental health resources in schools,” Willis said. And that meant he had to fight like hell, too. “This meant late nights scouring four-hundred-page education bills and staff analyses, writing talking points, and literally running through the halls of the Senate Office Building to get amendments in at the last minute,” he recalled. But for Willis, the late nights and chaotic shuffling paid off, leading to a massive school safety overhaul in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, including money for enhanced mental health services for students. “I am so proud to have been in the trenches un-

der Sen. Passidomo’s leadership, fighting to get these crucial resources to Florida’s students,” Willis said. While that battle was bruising, Willis waged war again in the 2021 Legislative Session, grappling with the realities of COVID-19 right alongside the usual fiery debates that mark each Session in Tallahassee. Willis describes them as “little scraps and skirmishes” that punctuate policy priorities that often pit big players against one another. “I believe the best policies are crafted when both sides present their best arguments,” Willis said. But that was difficult in a pandemic Session that limited lawmakers’ interactions with not just lobbyists, but the public writ large. “As these skirmishes moved to digital forums and remote committee hearings, it was more important than ever for my clients to be able to make their case. In the midst of this difficulty, I’m proud to have been able to wade into these digital food fights,” Willis said. His work led to all of the appropriations requests Strategos pushed receiving funding, and the majority of the issues the firm lobbied for making progress, Willis said. “And we successfully played defense against harmful policies,” he also noted. In addition to his professional work, Willis is also the vice president of Grow Tallahassee, an organization that promotes economic growth in Florida’s capital city. There, he helps the group advocate for “initiatives, candidates and projects that make Tallahassee a better place to live.” If working in the Political Process wasn’t enough, Willis also decided to continue his education. He enrolled in law school part-time and hopes to finish within the next year. His immediate goal is to graduate and pass the Florida Bar, an accomplishment Willis hopes will expand his ability to continue and grow his current work. “Things can change pretty drastically in just two years. I love what I do now. I love advocacy, and the opportunity to fiercely represent my clients’ interests, to fight on their behalf. I hope five years from now I’m still doing that, but more effectively and at a higher level,” he said. Giery, meanwhile, sees big things in Willis’ future. “I could see Jared running for office,” he said. “For him, the legislative process is one of the more engaging and I could see him enjoying the intellect, the dialogue, the negotiating that goes on in that process.” In addition, Giery sees Willis as Partner material. “From an access standpoint, he certainly is well-connected and well-respected,” Giery said. “He understands the goals and the desires of the members and finds a way to help our clients make (their priorities) a reality.”

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O N TH E

RADAR They are the keepers of the calendar, the social media savants and the gatekeepers of the policymakers.

These are nine young professionals who help make The Process tick. Think of them as the next generation of Florida’s venerated political class. Whatever you do, remember their names because, soon, they’ll be running this place.

Connor Darwish Current: • Vice President at In Touch Strategies Inc.

Previously: • Vice President/Comms Director at Young Democrats of Orange County • Deputy Training Director/Field Organizer at Biden for President

Clay Gubter

Current: • Legislative Assistant to Rep. Fiona McFarland Previously: • Legislative Aide to Rep. Michael Beltran

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Noah Fineberg

Current: • UF Student Senate President Pro-Tempore • Senior Strategist at Progress for Florida

Nicholas Hessing

Current: • Legislative Assistant to Rep. Robin Bartleman

Katie Householder

Current: • Special Assistant to Attorney General Ashley Moody Previously: • Account Coordinator at On 3 Public Relations • Co-Founder/Chair of Young Americans for Freedom Florida State Chapter

Gabriella Limones-Borja

Current: • Legislative Research Assistant for the Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee Previously: • Administrative Assistant for the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee • Legal Assistant at Pennington PA

Jackson McMillan Current: • Digital Media Manager at Opportunity for All Floridians

Brandon Miller Current: • Senior Legislative Assistant to Rep. Spencer Roach Previously: • Legislative Assistant to Rep. Cary Pigman • Intern at the Charles Koch Institute • Policy/Development Intern at the James Madison Institute

Lindsay Pollard Current: • Partner/Fundraising Consultant at Diverse Strategy Group Previously: • Deputy Finance Director/Deputy Director of Grassroots & Surrogate Fundraising at Gillum for Governor • South Florida Finance Director at Crist for Governor (2014) • Finance Director at Miami-Dade Democratic Party

• Campaign Manager at Danielle Hawk for Congress Previously: • Campaign Manager at Kelly Johnson For HD 65 • Campaign Manager at Richard Rowe for HD 23 Winter 2022

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What I’ve Learned

Desmond Meade 54, Orlando President of Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, MacArthur Fellow AS TOLD TO SCOTT POWERS

BELIEVE IN REDEMPTION Desmond Meade was born in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, and grew up in Miami. After high school, he joined the Army. He got into drugs and was dishonorably discharged. By the mid-1990s, he was a lost young man, living with his mom, working as a cook, and smoking crack cocaine. MOM’S HOUSE My mom, she’d been a waitress for as long as I could remember. When she was thinking about getting a house, she took a second job as a housekeeper. So she would travel over to Miami Beach to be a housekeeper for some wealthy people. She did that so I could have a roof over my head. It was me and my brother. And by the time she got the house, my sister was there for a little bit. I didn’t really appreciate what it meant to my mom until she had her stroke. I went to see her in the hospital. I felt that the last thing she wanted me to see was her being in the state she was in. I saw she did take pride to know she was the champion for me, she was the protector. And then, being in that debilitated state after the stroke, I think it really hurt her. And it hurt me. When I was in the military I used to pray to God to let me die before my mother. That was one of my biggest fears. When she did pass away, exactly what I thought would happen happened: I wasn’t able to handle it. It was very painful for me. And I just dove even deeper into drugs.

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PHOTO: The Workmans

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Training the Most New Doctors in Florida

Over 2,000 residents and fellows training at HCA Florida hospitals

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22 hospitals partnering with 5 major universities in Florida Florida International University Nova Southeastern University University of Central Florida

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University of Miami University of South Florida


WHAT I’VE LEARNED And you know, when you’re using drugs, you don’t show up for work on time anymore. I was working as a cook. And it wasn’t long before I lost that job. In order for me to maintain my high, the easy way out was to just look around the house and see what I could sell. I would sell her clothes, any jewelry she had left behind, appliances, furniture. In the dining room area, the entire wall was jalousie windows. And I remember one day being desperate for drugs. I looked at the window and said, “Wait a minute; that’s aluminum.” And one of the things you can get quick money from is by selling scrap metal. So I thought, “OK, I will take a little piece and see what I can get for it.” But it was just so connected, that by the time I was finished, just one piece of wood, like a beam, stood in the middle of the entire back wall. And so I had the entire back wall gone. Here’s the thing. Once you destroy a house and you have it open, you can’t stay there anymore. Especially if you’re on drugs. You’re thinking somebody is coming to get you, or the police are lurking around the corner getting ready to arrest you. So I abandoned the house. Meade sank into several years of homelessness, drug addiction, petty crimes, arrests, jail time, and rehabilitation programs. He was convicted of felony possession of a firearm. He got probation. He was arrested again, for drugs, a probation violation. He served three years in prison. He was released in 2005, at age 38, dropped in Miami. THE TRAIN DIDN’T COME I called a friend to try to get some money to use drugs. He said, “I don’t have money for you, but I think I got something better for you. If you can get to this lady, this pastor at this church, and have her pray for you, maybe that would be helpful.” And I remember when he said that, something came over me. He told me where it was. I got the change out of my pocket. I had enough to catch one bus. I couldn’t even afford a transfer. As fate would have it, a service was just beginning when I walked up. I walked in and sat down in the back of the church. You know, I really enjoyed myself. It rekindled some of my upbringing because I was brought up in the church. And after the service, I remember approaching the pastor and saying, “Listen, I’m homeless, I’m a drug addict. But I’m not looking for money and I’m not looking for clothes or anything.

After having his civil rights restored thanks to Amendment 4, which he had championed as president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Desmond Meade goes with his family to the Supervisor of Elections Office in Orlando to register to vote. Associated Press photo.

The only thing I’m asking for is prayer. A friend of mine told me if I could just have you pray for me, I’d be OK.” She put her hands on my shoulders and she pointed at another gentleman and said, “You see that gentleman over there?” I said, “Yes ma’am.” She said “Go see him, and ask for an appointment for tomorrow.” In my head I’m screaming at this woman: “Don’t you understand, woman, how desperate I am?” I remember just walking out of the church. And the thought that went through my head was, “Man. Even God has turned his back on me.” And so that night was the first time in my life that I didn’t care who saw that I was homeless. You know, typically, in the past, I would sleep in abandoned buildings or behind a Dumpster. I never, ever, ever just spent a night so out in the public. But that night I slept on the bus bench, right on a busy thoroughfare. And I didn’t care who saw me. When I woke up, I walked toward

some railroad tracks. I remember reading this story of a guy in Fort Lauderdale that ended up committing suicide by train. And my mind was thinking of that story as I approached the railroad tracks. And when I got there, I just stopped. I couldn’t cross. I’m looking down the tracks. And that’s when I’m thinking, “What’s going to happen when this train comes? Can I get this thing over with quickly? Am I just going to just die? Will this train sever my body and I’m going to go through moments of agonizing pain?” All of that stuff. And it didn’t come. At the time, where those tracks were, it was very busy. Trains were always showing up there. It’s always back and forth with these trains. But, you know, that day, while I was there…. Sufficiently scared, Meade walked to the Miami-Dade Substance Abuse Programs Central Intake Unit and enrolled in long-term treatment. He transferred to a recovery house, where he lived for sever-

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WHAT I’VE LEARNED al years. He attended sobriety meetings. He found a sponsor. He stayed sober. He realized that what he had learned in prison could define a reason for his life. LIFE IS MATH In prison, my official job was math tutor. One of the things I saw was that the overwhelming majority of people who I’ve experienced in prison have been people who were under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time they committed their offense, or they were on their way to get drugs and alcohol. And so I realized immediately how impactful drug and alcohol abuse is on the prison system, on people getting arrested. I will tell you, there were just a handful of people who I met that, internally, I’m like, “God, I hope they never get out.” And so I’m not totally sold on abolition of prisons. There are some people that really do need to be set aside. But the majority of folks that I encountered, basically what I saw was a lot of prisons were filled with people who had dashed their dreams. I started talking to this guy named Cedric. I loved math growing up. I used to believe that math was equivalent to life. It’s about taking what you know and figuring out what you don’t know. We were able to relate to things he knew about, and he started to do it. I’ve seen this guy just master each skill set, little by little. He went from having to come to math class to get a better job, to him wanting to come to math class because he was excited about learning. You know what he was excited about? You know what I think it was? He was excited about discovering that he wasn’t as dumb as society said. I’ve been in the holding cell with people who’ve been accused of some very bad things. And when they’re in the courtroom, they’re so stoic. They’re stone-faced. Some of them try to look real mean. But in the holding cell, where there’s nobody around? You see them crying. A lot of them are just these little kids. They put on that persona. And with Cedric, what I learned was we’re seeing the persona that they create to hide the true pain that’s deep inside them. Meade became a manager at his recovery house. He enrolled in Miami-Dade Community College. He earned his associate’s degree. He enrolled in Florida International University. He earned his bachelor’s degree. He enrolled in FIU’s College of Law. He earned his law degree. His efforts to help 196

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other addicts grew, as did his reputation. He was asked to get involved in Miami homeless programs and then with an organization called the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, working to restore civil rights for felons like him. For years, he served as the FRRC recording secretary while also attending college, volunteering for other groups, cooking at a Denny’s, helping other addicts, and managing his own sobriety.

by mistake, and they’re going to come get me.” And I want to be able to say, “Hey, listen. I know it was a mistake. But look at what I’ve done!” And so I was pushing to continue to do great things, to set up the argument for me to not be removed from those opportunities. That’s why I made sure I sat at the front of the class. I got my work done ahead of time. And getting nothing but As. I think throughout my college career, maybe three times I didn’t get an A.

Why is this issue

FRRC foundered, losing direction, backers, and leadership. Meade was asked to become president. By then he was driven — and ready to drive. He pushed for a statewide initiative, a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights for felons, whom the organization called “returning citizens” in order to, in his words, “shift the narrative.” He drew in new partners. That included his new wife, Sheena Meade, whom he said was already a better organizer when he met her than he ever would be. He and FRRC moved to her home of Orlando. The campaign was on.

not being treated as an all-American issue? When the most important thing, the most important aspects of our democracy is the right to vote, the right to be part, to govern our society. LOOK AT WHAT I’VE DONE That was a life commitment, right? I understood a couple of things. No.1, the most important thing in my life was my sobriety. My sobriety, my relationship with God. Everything else was secondary because I knew the minute I picked up a drug, I would lose everything. No matter how hard I worked for everything else. If I pick up a drug, I lose it all. That meant that, not only was I going to meetings, not only was I at the sober house, but I was also taking meetings at treatment centers. Like three, four times a week. Those are the set things. And then everything else had to fit around it. And so, whether I was cooking at Denny’s or serving as the secretary for the FRRC, and then going to school, I just kept going. I was grateful for the opportunities. For me, like in school, I knew that a person like me could never go to school. So, in my head, I’m like: “Any day now they’re going to find out they let me in

PEOPLE WANT TO BELIEVE The narrative first got shifted with me. I thought it was just an African American issue, until I started traveling around the state and meeting people — people that didn’t look like me. I thought, let me do my own research. What I started seeing really opened my eyes. I said, “Wait a minute. This is bigger than just an African American issue.” So let’s just make this argument universal. And when we talk about democracy, when I think of democracy, I think of Chevrolet, apple pie and baseball. So why is this issue not being treated as an all-American issue? When the most important thing, the most important aspects of our democracy is the right to vote, the right to be part, to govern our society. Then the other thing was to understand: Even when people do bad things, they’re still human beings. People do want to believe in redemption. One of the things I did was I went to speak to people who conventional wisdom would say, “Oh, no, they’re not going to be supportive.” In November 2018, 5.1 million Florida voters agreed with Meade. Amendment 4 won with 65% of the vote. The celebration, with many of 1.4 million “returning citizens” being offered a new chance to vote, lasted until the next Leg-


Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, talks about Amendment 4, which was approved by 65% of the vote, during a 2019 news conference at the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office. AP photo

islative Session. The Legislature decided the amendment should be more restrictive than Meade and others envisioned. Court challenges came, too. EMISSARIES FOR DEMOCRACY I was very disappointed. I think we’ve seen the example of what I call the arrogance of politicians. The people who voted for Amendment 4 came together, it wasn’t based out of hate or fear. It was based out of love, forgiveness, and redemption. And their approach now causes the community to be against each other. And so that, I would say, is the most disheartening, disappointing thing that I experienced. So I was very intentional in the leadership of my organization that we were not going to be adding fuel to the fire. And so it was: “Listen, we’re going to let the litigators litigate. We’re going to let the legislators legislate. And what we’re

going to do is remain keenly focused on the people.” So we were like: “How are we going to take whatever obstacle they put in front of us and turn it into an opportunity to engage more people?” We thought that returning citizens were the perfect emissaries to talk to other Americans about how valuable the right to vote is and how we honor that right to vote by actually going out to vote. We didn’t care how you voted. That’s the whole thing. At the end of the day it really didn’t matter. What matters is that you participated. I need you to participate. Democracy needs you to participate. Amendment 4’s passage led to the re-enfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of Floridians. Meade was awarded the national Puffin Prize for Creative Citizenship. He received a national MacArthur Fellowship. In October, he had his own civil rights restored. Meade

knew he had come a long way for a guy who, 25 years earlier, had destroyed his late mother’s house to buy crack cocaine and spiraled into drug addiction, homelessness, and prison. BACK TO MOM I was actually talking to somebody, an older lady, somewhere out of town who said, “Listen, your mama’s looking down on you. And she’s so freaking proud of you.” My regret was, I wanted to be able to physically — I would yearn — just for my mom to hug me and give me a kiss, and say, “I’m proud of you son.” I’m not going to get that. But I’m always reminded that, yes, she is looking down from heaven, and she is so proud. She’s high-fiving so many people, and saying, “That’s my boy there. Look at him.” But it would be so amazing if I could just get one last hug from her and hear her say how proud she was.”

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