INFLUENCE Magazine – Winter 2021

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NE W YEA R N E W FA C E S M eet t h e R i si n g St a r s o f Fl o r i d a Po l i t i c s

+ 2020’s Politicians of the Year: The Mayors


Kate DeLoach

Edgar Castro

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Matt Brockelman

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Oscar Anderson

Kelly Cohen

Sarah Nemes

Brian Bautista

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Laura Boehmer

Justin Hollis

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Sydney Ridley

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Monte Stevens

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PUBLISHER’S | NOTE

@PeterSchorschFL

Wear a mask Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear

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a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask.

Peter Schorsch Publisher

Peter@FloridaPolitics.com


INFLUENCE MAGAZINE A FloridaPolitics.com Publication

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DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS

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INFLUENCE Magazine is published quarterly by Florida Politics, LLC, a subsidiary of Extensive Enterprises Media, LLC. 204 37th Avenue North, St. Petersburg, Florida 33704. INFLUENCE Magazine and Extensive Enterprises Media are not responsible for unsolicited manuscripts, photography or artwork. Editorial contributions are welcomed and encouraged, but will not be returned. INFLUENCE Magazine reserves the right to publish any letters to the editor. Copyright January 2021, Extensive Enterprises, LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited.

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TEAM STATS

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Years Lobbying Experience Years Private Sector Experience

Years In-house Governmental Experience

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Former Executive Branch Staffers

6 Former Legislative Staffers

ON OUR TEAM

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• • • • • • •

5 Former Executive Office of the Governor Staffers

Two of the 100 Most Influential People in Florida Politics A Florida Politics Lobbyist of the Year An Insurance Lobbyist of the Year A Gaming Lobbyist of the Year An Education Lobbyist of the Year A Healthcare Lobbyist of the Year A Tampa Bay Business Journal “Up & Comer”


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PHOTO: The Workmans

features

92 RISING STARS

Even a cursory glance at the bios of these up-and-comers reassure us that, indeed, the kids are all right. Actually more than all right. With energy and purpose, these young practitioners in The Process are shaping the future of politics in The Sunshine State.

78 Politician(s) of the Year

When the President and Governor took a hands-off approach to the greatest health emergency in a century, Florida’s mayors stepped into the breach to provide aid, comfort, and information to their citizens.

44 The Legislative Freshman

Some are Representatives moving across the plaza — and moving on up — to take their place in the Senate. Others are back after a hiatus or are professionals heading to Tallahassee as first-time legislators. Here’s a quick introduction to many of them in this compendium.

178 What I’ve Learned with John Thrasher

Florida State University’s soon-to-be former President reflects on his childhood, legislative days and the challenges of running a major university. 6

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2020 was a year like no other. Thank you to Florida’s business community, our members and our partners for your resiliency and dedication to reopening safe and smart. Here is a glance at the work done together in 2020 to keep Florida moving forward.

Litigation Reform The Florida Chamber is at the forefront of the fight for COVID-19 liability protections for businesses being unfairly targeted by personal injury trial lawyers.

FLChamber.com/Litigation-Center

Covid-19 Resources Throughout the pandemic, the Florida Chamber has continued to provide the business community with resources and daily virus data as well as economic data.

TheFloridaScorecard.org

Prosperity Florida Chamber Foundation created a first-of-its-kind tool that helps visualize the intersection of 3rd grade reading scores for every public school in Florida with childhood poverty rates.

TheFloridaGapMap.org

safety The Florida Chamber Safety Council became the 19th National Safety Council Chapter in the United States.

FLChamberSafety.com

@FLChamber #ChamberStrong

2020 General Election The Florida Chamber of Commerce and our members helped deliver election wins for 86 of 89 Chamber-backed, pro-jobs candidates.

FLChamber.com/2020Endorsements Winter 2021

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departments

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18 184

PHOTOS: Bill Day, The Workmans, Abby Hart

18 Gusto Inspired by COVID-inflicted downtime and a love of good wine and good times, influencer Gus Corbella earned two certifications as a sommelier.

22 Tux Deluxe Pay attention to the details and your tuxedo will have you feeling like 007 in no time.

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25 On the Move

Insider’s Advice

Political Aficionado’s Guide

11

Briefings from the Rotunda

25

Fourth Floor Files

33

The Big Question

184

39 Jennifer Green counsels lobbyists and legislators to use their power to do the right thing. 41 All the pollsters (except Ryan Tyson) got it not-quite-right in the 2020 presidential race. Steve Vancore blames Trump.


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We distribute a clean, sustainable natural resource. Natural gas is a lower-carbon fuel that produces less greenhouse gas emissions than other fossil fuels. Renewable natural gas is even cleaner.

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Natural gas is safe, affordable, and abundant. According to the U. S. Department of Transportation, the pipelines used by Peoples Gas are the safest form of energy transport.

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the Political

Aficionado’s  Guide to ...

GOOD READS | FILM | BEST STUFF |

TELEVISION

A Literary Look at the Sunshine State BY REBECCA RENNER

I

n the past few years, Florida has been more likely to appear in headlines and memes than in serious literary works. When folks outside the state take the topic on, they have a tendency to flatten us Floridians into punchlines. We deserve better, and we’re not the only ones who think so. Florida authors are coming out with books of their own, portraying the state as it should be seen, with nuance and heart. These books come from all corners of the state, showing people and places that don’t usually get top billing in the viral takes on this place. Pick up any one of these books, and you’ll see the real Florida, warts and all.

TYLER GILLESPIE’S “THE THING ABOUT FLORIDA”

Florida is the butt of a lot of jokes. You know it. I know it. Tyler Gillespie did, too, and that’s why he always said he was from somewhere else. Gillespie has come a long way since then, embracing the zany and otherworldly parts of the state along with the bleak ones. In this book, Gillespie takes readers along on his journey from Florida denial to embracing the great and wild pleasures the Sunshine State has to offer, all with a cleareyed realness that sees past the jokes to the peninsula’s true heart. Part memoir, part cultural reportage, “The Thing About Florida” is an adventure through Florida’s highs and lows. From python hunters and pet smugglers to cattle ranchers and drag queens, Gillespie brings our greatest characters to life, and with them, he explores the serious issues hiding beneath our humor. Because Florida.

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DANTIEL MONIZ’S “MILK BLOOD HEAT”

Writers you love — including Lauren Groff and T Kira Madden — are already heaping praise on this phenomenal debut short story collection by Dantiel Moniz. Set in suburban Florida, Moniz’s tales paint a sharp, literary portrait of the state you know and love. Each story comes to a head in a potent moment of revelation. Although many seem fantastical — with plots like a woman grieving the loss of a miscarriage seeing visions of a child’s body parts or a church-resistant teenager being accused of courting the devil — these stories exist in our reality, and their power comes from highlighting the extraordinary in the ordinary. Moniz points her pen at issues of race, class, gender, and religion, all with the deftness and insight of a gifted storyteller. Surely more great things are to come for this debut author.

JEFF VANDERMEER’S “HUMMINGBIRD SALAMANDER”

Software manager Jane Smith received a mysterious gift: a list of animals and the key to a storage unit containing a taxidermied hummingbird and a salamander. It turns out these curiosities are from ecoterrorist Silvina Vilcampa whose rich industrialist father recently passed away. As if this wasn’t odd enough, the situation gets even stranger. The specimens bestowed on Jane are two of the world’s rarest

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animals. When Jane removes them from storage, she triggers a chain reaction that sends Silvina’s dangerous crew after Jane. Now that her family is on the run, Jane must unravel the mystery behind Silvina’s cryptic gift and escape this global conspiracy before it’s too late. This new thriller from the author of “Annihilation” is a nail-biter, Jeff VanderMeer at his best. You won’t be able to put it down.

KRISTEN ARNETT’S “WITH TEETH”

Sammie Lucas always imagined having a picture-perfect queer family. But our lives seldom play out as we plan. The wrench in the works of Sammie’s wedded bliss is her son, Samson. She’s becoming increasingly afraid of him. As she works from home in their small Florida house (a condition I’m sure many of us can relate to by now), she keeps a watchful eye on the boy, unsure of what he might do next. Although Sammie is eager to bond with him, the child grows from untamable toddler into a brooding and hostile teenager. Sammie must grapple with loving this boy and reconciling the reality of him with the idyllic family life she always wanted. This is the second novel from Kristen Arnett, who is a beloved social media personality and lively literary presence. Her first, “Mostly Dead Things,” hit the New York Times Best Seller list in its first week. This one is sure to be another winner.


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the Political

Aficionado’s  Guide to ...

On your mark, get set, STORE! Products to help tidy up your stuff – and keep it that way by rosanne dunkelberger

I

n the Year of COVID, many of us have had plenty of time at home to survey our surroundings and found them, well, lacking. With work and school functions shifting to our abodes, the “stuff” surrounding us can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, before we can get the right gear to organize that stuff, we have to deal with it. The first, most important actions to take are to sort your items into categories, eliminate what you don’t

use or love and then define the home for each category. In other words, KonMari the s#@% out of it. Once that’s done — and it might take months and/or professional help to purge what is weighing you down — the right tools can make all the difference in staying organized. You can sort your pantry into categories and define different parts of a shelf for various items (think pasta, rice, cereal, spreads, snacks, etc.) Inevitably though,

without containing those categories with the right bin — with labels — things will get moved, pushed and hidden. Before you know it, you have purchased extra items thinking you were out when really they were just in the wrong spot. Kirsten Fisher, a St. Petersburg-based professional organizer, shares her most-used and favorite products that are key to creating functional and beautiful spaces. All can be found at containerstore.com

Lazy Susans These spinning trays are perfect for bottles of any kind and allow you to access all your items without a fight. Face labels out and put lesser used ones in the center. I like this particular kind because there is a lip tall enough for a label. Lazy Susans also are perfect for upper kitchen cabinets where the 10½-inch versions usually fit well. I love these for commonly used oils and vinegars to go next to the stove. Pro Tip: Even if they are advertised for under the sink, they generally don’t work well. With the pipes in the area, you can’t spin a tall item all the way around without hitting something. Use stacking drawers instead. Refrigerator Lazy Susan, $15

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Deep Drawer Bins It is critical that categories have a defined home, and I love a clear bin because you can see what you have. This style comes in a variety of sizes so you can adjust depending on the depth of your shelf and the size of your category. Pro Tip: Use these in a deep cabinet as a pull-out that allows you to access items from the back of the cabinet with ease. Linus Deep Drawer Bins, $16 to $21 each

Handled Bins This is the perfect equivalent to the Our Box when you want an open container to store items. An attractive open bin in a variety of colors makes things easy to put away. These are ideal for playrooms, garages, laundry and closet accessories. They also work very well for a pantry if you want to be budget friendly. Clear Plastic Storage Bins with Handles, $3 to 6 Drawer Organizers Every drawer housing more than one item should use a drawer organizer. These trays come in a variety of sizes and define the “home” for every item that lives in a drawer. Think of your cutlery drawer. The forks, knives and spoons stay organized right? That’s because each category of item has its own defined space, that’s the perfect size for it. Now apply this principle to every drawer and item in the house. From the office, to bathrooms to the kitchen and laundry, define these spaces and you will no longer lose your stamps or have to go searching for a Post-it note. Everything Drawer Organizers, $3 to $7 Drawer Dividers Some drawers need division and drawer organizers aren’t big enough for what you’re storing. For example, serving utensils are easily divided by category so you don’t have to dig through the spoons to find your spatula while your eggs burn on the stovetop. You may want to divide your kitchen towels from your oven mitts or your hair dryer from your straight iron. These are all done well with a spring-loaded drawer divider. For the bedroom, use a smaller version to divide rows of file-folded clothing. Bamboo Drawer Organizers, $20 for a package of two

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Boxes I use these fantastic boxes in nearly every room in the home but in particular they are perfect for a craft space, a playroom and any space where you store memorabilia. The boxes are clear so you can see what is in them, light so you don’t have to lift more than the contents, lidded so you can protect the contents and stack them, matching in a variety of sizes and well priced. The key to containerizing in a lidded box is to ensure the box is the right size. Pro Tip: Don’t put frequently accessed items in a bin with a lid because no one wants to open and close a bin all the time. Organize in a way that makes things easy to put away and they’re more likely to get put away. Our Clear Storage Boxes, $2 to $24 Door Racks These door racks are amazing for carving a little extra real estate out of a closet or pantry. Put your mostused items in the most accessible areas. They are fully customizable for a gift wrap station, spices, shoes and accessories, jewelry, or masks and hand sanitizer. Elfa Over-the-Door Racks, $77-$129

Hangers Matching hangers do more than transform the look of a closet. It can elevate your space from functional to fantastic. Thin velvet hangers can double your rod space over plastic hangers or triple the space over wood. They also eliminate the frustration of slippery blouses and sweaters falling to the floor. Non-Slip Velvet Suit Hangers, $28 for a package of 40

Kirsten Fisher is the founder & CEO of Imagine Home Organization LLC. She is a graduate of Smith College with her BA and MS, a Certified Professional Organizer and a KonMari Consultant. Her company’s website is imaginehomeorganization.com.

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A chance to slow down and savor life Lobbyist Gus Corbella used his downtime during the pandemic to earn sommelier certifications by rosanne dunkelberger photos the workmans

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O

n a dreary December afternoon, Tallahassee lobbyist Augustine “Gus” Corbella sits at a marbletopped table at Hummingbird Wine Bar, contemplating and commenting on the Domaine Blain Brouilly in his crystal wine glass. His mood is undampened by the mizzling rain as he holds forth on the backstory of what he and his companions are about to imbibe. “This is from Beaujolais,” he informs them. “The gamay grape is mostly grown in the Beaujolais region of France, although it is being grown in other places around the world.” Between sips he shares that gamay grapes create a wine similar to the more well-known pinot noir, that is “light and fruity … in more of a tart way.” Corbella knows whereof he speaks. Instead of bingeing Netflix or eating comfort food during the long months of COVID lockdown, he decided to take his love for wine in a more professional direction. In 2020, the senior director of Greenberg Traurig’s Government Law & Policy Practice completed courses

from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and is now a Level 2 Certified Sommelier with Distinction — the group’s version of magna cum laude. “We had a beautiful spring. The weather was gorgeous, sunny and cool,” he recalled. “I would start going on these really long walks and kind of just clearing my mind and thinking about life and the world in general. I didn’t want to [go through] this time and not have something tangible or positive to look back on.” COVID eliminated in-person classes, so Corbella said he was able to complete his certification with online lectures, home study and “all kinds of tastings — every varietal that you can imagine. It was a great way to spend the time. How are you going to complain? You’re in quarantine, drinking good wine.” There are two different courses for aspiring sommeliers, one geared more toward teaching those in the hospitality industry how to serve and sell wine and the other, which Corbella took, which focuses more on the academic aspects of grapes,

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FOOD

wine and winemaking. Corbella wants to continue his deep dive into wine knowledge in 2021 by completing the third of four levels, but it will have to wait until after the Legislative Session. “Right now I’m too busy with lobbying and politics,” he said. His wine education will end … probably never. “Even if I was 85 years old and still doing this, I’ll never learn all there is to know about wine,” he said. “The lifelong education aspect of it is very attractive to me. It’s really exciting to taste a wine that you’ve never had before or to learn from somebody that is also passionate about a certain winemaker or a certain region that you’ve never tried something from before. That, to me, is what always makes it fun and exciting.” With Corbella’s Spanish background — he still has family in Barcelona — and parents who were chefs/restaurateurs in Gainesville, wine has been a part of his life since childhood. “It was no big deal to us. Wine was a part of everyday life,” he said. “So I drank lots of Riojas and Tempranillos and all kinds of wonderful Spanish wines.” It wasn’t until he grew up that the pleasures of wine were opened up to him — in Las Vegas, of all places. “In the early 2000s, my friend Dave Ramba and I were at Caesars Palace having dinner at Bobby Flay’s restaurant. We had a bottle of Sea Smoke pinot noir from California,” he said. “It was almost like angels sang. One of those … highlight moments of ‘Wow, this is an amazing, amazing wine.’ I got home and tried to get on their distribution list. It took me over five years on the waitlist to start getting it. But I still enjoy it from time to time and have a lot of it. But that was a real eye-opener that kind of started this whole journey for me. “I tried to get a lot more informed about what was in my glass. To try to learn more about wine and about where it came from, and different wineries and different producers, but more of just a personal hobby at the time,” Corbella continued. Asked about the most expensive wine he ever drank, Corbella was unsure, mentioning being gifted with a bottle of Cristal champagne when his son was born 17 years ago. “I don’t really look at prices of wine because that’s not a good determinant of whether the wine is good or not,” he said.

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“People make a big mistake (thinking) that the more expensive the wine is, the better it is. It might be rarer, but that might not necessarily mean it would be better.” Today, his wine “cellar” is actually two large commercial wine refrigerators in his pantry he has named “Pinot” and “Noir” that can hold up to 302 bottles. “I have a feeling that’s going to be a kind of a gateway to a cellar kind of experience,” he acknowledged. “I don’t like to store a lot of wine. I like to drink it, so I don’t necessarily feel I’ll have a need for a huge cellar.” A cooler isn’t necessarily necessary for wine rookies, the refrigerator will work just fine, he said. The standard temperature for storing red wine is around 55 degrees and most refrigerators cool in the 40- to 45-degree range. “If you know what bottle you’re going to drink that night, say a lovely red. Just throw it in the fridge for 15, 20 minutes beforehand and you’ll have a nice chill on it and be able to enjoy it,” he advised. And he doesn’t look down his nose at those who mix wine into coolers and mimosas. “I’m never going to be judgmental of anybody who is enjoying anything,” he said. “If it’s bringing you joy and making you happy, then go for it. I just hope they’re not drowning a gorgeous champagne or sparkling wine with orange juice.”

While Corbella is no wine snob, he has a definite opinion about vino produced in Florida. “I love my home state, but wine from Florida is mostly pancake syrup,” he said. “The soil in Florida is not conducive to growing, but first of all, the climate is not conducive. The sweet spots for wine are 30 to 50 degrees north of the equator and 30 to 50 degrees south of the equator. In that band around the globe is where an overwhelming amount, 98%, of the production of a wine is from.” Enjoying wine isn’t essential to a lobbyist’s work, but it can be helpful, according to Corbella. “Part of the enjoyable aspect of this job is that social component. The fact that you can travel with some of these people to some fun places as part of a fundraiser. Or you can share a glass of wine with them after work one evening and talk in a much more loose and much more relaxed way than in your suit and tie sitting in that office for 15 to 20 minutes,” he said “One of the best ways to get to know people or to talk about an issue is over a good meal or a good glass of wine. You drop your pretenses and you’re in an environment where hopefully you’re building trust, which is what this business is all about.”


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How to be

A SHARP DRESSED MAN Whether you choose the black-and-white penguin suit or make a bolder choice, nothing says ‘debonair’ quite like a tuxedo by rosanne dunkelberger photos colin hackley

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lack Tie Optional.” Words that can strike fear — and confusion — in the hearts of men from Pensacola to Miami. Rest easy, friends, custom clothier Arron Gober is going to break down this conundrum for us, as well as answer questions regarding the dos and don’ts of men’s formalwear. When the invitation says, “Black Tie,” the proprietor of Arron’s Fine Custom Clothing in Tallahassee says, that means you should wear a tuxedo. “It’s either black-tie or it’s not. Anytime you hear ‘black-tie optional,’ that’s just people putting on galas that don’t want people not to come because they don’t have one,” he said. Wearing a tuxedo in big cities is usually no big deal, Gober said. “It’s more your medium-sized markets where guys don’t own a tuxedo because they don’t have as many opportunities to go to black-tie events.” White tie is even more formal and not all that popular in Florida. “That’s really for state dinners or incredibly fancy weddings,” he said, and is a tuxedo with a white tie and a white shirt, usually with a winged collar. Gober admits that, for him, the word “tuxedo” conjures up images of James Bond. “Every man wants to look like 007. Half of us think we are 007. Watch any James Bond movie, there’s always a blacktie event. There’s always a time when he’s going into the casino.” At its heart, a tuxedo is a suit, with certain prescribed details. The collar is satin, and a satin stripe runs down the outside of the pant legs. The pants have a flat front and no belt. The jacket has one button, also covered in satin. “It’s going to be highly tailored and fit the body incredibly well,” the clothier said. While the classic black-and-white “penguin suit” often comes to mind when the word tuxedo is mentioned, Gober flips open displays with dozens of fabric choices. Lots of blacks with different finishes, as well as velvets and brocades with bold colors in their weaves, like red and blue. Personality and pizzaz are welcome in a formal suit, although certain styles — the wide-collared polyester baby blue suits and ruffled shirts come to mind — are dead and gone. “If you buy one, I would tell you to go

more classic initially, and that would be a black,” he advised. “I would do something with a little bit more texture to it, just to give it a little bit more personality than just a flatfinish black.” He’s also partial to replacing the satin details with grosgrain fabric. “If you get a black tuxedo, that’s when you start playing with your dinner jackets,” Gober said. A dinner jacket is basically a not-black jacket that can run the gamut from white to a look-at-me fabric that is worn with tuxedo pants. Dinner jackets are appropriate to wear at black-tie events. There are three types of lapel possibilities. The notch lapel is what you find on most regular suits, but is considered not dressy enough. The shawl lapel, which has no visible notch or cut and looks similar to a bathrobe, is a classic tuxedo look with retro appeal. Gober favors the peaked lapel, where the collar meets the lapel in a V shape. The pre-tied bow tie is a mortal sin, according to Gober. “Never, ever wear one. If you can’t tie it, you can find somebody who can. For my customers I’m a phone call away,” he said. “They’re not supposed to look perfect. They’re supposed to look like you tied it, which is far more sophisticated.” Ascots were a fad, but they’re appropriate to wear, if you can find one. He doesn’t favor pocket squares, a boutonniere is a better choice. Studs are usually worn with a tuxedo shirt, but when Gober orders a custom shirt he suggests black mother-of-pearl buttons. “It looks like a stud, but it’s not,” he said. “You could do anything you want with a cuff link, depending on your personality.” Cummerbunds are out. He suggests adding interest by substituting the satin or grosgrain at the waistline. To rent, or to buy? “A tuxedo is the only garment that pays for itself,” Gober declared. A classic tux should last for five or 10 years and, when compared to a custommade suit, is only slightly more expensive. “Because each time you wear it, you subtract like you’re renting a tuxedo, take off $150, $200 each time you wear it — five or six times and it’s paid for. And you’d be surprised at the events you will go to when it says black tie, because you want to wear it.”

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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

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Texeira, Yost kick off 2021 with launch of Innovative Strategy Group

PHOTO: Abby Hart

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ew year, new firm. That’s the motto for Nancy Texeira and Matthew Yost, two alumni of Converge GPS who are moving on to start their own consulting firm, Innovative Strategy Group. With a Jan. 1 launch date, the organization will offer two-pronged services. For political candidates, the duo will help manage clients’ campaigns. That means handling budgeting work, finding campaign consultants and putting together full, cycle-long plans for those respective campaigns. Texeira and Yost also plan to offer public affairs services for corporate or association clients, helping to craft messaging for those groups’ legislative agendas. Texeira said she plans to keep a limited clientele. “I’m not one of those shops that wants 100 clients,” Texeira said. “I want 10 clients I really believe in and I want to be able to work with them in the best way possible so I know

they’re successful.” Texeira’s work isn’t a partisan pursuit either. She began her political career in New Jersey at the county Democratic Party level before serving as a regional political director for then-Sen. Joe Lieberman’s 2004 presidential run. Texeira eventually migrated to Florida to work for the Florida Democratic Party, then swapped over to Democratic Rep. Al Lawson’s campaign team in 2009. But in 2018, Texeira transitioned to the fundraising arm for the Florida Republican Senatorial Committee, working closely with and advising Sen. Bill Galvano. Yost got his start in 2012 working on the Senate District 15 contest before serving as Rep. Ross Spano’s campaign manager during his 2014 state House run. He too eventually worked with Sen. Galvano before joining Texeira at Converge GPS. “Over the last six years Nancy and I have worked closely on numerous campaigns,”

Yost said. “Beginning with fundraising under then Majority Leader Galvano, we have been able to build a rapport that is second to none in Tallahassee. The expertise and political balance we have developed over the last six years has created a dynamic that consistently allows us to exceed our goals with clients on both sides of the aisle.” Texeira had high praise for Yost as well. “He’s one of the most talented campaign folks that I’ve ever met in my life,” she said. “He is really fantastic. He has amazing relationships with our clients and across the Legislature.” With Innovative Strategy Group, Texeira hopes to retain her freedom to assist candidates on both sides of the aisle. “I love the independence of being able to go out on my own, to be able to work with people I like,” Texeira emphasized. “I’ve been able to be a bipartisan consultant for a while. I hope I can continue to do that.”

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Briefings from the Rotunda

Rutledge Ecenia adds Andrew Rutledge to roster

New board elected to lead FAPL

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utledge Ecenia is growing its roster of government affairs pros. The Tallahassee firm announced that Andrew Rutledge was joining the firm’s government affairs section in January. “I’ve known Andrew his entire life and we are delighted that Andrew is joining the firm,” said Steve Ecenia, the firm’s co-founder and President. “His knowledge, insight, and experience will be a tremendous asset to our work in the Legislature and executive branch agencies.” Rutledge previously served as the legislative affairs director for the Northwest Florida Water Management District. The district spans the Florida Panhandle and has tackled issues related to springs restoration and Hurricane Michael recovery. His experience also includes a stint in the Florida Realtors public policy office, where he worked as the government affairs director. At the Florida Realtors, he tracked the trade association’s policy and budget issues, and help coordinate political activity. A Tallahassee native and Florida State University alum, Rutledge started his career working for the House Economic Affairs Committee. 26

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PHOTO: The Workmans

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he Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists has selected board members for the next term. The new board includes 15 lobbyists elected by their fellow FAPL members. The incoming board will be chaired by Candice Ericks, a lobbyist at TSE Consulting and Ericks Consulting. Ericks, who served as vice chair in the previous term, succeeds former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp in the role. Larry Williams of Larry Williams Consulting will reprise his role as Secretary/Treasurer for the 2021-22 term. Included on the list were seven board members who were reelected: Joe Anne Hart of the Florida Dental Association, Corrine Mixon (pictured) of Rutledge Ecenia, Jenna Paladino of Paladino Advocates, Ron Pierce of RSA Consulting Group, Justin Thames of the Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Ron Watson of Watson Strategies, and Douglas Wheeler of the Florida Ports Council. They are joined by Candace Bunker of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., Cynthia Henderson of Cynergy Consulting, Kim McDougal of GrayRobinson, Tim Parson of Liberty Partners of Tallahassee, Brad Swanson of Florida Internet & Television, and Brandon Wagner of Hillsborough County Government, each of whom is a new addition. The FAPL Board of Directors is elected by the association’s membership. It is responsible for supervising and directing the association, its committees and its publications. The board election comes a few weeks after FAPL announced it hired Mariann Sabolic as its next executive director. FAPL, founded in 2002, has a membership of about 250 lobbyists. Its mission focuses on education and ethical conduct which fosters a lobby corps that is both knowledgeable and professional. FAPL membership is open to all Florida registered lobbyists.


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Vecchioli named senior policy adviser at Holland & Knight

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eth Vecchioli is back. Holland & Knight announced that Vecchioli, a former regulator at the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, was rejoining the firm as a senior policy adviser on its Florida government advocacy team. Vecchioli served in a similar capacity at the firm from 2012 to 2017. “I’m glad to be reuniting with my friends and colleagues at Holland & Knight,” Vecchioli said. “In the past few years, the firm has built an impressive infrastructure to service its insurance clients in Florida and beyond. I look forward to working with many of the firm’s new attorneys and clients to address their regulatory needs.” Vecchioli has extensive background in reinsurance, specialty insurance products and insurance regulation. Before entering the private sector, Vecchioli worked as a senior-level manager and regulator at the Florida Department of Insurance/Department of Insurance Regulation for more than a decade. She also served as a senior analyst for the Florida Department of Banking and Finance. Vecchioli most recently served as senior director of government consulting at Carlton Fields. “Beth is one of the most knowledgeable and respected professionals in Florida’s insurance industry,” said Karen Walker, leader of Holland & Knight’s Government Section. “She brings incredible insight and determination to every matter she handles for our insurance clients. We are extremely happy to have her back on our team.”

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Two Florida lobbyists among NILE 2020 Top Lobbyists

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wo of Florida’s top lobbyists were among the winners of the National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics 2020 Top Lobbyists awards. The national association named Jennifer Green, owner and President of Liberty Partners, as one of the honorees in the small firm category, while Yolanda Cash Jackson, a shareholder at Becker & Poliakoff, was recognized in the large firm category. “Our profession is filled with outstanding people who don’t get recognized on other lists because they aren’t a household name or don’t work for the biggest organization or corporation,” said Paul Miller, a board member at the National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics. “Our list recognizes all the faces of our profession, not just the big names.” Green opened her firm in 2007 and focuses primarily on state legislative and executive branch issues. She is the past chairwoman of the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists, serves on the FAPL Education Foundation and was recently awarded with the Ken Plante Founder’s Award for ethical leadership. Jackson has spent more than 20 years with Becker & Poliakoff and is known for her commitment to civic, charitable and professional organizations in the community. A University of Florida graduate, she is the co-founder of the National Black Lobbyist Association. The National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics selected 75 professionals as the 2020 Top Lobbyists. The list includes professionals that saw significant legislative success in 2020, have been innovative in their field this year, are held in high regard by their clients, and are individuals who give back to their community through charity or pro bono work.

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A SEAT AT THE TABLE ACROSS FLORIDA & THE U.S. MIAMI | JACKSONVILLE | ORLANDO | TALLAHASSEE | NEW YORK CITY | BOSTON

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Briefings from the Rotunda

Perez named 2021 Marshall Memorial fellow

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atima Perez can add Marshall Memorial fellow to her list of achievements. Perez, the state government affairs regional manager for Koch Companies Public Sector, has been selected to join the Marshall Memorial Fellowship Program for 2021. Created in 1982, the fellowship program aims to prepare a new generation for transatlantic relations. Perez joined the Koch Companies Public Sector in 2015, bringing more than 15 years of state government experience to the company. Before joining Koch Companies, Perez served as a senior aide to former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and served as a senior legislative aide in the Florida Legislature. Perez also worked as an in-house lobbyist for Bell South/AT&T and served stints at Akerman and The Southern Group. The flagship program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Marshall Memorial Fellowship aims to enable leaders from the business, government and civil society to expand their understanding of transatlantic relations and create new forms of collaboration. The program achieves this goal through active distance learning and immersive exchange experiences. The German Marshall Fund of the United States is a nonpartisan policy organization committed to the idea that the United States and Europe are stronger together. The organization champions the principles of democracy, human rights and international cooperation.

Foster selected as lobbyist for Pasco County Commission

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he Pasco County Commission voted to make Shawn Foster of Sunrise Consulting Group its lobbyist for next year. Foster was chosen from a pool of three finalists, including Amy Maguire of Shumaker Advisors and Michael Corcoran of Corcoran Partners. Foster, whose firm is based in Pasco, was able to point to his past success as Pasco’s lobbyist — the county had him on retainer until it stopped paying for a lobbyist a few years ago. He also expounded on his relationships with Senate President Wilton Simpson, who also lives in the county, and House Speaker Chris Sprowls. Foster noted that Sprowls introduced him to his wife. His close personal relationship with the Speaker was validated by Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, who said she has seen Sprowls and Foster fishing together. Ultimately, the commission voted unanimously to award the lobbying contract to Sunrise Consulting, which rings in at $60,000 a year. The contract adds another chunk to the growing bottom line at Foster’s firm. Recent compensation reports showed he and lobbying partner Sam Wagoner reeled in $215,000 during the third quarter. The total came in across 21 clients, in30

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cluding several local government entities. The firm already represents Pasco Schools and also represents Hernando County, the Hernando County School Board, Pasco Hernando State College, the

School District of Manatee County and Volusia County Schools. Municipal clients include the cities of Brooksville, Inverness and New Port Richey.


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225-772-3059 | Melissa@CavalryStrategies.com 204 S. Monroe St., Suite 201, Tallahassee, Florida 32301 Winter 2021

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TAMPA TALLAHASSEE MIAMI WASHINGTON, DC W32W| W .COR CO INFLUENCE Winter 2021R A N P A R T N E R S . C O M


FOURTH FLOOR>FILES PRESERVING LIBERTY FOR FLORIDIANS Significant other? Children? Grandkids? Married to Sara and we have two kids. Lucas is 7 and Elise is 3. We also have an English bulldog named Hesco. In 25 words or less, explain what you do. My job is to preserve the liberties I fought for in the military including promoting free market principles to government officials and legislators of Florida. Without using the words Democrat, Independent or Republican, conservative or liberal, describe your political persuasion. I’m an immigrant who served in the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan in a war that is as old as I was when I enlisted. I believe in reason, rational thought, empathy, and justice. It’s also much better to embody your philosophy rather than explain it. If you have one, what is your motto? I’d rather drink coffee, not Kool-Aid. During your career, have you had a favorite pro bono client? I haven’t yet had a pro bono client, but I’d love the opportunity to support groups in the criminal justice reform space. Three favorite charities. Last Prisoner Project, Palm Beach Symphony, The Heart Gallery Any last-day-of-Session traditions? My team has a tradition of going out to dinner or having cigars and barbecue at our Airbnb.

PHOTO: Abby Hart

Diego Echeverri

What are you most looking forward to during the 2021 Legislative Session? Expanding on the various victories my team has had over the last couple of years related to educational freedom, health care reform, and deregulation. If you could have another lobbyist’s client list, it would be… I don’t really follow who represents which clients, but my passion is in disruptive tech and the sharing economy. I would love to work with industry leaders who push the envelope and create new disruptive platforms that help improve people’s lives. Professional accomplishment of which you are most proud? I co-founded a menswear accessories startup that was featured in GQ while I was a stay-at-home dad taking care of our baby boy. I grew a lot in that time both professionally and personally. Lobbyists are often accused of wearing Gucci loafers; do you own a pair of Gucci

loafers? If not, why not? I don’t own Gucci’s but I do own Ferragamo’s. Ferragamo as a brand is more my style. Who is your favorite Florida Capitol Press Corps reporter and why? Without question Troy Kinsey. I respect his work and we’ve been friends since my days as an aide to Gov. Charlie Crist. Other than FloridaPolitics.com, your reading list includes… I read the Wall Street Journal every day, and I also subscribe to Politico, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. What swear word do you use most often? I usually curse in Spanish and my go-to starts with hijo de ... What is your most treasured possession? The Swiss watch my wife gave me when we got engaged. I also have a book signed and inscribed to me by Elie Wiesel. The note he wrote related to a conversation we had about keeping hope, which I feel is especially apropos in 2020. The best hotel in Florida is… The Breakers. A lot of great memories and celebrations at the Seafood bar, HMF, and the Circle. 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? Charles Koch because I’ve always wanted to have a conversation with him. Jeff Atwater because he was a great boss and I’d love his perspective on the current political climate. Jeff Brandes because of all legislators I feel most philosophically aligned with him and we are both US Army veterans. Dan Gade because his ideas relating to fixing the VA and veterans disability need more attention. Favorite movie? “City of God.” It’s a phenomenal film based on a true story set in Brazil in the 1970s. When you pig out, what do you eat? Bandeja Paisa, it’s a Colombian dish with pork rinds, fried egg, chorizo, arepa, rice, plantain, beans, and steak, washed down with a beer or a Colombian soda. Hands down the best hangover meal. If you could have dinner with a historical figure no longer living, who would it be? Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and philosopher, although who knows how we’d communicate. I guess I’d have to learn Greek or Latin.

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FOURTH FLOOR>FILES Significant other? Children? Grandkids? My amazing wife, Barbara In 25 words or less, explain what you do. I help business and other organizations navigate government. Government is too complex for someone to be an expert in their business or industry and government. Without using the words Democrat, Independent or Republican, conservative or liberal, describe your political persuasion. I am a big believer in compromise. Nobody gets everything they want every time. For me it is rarely the issue and more about how issues are handled, how things move forward and how progress is achieved. I think the purity test approach is a major threat to good government. If you have one, what is your motto? If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right. During your career, have you had a favorite pro bono client? Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Three favorite charities? Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, Broward Public Library Foundation, Children’s Healing Institute Any last-day-of-Session traditions? Look for the people with red Solo cups…. What are you most looking forward to during the 2021 Legislative Session? Perhaps, a good excuse to travel north a little less! If you could have another lobbyist’s client list, it would be… Not a lobbyist but give me Drew Rosenhaus’ clients. Mega sports agent is the one gig better than this! Professional accomplishment of which you are most proud? Lobbying for the first ever state appropriation for the Parent Aide Child Abuse Prevention Program Lobbyists are often accused of wearing Gucci loafers; do you own a pair of Gucci loafers? If not, why not? No Gucci here … yet. Who is your favorite Florida Capitol Press Corps reporter and why? Gary Fineout Other than Florida Politics.com, your reading list includes… I like the feeling of knowing that my day can only get better so I will often check in with TomahawkNation.com. The day can only get better when you start with the depressing reality of the state of Florida State University football. What swear word do you use most often? Bulls--What is your most treasured possession? It has to be my new house. Barbara and I bought our first home right before the pandemic. Timing is everything! The best hotel in Florida is… Hotel Colonnade in Coral Gables

Nick Matthews

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? Senate President Wilton Simpson, House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Kathy Mears and Mat Bahl, and they have to tell me what the heck is going to happen this Session. Favorite movie? “Saving Private Ryan” When you pig out, what do you eat? Pizza from Heritage in Fort Lauderdale

PHOTO: Abby Hart

If you could have dinner with a historical figure no longer living, who would it be? Teddy Roosevelt

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At the Governors Inn, you’ll be welcomed as a friend and pampered as a guest. The Governors Inn is a distinctive boutique hotel located steps from Florida’s Capitol. As Tallahassee’s most well-appointed and well-positioned address, it is the hotel of choice for those seeking refined luxury at an affordable price in the heart of historic downtown, with 41 fine rooms and suites. Enjoy a stress free, continental breakfast prepared by our staff and carefully wrapped for a touch free delivery. Be our guest, we look forward to your stay with us.

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STEPS FROM THE CAPITOL


FOURTH FLOOR>FILES NAVIGATING THE COMPLEXITIES OF PUBLIC POLICY Significant other? Children? Grandkids? Husband, JD Durant, and my mini-me’s: identical twin girls, Harper Grace and Campbell Alexandra Miller

Lobbyists are often accused of wearing Gucci loafers; do you own a pair of Gucci loafers? If not, why not? Gucci loafers, no; Gucci heels, yes. Louboutins are far more comfortable.

In 25 words or less, explain what you do. Advocate for and promote the interests of the trucking industry — handling government affairs, communications and regulatory issues at the local, state and federal level.

Who is your favorite Florida Capitol Press Corps reporter and why? Gary Fineout, for his deep-dives into policy. If you get a phone call from him, you know he’s got something.

Without using the words Democrat, Independent or Republican, conservative or liberal, describe your political persuasion. Policy is complex, and there usually isn’t an absolute right or wrong.

Other than Florida Politics.com, your reading list includes… Every morning is the same: wake up at 3 to 4 a.m. with iced coffee and review Florida Politics, Google Alerts, Instagram and then transportation journals. My evenings are spent with New York Times best sellers and the classics — Edith Wharton and Henry James.

If you have one, what is your motto? “After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.” — Former Texas Gov. Ann Richards

What swear word do you use most often? That’s between internal conference call participants and me. But let’s just say I have a far more colorful vocabulary than most, which makes most men blush.

During your career, have you had a favorite pro bono client? I still do a lot of speechwriting for friends and former clients — but a lady never tells.

What’s your most treasured possession? My house could burn down and I wouldn’t miss a thing. What I didn’t appreciate before, and I do now, is my experience: I didn’t take the traditional path to work in The Process. My first job was as a professional ballet dancer, then college professor. It taught me to above all, know my audience.

Three favorite charities. Metropolitan Ministries does great work. Otherwise, I support and donate anonymously. Any last-day-of-Session traditions? A glass of champagne with close friends. What are you most looking forward to during the 2021 Legislative Session. A spring session — loading trucks on to the Capitol Courtyard at 6 a.m. in January is no joke!

PHOTO: The Workmans

If you could have another lobbyist’s client list, it would be… I love working with FTA’s 450 member companies. I can work on a regulatory issue for Publix in the morning, attend a tour of a UPS training facility with a Congressman at noon, and get on a call with an agricultural hauler and law firm in the afternoon. During hurricane season (and now the pandemic), communicating with state agencies is 24/7. No day is ever the same. Professional accomplishment of which you are most proud? Caring for my twin preemies while teaching full-time at the University of Georgia; online parttime at Florida State University while completing a Ph.D. In retrospect, not really sure how I did that.

The best hotel in Florida is… Mandarin Oriental in Miami, The Inn on Fifth in Naples or the Ponte Vedra Inn — depends on my mood. 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? Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, Congresswoman Val Deming and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. Favorite movie? “The Turning Point” When you pig out, what do you eat? Sushi, nachos and Big Macs. I have a special place in my car for a fork, in case of any emergency situations. My former co-workers know I have tenses, elevenses and 2-3 p.m. for daily pig outs. Honestly, I’m always eating.

Alix Miller

If you could have dinner with a historical figure no longer living, who would it be? Simone de Beauvoir

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Formidable. Experienced. Diverse. 20+ Municipal Clients

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Our lobbying team’s racial, ethnic, gender, and political diversity provides you with the distinct advantage of working with an array of state and federal legislators and local government officials from both sides of the aisle, as well as the various caucuses. Like all highly functioning teams, our lobbyists rely on each other’s unique set of political contacts, knowledge of various issues, and political intelligence to best help you tell your story. Our team enjoys access to the resources of a large law firm but operates like a “boutique” lobbying practice, providing you with personal attention and “on call” availability.

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beckerlawyers.com

Government Law & Lobbying


{ insiders’ ADVICE

Use influence to do what’s right, not just because you can

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o matter how you say it, the words “lobbyist” and “legislator” seem to invoke some of the worst visuals imaginable. Whispering the word lobbyist conjures up stories of cigar-smoke-filled rooms booming with loud guffaws and slaps on the back as lobbyists work the room with cash-filled pockets and plates full of steak and lobster. While there may be some truth to that folklore, a policy-driven process was still predominantly how new laws were created. Gone are the days of the staff analysis for a bill being read by members of the committee and the information in the analysis actually swaying the discussion about said issue. Gone are the days of a line in a staff analysis saying, “according to the ABCD Association…” and that information being relied upon by legislators in shaping public policy relating to a particular trade or profession. So, when did things change? Perhaps it was when eight-year term limits were implemented, and in one election, more than a third of the Florida House were freshmen and their first vote was on the President of the United States. Perhaps it was when legislative leaders started running for Speaker or President before they were even elected. This rush to pick a President or Speaker eight years out has been borne out of the sense that eight years is a pretty short period of time to get reelected three times and ascend to the top of a 40-person or 120-person pyramid. Perhaps it was when the gift ban was imposed. If you were around during the days when the Silver Slipper was open, and the gift ban was not in existence, you’re probably wondering what the heck a professional lobbyist is and why an association for lobbyists is important to Florida’s state government. It doesn’t take anything more than signing an oath, paying a small fee and having a principal click yes on an email saying that you can represent them in Florida before the legislative and executive branches. What does take time is to really understand and appreciate the gravity of that responsibility.

by jennifer green

I certainly can’t talk about professional lobbyists and ethics without remembering my mentor and friend Ken Plante. Say what you will about a former Senator who decided to leave the Legislature to become a lobbyist when financial disclosures were imposed but know that this same man fought like hell to try to stop a hastily written law that now requires lobbying firms to disclose their revenues. (The law is still in effect, but it appears to be better used for promoting lobbying firms than gaining transparency on who is paying which hired gun.) When Ken Plante first became ill, the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists recorded a video for him and created the Ken Plante Founder’s Award for leadership in ethics. The most telling quote in the video was from Marion Hoffman who described Ken as the conscience of the lobbying corps, “like Jiminy Cricket on our shoulder” asking us if what we were doing was the right thing to do. As I end almost a dozen years serving on the board of the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists (alas, due to term limits) I often think: “What would Ken Plante say?” I think Ken would say that lobbyists shouldn’t be afraid of adhering to a self-imposed code of ethics that includes a provision to treat fellow lobbyists with respect and not to try to poach their clients. As lobbyists, we are not the ones elected to serve the public in the Legislature, and we are not accountable to voters. We are, however, accountable to our clients and those who we advocate on behalf of. We are also accountable to others in The Process. Whether you’re a lobbyist, legislator or staffer in The Process, I’ll leave you with this: Do you use your power because you can or do you use it because it’s the right thing to do? For the sake of the citizens of this great state, I hope it’s the latter of the two. Jennifer Green, President and owner of Liberty Partners

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Thank

YOU

Our team extends our gratitude to our heroes and first responders in the war against COVID-19. Thank you to the doctors, nurses, grocery workers, restaurant staffers, manufacturing and research teams, essential government workers, and so many others.

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How one Florida pollster got it right

by steve vancore

P

ollsters: wrong again! Let’s blame Trump. Oh heck, we blame Trump for so much, let’s also blame him for polling bias. It’s funny, but the Monday morning after-analysis in 2016 found pollsters – quality pollsters – really didn’t get that much wrong. They predicted Hillary Clinton by about 3, and she won the popular vote by about 3. Of course, a lack of quality public polls in key swing states meant almost nobody (except that weird college professor who claims otherwise) saw her electoral college defeat coming. But there was, throughout our polls and many others we analyzed, a clear bias that favored Democrats and it begins – really – with Donald Trump. Through the 2016 GOP primaries and again in the recent 2020 general election polls there was (and I so hate to use this phrase) a “hidden Trump vote.” And it was hidden from most pollsters. Our review (again, just of quality polls by quality pollsters) found an across-theboard skew of about 3 points when Donald Trump was on the ballot. For example, the national aggregators predicted Joe Biden would win the national popular vote by about 7 points, and he ended up winning by about 4. We discovered this 3-point skew when not just analyzing some top-notch national pollsters (who made some excellent adjustments in 2018 and again in 2020) but in our own polls — except when we looked down ballot. Take Trump out (meaning poll down-ballot races) and, by and large,

it was all systems normal. Local races, nonpartisan races, issue campaigns, referendums and other items were all spot on. So, what happened? We pored over data and the best we can tell (and this will offend some I am certain) is there were two distinct categories of “hidden” Trump voters. These are voters who were either undecided and/or did not want to confess they were voting for Trump. They appear to be suburban black voters and certain liberal tranches of Hispanic voters who – in Florida anyway – voted against the BLMdefund-the-police-expand-social(ist)-programs Democrats. We sampled 50 precincts and found that Trump doubled his vote among black voters (from 3 or 4, to 6 or 8) and added about 20 points in South Florida Hispanic precincts. Twenty points! It is important to note that there was one Florida pollster in particular who got it right and was unwavering in his prediction that Trump would win Florida. Ryan Tyson. So why did my friend Ryan get it right when so many got it (mostly) wrong? Ryan had access to excellent data, relied on that data and believed in that data even when other pollsters (both public and private) were telling him he was wrong. Honestly there were times when I thought he was a little biased but, in the end, he was spot on. Kudos! And what makes him different (OK, other than he is pretty damn smart) is that he relied on detailed data to guide his polls.

He tracked – to the point of obsession – detailed turnout metrics, demographic data and then continuously dug deep to understand the dynamics of what was happening underneath the top lines. He also had access to data that is not easy to obtain, and those factors allowed him to see what was happening a little clearer than so many others. It was sort of a polling-plus analysis. The lesson here is that polling has become harder, has become more reliant on understanding the nuances of voter files and requires effort. And for the record, the quick-and-dirty low-sample ones (also known as “cheap”) are officially worse than throwing a random dart. And one last thought. It is likely that Donald Trump will never be on another ballot (let’s hope), but that doesn’t mean another candidate like him won’t emerge. Pollsters and the poll-consuming public need to take note, but for now, let’s just go ahead and blame Trump for the polling skew. Why not? We blame him for so much else. Steven J. Vancore, is the President of Clearview Polling and Research and has been polling and conducting focus groups in Florida for over 30 years.

Ryan Tyson, shown here with his son, was unwavering in his prediction that President Donald Trump would win Florida in 2020.

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MEET THE FRESHMEN There’s a new crop of lawmakers in town.

Forty-five new legislators will storm the Florida Capitol this Legislative Session, eager to make a difference on behalf of their constituents. Some know the ropes, having served in elected office previously. Others are fresh faced, hoping their outsider background will mean they’re well-positioned to shake up the status quo. From the former Florida House members making the transition to the Florida Senate to the educators, veterans and business owners hoping to make positive change in their community, here’s a rundown of just a few of the fresh faces you’ll see roaming the halls of the Capitol this Legislative Session.

by renzo downey and jason delgado photos the workmans

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Loranne Ausley — SD 3 Longtime lawmaker Loranne Ausley feels almost like a newcomer again. While she’s no stranger to Tallahassee and the Florida House, the Big Bend Democrat will now debate, law-make and navigate in the Legislature’s Upper Chamber. She’s excited to learn the difference. “I feel like I’m walking into unfamiliar territory,” Ausley said. “It’s new and everyone has continually emphasized that the Senate is very different than the House.” Not all, however, will be different. In the 2021 Legislative Session, Ausley plans to continue working on many of the issues she championed in the House. Issues such as children, rural broadband and state employees. She also wants to address the state’s COVID-19 related “fault lines” including the “broken unemployment system.” Beyond the Senate Chamber, Ausley spoke affectionately about the city of Tallahassee and encouraged new law-

makers to wander out and enjoy the “beauty and wonder” of her hometown. She described the residents as “genuinely warm” and said representing them remains an “incredible privilege.” “I remember my first time walking into the House and seeing my name up there. That’s a pretty awe-inspiring feeling,” Ausley recounted. “I went into the Senate Chamber and had that same feeling with my husband just a few hours ago.”

“It’s new and everyone has continually emphasized that the Senate is very different than the House.”

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ROBIN BARTLEMAN — HD 104 Robin Bartleman is a South Florida teacher turned politician. Politics wasn’t always the plan, but her passion for public education fueled her beyond the classroom, up the school board, through a city commission and into Tallahassee. She plans, not surprisingly, to advocate for teachers and students in the 2021 Legislative Session. “Public education is very near and dear to my heart,” Bartleman said. “I bring a unique perspective because I’ve been in the classroom, I’ve helped run the schools and I’ve managed them at the district level.” A mother of two, the Democrat from Weston would also like to address environmental protection, juvenile justice and health care – three issues she says are affecting her district. “I like having the opportunity to make a difference,” Bartleman said. “That’s what I’m really excited about.” While Bartleman said she feels “pretty safe” inside the Capitol, she expressed concern about those outside of the Capitol’s walls. She hopes partisanship doesn’t get in the way of bringing relief to those struggling economically. “I’m hoping that this will bring everyone together and we’ll reach across the aisle and just help Floridians,” she said. “That’s what they need.”

“I bring a unique perspective because I’ve been in the classroom, I’ve helped run the schools and I’ve managed them at the district level.”

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“I think that one of the best things we can do this Session is to give our small businesses some relief, help them relaunch and have a successful year, save jobs.”

JENNIFER BRADLEY — SD 5 Jennifer Bradley is one of two freshmen senators without prior legislative experience. However, unlike Ileana Garcia, Bradley has a personal adviser in her husband, Rob, who recently retired from the Senate after eight years. Now, Bradley has taken his seat and has picked up some advice on being a lawmaker. “I think he’s helpful on some big picture issues — don’t take yourself too seriously, do your homework, make relationships and you’ll get more out of The Process that way,” she said. On the day before the Organizational Session, the Fleming Island Republican said she planned to meet with Sen. Loranne Ausley in an attempt to greet her fellow freshmen

she hadn’t met on the campaign trail. “You need to have a working relationship with everybody,” Bradley said. “It’s not a party issue most of the time, and you have to have these working relationships. Rob has been a great example of that.” Both Bradleys have already had COVID-19, and the Senator voiced her trust in the Senate’s protocols. But on the economy, she is looking for the Legislature to take action. “I think that one of the best things we can do this Session is to give our small businesses some relief, help them relaunch and have a successful year, save jobs,” Bradley said.

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JASON BRODEUR — SD 9 After a two-year break away from the House, Jason Brodeur is returning to Tallahassee to familiar faces. But the Sanford Republican is hiking across the plaza to the Senate, where he is prepared to serve with some familiar faces. “I’ve spent most of my time on committees with Shev Jones, and we’ve already had a really great relationship, so I think that’ll be a lot of fun to continue to work on health care items with him,” Brodeur said. This year, the new Senator asked to be placed on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, which he will chair next Session. There, he is planning to build on laws passed in his eight years in the House and to pass entirely new legislation with a focus on proper storage north of Lake Okeechobee and septic tank improvement incentives. “It’s a very important part to my district in Central Florida and one in which I think we can make great strides to ensure that Florida looks a lot like it did when I grew up,” Brodeur said. However, he also brings a unique outlook to the Capitol as someone who was adopted. He hopes to look at the state’s shortcomings in protecting vulnerable children. “Very frequently we think we’re doing what’s best for the family or what’s best for the parents,” Brodeur said, “but my perspective is that we really need to be focused on what’s best for the child, and that may not be the way that we’re handling it now.”

“It’s a very important part to my district in Central Florida and one in which I think we can make great strides to ensure that Florida looks a lot like it did when I grew up.”

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DANNY BURGESS — SD 20 After making the jump from the House to the DeSantis administration, Danny Burgess is headed back to the Legislature. But this time, the Senator and his family are staking out the entire Session in an RV, full time. “When we’re up here, I’m not mowing grass on the weekends,” he said. Since the last time he was a lawmaker, Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican, spent 17 months as the Executive Director of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. With that experience and his status as a member of the Army Reserve, he plans to be a part of the Legislature’s veterans priorities. Senate President Wilton Simpson has also selected Burgess to chair the Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response, a new panel to review the state’s response to COVID-19 and the role of the Legislature. Among his tasks in Tallahassee, Burgess hopes to address the pandemic first and foremost, including in the budget and in economic and human recovery. With the RV, his wife, Courtney, and three kids, Adeline, Daniel and Eleanor, he hopes to explore on the long weekends. “The amount of family time that we have because we’re up here is measurable,” Burgess said, “and those are memories I’ll never — I’m just so grateful that I never had to lose, and that I will always be able to cherish.”

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KEVIN CHAMBLISS — HD 117 Kevin Chambliss plans to address some of this year’s most challenging issues as a freshman lawmaker. Among them: picking up where the term-limited House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee left off. “Those are big shoes to fill,” Chambliss reflected. The self-described “old-fashioned country boy” wants to work together to address body-camera policy and strengthen Crime Stoppers. He believes racial justice and patriotism can go hand-inhand, far beyond partisanship. What’s more, he plans to challenge misconceptions saying otherwise. “I definitely believe that you can be patriotic and not be racist,” he said. “I believe that you can support Black Lives Matter and support the police.” Doing so won’t be easy, he acknowledged. But as a Mississippi native, he’s no stranger to hard work. “I’m not what you call a corporate politician. I’m a blue-collar politician,” Chambliss quipped. Also a South Florida youth pastor, Chambliss will serve on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee. While it’s an opportunity he is excited about, he knows his community is in need of economic help. House District 117, he said, is among the poorest in the state. “We need to help the small business owners survive,” he said. “Not only survive but also flourish. That’s the only way that my community is going to be able to move forward.”

“I definitely believe that you can be patriotic and not be racist. I believe that you can support Black Lives Matter and support the police.”

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“I really wasn’t introduced to partisan politics until I started campaigning. It had always just been me working with the residents. I had no idea what the party was.”

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LINDA CHANEY — HD 69 Politics isn’t new to Linda Chaney, but partisan politics is. The St. Pete Beach Republican was a nonpartisan City Commissioner from 2007 to 2009. And for 28 years, protecting the beaches has been a key issue for her. “I really wasn’t introduced to partisan politics until I started campaigning,” she said. “It had always just been me working with the residents. I had no idea what the party was.” Chaney recalled one Democrat passing by her on the sidewalk who told her, “You’re not happy with us and we’re not happy with you.” “I’m not in touch with that,” she said. “I’m not aware of that.” Chaney was one of three House Republicans to unseat an incumbent Democrat in November. She replaced Jennifer Webb of Gulfport, who herself flipped the seat blue in 2018. Being in a key swing district helped expose her early to Republican House members who went knocking door-to-door for her when the party leaned in big in her race. Already, Chaney has a vision to dovetail additional beach protections into legislation signed in 2020, as well as some pledged Senate sponsors. Although she says it may take years — a risky proposition in a competitive district — she’s hoping to use the recent accomplishment to make the next step. “That’s why I’m so hopeful about it. I’m not starting flat footed, ground zero with it,” Chaney said. “There’s some ground work already done on it, and people interested in supporting it.”


DAN DALEY — HD 97 Dan Daley has an advantage over most of the incoming class as a redshirt freshman. Already, classmates are turning to the Coral Springs Democrat like he’s a Tallahassee veteran. Indeed, Daley was a legislative aide to former Rep. Ari Porth, now a Broward County Circuit Court Judge. Daley also brings personal experience from the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where at the time he was a Coral Springs City Commissioner. He was first elected to the House in a special election on the one-year anniversary of the 2018 shooting, and he secured a full term in 2020 on the fourth anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. Preventing another mass shooting is central to Daley’s charge. Last Session, he helped pass Alyssa’s Law requiring panic alarms in schools, and he has refiled Jamie’s Law for 2021 in the hopes of putting background checks on ammunition sales. He is also looking at last year’s school safety bill, which died in the Legislature despite leaders in both chambers pushing for the legislation. “That bill should not have died,” Daley said. “Candidly, that was gamesmanship between the House and the Senate and good policy died as a result.” He appreciates the middle ground that lawmakers have on 90% of the issues. But when it comes to COVID-19 safety measures in the Capitol, Daley said they “have some work to do.” Ahead of the Organizational Session in November, he advocated for a hybrid or virtual Regular Session. “I’m telling you, watch tomorrow,” Daley said. “You’re going to have members on the floor that refuse to wear a mask.”

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“Everything that I do will start with life, our First and Second Amendment rights. Those are the cornerstones of everything.”

“You’ve got to earn the right to be heard in everything you do in life,” he said. “This is no different.”

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JOE HARDING — HD 22 Joe Harding is a seventh-generation Floridian whose ancestors arrived in 1815. A self-described history buff, the Williston Republican believes the state and country are best governed by the founding principles established not long before the arrival of his ancestors. “Everything that I do will start with life, our First and Second Amendment rights,” the GOP newcomer said. “Those are the cornerstones of everything.” Harding hopes to address education and vocational training in the upcoming 2021 Legislative Session. The business owner and father of three said wages and opportunity are an issue in his district. “My district is very low income,” Harding said. “I think it’s critical that we do more to prepare our kids for the workforce.” To drive his agenda and further Gov. Ron DeSantis’ vision for Florida, Harding will lean on his career experience and intangibles. “I think that my work ethic is going to be unique and my ability to work with people,” he contended. Harding looks forward to learning about the Tallahassee of yesterday and today. “It’s such a historic city,” he said. “To be a part of the process now as a legislator; I’m excited to get to work.”

SAM GARRISON — HD 18 “We were all just kind of hanging up in the office just a few minutes ago, just kind of looking out the window, getting a feel for, ‘Wow, we’re here,’ that surreal kind of moment.” While he knows making policy is a lawmaker’s primary role in Tallahassee, Sam Garrison is looking forward to learning his colleagues’ backgrounds. People’s stories are what drove the Fleming Island Republican to run in the first place. Garrison noted the camaraderie in the freshman class who come from a “neat combination” of backgrounds. At the top of his mind was freshman Rep. Patt Maney, a longtime judge and Army veteran who suffered severe

injuries in Afghanistan in 2005 but returned to the bench. “You get somebody like Patt Maney, who this is just the latest chapter in an incredible story of his life, and then someone like me,” Garrison said. “Never, never been in that situation before.” Garrison’s approach at first will be to “watch, listen and learn.” “You’ve got to earn the right to be heard in everything you do in life,” he said. “This is no different.” The second part of his plan is to learn what he doesn’t know. “Then you know where to focus your efforts to get smart and to start to be able to function well,” he added.

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SHEVRIN JONES — SD 35 After spending eight years in the House of Representatives, Shevrin Jones is already looking for policy that is common ground across the aisle. For 2021, that means the West Park Democratic Senator wants to provide relief to small businesses and mom-and-pop shops in the minority community together with Hialeah Republican Sen. Manny Diaz. In December, Congress agreed to a COVID-19 package after months of anticipation. But Jones believes the Senate needs to take action and can’t rely on Congress to pass future relief packages. “We’ve been waiting for Congress for almost two, three months to give relief for people and they come out with a $600 package that they say they want to deliver to the American people,” he said. “I don’t think we can wait that long.” In Tallahassee, Jones sees a capital city that allows people to work together and trust each other. He extended that to Senate President Wilton Simpson, who Jones said is dealing with the hand he was dealt with in the Senate’s COVID-19 protocols. Jones tested positive for the coronavirus in July and knows the disease’s impacts firsthand. He says Simpson has assured him that he is taking the pandemic seriously and is trying to protect his fellow senators. “Whether everybody who’s in the Capitol is doing that, the jury’s still out on that, because we won’t know till we get there in January to see how serious they’re taking it,” Jones said.

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“This is an awesome opportunity, I look forward to doing good stuff for the state of Florida and for House District 64. I feel very honored and privileged to be here.”

TRACI KOSTER — HD 64 Traci Koster acknowledges she’s not too familiar with Tallahassee just yet. The GOP newcomer unabashedly confessed to losing her way for several minutes within the Capitol building during the Organization Session. She, nevertheless, looks forward to learning more about Tallahassee and standing on behalf of Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties. “This is an awesome opportunity,” Koster said. “I look forward to doing good stuff for the state of Florida and for House District 64. I feel very honored and privileged to be here.” As a family law attorney and Stetson University College of Law grad, Koster feels prepared to navigate some of the state’s most pressing issues.

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Early education and children’s issues are of particular interest to her. “I’ve worked in the foster care system and I’ve worked with children and families,” Koster said. “I think that it gives me a unique perspective.” During her short time as a lawmaker, the mother of two from Tampa said she has made friends with several newcomers. Across the aisle, she looks forward to working with Michele Rayner and Andrew Learned. She’s also excited to see more of Tallahassee. “I love the historic feel of Tallahassee,” Koster said. “I love the old buildings, the bricks. But, you know, the one-way streets are a little confusing.”


ANDREW LEARNED — HD 59 Long before Andrew Learned took the oath as a lawmaker, he swore an oath as a U.S. Navy officer. Ten years and three Middle East deployments later, the former boarding officer believes he’s equipped to bring a unique perspective to Tallahassee. “We don’t have a lot of veterans, especially in the Democratic Caucus,” the Brandon native noted. “I think that’s something. Just doing the basics of your job and serving people effectively is the reason we’re all here.” Learned, now a reservist, said addressing the pandemic will be his top legislative priority. “Small businesses COVID relief is number one, two, and three,” the husband and father of twins said. “I’m a small business owner so I’m dealing with that personally.” Next on the list? Marijuana. “I think that would be a really cool opportunity,” he added. Learned said he’s most excited to work alongside Republican newcomer and Navy reservist Fiona McFarland. The two, he said, often talk about navigating the intersection of lawmaker and service member. Learned’s favorite thing about Tallahassee thus far: the hills. “I’m a big cyclist and I love all the hills,” Learned said. “So, I go riding every morning at like five in the morning.”

“Small businesses COVID relief is number one, two, and three.”

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YVONNE HAYES HINSON — HD 20 “The only good thing about Tallahassee is getting out of Tallahassee,” joked Yvonne Hayes Hinson, a University of Florida Gator. The Gainesville Democrat is a lifelong educator who is hoping to bring more state funding to public schools now as a House member. She was elected in August without a Republican challenger and began meeting some of her new colleagues early. But now that the entire class has met in Tallahassee, she’s starting to “figure out who’s funny and who’s a little serious and who’s bold with their messaging.” Despite her personal rivalry with Florida State, Hinson commended the university for its attempts to make amends with the Black community. She recalled seeing statues to the school’s first Black homecoming queen and more during a tour during the 2020 Black Alumni Summit Conference, hosted at Florida State. University of Florida hasn’t extended those gestures, she said. And while she personally isn’t offended by some of the names on UF’s facilities, like Ben Hill Griffin Stadium or Stephen C. O’Connell Center, despite the namesakes’ treatment of the Black community, she backs the new generation of activists in their protests. “This is a new generation,” Hinson said. “They’re not going to tolerate the stuff we tolerate, and actually, it makes me feel encouraged for what’s going to happen in the future.”

“This is a new generation. They’re not going to tolerate the stuff we tolerate, and actually, it makes me feel encouraged for what’s going to happen in the future.”

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“Kristin was not only an amazing legislator, she was an amazing friend and amazing advocate for women’s issues and the environment. I have absolutely huge shoes to fill, and I’m kind of emotional about it. I just want to make sure I do it right.”

CHRISTINE HUNSCHOFSKY — HD 96 While Christine Hunschofsky serves in the House, she hopes to carry on the legacy of the late Rep. Kristin Jacobs. Jacobs died in April after battling cancer, and her district elected Hunschofsky, a Parkland Democrat, to follow in her place. Jacobs, who was Hunschofsky’s friend, led on water issues that she now hopes to carry. “Kristin was not only an amazing legislator, she was an amazing friend and amazing advocate for women’s issues and the environment,” Hunschofsky said. “I have absolutely huge shoes to fill, and I’m kind of emotional about it. I just want to make sure I do it right.” The pandemic is only the latest crisis her community has faced, and she hopes to work through and manage it from the Capitol. “We’re here to do the people’s work,” Hunschofsky said. “I mean, we have emergency workers that are dealing with this all the time. So it’s for us to be here to show up and do the work that we’ve all been elected and hired to do.” The first time she visited Tallahassee was when her eldest son was a page for former Rep. Ari Porth. That’s when she first met her friend Rep. Dan Daley, who worked for Porth. “To be here now as a representative is a little surreal,” Hunschofsky said.

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“They’ve gone overboard for that, through the testings, to the temperature, to the masks, to the air cleaners they have the chamber, I feel very safe — not even a concern.”

RANDY MAGGARD — HD 38 Randy Maggard is returning to the House as a redshirt freshman already with a plan for 2021. The Dade City Republican, with one Session under his belt, credits the sophomore and junior classes in the House for being extremely helpful answering any and all questions. “I feel like I’m leaps and bounds farther than I was, and I owe them a lot,” he said. As a former Chair of the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board, Maggard is hoping to refile legislation on reclaimed water and gray-water policy. That bill aims to take water typically dumped in bays and the ocean and repurpose it, saving on groundwater. “I think that would be a monumental policy if we get through this year,” he said. And he will again bring his small business background to the table. Maggard hopes to further his friendship with Rep. Dan Daley, who also worked his first Session in 2020. “He sits behind me now, not to the side, so we can just turn around and throw paper balls at each other,” he said. But unlike Daley, Maggard feels like the House has adequately prepared to meet during the pandemic. “They’ve gone overboard for that, through the testings, to the temperature, to the masks, to the air cleaners they have the chamber, I feel very safe — not even a concern,” he said.

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FIONA McFARLAND — HD 72 As a college town and state capital, Tallahassee reminds Fiona McFarland of Annapolis, Maryland, where she attended the U.S. Naval Academy. While the Sarasota Republican Representative was a midshipman, she felt like lawmakers and trainees lived separate lives. “We had no idea that the state’s Capitol was right there,” she said. “I don’t think we ran into legislators. I was trying to think, what was our equivalent of Andrews? I just don’t know.” But making the trip to the Big Bend is beneficial for lawmakers, she conceded, removing them from the comfort of their districts. “It takes you out of your environment, your home base, and what you think you know and puts you in this other environment that changes your mindset a little bit,” she said. Now that McFarland will be serving in Tallahassee, she is eager to serve her constituents — even amid the risk of COVID-19 — and receive her committee assignments. “I did just a first draft of which ones I wanted, and I wanted them all,” she said, putting an emphasis on business, commerce and tourism. McFarland is looking forward to meeting her colleagues including Rep. Andrew Learned, who, like her, used to drill out of MacDill Air Force Base and shared a similar career path in the Navy. “We’ve been texting, but I look forward to meeting him,” she said.

“It takes you out of your environment, your home base, and what you think you know and puts you in this other environment that changes your mindset a little bit.”

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“I understand our challenges, but I also understand our strengths.”

JENNA PERSONS — HD 78 Jenna Persons’ Southwest Florida roots run deep. Beyond being her birthplace, Fort Myers is where she runs a small business and has worked closely with local officials throughout the years. As a freshman GOP lawmaker, she believes her intimacy with the district will help better serve constituents in Tallahassee. “I believe my area expertise will help me hit the ground running for the community,” the sixth-generation South Florida resident said. “I understand our challenges, but I also understand our strengths.” Among those challenges is the COVID-19 pandemic. Persons stressed the need to help local economies rebound during the 2021 Legislative Session. Beyond the pandemic, she would also like to focus on water quality, environmental protection and economic opportunity. “I’m excited to work hard to pass on our piece of paradise to the next generation,” Persons said. Ahead of the Session, Persons said she has made friendships with others in the freshman class and is bracing for Tallahassee’s colder weather. She added she’s confident in the House’s COVID-19 safety protocols. “The Speaker has taken great precautions and the Speaker’s Office has kept us informed on every step leading up to the orientation session,” Persons said. “It has created a great sense of comfort and security.”

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TINA POLSKY — SD 29 The 2021 Legislative Session won’t be Tina Polsky’s first Tallahassee rodeo. The South Florida lawyer was first elected to the House in 2018 before earning the Senate’s 29th District seat. This time around, however, Polsky feels she’ll have more potency. “I’m excited for the opportunity to have unlimited bills and to possibly have a little more sway and a little more power,” she said. Polsky, a Democrat from Boca Raton, plans to continue advocating for gun reform while in the Senate. She intends again to propose legislation in the upcoming Session that would require the “safe storage” of guns. Beyond her experience and a “sassy sense of humor,” Polsky believes she brings several unique traits to the Capitol. “I’m also a mediator as my job,” the Columbia Law School grad said. “So, I think I have a good way of helping people to negotiate and find common ground and move the ball forward.” She added that she feels excited to forge new Senate relationships and is comfortable lawmaking in Tallahassee amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’m glad everyone on the Senate side has to be tested and has to wear a mask,” she said. “I do feel that they’re taking very good precautions.”

“So, I think I have a good way of helping people to negotiate and find common ground and move the ball forward.”

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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 70

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MICHELE RAYNER — HD 70 Michele Rayner is making history as the first Black, openly LGBTQ woman in the Florida Legislature. “I think everything about this moment is surreal for me,” she said, looking over her alma mater, Florida State University, on the eve of being sworn in. The St. Petersburg Democrat, a civil rights lawyer known for criminal defense, is hoping to find common ground with Republicans, but she also hopes to address the state’s ‘stand your ground’ law. Rayner represented the family of Markeis McGlockton, a 28-year-old unarmed Black man who was shot dead in front of a Pinellas County convenience store in 2018. The case renewed national attention on the state’s law after the defendant claimed he shot McGlockton in self defense. But back in her second home of Tallahassee, Rayner was impressed with her colleagues in the freshman class, noting that “everyone is a whole rockstar.” While enthralled in the personal significance of the moment, she also recognized her place in history. “It’s not lost on me, my election, being the first openly Black, queer woman to be elected to the state House,” Rayner said. “Even right now, my wife is sitting in the spouse’s orientation, what that represents, what doors that opens.”

“It’s not lost on me, my election, being the first openly Black, queer woman to be elected to the state House.”

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FELICIA ROBINSON — HD 102 Felicia Robinson has been a public school educator for 26 years in Miami-Dade County. But in Tallahassee, she wants to focus on taking a proactive approach to health care. “I want to see if there’s something that I can do where it will put us on the forefront, make things more preventative rather than continuously reactive,” the Democrat said. “I think in the long run, that will really ensure us not having to put so much money into health care.” In Miami Gardens, where Robinson was a City Council member from 2010 to 2018 and Vice Mayor from 2014 to 2016, the city began an initiative to educate the community with programs like cooking classes and data fitness challenges. Those could be possible models to help fight heart disease and diabetes, she noted. In her time as an educator, she has helped open prestigious schools like Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School and worked at Miami Northwestern Senior High School in the heart of the city, which she said gave her a diverse background. In her transition to the Legislature, which began soon after she secured the office with her victory in the August primary, Robinsons said she has already started connecting with her new colleagues. “We have a group chat, so we’re texting all the time,” she said. “We’ve Zoomed, at least the new members.”

“I want to see if there’s something that I can do where it will put us on the forefront, make things more preventative rather than continuously reactive. I think in the long run, that will really ensure us not having to put so much money into health care.”

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“I think there are opportunities to make a lot of new relationships and build some new bridges.”

KELLY SKIDMORE — HD 81 With 14 years of legislative experience under her belt, Kelly Skidmore plans to hit the ground running in the 2021 Legislative Session. But ahead of then, she is looking forward to building new alliances. Across the aisle, she would like to meet House Speaker Chris Sprowls and work with Chip LaMarca. “I think there are opportunities to make a lot of new relationships and build some new bridges,” she said. Some of Skidmore’s priorities include fixing the unemployment system, COVID-19 and gun safety. Health care, however, is foremost. It is both a personal and professional interest. “I have rheumatoid arthritis and I have had it since I

was 4 years old,” Skidmore said, adding that she serves as CEO of the Palm Beach County Medical Society. “So public health and policy and funding and resources are extraordinarily important to me.” The Democratic House member from Boca Raton doesn’t care for the Tallahassee cold, although she appreciates the contrast from home. Skidmore said she noticed the COVID-19 protocols in action and has taken additional action to help protect herself and others “I’m using a hand sanitizer and I’m wearing my mask,” Skidmore said. “I’m distancing myself and refraining from hugging, even though there are lots of friends.”

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ALLISON TANT — HD 9 Allison Tant, a former Florida Democratic Party Chair, held somewhat of an informal party meeting the weekend before new lawmakers were officially sworn in. The Tallahassee House member may be new to the Legislature, but she played host for the women in the new class, inviting them to her house for a socially distanced dinner. “We were finding how much we have in common and how our interests and concerns are so similar with what we want to do,” Tant said. “We had a really great little caucus gathering.” Floridians often badmouth Tallahassee, associating it with state government crime and poverty. “That has always bothered me when people talk about let’s go clean up Tallahassee, or Tallahassee this or that or the other,” Tant said. “Tallahassee is an amazing, multifaceted community that is a positive place for a lot of people.” Her son, Jeremy, was born with Williams Syndrome, a complex physical, developmental and cognitive disability. Creating a state plan for people with disabilities who will become the first generation to outlive their parents is a driving force behind Tant’s motivation to run for office. “When the last parent dies, there’s no place to go but a nursing home,” she said. “We’re looking at a societal-like tsunami coming, and we’re not ready for it.” But to get work done in the Legislature, they’ll have to brave the pandemic. “It’s a little daunting to think about us all in a kind of a fish bowl together,” Tant said.

“We were finding how much we have in common and how our interests and concerns are so similar with what we want to do.”

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“I’m coming to Tallahassee with a small business dream of mine in order to protect more small businesses, because I really feel like small businesses are the heartbeat of any community.”

DANA TRABULSY — HD 84 Being back in Tallahassee is like a homecoming for Dana Trabulsy, who had three of four children attend college in town. “We have a lot of fond memories here in Tallahassee,” she said. “When we’re driving through Tallahassee, or down streets, these are memories that we’ve made, and we can revisit them again. It’s bringing it back to life. I love it.” Trabulsy, of Fort Pierce, is one of three House Republicans who unseated an incumbent Democrat in November, replacing former Rep. Delores Hogan Johnson. Now in office, Trabulsy hopes to focus on environmental protection, charter schools and bringing a small business perspective to the Legislature. “A lot of folks here are attorneys or they’ve been in politics before, and I’m a small business owner,” she said. “I’m coming to Tallahassee with a small business dream of mine in order to protect more small businesses, because I really feel like small businesses are the heartbeat of any community.” Meeting her suitemates ahead of the Organizational Session was exciting for Trabulsy. “We all huddled together and did a prayer, which was nice, so I feel like we have a good solid group of people, really grounded,” she said.

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“I’m here because of the education that I got. Otherwise, I would never become a state Senator. I’m committed to bringing resources to the kids and the teachers.”

MARIE WOODSON — HD 101 Mental health and education are among Marie Woodson’s top priorities for the 2021 Legislative Session. It was education, after all, that led the Democratic lawmaker to the United States. “I’m here because of the education that I got,” Woodson said proudly. “Otherwise, I would never become a state Senator. I’m committed to bringing resources to the kids and the teachers.” Woodson knows pushing an agenda won’t come easy. Particularly in Tallahassee, a town where lawmakers often entrench themselves along party lines. She’s confident, however, that her motives are in the right place. “It’s about the people. It’s about the people of District 101,” Woodson continued. “When I take a vote on the floor, that’s the first thing that will be in my mind.” Woodson, who lives in Hollywood, Florida, likes the cooler Tallahassee weather and loves the lighter traffic. She wants to learn more about the town including places to dine. And while she’s excited to discover Tallahassee’s quiet charm, she made clear what excited her most about the capital city: “I will be able to impact people on a higher level and be able to pass legislation that can impact lives for generations to come.”

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POLITICIANS OF THE YE 78

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EAR: FLORIDA’S MAYORS selected by peter schorsch story by janelle taylor and jacob ogles photos the workmans Winter 2021

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A

s the COVID-19 pandemic proved the greatest public health crisis to confront the nation in a century, there was one group of Floridians who stood out among all others in the race to beat the monster.

THE MAYORS The disaster struck with the deadly daily force of a hurricane — an invisible one that left buildings standing but hospital bed inventories crushed. Worse, it’s a storm that stayed put for nine months, and as a cold front strikes, the winds of death and sorrow appear only to be picking up speed. Similar to a natural disaster, the coronavirus sent local governments into action. It turned out not to be the nation’s leaders, or even statewide electeds, who took the lead. Rather, Florida’s mayors found themselves on the headlines and the front lines, tested as public servants and politicians. That became all the more pronounced thanks to a dearth of guidance from the highest office holders of the land. President Donald Trump struggled to find a tone for the crisis, then abandoned the effort altogether in favor of base politics and denial. Gov. Ron DeSantis may be unfairly painted as a Trump stooge for adopting similar rhetoric, but there’s no denying he took a hands-off approach to Florida’s response. Rather, the state executive branch demurred to local government almost from the onset. County governments and city leaders studied Centers for Disease Control guidelines and crafted lockdown ordinances and mask requirements while managing grants and emergency resources. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman wrestled with DeSantis over lockdown regulations. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor used strategy and might to adopt a stayat-home order extending beyond her city’s limits. Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry pressured neighboring jurisdictions to close down beaches as pictures went viral of parties at the county line. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez

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kept his own beaches closed to the chagrin of conservatives while running a Republican campaign for Congress. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings overcame partisan squabbles about business restrictions by employing a massive public outreach campaign. The choices mayors made drew loud rebukes from the left and right, but decisions were made nonetheless. In the face of challenge, each one stood up to guide their cities. And for that, they get recognized as Florida’s Politicians of the Year. CARLOS GIMÉNEZ Disasters are nothing new to Carlos Giménez. Before serving as Mayor of Miami-Dade County, he served as Fire Chief and City Manager for the city of Miami. That gave him an understanding of both medical emergencies and the kind of disasters that can shut a city down. But the challenge presented by the pandemic seemed like no other. “There’s no guidebook when you have this kind of a once-in-a-lifetime event,” he said. “The last time we had any event like this was 100 years ago. So we were writing the book as we went along.” Ultimately, many of the chapters in that book would be written in Miami. Florida’s most populous county would become the national epicenter of the public health crisis. The first known case of a coronavirus infection in Miami-Dade County surfaced on March 12. That number would skyrocket to 2,123 cases, seven of those fatal, by the end of the month. This prompted Miami-Dade to issue one of the state’s first significant safer-at-home orders, one that stopped nonessential activities outside grocery shopping and medical emergencies. Gov. DeSantis within a few weeks modeled a statewide order after the Miami-Dade ordinance, and similarly regulations regarding beach closures and other restrictions would end up modeled after the South Florida community’s measures. But that’s not to say the moves were universally celebrated. Giménez fought

with business leaders about whether he went too far, public health hardliners who thought he moved too slow and other mayors in 34 different municipalities within the county boundaries who often scoffed as the county leader strode forward. To this day, he hears criticism about whether the county shut down too much or whether it acted too slowly. His successor in the Miami-Dade Mayor’s Office, Daniella Levine Cava, suggests Giménez got the broad strokes right, but his timing was off. He shut down too late, reopened too early, and the community paid a price. Giménez waves off the critique. “We sometimes say ‘Listen to the science,’ but sometimes the science isn’t well known,” he said. The Mayor for his part tried to prioritize guidance from the CDC, but that changed as researchers learned more about a novel virus never detected in the world until late 2019. The community would go through the major shifts of the year and experiment with a range of rules from lockdowns to mask mandates and curfews. There’s still a midnight curfew in place in the city, and even after the Governor put a stop to the collection of fines, the city kept issuing notices that may yet be collected upon at a later date. Notably, Giménez likely faced a greater challenge escaping partisan political pressure than any other Mayor in Florida, as he led the county through a pandemic while also running a campaign for Congress. On that front, he succeeded without question, defeating freshman Democratic incumbent Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. But conservative activists threatened to challenge the Mayor in the primary at a time when he served as the local face of government regulation. He tried not to think about the politics while making decisions. When Giménez’s term ended, there had been more than 207,000 reported cases, and more than 3,700 of his constituents died with COVID-19. But he feels the numbers could have been worse. “The steps we took were to protect the most vulnerable,” he said. “Everything we did was based on those parameters.”


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JANE CASTOR Tampa’s first-term Mayor, the first openly gay woman to hold the office, was instrumental not just in shaping the virus response in her city, but in pushing through preventative policies in the early days of the pandemic that might have otherwise languished. Like just about any leader in the state, Castor was up against a wall of public criticism from those who saw any sort of state, county or city mandate as overly restrictive and freedom-killing. Still others were on the far opposite side of the public opinion spectrum, believing that 82

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whatever progress was made was either not enough or too little, too late. Yet Castor emerged almost immediately as an undeterred proponent for public health and safety. Over the course of 72 hours, a group of elected leaders in Hillsborough County went from expressing serious reservations about implementing a stay-athome order for residents and visitors to approving almost the exact same plan they had previously rejected. The shift in mindset wasn’t due to a change in circumstance, even though coronavirus cases over those three days

drastically increased. The problem was largely a partisan now-defunct board, the Hillsborough County Emergency Management Group, which included elected officials from all of the county’s municipalities, three members of the County Commission, the Sheriff and a representative from the School Board. In March, the group grappled with implementing a stay-at-home order. Before the board’s discussions, Castor speculated that an order was imminent, prompting immediate community conversations both for and against such an


order. When Castor floated her plan to the board, six of the eight members — all of its Republicans and one Democrat — balked. They argued a variety of reasons. Not enough data. Would such a plan even have an impact? How would police officers enforce the order? They contemplated a curfew instead of a stay-at-home order, an idea that later came to pass but was almost immediately repealed after massive public backlash. Castor was against the curfew from the start. On the heels of her defeat, Castor instead implemented the order city-

wide where she claimed she had the authority to do so. Hillsborough County’s then-Administrator Mike Merrill issued his own executive order saying Castor’s was invalid. What sounds like a series of blows to Castor was anything but. Instead of pushing back against Castor, as she held her ground and was largely praised for it, Merrill moved forward with a draft “safer-at-home” order that was almost identical to Castor’s original proposal. The second vote was unanimous. It’s possible that without Castor using her position to stoke community input, the order might

not have happened, or would have been put off, a delay that could have cost lives and overwhelmed hospitals. Since then, Castor has continued to be a staunch advocate for preventing the spread of COVID-19, hosting frequent mask give-aways, directing funds to small businesses in need, launching initiatives to help residents find jobs and establishing programs for out of work residents. Most recently, Castor launched an ad campaign aimed at raising awareness for mask wearing, complete with grim images presenting a choice: A face mask or a ventilator. Winter 2021

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RICK KRISEMAN Like Castor, the St. Petersburg Mayor came out early advocating for temporary restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 and avoiding doomsday scenarios in which hospitals were overrun with virus patients. Kriseman was among the first mayors in the state in mid-March to order restaurant, bar and gym capacity at 50% and to ban large gatherings of 50 or more. He also moved up last call in St. Pete from 3 a.m. to 9 p.m. But even before that, Kriseman issued an order prohibiting attendance at the city’s annual Grand Prix. Kriseman’s call was met with mixed feelings, but he was quickly prov-

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en right when INDYCAR, the sports organization that oversees the event, canceled the race entirely. But even as many questioned the wisdom behind many COVID-19 restrictions and mandates, Kriseman showed flexibility in his policies, adapting to ever-changing guidance from the CDC. “For example, when we learned the outdoors was the best place to be, so long as common sense measures were in place, I felt comfortable moving forward with opening the St. Pete Pier. In fact, I was eager to provide our residents with 26 more acres to spread out,” Kriseman said. His measures, paired with his close working relationship with county officials that have kept an ongoing mask order in place, have led Pi-


nellas County to have one of the state’s lowest third wave numbers. As of Dec. 18, Pinellas County had recorded 39,846 cases of COVID-19 compared to neighboring Hillsborough County’s 68,739 cases. During the preceding two weeks, Pinellas County also consistently trailed Hillsborough County and the state in its testing positivity rate by at least one percentage point, often two or three. Like other mayors, Kriseman also reached into the city coffers early to provide grants to residents and small businesses who had lost income as a result of the pandemic, even before Congress authorized the CARES Act to help cities and counties provide direct allocations.

“In the absence of state leadership, it has fallen to mayors and other local elected officials to make the difficult decisions, to protect our citizens while keeping our economy and our small businesses afloat to the best of our ability. Our last Governor had an aversion to climate science. This Governor has an aversion to health science and epidemiology, and people have undoubtedly died because of it. We know that a simple statewide mask order would have saved lives,” Kriseman said. “In St. Pete, we did that, and we continue to enforce it. We brought in additional testing, above and beyond what the state has provided. We also took the unprecedented step of getting funds into the hands of business owners and their employees prior to state or federal assistance becoming available.” Winter 2021

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In 2021, The Florida Sheriffs Association Celebrates the 200th Anniversary of the Office of Sheriff in Florida

WE WELCOME THE 14 NEWLY ELECTED FLORIDA SHERIFFS: 1

2

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Sheriff Clovis Watson, Jr.

Sheriff Gregory Tony

Sheriff Michelle Cook

Sheriff Darby Butler

Alachua County

Broward County

Clay County

Dixie County

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Sheriff Chip Simmons

Sheriff Vent Crawford

Sheriff Eric Flowers

Sheriff Donnie Edenfield

Escambia County

Hardee County

Indian River County

Jackson County

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Sheriff Buddy Money

Sheriff David Harper

Sheriff Eric Aden

Sheriff Marco Lopez

Liberty County

Madison County

Okaloosa County

Osceola County

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14

Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman

Sheriff Rob Hardwick

Sarasota County

St. Johns County

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JERRY DEMINGS Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings entered the pandemic with a unique, and advantageous, skillset. As a former Sheriff and emergency manager, he had already been on the front lines of crisis management, whether by guiding his county through hurricanes or healing from the Pulse nightclub massacre. The coronavirus crisis is like nothing that has happened in at least a century, leaving him just as in the dark on what to expect or how to manage as anyone else, despite his extensive experience. Yet as a county Mayor, Demings was also acting as Orange County’s CEO, putting him in place to guide response across municipal borders, an advantage city mayors lacked. He wasted no time. His first step was to employ what he calls the ICER concept — isolate, contain, evaluate and report. Using this method, Demings went about strategizing in a way that simplified what was otherwise an overwhelming emerging virus in the early days of the pandemic, one where there were more questions than answers and information was changing almost daily. Demings utilized the most recent information available at any given point from the CDC and the World Health Organization to plan. He strategized with municipal mayors within the county to find consensus, creating one of the most seamless sets of COVID-19 policies in any Florida region. Each Mayor highlighted in this year’s politician of the year profile accomplished similar goals — mask orders, temporary stay-at-home orders, social distancing guidelines, relief programs for small businesses and residents — but each did so with minor differences unique to their communities. Demings was no different. One of his proudest accomplishments throughout the pandemic — though he notes victory remains elusive — came by way of the county’s robust mechanisms for financial relief. Like St. Pete, Orange County employed a fiscal relief program be-

fore federal dollars became available. His targeted individuals and families. When the federal CARES Act dollars came in, Demings orchestrated a multitiered process for individuals and families to obtain $1,000 grants. They staggered the enrollment period to reach as many in need as possible, utilizing nearly $250 million in federal money to provide relief. The final round launched on Dec. 8, ahead of the Dec. 30 deadline to utilize all funds, to provide $20,000 to qualifying individuals to help with rent, food, utilities or anything else COVIDstrapped finances couldn’t handle. He also trained focus on small businesses, noting that grants through the federal Paycheck Protection Program largely went to businesses with 100 or more employees. The county offered $10,000 grants to struggling small businesses as well as personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer.

He established an eviction diversion program to keep residents in their homes and apartments, even as eviction moratoriums were rolled back. When Gov. DeSantis announced Phase 3 of reopening, normalizing much of the state’s business, and ordered local governments not to fine individuals for violating local ordinances, like mask mandates, it wasn’t long before Demings struck out on his own again, implementing strike teams to ensure adherence to mask wearing and social distancing. Bad actor businesses, as he called them, will be fined for non-compliance. He did all of this even as Orange County faced some of the most severe economic consequences of the crisis as home to the state’s largest tourism sector, the industry most impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.

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BUDDY DYER Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer saw the writing on the wall on March 11 when the National Basketball Association officially suspended its season, the first major sports league to do so. Shortly after, Disney, Orlando’s largest employer, announced it was closing its parks. The impending effects were undeniable and Dyer, along with neighboring elected officials, was about to enter the most uncertain times this lifetime. “I got a lot of advice from our health care professionals,” Dyer said of the early days of the pandemic. “But it seemed like, especially in those early stages, what we knew about the virus changed if not every day, at least weekly.” Dyer’s strategy was one of collaboration. He was in regular contact with

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Castor and Kriseman, leaders of similarly sized urban cities grappling with similar challenges his city faced. Those conversations helped him craft Orlando’s springtime stay-at-home order. He also assumed a role as chief communicator. “I always think the most important role is a provider of accurate information,” Dyer said. “People want to know what to do, not be told what to do.” Those messages included not only informing residents about health expert recommendations to wear masks and remain socially distanced, but explaining to them the science behind the advice and why it works. Because the mask order in Orlando was part of the countywide order from Mayor Demings, Dyer didn’t have to face too much blowback from the an-

ti-mask crowd, but he did believe the science-based information campaign helped quell dissent. LENNY CURRY Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, as a Republican, enjoyed a close relationship with Gov. DeSantis in the days and weeks that gave into months of the pandemic. But while the two were allies, they weren’t always in lockstep on the virus,


and Curry consistently showed his priority was to his residents, not his party. Curry said he took the virus seriously long before it reached Florida shores, as he watched the pandemic unfold in Italy. “By the time it got here, leaders were trying to figure out how serious this was,” Curry said. “I already believed it was serious.” He was haunted by videos of shut-in Italians, singing through windows to assuage the despair of isolation.

Curry was quick to react when the virus did show up in Florida. Shortly after the PGA Tour canceled The Players Championship in Jacksonville, Curry shut down all concert venues in the city, which encompasses all of Duval County. It was about a week before other cities followed suit. “I think people thought at the time like, what the heck is this guy doing,” Curry said. Like Demings, Curry reached out to other mayors as the virus raged on to seek out best practices. Some speculate, though there is no proof, that Curry’s stay-at-home order, issued on April 1 just hours before DeSantis caved to pressure to issue his own, prompted the Governor to finally act. Curry’s relationship with the Governor was on full display, with press confer-

ences often centered in Jacksonville and the city getting one of the few National Guard-run testing sites in the state. The area’s testing apparatus, aside from South Florida, was for a time the envy of the state. But Curry navigated another issue at the height of the pandemic. As cases were surging during the summer spike, Curry was grappling with conversations surrounding a relocated Republican National Convention. The RNC, originally slated for North Carolina, was looking to move somewhere President Donald Trump could enjoy the massive celebration he always envisioned, a party North Carolina couldn’t promise. But while Curry welcomed the August event for its economic impact potential in a city struggling under the weight of widespread economic col-

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lapse, he likewise never promised a fullscale, in-person event. He considered outdoor options, where the virus was less likely to spread. He wouldn’t rule out limiting capacity. For pundits, Curry was seen as going against the nation’s top Republican. To him it wasn’t about Trump, it was about adhering to public health recommendations and keeping people safe. Curry was also early to encourage mask wearing, even as some in his own party rejected or questioned their effectiveness. He tapped his 12-year-old daughter to help with messaging, especially to young residents questioning why they were suddenly asked to wear masks. She made a short video highlighting proper mask wearing, a move that both endeared the Mayor to his constituents and inspired more aderrance to public health advice. FRANCIS SUAREZ As South Florida’s leaders fought against an invisible enemy, it often seemed easier to target one another. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, in describing the greatest challenges of the pandemic, mentions working with too many arbitrary federal regulations, too little support from the state and, from the sounds of it, too much interaction with Giménez. The feeling appears mutual. Giménez in describing relations with local government said most worked well with the county but a few egos got in the way. “They know who they are,” he said while declining to name names. It sounds like Suarez indeed considers him one of those “egos,” but only because he fought for the resources his community needed. The CARES Act passed by Congress set arbitrary rules on which cities were directly awarded grant money from the federal government, and Miami fell just short. That meant the county ended up with the money, and took months distributing it to the cities. “He’s only accusing me of grandstanding to cover his own incompetence,” Suarez said. But municipal food fights aside, Suarez recalls the pandemic presenting 90

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an enormous challenge to all levels of government. It required resources to be pumped into fire and police response, workers who faced direct exposure and suffered infections from the front lines. Suarez in fact was among the first elected officials in Florida to be infected by the coronavirus; both Giménez and current Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava have survived the virus by this point as well. Suarez knows as well as anybody that this crisis didn’t just threaten lives but livelihood. Miami, a world-class tourism destination, relies on a healthy travel economy. This year, the cruise industry landlocked, restaurants suffered revenue-destroying capacity restrictions and hotels saw visitation plunge. The crisis for business from the pandemic proved as great a challenge for government as did the public health dilemma. “And unfortunately, they are inversely correlated,” he said. “You talk to epidemiologists and they will tell you to close everything. That’s the safest way to stop the virus, and that’s true. But any economist or business owner will tell you if you close everything you can’t provide for the people.” Suarez listened to medical science as often as he could, but also had to fight to find a way forward for business, carefully finding ways for restaurants and retailers to do business. DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA Miami-Dade County’s first female Mayor, Daniella Levine Cava, takes the reins as the community battles one of the greatest challenges in its history. More than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 continue to be recorded in the county on average each day, and Miami-Dade is on track to tally it’s 4,000th coronavirus-related death before the end of the year. But Florida’s newest metropolitan Mayor feels optimistic. “We are definitely still on recovery, but we are almost out of the woods,” she said. Within weeks of taking office, Cava unveiled a public relations campaign in the city focused on positive messaging, encouraging residents to boast on so-

cial media and other channels with the hashtag #WeCanWeWill about what they have done to limit the spread of the disease. Her hope is encouraging ownership of the response will improve both containment of the virus and public attitudes about their own responsibilities. But Cava feels at least she’s arriving in office after the path to recovery has been well-tread. “It isn’t that there is any mystery,” she said. “It’s important we have a united front. We can’t relent on mask wearing, disinfecting, social distancing. Testing must be readily available, and we want contact tracing. Isolation is critical if you have been exposed or are sick.” Any capacity challenges that faced Miami-Dade’s health institutions have been addressed. Notably, even at the peak of the pandemic, none of the hospitals in the area were overwhelmed, and within the first vaccines reaching the public, the situation should begin to calm. She does hope to improve on Giménez’s performance in one key area. Cava believes friction between cities and county leadership should have been avoided for Miami-Dade’s greater good. “I’m really counting on a greater level of cooperation,” she said. That will be critical as vaccines get dispersed in the metro area, first to essential workers and ultimately to the broader public. On the political side, Cava holds nonpartisan office but was considered one of the Democratic Party’s important wins in South Florida this year in what was an otherwise rough cycle. Maybe that will help get along better with other regional powers. But then there’s also the Governor. There, she encourages DeSantis to allow communities to exercise home rule and guide communities as needed. That seemed to be the Governor’s approach early but he has since put a stop to some actions like enforcement of mask ordinances. “We do prefer to have local control over how we implement our policies,” she said. “We have done well with the rules we have had.”


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Some of this year’s hottest young talents came to politics by different routes. All found themselves uniquely suited for the jobs they hold.

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curated by peter schorsch. stories by andrew meacham photos the workmans

ome of the people you’re about to meet always sought out public life, to move in and around the gears of government, where change happens. Others had no idea but landed in important positions and found out they excelled in them. Some had never previously talked to a reporter and preferred working behind the scenes. Others have handled print and television media for politicians for years. Some are the children of politicians or lobbyists who grew up around politics. Others viewed government much like the voters they are trying to influence now — as a necessary abstraction — until some event or watershed election forced them off the sidelines. Some work for Republicans, others Democrats. All thrive under pressure. Their already demanding routines intensify further in the fall as voting days approach, or during marathon budget negotiations in the spring. Last year a pandemic snatched away the electricity of face-to-face contact, a loss of visibility not total but significant. Virtual meetings replaced live speeches. Campaign staffers wore masks

when they knocked on doors, then stepped back six feet. These twentysomethings are hardly neophytes. Many have post-graduate degrees in political science or related fields. Others own businesses. Since Florida Politics and INFLUENCE Magazine started this annual feature (historically also known as “30 Under 30”), readers have reacted with enthusiasm, including their peers on the other side of the aisle. “You’ve got people featured with whom you’re never going to agree with their politics,” said Derek Silver, one of this year’s honorees. “But seeing someone that you like get this, you’re just happy for them because they’re doing well.” Chad Klitzman hit his 20s running and has only been picking up the pace ever since. He has two Ivy League degrees, works at a prestigious New York law firm, has a film on Netflix (more on that later), and recently came within a whisker of winning Broward County’s Supervisor of Elections seat. Some of this year’s hottest young talents came to politics by different routes. All found themselves uniquely suited for the jobs they hold.

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Alexandra ABBOUD At 20 and already a college graduate, Alexandra Abboud asked herself if she still wanted to go to law school. She worried about burnout. Plus an internship with longtime lobbyist Bob Levy in her senior year had left her wanting more. She entered a master’s degree program in applied American politics and policy at Florida State University. As a thesis equivalent, she interned at the Department of Health, where she credits then-legislative affairs director Michael Cantens and Paul Runk, now with the Florida Association of Health Plans, with imparting lessons that have helped since. At the same time, she realized that the personal interaction she enjoyed most was harder to practice at a state agency. “There are definitely a lot more processes and OKs you have to go through before you can even talk to a legislator and lobby your bill or your idea,” she said. In 2013, she moved to the Florida Dental Association, doing administrative work and helping to run the PAC. “Do this work for a couple of years,” chief legislative officer Joe Anne Hart told her. “And if you’re good at it, I’ll throw a little lobbying on your plate.” Abboud grew up mostly in Flemington, New Jersey, before the family moved to Ocala. She entered FSU at 17, a benefit of her International

Baccalaureate program. Her academic work and on-the-job savvy about maintaining relationships both factor into the lobbying she has done for seven years. “You can walk into a legislator’s office and schmooze them all you want,” she said. “But if you don’t have the knowledge and the facts to back up what you’re saying, you’ll ruin your reputation in a heartbeat in this town.” Abboud graduated to lobbying work, getting invaluable aid from Hart, who is “knowledgeable about dental issues like nobody else,” she said. “Working with her these last seven years is really what’s catapulted me in the lobbying realm.” Her boss also shared tips on maintaining professional boundaries with legislators, a critical survival skill in a moveable workplace that includes hobnobbing at bars and restaurants. “Being a female lobbyist is hard,” Abboud said. “As progressive as we are as a society in 2020, there are still some backwards things that happen. She really helped me as a woman in this process — how to act, how to present myself to people. Because let me tell you, you can get into a lot of trouble in this process if you’re not careful.” Away from work, Abboud enjoys working out and exploring the outdoors surrounding Tallahassee. Her favorite hiking buddy is Alexander Cusido, her husband since Dec. 5.

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Nick ALVAREZ “I’m not your typical Miami Cuban, yet I’m a walking stereotype” Nick Alvarez says. The photos show a snazzy dresser at parties, someone who mixes easily. In a way, that’s how he got started in politics. In 2016, while in grad school at Florida State’s master’s in applied American politics and policy program, Alvarez and a friend started a happy hour they called The Process at Tallahassee’s Madison Social bar and restaurant. “It was a way to network,” Alvarez said. “Everyone kind of had their groups and their cliques, so it was a big mixer for all ages and all parts of the state to get together. It started off with 10 or 20 people and grew to over 100.” The gatherings put him in contact with people connected with Sen. Antinere Flores, whose campaign he joined as an aide. Flores shared him with others. “She loaned me out like a library book,” he said. After the 2019 Session, Alvarez worked for the Department of Economic Opportunity as legislative affairs director and ran a primary for Rep. Daniel Perez, which he won. He then helped Rep. Anthony Rodriguez, who won narrowly in 2018, win by 20 points over Ricky Junquera.

He enjoys the bonding of campaign seasons and keeps in touch with former colleagues long after campaigns have ended. “Any and all of the campaign teams I’ve been a part of were all like families,” he said. “It’s an adrenaline building, camaraderie building experience.” He learned strategy and targeting, efficiency and messaging. While Donald Trump’s win in Florida carried through down-ballot races, Alvarez believes that knocking on a mixture of Republican and independent doors helped, he said. “Not just the base, not just the voters you know are likely to vote Republican,” he said. “But a combination of ‘softer Republicans’ and no-party voters. A good balance of that was key to getting voters to come out and blow up the lead.” On his Facebook description, he said, “I think on the one hand I’m a Miami Cuban. But I’m a drummer, I love classic rock and punk rock, I’ve been playing the drums since I was 12 years old.” The drums and CrossFit are his biggest stress relievers. “My goal deep down is to be in a dad band. When I have kids in the future, I definitely want to be in a band with their friends’ dads.”

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Maya BROWN Sometimes politicians really do improve the lives of their constituents, regardless of wealth or color. That’s one one insight Maya Brown says she got out of a spring semester in Tallahassee. As a junior at the University of South Florida in 2014, Brown attended the Tallahassee Internship Program, which gives students a chance to take a politics course, watch legislators in Session or talk to news or lobbying organizations. “That internship changed my life forever,” said Brown, an independent Tampa strategist. “I saw firsthand as a student how laws were being made in Florida’s capital, and to some extent I saw the laws they made that were harming Florida’s working families. And I wanted to be a part of the work that helped select people with shared values who wanted to put working families first.” That’s the second part of the epiphany that started that semester several years ago. Brown, of Deland, comes from a long line of educators. For a long time she assumed she would probably do the same, making a difference one student at a time. A talented singer, she figured she would teach chorus. Seeing the mechanics of government close up opened her eyes to the helpful or harmful effects of the smallest decisions. “I think I realized how deeply personal this work is,” Brown said. “Some folks view politics as this big esoteric issue that folks don’t feel impacts our daily lives and your vote doesn’t count. And I see how the election of a Governor impacts the day-to-day life of a working mom or a child in school. And if we have a Governor that line-item vetoes a budget allocation to help low-income students have better access to reading materials, that has a direct impact on someone that I probably know.” In the immediate aftermath of the semester in Tallahassee, Brown still thought that one way poli-

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cies change is from lobbyists and committed volunteers working hard to marshal the best arguments for those changes to elected officials. It’s why she had originally set her sights on becoming a lobbyist. “I wanted to be part of a public advocacy with elected officials,” she said, “and really learned through some of the leaders in Tallahassee that because of the partisanship in our state right now, the way to get things done was to elect more Democrats to the Legislature who had similar values.” She took a semester off from school to back a City Council candidate and became a field organizer for NextGen Climate Action. In that capacity, she promoted Charlie Crist’s climate proposals over those of Gov. Rick Scott, who was running for reelection. Brown served as president of the Hillsborough Young Democrats. She formed her own company in 2016, MB Strategies, and her visibility has only grown since, consulting for Sean Shaw’s bid for Attorney General in 2018. Her House candidate in 2020, Michelle Rayner of District 70, cleared out three opponents in the primary to run unopposed in November. Nancy Millan won her election as Hillsorough’s tax collector, and Amendment 3, which Brown had lobbied against, went down to defeat. Brown remains committed to encouraging “frank and honest conversations about how institutional racism has plagued our communities, our state and our communities, and that we have to then make space for folks with these lived experiences to lead, because that’s how we change the narrative.” In her free time she seeks out music, still her first passion. She has been known to hit a karaoke bar every now and then, and enjoys reading and “spending quality time with the ones I love.”


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Emily Duda BUCKLEY The Dudas figured kids at around age 15 were old enough to sit in on family meetings, where the adults talked business. The family carries the legacy of Austro-Hungarian immigrant Andrew Duda’s efforts a century ago to plant cash crops in Florida. The success of A. Duda and Sons transformed what is now the town of Oviedo, largely underwriting churches, schools, and a retirement center and nursing home. So large was the family’s imprint on the community that by the time Emily Duda Buckley was growing up, she scarcely noticed it at all. “We were almost unaware of it,” said Buckley. The women on her mother’s side tried to keep them insulated during childhood. “It wasn’t really until we got into our teens that we really understood what all it meant.” It meant that the elders expected kids to produce. “It’s your job to go out and prove your character and your work ethic and all of that. Because at the end of the day it doesn’t mean anything if you just rest on what we’ve done.” Buckley thought she would follow in the footsteps of an aunt, Duda general counsel Tracy Duda Chapman, by going to law school. An internship with David Rancourt revealed a knack for research and lobbying, and a compass needle shifted. “I realized I enjoyed it,” Buckley said. “I started looking for internships and things that would put me on that path. Basically if anybody was going to teach me I was going to come and work for free.” After stints at the James Madison Institute and in Gov. Rick Scott’s legislative affairs office, Buckley got her first paying job with House Speaker Will Weatherford. Lobbyist Chris Moya sealed the deal with a position as soon as she graduated from Florida State University. Clients included her

family’s business. In 2015, Buckley went to Jones Walker along with Moya, who had closed down his independent shop to work for the firm. She helped Nikki Fried win a close election to become the first Democrat to hold the Commissioner of Agriculture job since 1998. A job offer from Fried left her feeling conflicted, proud of having helped a candidate she admired yet in unfamiliar territory, coming from “a right-leaning firm and my family, which tends to be more right-leaning,” she said. In the end, Buckley took the offer and is now the director of legislative affairs for the Department of Agriculture. “I’d always worked for men and I was a little nervous,” Buckley said. “But I can tell you (Fried) is just a gem, and has been nothing but supportive to me since the day I walked into that office. It’s an absolute joy.” The feeling is mutual. Fried thinks Buckley, who is 29, could be the youngest legislative affairs director for a cabinet agency — “I don’t know if in history, but certainly in recent memory.” “She is just dynamic, understands the process, is extremely motivated and very professional and very diplomatic in how she handles things,” Fried said. “She was given a tremendous amount of responsibility from me. And in our first Legislative Session, she carried some of my priority legislation over the finish line.” That win included landmark legislation to legalize the cultivation, production and manufacture of hemp in the state of Florida. The career hasn’t left Buckley with much leisure time. That’s largely because for now, she’s also raising twin 4-month-old boys as a single foster parent.

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Cyrus C. CALHOUN III His family embedded a sense of possibility in his name. His grandfather, Cyrus C. Calhoun, graduated from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University too far back to remember. His father, Cyrus C. Calhoun Jr., followed suit in 1979. As a boy growing up in Jackson County, Cyrus C. Calhoun III saw that plenty of people he knew had to struggle for basic necessities. He wanted to make sure the same thing did not happen to him and also to help his neighbors. In the ninth grade, he served as a page in the Florida Senate, then again as a junior. As a senior political science major at FAMU, he interned for Rep. Ramon Alexander, for whom he now serves as District 8 Senior Executive Secretary. A galvanizing event in between arrived in 2008 with the election of President Barack Obama. “That enabled me to dream big, to believe that anything is possible,” he said. The rise of Obama, his own political experience and his church upbringing dropped behind shoulder blades like a pair of invisible hands pushing him forward, “not just to be a voice, but to equip and prepare others.” He has volunteered at several organizations for years, including the Florida Democrats, the Leon County Democratic Executive Committee, the New Leaders Council, Tallahassee chapter, the FAMU National Alumni Association, Families for All, and Take Stock in Children.

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During record unemployment brought on by COVID-19, he fielded calls to Rep. Alexander’s office from bewildered residents who were still not getting unemployment insurance. “I try to do the best I can to help them by giving them a level of understanding where they’re coming from,” Calhoun said. “It’s better to have that level of understanding when you have members of your own family who are unemployed for several months.” Those who have provided critical support include Florida Democratic Vice Chair Judy Mount and an aunt, Dr. Carrie Baker, herself a former legislative staffer. “She kind of taught me some things I should know,” he said. “Always be on your p’s and q’s. Get to know the person you’re serving, their habits. Take initiative. Make sure the work you produce is your best.” Calhoun has continued his education in 2020, both in completing a master’s degree in applied public policy at Florida State University and a certification in hospitality management and tourism at Florida Atlantic University. He enjoys traveling Florida and the United States, hanging out with friends and family, cooking, and taking in a retinue of podcasts between tasks. “Some of the podcasts I listen to may be political but then some are not,” he said. “Some are things that just kind of let your mind unwind.”


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Lauren Schenone CASSEDY Lauren Schenone Cassedy entered Gov. Rick Scott’s administration as deputy press secretary in 2014. Right out of Florida State University with a social sciences degree, the Tampa native had managed communications for the Republican Party of Florida and worked on both of Scott’s gubernatorial campaigns. But mastering a much larger media platform would require fast learning. Fortunately, Press Secretary Jeri Bustamante, a former Miami television reporter, supplied the kind of training that only comes on the job. “She was my best friend and my mentor,” Cassedy said. “She taught me what reporters are going through, how to put myself in their shoes and be of help to them.” In 2016, she moved up to press secretary for the executive office of the Governor, which works with the offices and agencies associated with the state. She remained in that role while Scott was winding up his second term and campaigning for the U.S. Senate while Bustamante ran media relations and helped Scott improve his Spanish. The campaign was in full swing in April 2018 when the office received devastating news: Bustamante, 33, who had come to the United States from Panama as a child and dreamed of becoming press secretary for the President of the United States, had been a passenger aboard a boat that crashed in the Florida Keys. She did not survive. Cassedy became the new press secretary for the campaign, a role she knew thanks in large measure to the woman whose duties she was assuming, who would have told her to be professional first and cry later. “The Scott for Florida team had always been very close, but Jeri’s tragic passing brought us closer,” she said. “We really relied on each other to accomplish a very big task.” For the next seven months of a close race against Sen. Bill Nelson, Cassedy saw the campaign through many tense moments, all the way through a recount that confirmed Scott as the winner. While she is capable of smacking down critics, Cassedy leads with calm, citing factual inaccuracies or logical flaws until

the temperature drops. In January 2019, she joined Attorney General Ashley Moody as director of public affairs, where she draws on some of the lessons learned from the years with Scott. “He was well known for his message discipline,” she said, “and that’s something I try to carry with me. You’ve got to be consistent with your messaging and your topics.” Cassedy’s initiation into politics began in middle school, in frequent conversations with her father. John Schenone wanted to encourage critical thinking and an appreciation for how governments work so that she would go to polls as an informed voter. “We talked about Ronald Reagan,” Cassedy said. “He gave me books to read. We watched the news together.” Her first time out vote canvassing in east Hillsborough County, the thought of knocking on a stranger’s door terrified her. “It was nerve-wracking,” she said. “But we had great conversations with people. We changed some minds and helped register voters who might not have exercised their right to vote.” Those experiences led her to the Republican Party of Florida and to FSU and her career. Away from work, she enjoys unwinding with husband, Richard Cassedy, and Bogie, their French bulldog. She has also taken up tennis “with mixed results.” She couldn’t be happier as one of Moody’s senior staff, a job that by definition comes with conflict. Moody has taken heat for allegedly doing the bidding of President Donald Trump, a man she once sued for fraud. Moody was called a pawn of the National Rifle Association for opposing a ban on most semiautomatic weapons — then sued by the NRA for backing Florida’s new law raising the gun-buying age to 21. “Working for Attorney General Moody is a real blessing and important,” she said. “She has laid out a very clear vision for our state, and it is focused on the importance of the rule of law. That’s something she has never shied away from and we’re all extremely proud to share her positive vision.”

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Kevin CRAIG He’s always on the move yet never far from home — at least not for long. As regional director for AT&T’s external and legislative affairs, Kevin Craig covers 15 counties and is continually strengthening connections in each one. It’s the perfect spot for a guy who is laser-focused and loves working in politics and public policy. “My parents thought there was something wrong with me as a kid,” he said, “because when I was 7 or 8 years old I was waking up and watching ‘Meet the Press’ with Chris Matthews.” He majored in political science at the University of Central Florida and will always pull for the black and gold. “I can’t claim any fake national championships, but I’m a fan,” Craig said, a reference to the Knights coach Danny White looking into the camera and saying, “National champions,” after finishing the 2017 season 13-0 yet not making the playoffs because of schedule strength. An internship in the U.S. House of Representatives with Orlando Rep. John Mica broadened the lens of the possible. A similar position the following year through UCF’s legislative scholars program placed him with House Speaker-Designate Steve Crisafulli, a connection that has stayed on his mind. “He gave me a lot of confidence in the type of good people there are and had a lot of positive impact on the whole career path for me,” Craig said. He spent four years as a lobbyist for the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association, and in 2018, famously persuaded the Legislature to spare Central Florida from a statewide expansion of allowable uses of the tourist development tax (or “bed tax”) beyond tourism promotion purposes. AT&T then hired Craig to represent Central Florida. “Then Joe York, our great state President, gave me a call and said, ‘Hey, if you want to go back to North Florida, there’s a spot,’” Craig recalled. “I jumped at that.” Craig now serves on the boards of hospitals, symphonies, chambers of commerce, the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl Committee, and the Mayor’s Advisory Commission On Television, Motion Picture & Commercial Production in Jacksonville. “I’ve really found a home at AT&T,” he said. “I wake up feeling very fortunate. I work for a company and a leadership team that has a lot of faith in me. There’s no micromanaging, you’re responsible for your territory. You have your budget, go out and make a difference.”

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Cheyenne DREWS Even as a teen, Cheyenne Drews never took much comfort in belonging. An only child born and raised in Volusia County, she watched her parents work faithfully just to stay afloat. “My hometown is the kind of place that when a storm ripped through, neighbors might pick up things the next day but nothing ever gets rebuilt,” she said. “It’s a lot of foreclosed homes and very few jobs.” Indeed, the city of Edgewater’s website mirrors the dual reality faced by its residents — a stunning sunset on the homepage, a click away from the state redevelopment funds it uses to address “deteriorating structures, inadequate infrastructure” and other “specific blight conditions.” Drews changed her major at the University of Central Florida three times before settling on a communications degree. “I wasn’t really sure what I was doing,” she said. “I just knew that education was a way out.” She started as a lab technician for Mothers’ Milk of Florida, which collects and distributes natural breast milk to neonatal intensive care units. Drews had moved up to operations supervisor when she attended a protest and met the women who would inspire her to change course. Fellow UCF alumnus Ida Eskamani had organized the protest on Jan. 30, 2017, at Orlando International Airport within 48 hours of an executive order by newly inaugurated President Don-

ald Trump, restricting travel to the United States from seven Middle Eastern countries, which opponents characterized as a “Muslim ban.” Drews saw Eskamani and her twin sister, Anna, who are first-generation Iranian immigrants, at subsequent events. “I just kept running into them everywhere,” she said. “Every issue I cared about, they were there, and they were speaking about it.” In 2018 Anna Eskamani ran for the open House seat in District 47, which covers Volusia County. Drews signed on as a field organizer. As the daughter of a store manager who wondered if he would ever be able to retire, Drews could relate to the economic anxieties residents discussed. “We would start phone banking,” she said, “but a couple of minutes into the call, I’m walking somebody through their unemployment case that’s on hold.” Nonetheless, she helped raise more than $420,000 for the campaign. Rep. Anna Eskamani is the first Iranian-American to serve in the Florida Legislature. Drews was back on the phones for reelection in 2020, won by Eskamani by 18%. “She quickly grew and rose as a key leader on that campaign, under the mentorship of Rep. Eskamani and first campaign manager, Alex Weeden,” Ida Eskamani told INFLUENCE Magazine. “She is adored across our community because of her big heart and hard work.”

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Katie DOUGHTY Her soft-spoken and deliberate style has impressed lobbyists and politicians alike. Katie Doughty wins people over by having done her homework, and so her bosses keep giving her more. After a year as a legislative aide, Doughty made an auspicious debut on a larger stage, managing Rep. Alex Andrade’s successful 2020 bid for reelection. It was the first campaign on which she had ever worked. Doughty is a Tallahassee native with politics as close by as the yard signs she made for then-Commissioner and current Mayor John Dailey and judges. She held internships in college with Gov. Rick Scott, Rep. Chris Latvala and a public relations internship through CoreMessage. Going into her senior year, she got a receptionist’s job with The Southern Group, which quickly morphed into a legislative internship for the 2019 Session. At the recommendation of lobbyists Paul Mitchell and Monte Stevens of The Southern Group, Doughty became a district secretary for the U.S. House of Representatives, then a legislative aide to Andrade just before the start of the 2019 Session. “She had to learn transportation policy, pharmacy benefit management, alimony law, construction law and criminal justice in a very short period of time,” Andrade told INFLUENCE Magazine. “She did an incredible job, and the lobbyists and staff I worked with all had very positive things to say about her work product.” After Andrade asked her to manage his cam-

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paign, Doughty organized fundraisers, tracked donations and coordinated volunteers. “I made sure that the whole team was keeping a positive attitude and that we were outworking our opponent,” she said. Among other things, she pushed the team to knock on at least 100 doors a day, resulting in “astronomically higher” door-knocking numbers than in his previous campaign, Andrade recalled. “She never let me quit on a day before beating our goals,” he said. Doughty still works in Andrade’s office, where she has earned high marks for her dependability. As one of several people who nominated her to INFLUENCE, Brewster Bevis called Doughty “one of those staffers who you can trust to follow up with anything you need done with Rep. Andrade.” “She is all over the place,” said Bevis, the Senior Vice President for Associated Industries of Florida of state and federal affairs. “In committee. In the office. Walking the halls. Each time you see her, she has a smile on her face and asked the same, important question: ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’” Doughty in 2020 also enrolled in an MBA program through the University of West Florida. In her free time, she volunteers for onbikes Pensacola, a nonprofit that builds and gives away bicycles to children in foster care or a guardian ad litem program. She enjoys exploring Penasola nature trails with her boyfriend, Brett, and his dog, Bowie.


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Macy HARPER Two good things happened close together for Macy Harper, who now works with Noreen Fenner at PAC Financial Management, and the results have already changed her life. In the summer of 2018, she worked as an assistant director at a recreation center that used Code Ninjas to teach young people how to code. While driving to work at the Carrollwood Recreation Center, she noticed an office of the Florida Blockchain Business Association. Blockchain is a storehouse of digital information and methods traditionally used for computer security. Lately, it has become a starting point for an almost infinite number of business ideas between individuals, with or without banks. “I’ve always loved kids and educating children,” Harper said. “And so it was really awesome to get to teach kids how to code. At the same time, blockchain is becoming an issue.” Harper, a lobbyist who already knew her way around the Capitol, networked with politicians who were also interested in innovative financial technologies. The implications of decentralized finance, which can cut out third parties in secure transactions, including banks, appealed to a certain rebelliousness that drew her to politics in the first place. She grew up in Clearwater, in a home that was often focused on her mother’s illness. Her mother died while Harper was a teenager. “I wanted to be very different from my parents,” she said. “They weren’t political. We never talked politics around our household.” But in at least one way, Macy Harper is very

much like her father Bill, a self-employed landscaper. They both have an unstinting work ethic. “She worked her can off,” lobbyist Brett Doster told INFLUENCE, a reference to an internship she had with Front Line Strategies. Other past employers include Rutledge Ecenia and Corcoran & Johnston. She enrolled at FSU to be close to politics and job opportunities and found lots of both, all the way through a master’s degree in applied American politics and policy. With a strong interest in emerging technologies, Harper had been noticing that long-standing regulations that demand new products show proof of efficacy before they can be marketed are a disadvantage to new ideas. On June 30, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1391 into law. Harper had lobbied for this regulatory “sandbox bill,” as it came to be known, for financial technology companies. The new law makes information sharing easier between agencies and builds a theoretical framework whereby a vendor could use financial agreements with alternate systems or currencies, including cryptocurrency. In another recent highlight, she has had a chance to see more of a young participant in Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Tampa Bay. COVID-19 had forced her to curtail visits with her mentee, but now with safer strategies, they are back in touch. In the meantime, Harper pays attention to trends, especially ones on the cutting edge of finance and technology. “I’m kind of honing in on (artificial intelligence), quantum computing and looking into futuristic transportation systems,” she said. “But I don’t want to say too much about that.”

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Meagan HEBEL In the summer of 2017, Meagan Hebel packed up a red Ford Fusion with 150,000 miles on it, drove north from Tallahassee and hung a left. She would arrive in Reno three days later, and for the next several months worked for candidates in a variety of statewide races for the Nevada GOP and for U.S. Sen. Dean Heller. Hebel oversaw 11 of the state’s 16 counties (and one independent city) as a regional field director. She was 21 and had never driven outside of Florida alone. “It was a really good journey for me,” Hebel said. “I learned a lot about myself, about being independent.” A Lakeland native, Hebel started volunteering for the Republican Party of Florida at 18. One of her first campaigns, for incoming Rep. Colleen Burton, opened her eyes to the value of knocking on doors. “You’re showing up on doorsteps and helping people make a choice,” Hebel said. “I could literally see the change. My dad wasn’t registered to vote. Now he’s involved in politics.” She campaigned for RNC candidates in U.S. Senate races across the country, all while completing a political science and pre-law degree at Florida Southern College. She took classes online

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her final semester while working for Rep. Sam Killebrew and missed her college graduation because it fell on sine die. She loaded up the red Ford a couple of months later and would start a master’s program at George Washington University while campaigning for the Nevada GOP and RNC. Hebel has since completed her master’s in 2018 while continuing her work: a state Senate race in Tennessee, campaigns for Rep. Burton and Rep. Will Robinson and directing Denise Grimsley’s 2018 bid for Secretary of Agriculture. In 2020, she was the winning campaign manager for Sen. Danny Burgess. She recently moved from Rep. Killebrew to Burgess’ office as a legislative assistant. “She’s an incredible asset to the political community and is one to watch for the future,” Burgess said. Hebel demurred when asked what that future might entail, although she could foresee a consulting role someday. “Sen. Burgess is amazing and he’s going to do amazing things in the Senate,” she said. “I’m excited to be on his team. So that’s where I’m looking at it right now. I like to stay in the present if possible.”


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Lisa KAUFFMAN At first, Lisa Kauffman thought she wanted to be a journalist. She grew up in Valrico and entered the University of Central Florida to study broadcast journalism. Her interests expanded to include public policy. As part of the school’s legislative scholars program in 2016, for example, Kauffman spent a semester conducting research, writing press releases and helping to orchestrate news conferences and interviews for Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner. When that concluded, she worked as a communications intern for Orange County, doing much the same work for Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. Then, on June 12, 2016, a gunman opened fire at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, killing 49. She broke the news as it came in, in segments with many of the missing pieces touching on how many people were still alive. “I was working with the medical examiner’s office and dealing with public records requests that were coming through,” she said. “You try not to let your emotions get in the way.” To Kauffman, the experience revealed how im-

portant it is for governments to have good communicators, especially when passing on what the government is doing to try to prevent future tragedies. She went on to serve as a legislative aide to Rep. Amber Mariano, and now is press secretary for the Florida Senate Majority Office. “She chooses her words very carefully, and is the kind of person who, when she speaks, everyone else in the room quiets down to listen,” Senate spokeswoman Katherine Betta said. “She is not just an up-and-comer or rising star, she has already built a tremendous reputation and earned the trust and confidence of our GOP Senate caucus.” Kauffman enjoys working with the incoming class of senators. “They’ve got a lot of passion and excitement,” she said, “and these are really dynamic and complex policy issues. My job is to help them find their platform and find a way to tell the story of these dynamic issues and why they matter.” She loves running long distances outside. “It’s a great stress reliever,” she said.

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Jena KINGERY As key aide to several Democratic operatives, candidates and elected officials, Jena Kingery has helped entire offices meet schedules and keep priorities straight. “Jena is an unsung hero of compliance, organization and generally keeping the trains running on time,” Tallahassee lobbyist Natalie Kato told INFLUENCE. “I have watched her head up operations for a statewide organization, serve as a key state Senator’s Chief of Staff and single-handedly manage myriad PACs without skipping a beat.” A different kind of experience came about in recent years while working as a legislative aide for Sen. Janet Cruz. Investigations by the Tampa Bay Times and others had revealed Tampa cemeteries containing primarily African-American decedents lying underneath developments. The Senate in 2020 unanimously passed legislation to provide funding to create memorials. Though the House did not take up the bill, $100,000 for memorials at Zion and Ridgewood was included in final budget talks and Gov. Ron DeSantis approved it. “I remember the day a front-page story appeared in the Tampa Bay Times and Sen. Cruz calling me and saying, ‘We’re going to do something about this,’” Kingery said. Cruz told INFLUENCE that Kingery’s work on the “Get the Lead Out” bill to provide water filtration systems to drinking water in public schools

and abandoned cemeteries stands out. “She has become adept at creating digital ads, messaging and strategy,” she said. “In an industry where you have to have a diverse skill set, Jena is as multifaceted as they come.” They wanted to do more on cemeteries, but getting the memorials into the budget at least began a remembrance of forgotten families. “Sometimes in politics you have to find the wins,” Kingery said. “Be nimble, and if you get knocked down say, ‘We have to try this a different way.’ And that’s what I have tried to do in all of my work.” She grew up in Jacksonville, raised by a single mother. The grandparents who often babysat her told her about the Great Depression, which left an impression on her about the relationship between the national economy and everyday life. She became interested in the nightly newscasts. “They kind of instilled in me the values of really paying attention to politics and history,” Kingery said, “about always wanting to know more and about how our past was shaped.” She said she’s not good at relaxing and finds the pandemic news hard to adjust to, particularly governments easing off precautions against spread. She enjoys a chance to work off stress in weekly cycling classes. “That’s probably the one thing I always like that sets me straight,” she said.

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Chad KLITZMAN Some of us approached our 20s as an hors d’oeuvres course, an occasion in which to sample fruit wedges versus the berries or just stick with the wine for now and avoid any further decision making. Chad Klitzman is approaching his as if it’s the closing leg of a 400-meter Olympic sprint. He has a job in a prestigious New York law firm and a film on Netflix (I’ll have to come back to that). And in August, Klitzman nearly advanced to the general election in the Broward County Supervisor of Elections race. The first-time candidate, an openly gay man, had campaigned on a platform of access and inclusion. He recruited more than 80 volunteers for a “virtual internship program,” the first political foray for many. A native of Weston, a suburban community 45 minutes from Miami, Klitzman remembers all too well the role Broward’s disputed ballots played in deciding the 2000 presidential election. “You are speaking to someone named Chad,” he said, a disarming gag he repeated in daily robocalls promising residents he would “not leave your vote hanging.” The first-time candidate secured endorsements by Jeh Johnson, President Barack Obama’s former Homeland Security Secretary, and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. He won just over 50% of the vote in the six-way Democratic primary, finishing 624 votes or .3% behind Joe Scott. His screenplay, “Candy Jar,” is currently available on Netflix. Its boy-girl, black-white co-stars are debate team members at a private high school who have been forced to work together despite a mutual dislike. A hypercompetitive atmosphere around college admissions mirrors a dynamic

Klitzman witnessed in which parents push their teens to debate because they think it looks good on an Ivy League application. It can. Klitzman qualified three times for the national Tournament of Champions in Kentucky. He entered the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school, graduating summa cum laude. He took a screenwriting course at Penn, having completed seven screenplays as a teen. “Candy Jar,” his eighth, is about “the importance of having fun, taking a step back and trying to see the bigger picture,” Klitzman said. His younger sister, actor Sami Gayle, who stars as Nicky Reagan-Boyle on CBS’ “Blue Bloods” crime series, approached Netflix with the screenplay in 2015, just as the streaming service was becoming a movie studio of its own. It found an enthusiastic response almost immediately and went into production in 2017, with Gayle starring as Lona opposite Jacob Latimore. Netflix released “Candy Jar” in 2018, the same year Klitzman graduated with honors from Columbia Law School. He has been working remotely in Weston during the pandemic and Paul, Weiss, the New York law firm, gave him room to run for office in 2020. Despite the disappointment of losing by a whisker, Klitzman sounded upbeat on the future. “I think there are going to be a lot of opportunities going forward given how much traction I was able to gain, and coming up short by just .3 percent,” he said. “If I ran for Congress, state House or state Senate, it obviously wouldn’t be a countywide race. Whatever I run for next, assuming I run for something, it’s going to require reaching out to a smaller group of people than what I just attempted.”

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Danny LEON Politics is in Daniel Leon’s blood. “My mother worked for a city of Miami Beach commissioner from the time I was born until my early teens,” said the 26-year-old. “She made sure I was always educated in local politics.” A Florida International University graduate, Leon began his career in Florida politics when he was still in college. He was a volunteer for Rep. Daniel Perez’s first campaign in House District 116. His work on the campaign made an impression: Leon spent two Legislative Sessions working as an aide to Perez. “Danny has always been destined for greatness. Over the years, I have watched him serve the people of Florida with commitment, passion and integrity,” Perez said. “As my legislative aide, he dedicated himself to completely improving the lives of Floridians – especially our most vulnerable. He is a problem solver who cares very deeply about serving the people of our community and state.” As deputy legislative affairs director at the Department of Health, Leon is tasked with advocating for the department with legislators and stakeholders, giving him a chance to see the Legislative Process through a different lens. He said working at the DOH during the coronavirus pandemic has been an eye-opening experience. The state’s response, he said, showed him how lucky Florida is to have leaders that care about its residents and visitors.

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Kasey LEWIS Call her a trailblazer. At 26 years old, Kasey Lewis, a government relations specialist at Lewis, Longman & Walker, is the first non-lawyer lobbyist in the firm’s history. “I’m truly thrilled to be the first in that role, but I’m even more excited about the collaborative way our lobby team works on behalf of our clients and the overall culture of our firm,” she said. Lewis joined the firm in 2019 as a legislative coordinator. She may have been the newbie at Lewis, Longman & Walker, but she wasn’t new to the Legislative Process. As an undergraduate at the University of Florida, she was selected for an internship by the Bob Graham Center for Public Service, serving a full semester in Tallahassee as an intern to then-Rep. Lori Berman. Berman mentored her through the semester, and Lewis doubled her course load in order to graduate early and accept a position in Berman’s office. Lewis said when the semester was over, she knew she had found the career in service she was looking for. Lewis also served as a legislative assistant to Rep. Matt Willhite, where she worked on issues relating to the Florida Retirement System, transportation and first responders. She later went on to work for Berman in the Senate, where she discovered her passion for health care policy and worked as the lead on health care issues for the Senator while Berman served as Vice Chair of the Senate Health Policy Committee. “Exceptional talent must be nurtured and cultivated,” said Lori Killinger, executive shareholder at Lewis, Longman & Walker. “Kasey is a shining example of how that commitment delivers value to our clients.” A second-generation Floridian, Lewis was born and raised in Broward County. She graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a concentration in public affairs and political campaigning. She will receive her master’s degree in public administration and policy from American University in May 2021. Lewis is engaged to her longtime girlfriend, Kiersten, and lives in Tallahassee with their dog and cats.

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Karis LOCKHART At her first Legislative Session since taking an administrative role at the Department of Economic Opportunity, Karis Lockhart listened as Commerce and Tourism committee members discussed bills up for review. “I was watching the process of bills being heard, and people speaking for and against them and members asking questions, sitting there taking notes and just kind of taking it all in,” said Lockhart, then the deputy director of legislative and Cabinet affairs for the department. “And I thought, ‘This is the start of a very long but fun career.’” Lockhart now serves as legislative and external affairs director for The Southern Group, where she is “excited to learn from the best in the business.” She grew up in Sanford, where she got her start in campaigns working for her mother. Amy Lockhart serves as a Seminole County Commissioner and a former School Board Chair. “I might be a little biased,” she said, “but I think (Amy Lockart) has been a great advocate for her constituents. Whether you’re an elected official or you’re behind the scenes making things happen, strong women in politics who support women is something we need more of.” She majored in public administration at the University of Central Florida and participated in organizations for college Republicans. In 2016, she campaigned for the reelection of then-Rep. Jason Brodeur, who was elected to the Senate in November. After graduating in 2018, she pitched in with the Republican Party of Florida to elect Ron DeSantis as Governor. Her position with the Department of Economic Opportunity started in January 2019. On an October day in Niceville that year, she questioned candidates for the Naval Academy, one of four service academies which require nomination, an invitation extended by Sen. Marco Rubio. This past October, in the shadow of a pandemic, she again participated in candidate interviews, this

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time for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and via Skype. Her tenure with the state came as the department was adjusting on the fly, relaxing some requirements for filing for unemployment insurance and providing pandemic unemployment assistance for hundreds of thousands of Floridians. The same month she joined The Southern Group, one of the state’s largest lobbying firms. The 20-year-old company maintains six offices in Florida and three more in Atlanta; Montgomery, Alabama; and Columbia, South Carolina. As legislative affairs director at the firm’s Tallahassee office, Lockhart tracks bills and budget items coming out of the Legislature, hires and manages interns, coordinates virtual client webinars, and manages fundraising and other events centered on clients, including presentations and proposal development. Stocked with former legislators and key legislative staff, Southern Group prides itself on expertise in policy and politics. “We know how to navigate the halls of government because most of us have already served in them,” the website declares. That’s a challenge Lockhart accepts. “We like to call ourselves an influence firm,” she said. “We are able to know who to talk to, know exactly what to say when we’re in the room and to be knowledgeable about the topic at hand,” she said. “Anybody can get a meeting with a (legislative) member, but if you’re not knowledgeable about the subject area, then that member doesn’t feel that you can be relied upon. So we really try to be experts, and we hire experts from every area of government.” Thirteen of The Southern Group’s lobbyists are women, according to its website. “We’ve definitely got amazing women in our firm,” Lockhart said, “and they are great mentors for young women in politics such as myself.”


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Madyson MAHLER Before graduating from Florida State University in December 2019, Madyson Mahler had already managed a gift shop, sold vintage clothing and worked as a personal trainer. She entered Corcoran Partners in January with an open mind but was still a little surprised to find a natural fit in the lobbying firm. “I grew up in a political atmosphere because my dad was real involved in politics,” she said. “And I like the design side of things, I really love the communications and the relationship side of things. But when I started with the firm, I started seeing a different side of things — the way they treat their team members, something in the environment, there was something that I really wanted to be a part of, and I knew it would allow me to grow in ways other career paths wouldn’t.” A community affairs specialist, she uses graphic design and social media to develop brands for clients. The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in March forced her to keep learning the job from a distance. She created an office space to relegate the work to certain hours if possible, varying the pace with music and motivational podcasts. She grew up in Tallahassee, a daughter of lobbyist Rick Mahler, and majored in marketing at FSU with a minor in communications. Before joining Corcoran Partners, she managed clients and planned events as a finance assistant for Capital Campaign Group. A parttime job at Corcoran turned into a full-time permanent position a couple of months later, before she turned 22. On the crease between Millennials and Generation Z, Mahler thinks her demographic gets a bad rap sometimes. “We have a really good ability to adapt,” she said. “I think this year with COVID and everything has kind of shown that. A lot of us have done a really good job of adjusting and readjusting our abilities and our skills based on what is needed to be able to adapt to different environments.” Favorite things include writing, working out and the Florida beaches.

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Makenzi MAHLER On “take your kid to work” days, Makenzi Mahler and her sisters knew they would be going to the Florida Capitol with their father, lobbyist Rick Mahler. The buzz through Tallahassee during Legislative Sessions seems to lure many to come near it, but in different ways. Conscientious and detail oriented, Mahler majored in political science and government at Florida State University, graduating summa cum laude in 2017. After several months with the Republican Party of Florida, she signed on as finance director of Watchdog, the political action committee of Rep. and then Speaker-Designate Richard Corcoran. The real education starts here, and it’s a bit like learning how to shuffle a deck full of lobbyists, donors and candidates, then deal the cards so candidates stay on message, their campaigns stay funded and the donors are happy. In July 2018, she moved over to serve as deputy finance director of the Ron DeSantis campaign, then helped recruit the incoming Governor’s staff. Mahler served as appointments director for DeSantis’ executive office until July 2020, when she moved back into financial consulting. She enjoyed reuniting with consultant James Blair, who first hired her for an internship at 18, and his wife, Samantha Blair, who owns Capital Campaign Group. It’s about “emails, organizing events, helping candidates, meetings,” she said, but that’s just the outer layer. “Obviously, COVID changed this past election cycle,” she said. “You have to rely on phone calls more than big events. You make sure candidates build a network of supporters around them, that you know who to call, who the players are.” It’s about meeting people from every imaginable industry and every corner of society. “It’s definitely my favorite niche in politics,” she said. Though part of her job entails cultivating relationships, it doesn’t demand she do so on social media. “I check it, just to stay up to date with everything,” she said. “I tend to be more of a private person, so I follow what everyone else is doing and kind of live my life.” She thinks 2020 has already left its mark on her generation. “COVID is something that’s kind of facing our generation, we’ve never been through a pandemic before,” Mahler said. “This past 2020 election cycle was pretty crazy, and that’s something that’s very marked in our generation, we haven’t experienced before. It’s interesting to see as all of those things start to fall into place, and you compare us with previous generations and see what they dealt with. Every generation is a little bit unique.” Winter 2021

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Eli MENTON “If you had asked me a year and a half ago what I would be doing now, I wouldn’t have thought that this was an actual position or that I would even be able to do this,” said Eli Menton, an aide to Rep. Paul Renner. A year and a half ago, Menton was working for a Tallahassee law firm specializing in government issues. From his first exposure as a legislative intern, he had watched the machinations of lawmaking unfold as if they were an engrossing film. Legislators craft a bill, which then makes the rounds of committees, the members of which can add or subtract, enhance or stifle the bill. “It’s got three or four committees a bill has got to go through,” Menton said. “There would be one bill I’d have to keep my eye on the whole time. It goes from committee to committee. And hopefully it goes on the Governor’s desk and he signs it and that’s kind of a touchdown.” As a business management major at Florida State University, Menton had never thought he would work in politics because those kinds of jobs went to political science majors. This belief turned out to be false. Since mid-2020 and at the behest of Renner, Menton has helped a variety of Republican campaigns around the state, especially those in close races.

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A kind of utility infielder, he lends support, knocking on doors, making phone calls or sending emails. He also coordinated Renner’s travel schedule. As Renner prepared in December to take over the House GOP campaign arm, the job formerly headed by Rep. Chris Sprowls, he named Menton among his staff going forward. He grew up in Juno Beach, and is particular about naming that small town as his home and not something vague like the “Jupiter area.” That’s in part because a beach connotes water and Menton loves the water. He’s a surfer, and a beach is what he misses most in Tallahassee. That said, hikes through the woods are a close second. Jiu-jitsu constitutes the third indispensable element he needs to achieve a quiet mind. He said he loves the work he’s doing and the conversations he has witnessed, going back to those months as a legislative intern. “You have a really nice healthy debate. You have people on one side bringing up points, and I would think, ‘Wow, that’s a really good point that person brought up.’ And then the other side would bring up another very good point that I hadn’t even considered. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is how it all happens.’ The beauty of this country and the beauty of this state is happening in front of me.”


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Zach MONAHAN In four years of college, Zach Monahan mostly focused on the two areas he cared about the most: writing and reading. He read Vladimir Nabokov and Albert Camus, all kinds of fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry. A job, a career? He figured with the ability to put coherent sentences together, he should be able to get a marketing job. He was more right than he knew. Around the time he graduated in 2015 from Florida State University, a friend suggested he apply for an internship with the Republican Party of Florida. “I had a little bit of interest in politics, but I definitely wasn’t considering it as a career option at that point,” Monahan said. The RPOF hired him as a content writer, and that’s nine-tenths of the story. In 2016, he joined the Enwright Consulting Group, now Enwright Rimes Consulting, in Tallahassee. In 2018, the firm created its own “digital shop” called Supernova Digital. Monahan was named Digital Director. Whether it’s fiction he wrote in college, copy for digital ads, social media posts or video scripts, the same principles apply. Think about the effect you want your words to have, which means caring about choosing the best words and placing them where they will have the strongest effect. “It comes down to persuasive writing,” Monahan said. “Whether it’s in our digital shop writing email marketing letters or fundraising letters, or perhaps it’s just a campaign update from a candidate or perhaps it’s from a member’s legislative office — at the end of the day you’re trying to persuade a supporter to give financially or support a candidate or an issue down the road. “And a lot of that persuasion comes from taking key ideas and key points — maybe it’s from a news item, maybe it’s a development in the campaign or maybe it’s an issue that just came across a member’s desk — and synthesizing a lot of different points in a way that every voter, every constituent can understand.” Monahan worked with the Republican Party of

Florida to defeat Amendment 3, which would have allowed all voters to participate in primary voting regardless of party. Both Democrats and Republicans opposed the amendment, which failed to get the 60% minimum support needed to pass. After four and a half years, Monahan is thriving at Enwright Rimes. Opinion pieces he has written have appeared in newspapers and news blogs, including the Miami Herald, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the IJ Review. The company co-founders, Randy Enwright and Jim Rimes, “placed their trust in me to help them build,” he said. “And the growth we’ve seen in the past few cycles has really been exciting.” They know which rules to break, since digital media can mean niche markets and subdivisions among readers of the same blog or website. Traditional writing “rules,” such as the one about always preferring simple words and phrases over more complex ones might have to be scrapped if the audience demands the truth. “We try to keep things broad or brief or easy to understand for a voter or reader,” Monahan said. “But they’re pretty smart. And they don’t mind when you want to help someone sort of get into the weeds on things, and get creative with the way you get this content in front of people.” The bottom line, he said, “is to make sure we respect the voter, and get them good content for the client that we worked hard on writing.” Nor is the day’s hot topic necessarily the one voters want to read about. “You’re trying to create content that resonates with voters,” Monahan said. “And what you create doesn’t necessarily have to do with whatever the hot national issue of the day is. It might have something to do with communities in their neighborhood.” Monahan still reads every chance he gets, anything from modernist and postmodern novelists to Sylvia Plath. “I have a lot of books on my desk here at work, and definitely feel that tug for literature,” he said.

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Kaitlyn Bailey OWEN Kaitlyn Bailey Owen was handling a range of clients for RSA Consulting when one grabbed her attention in a different way. The International Institute of Orthotics and Prosthetics, a Tampa-based training base for wounded veterans, teaches professionals how to adapt prosthetics to wounded veterans. “Just to see the impact they are having on this population” has affected her, Owen said. “So many people paid the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives to the military. Sometimes they lose limbs and things happen to them. The institute is changing their lives. They are giving them a second chance at living.” Owen joined RSA Consulting Group in 2017 and is now a senior associate, working with other team members with more than 60 clients statewide. A Florida State University graduate, she volunteered as a turf coordinator for the Republican Party of Florida. She learned she was more interested in policy than politics. She later reconnected with Ron Pierce, whom she had previously known when she served as president of the Future Business Leaders of America. Pierce offered her a part-time position at RSA Consulting, which morphed into full-time after graduating. Pierce and others helped her with the learning curve. Chief Operating Officer and Vice President Natalie King has been a major source on policy issues. “Natalie, to put it plainly, is the best at what she does,” Owen said. “She’s the hardest worker I know and takes time to brief me on a daily basis.” Owen also co-owns a clothing boutique, Katie Beth’s, with an event space upstairs called The Social on 9th. Among future ambitions, Owen would love to see the prosthetics institute gain additional funding to serve another dozen wounded veterans. “I had the opportunity to escort around the Capitol a guy who was an Olympic bobsledding champion,” she said. “He was defeated, he didn’t have the motivation to get off the couch in the morning.” Owen recently married Joshua Owen. She enjoys traveling with him when she can, and also serves as executive director of the Tampa Bay Young Republicans. Would she consider running for office herself someday? “Not now, but never say never,” she said.

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"Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing." – Muhammad Ali

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Logan PADGETT Logan Padgett is an excellent talker. Friendly yet professional, careful when choosing words without seeming hung up about it, the James Madison Institute’s spokeswoman could hardly have landed in a better place than this mid-sized Tallahassee think tank. It helps that she believes in the mission, in what the firm calls relationship building between its dozen or so researchers and civic and government leaders at every level. As the funnel through which introductory conversations and media interviews pass, she must connect the difficult policy language with any listener, all while managing the image of an organization that endeavors to “focus on policy, not politics,” as the company’s website explains. Padgett joined JMI four years ago as director of communications and public affairs after having interned with the firm in college. “It’s not lobbying per se, but trying to build a bridge between people and policy,” she said. “And breaking that down and packaging it so everyday Floridians can really understand policy without having to have some advanced degree to do so.” For example, Padgett said, while national elections are obviously important, “it’s also important, if not to a higher degree, to really understand what’s happening at the state and locals levels.” A certain quiet effectiveness has endeared Padgett to colleagues, as her behind-the-scenes work brings JMI before the readers of the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The Hill and other media, her boss wrote in an email to INFLUENCE Magazine. “She’s unassuming, doesn’t tweet lots from her personal account and doesn’t give the first impression that she’s the powerhouse that she is,” said Sal Nuzzo, JMI’s Vice President of policy. “But there isn’t a person at JMI more responsible for our success and more pivotal to our role in The Process than Logan.”

A native of Orlando, Padgett grew up hearing about national politics from her father, a history aficionado. She watched every national presidential election as far back as she can remember. She shocked her family of Gator fans by choosing Florida State University, where she earned a double major in political science and international affairs. She graduated summa cum laude in 2014, then worked as a state government relations manager at the Heartland Institute in Chicago. She managed communications in 10 states, co-authored a book about welfare reform and returned to the home state she realized she had missed so much. She lives in Perry, a small town 50 miles south of Tallahassee, which offers lots of places to train for the half-marathons she prefers, though she has also completed two marathons. She directs energy not spent working toward her husband, Carl, and their son Jack, who is 17 months old. Their two dogs, a golden retriever named Laila and Maggie, a July walker, will have to make do with a little less attention than usual soon because in January, the household is due to increase by one. (It’s a boy.) Impending joy mixes with questions no researcher can answer. “I’m obviously very passionate about the direction we’re going in post-COVID,” she said, “and the future we’re implementing because it’s really personal for me. This is the state where my sons will grow up. They’ll go to school and get an education and receive health care treatment here, and I want them to have every opportunity.” For the first time her voice, clear as wind chimes until that moment, took on a slight huskiness. “The last generation always wants to leave it better for your kids,” she said. “You want to leave it better for your kids.”

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Martin PAGE The Delbarton School looks like a small castle, a stone mansion at the top of a slope of a brilliant green lawn at the edge of a forest in northern New Jersey. A banker built it in 1883 as a summer retreat on the edge of the Morristown National Historical Park. The St. Mary’s Abbey later bought 400 of those acres for Benedictine monks, and in 1939 opened a small secondary school for boys. Delbarton reached an elite status, ranking ninth on the Wall Street Journal’s top 10 high schools in the country. Martin Page started teaching history there in the fall of 2016, a few months after graduating from Princeton University. With a student-teacher ratio of 7 to 1, it seemed like an ideal spot, and Page soon distinguished himself as co-director of the school’s debate team, coaching students to top six finishes at the National Speech and Debate Association National Championship and winning coach of the year honors. By fall 2018, Page decided he was ready to move on. In September, he started email and social media content for U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and other campaigns, and by October, told the school this would be his last year teaching. Page spent the year looking for the right job and thought he had found it, writing digital content for a hedge fund. Instead, he got a call from consultant Michael Worley, who had helped scores of state legislators, mayors, judges and county commissioners win elections. Page joined MDW Communications company in Fort Lauderdale in June 2019 and remains its digital director. “I almost took a job with the hedge fund in New York but something didn’t feel right,” Page said.”I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing so I turned it down. I accepted the position with Mike about a week later. Which obviously makes

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me very grateful that I took myself out of the running for that position at a hedge fund.” A discomfiting feeling had been growing in him since November 2016. “After Trump got elected, and thankfully this is about to lift, but I felt like there was sort of a haze over everything,” he said. “And it wasn’t something you could just stop thinking about. I have supported Democrats since I was making Al Gore posters on legal pads as a 6-year-old in 2000. “But it wasn’t all consuming until 2016.” His campaign work in 2018 for Menendez and state races in Massachusetts, coupled with conversations with longtime friend Andrew Dolberg, a top aide to U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, created a strong desire to make the jump into politics. In the 2020 campaign cycle, he conceived the digital fundraising strategy that banked more than $200,000 in small-dollar donations for Daniella Levine Cava, who became the first female Mayor of Miami-Dade County. He also raised funds for Rep. Allison Tant, who defeated Jim Kallinger by 16 points, and Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, who lost his reelection bid to Ileana Garcia by just 34 votes. Besides studying social media advertising and digital advertising generally, a knowledge of HTML has proved invaluable as “a big part of making emails work,” Page said. One thing that doesn’t work, he said, is playing on a potential donor’s sense of guilt or shame. “Those have a tendency to turn people off from donating,” he said. “And just generally on a very personal level they’re not fun to write. So that’s something we try to avoid.”


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Alex PANTINAKIS Until Alex Pantinakis was 11 or 12 years old, the Back Porch Cafe was just the restaurant his parents owned. Byron and Carlisle Pantinakis worked hard to keep the place a popular destination in Jacksonville’s Arlington area, a place where families could eat but only the adults could sit at the bar. Until one night when Alex was 10 or 11, and a burly blond man in his 60s invited him to have a seat. At the bar. Of course, the boy already knew who this gregarious customer was. Everyone did. Sen. Jim King — a politician so respected he had served as the Republican Majority Leader of both the Florida House and Senate, plus two years as Senate President — saw the restless mind of a boy whose parents worked long hours. King filled the boy’s head with tales of a strange world headquartered in Tallahassee. “He was a gem,” said Pantinakis, a self-employed campaign consultant. “I mean, he was so full of life. And so engaging in conversation, and passionate about the region. He talked to me like I was an adult.” The Senator, whose district included Jacksonville, was a Back Porch regular who always made time for the owners’ son. He told him about what Tallahassee is like during election season, about alliances and bitter rivalries and how to campaign. “I wasn’t even close to voting age yet,” Pantinakis said. “But he could see that I was interested in the process and took his time, multiple times over many years, talking to me about politics and answering whatever questions I had. And telling me the latest about what was going on in the Senate.” King died in 2009 of pancreatic cancer. An obituary in the Florida Times-Union praised “King’s ‘tell it like it is’ attitude, jovial demeanor and ability to bridge gaps and bring dueling sides together.” Pantinakis was in high school by then, too late to curb his appetite for helping people campaign for

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office. The hook was set too deep to ever come out. “I jumped in, got involved in local campaigns and never really stopped,” he said. At age 20, he formed a company, On Target Messaging, while majoring in political science at the University of North Florida. He volunteered as a state committeeman for the Republican Party of Florida and on a Sheriff’s task force to improve transparency in police work. In 2015, he launched his first campaign, Mike Williams’ successful bid for Duval County Sheriff. Pantinakis graduated magna cum laude the next year. A string of recent wins include Williams winning reelection in 2019; a half-cent sales tax to protect drinking water in Duval County public schools that passed with two-thirds the vote; and another Sheriff’s election in Clay County. Michelle Cook, who had served as a high-ranking officer in charge of patrol and enforcement with the Duval County Sheriff’s Office, defeated sitting Sheriff Darryl Daniels by 10 points, with four others trailing Daniels. Pantinakis is a big believer in having the right message, delivered coherently to the right audience. Increasingly, that medium is social media. “Print is important, print still has a role,” he said. “Television is certainly the power medium for targeting and delivering messages. Online isn’t just the future. It’s now. It’s how campaigns are won, particularly at the local level.” Pantinakis sees the advent of COVID-19 as a sign of a digital dominance much greater than what we are seeing now. “COVID kind of pressed the fast-forward button on the trend that we were already seeing socially,” he said, “and that is certainly true with political communication.”


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Grant PHILLIPS Despite its humble name, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation is a major player in the most important issues gripping the state. The state’s response to hurricanes, floods, the coronavirus pandemic or federally subsidized programs such as Medicare all come under its umbrella. For the past two Legislative Sessions, Grant Phillips has represented the department as it worked through some of the thorniest issues in recent years. Phillips, the department’s deputy director of government affairs, was part of a successful push to revise Florida’s assignment of benefits (AOB) laws, the provision by which a third party may collect damages from a customer’s insurance policy. “These contractors will come to your home after a storm,” Phillips said, “and say, ‘Hey, please sign this form and if you do so, I’ll start working on your home right now, no money down.’ And what they end up doing is they sue the insurance company on behalf of the individual.” This “third-party lawsuit that looks like a first-party lawsuit,” as Phillips put it, often ends up with contractors and their lawyers walking away with large sums of insurance reimbursement that should have gone to homeowners. Phillips advocated House Bill 7065, which called for reigning in the methods by which “post-loss” assignments of benefits are enacted, and codifying the language of these agreements more clearly. Phillips grew up in Tallahassee, a basketball

player who stands 6 feet, 8 inches tall. “I come from a long line of giants,” said Phillips, whose father and mother are 6-foot-6 and 5-foot-11, respectively. Two colleges dangled scholarship offers but he decided he wanted to concentrate on academics and maybe go to law school. An internship at a law firm while studying at Florida State University, coupled with a growing interest in public policy, led him to switch tracks. “I really enjoyed the communication aspect of the legislative side,” he said. “I’ve always thought of myself as a good talker, and this allowed me to use that skill at its fullest.” He started at the Office of Insurance Regulation in January 2018 and was promoted to deputy director in May 2020. On July 1, 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 7065 into law. “You can still have an AOB, but the individuals have to be much more clear of what they’re signing and what it does,” Phillips said. “Basically, it gave protections to the consumers so that they know their options.” He enjoys golf on weekends and mountain biking. He is glad he got into insurance regulation. “Being such a large industry — Florida is the tenth largest insurance industry in the world, we are larger than hundreds of countries — it really is an issue that has allowed me to connect with so many people and affect so many people,” he said.

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Kelly QUINTERO If the theme parks really do represent the heart of Florida tourism, somebody should call a code blue. COVID-19 and related health measures have caused massive layoffs in and around Orlando, and the newly unemployed have little experience with poverty. Before the pandemic, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida served 150,000 meals a day to residents in six counties, said Kelly Quintero, the organization’s director of advocacy and government relations. That number has since doubled to 300,000 meals a day, seven days a week. Forty percent of the recipients have never used a food pantry before. “It’s unprecedented,” Quintero said. “We have never seen that amount of first-time users.” An Orlando resident since childhood, Quintero got to know her home state deeply in 2016 as regional political director for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. She organized strategy sessions across 11 counties and coordinated press conferences and rallies with other leaders. “You work super hard and you hope for the best,” she said. ‘It obviously doesn’t always turn out the way you wanted it to, and that’s fine, because you’re playing the game and so is everybody else. “My region in 2016 turned blue,” she added, “so I felt I was accomplishing what I needed to do.” Born in New Jersey to Colombian parents, she grew up hearing about others less fortunate. “We didn’t have a whole lot, but we knew that there were always people who needed our help, Quintero said. Juan Carlos Quintero and his wife, Julieta, met in the United States. Her father, a Xerox technician, gave her lessons about how things work. “He would always show me the back end of a computer, show me how to take things apart,” she said. “So for me it was this curiosity of, ‘How does this happen?’” She decided she wanted to become an electrical engineer and took engineering electives all four years of high school. At the University of Central Florida, she got involved in political organizations and discovered a different kind of connection. She wanted to be a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. She changed her major to political science and took on

the role of legislative director for the Florida National Organization for Women. She interned in the Florida Senate through the legislative scholars program. After graduating in 2013, she served for three years as deputy communications director for Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph. She fulfilled other roles for the next few years — as an aide to Orange County Commissioner Emily Bonilla, as executive vice president of the Florida Young Democrats and as a lobbyist for the League of Women Voters. She was so busy three years ago she almost had no time to get married. Eddie Johnstone, her fiance, planned most of the wedding himself. She has directed advocacy for Second Harvest since midway through 2017. The pandemic helped her to exercise more, then to learn some cocktail mixology, then to take up bicycling. Down the stretch of the 2020 presidential race, she took a leave from the food bank to join Joe Biden’s campaign for President as Hispanic vote director. Her Hispanic constituents favored Biden. But around the state, President Donald Trump won Hispanics. Quintero says we should not be surprised because many factors differentiate Hispanics from each other, starting with country of origin. That’s a lesson politicians and operatives will need to learn going forward. “It’s very similar to how you would have a conversation with Republicans may be different from how you would have a conversation with Democrats,” she said. “To Hispanics, you are having the same conversation no matter what.” As word spread about tens of millions of Americans without access to food, Quintero started hearing from former campaign workers in 2016. “Those relationships really came in handy,” she said. “They were reaching out to me saying, ‘Our elected officials and community leaders are trying to figure out what to do.’ What could they do to help their community?” Asked if we could take it as a given she would be back campaigning for somebody else before too long, Quintero chuckled. “That’s a bet you should take,” she said.

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Lina ROJAS In line at a crowded Starbucks in 2016, a customer thought she recognized the voice of the man behind her. A discreet glance confirmed it. For a moment, she wondered whether it would be better to speak up or to leave Gov. Rick Scott alone. Lina Rojas spoke up. The Governor asked lots of questions. He learned that she was originally from Colombia but moved to Miami at age 6, that she was majoring in international affairs at FSU, and she was working for the state’s Office of Proactive Outreach. By the time they reached the counter, Scott had a better idea. “Work for me,” he said. After a few months, her responsibilities multiplied. Rojas divided her time as an analyst for the Office of Policy and Budget and serving as a translator in the Governor’s press office. Today she serves as a legislative analyst in the Senate Majority Office, where she has helped legislators craft conservative messages to Florida’s diverse constituencies. Specialties include kindergarten through 12th grade and higher education, fiscal impact analysis, military affairs and space. Top FSU lobbyist Kathy Mears calls Rojas a “rock star.” Other accolades flow from the Circle of Excellence Award from Techtronic Industries and being named to the Florida Gubernatorial Fellows Program, as a Fellow in the Department of Education. She spends free time with friends, dancing or cooking wherever possible, or multitasking to podcasts and audiobooks. None of this would likely have happened had her mother, Rosa Quintero, remained in Bogota. “It’s not lost on me that my mom sacrificed a lot to bring me to America, to give me a better life. I try to keep that in mind and use it as motivation to work hard. I want to honor my mom’s sacrifice. I want to make sure that she came here for something.”

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Thank you, Doctors!

The FMA is proud to represent Florida’s heroic physicians, who are serving tirelessly at the epicenter of a global crisis to protect the public health. We thank them for their dedication to patients in times of uncertainty, joy, sorrow, and every moment in between.

FLORIDA MEDICAL ASSOCIATION

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Evan ROSS On June 2, Fort Lauderdale police fired a foam projectile into a crowd of protesters, striking LaToya Ratlieff in the head. She suffered a fractured eye socket and damage to the eye that has not yet healed. National media soon picked up the story about a Black woman injured by police while protesting police overkill in the wake of George Floyd’s death. But Ratlieff, a 34-year-old grant writer, was still suffering physically and psychologically and had no experience speaking to the media. Someone asked communications consultant Evan Ross if he would be willing to help. He agreed, after making sure that Ratlieff was not herself anti-police. The advocacy she needed lined up with what his company, Public Communications Group, could provide — a media pro on the client’s side. Ratlieff has since given interviews for television and print and testified before a congressional committee. “I said to her very early, ‘My job is not to tell you what to say, my job is to help you deliver your message,’” Ross said. “And I feel we’re done that very effectively.” He started the company as a college student nine years ago, a mixture of ambition and the frustration of raising more money for a candidate than the people he was working for. He worked with local governments and found more leads by attending City Council meetings or poring over legal announcements.

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The work came — so much work, he left college. “I got my degree real-world,” he said, which is also Ross’ rejoinder to lifelong friend Ron Book, who has urged him to finish the bachelor’s degree. “If I had a dollar for every time Ron told me to go get a degree, I think I could pay for the degree,” he said. Ross went on to lobby for some of Florida’s largest developers, including the LeFrak-Soffer dream team that produced the multibillion-dollar SoLē Mia community. Hallandale Beach City Commissioner Michelle Lazarow said Ross has “helped me craft my message into the perfect words time and time again. He’s stood by my side through more interviews than I can keep track of.” “Anyone who has him by their side will be a better public official for it,” she added. “Anyone who has the misfortune of having Evan against them won’t have a clue what hit them until it’s too late.” COVID-19 has disrupted his business and put up invisible barriers to his loved ones. He took a step back from Friday Shabbat dinners for six months as a precaution for older relatives. During that time, his brother’s first child was born. “It was more than six months before I got to hold my niece,” he said. “I went six months without giving my mom a hug after having dinner at her house virtually every Friday night with my family. It was really a reminder of the things that matter.”


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BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS DEVELOPING SOLUTIONS ACHIEVING RESULTS RSA is a full service consulting firm with expertise in areas of government & community affairs, strategic planning, fundraising & event planning, as well as media & public relations. Visit www.rsaconsultingllc.com.

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Tyler RUSSELL A lobbyist’s son growing up in Tallahassee, Tyler Russell grew up thinking about working in government. He worked for the Republican Party of Florida after graduating from FSU, as if focusing on a longheld goal. “My interest first was in campaigns and the strategy around them,” Russell said. “Picking a candidate that you believe in who has like interests to yourself. And then the competition of fighting and winning the election.” So far, that’s the way it has gone. All three candidates in stepping-stone races to his current position won. “I’ve always enjoyed the issues and I’ve always leaned conservatively, so it’s easy to pour your heart and soul into it and work hard to support the candidate you’re working for.” After the RPOF, he worked on winning campaigns for Florida Rep. Brad Drake, then U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, moving to Washington to work as Dunn’s legislative assistant. “D.C. was an awesome experience,” he said, “but it wasn’t where I wanted to be long-term.” That’s because girlfriend Katy Grammer was in Florida. He returned to Tallahassee to work a Session with the Florida Realtors Association in 2018. He got wind that Rep. Ron DeSantis was increasing staff after his primary win. Today Russell serves as Gov. DeSantis’ deputy director of legislative affairs. He has enjoyed the work, including time spent at the Florida State Emergency Operations Center. Hundreds of residents have called because of the economic side effects of COVID-19. “It’s really all hands on deck,” he said. “You may have your specific title or responsibilities, but everyone in this office is willing to help out however they can. I was just really trying to fill any gaps I could, to be amenable and help out.” Russell’s co-workers and the Governor pitched in for him in 2020, as guests for his March 30 wedding to Katy. The newlyweds share couch space with Walker, a white Lab mix, who himself has a new friend — a border collie puppy named Polly, Russell’s birthday present to his wife.

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Caroline SCHWAB As part of the finance team during Ron DeSantis’ gubernatorial run, Caroline Schwab was just getting a taste of what has become a career. She grew up in Perry, attended a Christian high school and was never far from state politics thanks to her father, who took her to agricultural lobbying events. She saw politics at something of a distance until April 2016, when she attended the Republican Party of Florida’s Sunshine Summit. The exuberance of a conference powered by social momentum seemed to be everywhere. Candidates shared their vision, and popular pundits such as Kayleigh McEnany and Dan Bongino held forth. “I got to see candidates up close,” she said. “I volunteered and got to do all of the crazy things that come with being a volunteer, and just fell in love with it from there.” For the next several months, she scheduled community dinners and other events for Ann Scott, part of an executive internship for Scott’s

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husband, Gov. Rick Scott. She majored in political science at the University of Florida and spearheaded a “Gators for Rubio” campaign, worked the phones and created digital content. After Scott’s reelection, she worked in the Governor’s executive office that oversees notary publics, supplying educational materials and investigating complaints. She served as a finance coordinator for the DeSantis campaign, planning fundraisers and tracking contributions. She did marketing and public relations work for the Department of Elder Affairs. In October 2019, she moved into her present role in fundraising and legislative advocacy for K. Ballard Consulting. For relaxation and stress relief, she goes on long runs, sometimes with Scout, her golden retriever. In retrospect, the path to the present moment feels preordained. “The pieces all fell into place,” she said.


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Kaley SLATTERY In fall of 2014, Tim Slattery had pulled out of the only home his daughter Kaley had ever known, and driven two hours north to the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. He had found the dormitory and unloaded the car. It was time to say the goodbye that feels monumental and bittersweet for parents, mostly thrilling for their freshman passengers. The pace of conversation slowed, as if to a speedbump. Tim hugged his daughter Kaley, his eldest child, but not before looking her in the eye and saying, “Just show up and meet people.” “It sounds really simple and basic but it actually worked,” Slattery said, who is now a government liaison at the Florida Public Service Commission. “It made a difference.” She worked her two first campaigns in 2018. Both left strong impressions. Slattery helped Rep. Baxter Troutman in his campaign for Secretary of Agriculture. “It was my first big campaign job,” she said. “It was an amazing opportunity and experience. I’ve never learned more in such a short time about everything-campaign world. “ She was pleasantly surprised, even moved by the respect Troutman showed her. “I was a young 22-year-old post-grad kind of kid. He showed me respect and professional cour-

tesy that he would show anybody and taught me a lot about agriculture, honestly, which I had no background in.” She counts the loss sad, but the race occasioned an introduction. Slattery went on to serve as legislative aide to Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, whom she met on the trail in St. Johns County. If her first campaign was an adventure into the unknown, those mysteries multiplied once her job took her inside the Capitol. With the 2019 Legislative Session, her first, she watched the evolution and language of prospective policy. The idea of participating in any way was unthinkable, she assumed. At the time, Stevenson was backing a mental health bill that was making a round of edits. Slattery had seen the meetings, the effort taken over time. One day, Slattery recalled, as Stevenson studied the latest version on her desk, “She just kind of blankly asked me, ‘What do you think about this?’” She asked whether the representative was seeking her opinion about the bill. Stevenson came back with a yes and Slattery talked about the bill’s details and the revisions that made it stand out. “That was when it clicked,” Slattery said. “I really want to make a difference and work with people who care about my opinion on something that’s so huge. And then I can translate that passion into my work to help people.”

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Derek SILVER In the last few months of the 2018 race for Governor, with polls showing even support for Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum, the DeSantis team continued trying to reach roughly 630,000 Jewish Floridians, who tended to vote for Democrats. In August, the campaign hired Derek Silver, who was entering his last year at Florida State University’s law school. Silver had also interned as an analyst with the Florida House of Representatives on education issues and clerked for the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. After an introduction by lobbyist Scott Ross, the DeSantis campaign hired Silver as its Jewish outreach director. He had already been interested in wider dialogue generally. As a first year law student, he combined with an FSU junior, Inam Sakinah, in an opinion piece lamenting the “mutual obliviousness” on social media and college campuses alike, in which the adherents of one set of political ideas can unfriend, unfollow or just avoid anyone who holds a different view. If an Asian Muslim Democrat and a White Jewish Republican could write the essay together, why couldn’t more people at least try to talk? Their column, “Bridging the two Americas,” appeared in the Nov. 23, 2016, Tampa Bay Times, and cited the interactions around the recent election of Donald Trump as a prime example of a divided country. The move by the DeSantis campaign appears to have paid off, not just in hiring Silver but listening to him. “We implemented a strategy that was different,” Silver said, “that targeted groups in the Jewish community that don’t tend to vote Republican.”

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DeSantis defeated Gillum by less than one percentage point. A Fox News poll reported that DeSantis garnered 35% of the Jewish vote, compared with Trump’s 27% in 2016. Silver grew up in Winter Park, then majored in political science and history at FSU. “I’ve always had an interest in politics and policy,” he said. “And then I just decided, getting a law degree would really further my endeavors.” “I kind of struggled for a while. Do I want to be a lobbyist, do I want to be a lawyer? That’s why I’m so happy with this firm. They’ve got me doing both, you’re a lawyer-lobbyist. We do legal work, we do lobbying work, we’ve got great clients. It’s great.” That firm is Becker & Poliakoff. He joined in September as a private sector lawyer and lobbyist, but went on leave until November. The Trump campaign had heard about Silver’s results with outreach to Jewish voters and wanted to benefit. According to exit polls, Trump received 41% of Florida’s Jewish vote in 2020, a 50% jump from his own race in 2016 and nearly doubling his Republican predecessors. Silver is grateful to several people who have helped him: His boss at the firm, Ellyn Bogdanoff, lawyer and former 30 Under 30 participant Adrian Lukis; and lobbyists Scott Ross, John Thrasher, Kathy Mears and Nick Iarossi. “They’re all people I’ve learned a lot from on the policy side,” Silver said. “But also in terms of how to be an upstanding person.” Ross, for his part, said this in a nominating email to INFLUENCE Magazine: “Derek has proven himself to be a next-level political operator who can also play in the policy arena. He will be one to watch for years to come.”


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India STEINBAUGH She grew up multitasking talents, calmly balancing academics with sports and piano and excelling at all of those pursuits. Now India Steinbaugh, a senior administrative assistant to Senate President Bill Galvano, looks to step into a larger role soon, and she’ll make sure it’s the one she wants. She has a master’s degree in public health on top of a bachelor’s in political science and international affairs, both from Florida State. Her ideal next job would combine health and public policy. “I hope to work in health policy specifically, in that realm,” she said. “Florida is a very diverse state, and there are a multitude of issues. We are ever growing and we have evolving needs, and I ultimately would still like to be working in Tallahassee, whether that’s in the Legislature or not.” For now, she said, “The Senate is a wonderful place to be.” Senate spokeswoman Katherine Betta selected Steinbaugh five years ago for a receptionist’s job. “She really has helped me with her communication style and her friendship throughout these years,” Steinbaugh said.

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She also singled out Dr. Alan Rowan of the School of Public Health for doing what he could to accommodate her work and academic schedules. Steinbaugh grew up in St. Petersburg, and lettered in cross-country and track and field throughout high school at Northside Christian. Her favorite races were the 100- and 300-meter hurdles, and she ran a 5k in 24 minutes. She also played classical piano, a form of relaxation still. She interned with former State Rep. Clay Ingram and former Congressman David Jolly, then spent several years working or studying as she essentially put herself through college. Relationships in her current position have already helped her tackle whatever comes next, she believes. “I’ve basically grown up in the Florida Senate,” Steinbaugh said. “I’m very grateful that I have chosen the field I have, just with our current COVID. That definitely made it more interesting. And it’s a very challenging topic to anticipate the needs for such a diverse population.”


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Katie TRUDEAU In 2018, Beth Lindstrom, a candidate who had run large government organizations and some campaigns of her own, was facing two men in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. Katie Trudeau had graduated from a well regarded Catholic university in Southwest Florida. She had spent a year on the finance team of Indiana Republican Congressman Luke Messer in what proved to be a losing bid for the U.S. Senate. She wanted to work in media. Trudeau approached Lindstrom, who, despite not polling as well, was regarded as the only candidate who could go toe to toe in a debate with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic incumbent. “I had never done press before,” Trudeau said. “But I went in there and said, ‘Hey, I’ve never been given the opportunity because I’m only 22 years old. But if you help me and you teach me, I guarantee I’ll be one of the best people on your team.’” She got the job. Co-workers taught Trudeau how to present winning pitches to television stations to get bookings, how to coach candidates and keep that exposure going. Lindstrom lost the GOP primary, but the experience gave Trudeau a lift. “I’m really proud of what I’ve done,” she said. “I’ve had my fair share of both wins and losses but I’ve definitely set myself up at 25 years old much further than a lot of my peers.” She got timely tutelage from longtime Mitt Romney aides Eric Fehrnstrom, Peter Flaherty and Kristen Daly, who showed her how to get coverage for Republican candidates in highly partisan liberal strongholds. “They taught me how to do media communications in a very vicious world of Boston and the

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Northeast,” Trudeau said. “So I always felt like, moving forward with reporters, as long as you had a good, respectful relationship with them — and I used all of those skill sets I was taught — then I would never have a problem.” In Florida, she credits Marc Reichelderfer, Amanda Bevis and Kevin Hoffman for ongoing support. Raised in Vermont, Trudeau graduated from Ave Maria University, about 7 miles south of Immokalee. She majored in politics, minored in theology, and played lacrosse, tennis and soccer. She spent a semester volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Mother Teresa in Kolkata, India. She also has volunteered in women’s shelters, AIDS homes and soup kitchens in at least half a dozen cities. She has lived a peripatetic lifestyle since graduating, working on campaigns anywhere from six months to a year in any one state, including managing Rep. Scott Franklin’s winning campaign in November. “I just work on the best races possible for me, personally and professionally,” she said. Candidates speak highly of her. Rep. Messer honored Trudeau in remarks he entered into the Congressional Record, praising her knowledge and work ethic, her priorities and commitment to her faith. “I have no doubt Katie’s impact on our nation is yet to come,” Messer wrote. Lindstrom, in a recommendation letter, noted Trudeau’s writing skill — “This is her speciality, her true calling and ability to add value” — and recalled the day she introduced herself by asking for a job. “I did hire Katie,” Lindstrom wrote, “and I don’t know what I would have done without her.”


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Megan TURETSKY Winning isn’t just about elections or headline legislation. For teachers and others fighting illiteracy, winning is a third-grader sounding out vowels and consonants. That is a victory that eludes millions, is intertwined with poverty and correlated with future crime. As the government affairs manager for the Children’s Services Council of Broward County, Megan Turetsky wields the legalistic and clunky language of funding bills and grant proposals like a paintbrush. In 2018 and after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings, she spearheaded the advocacy campaign for a referendum that paid for more security officers, guidance counselors and social workers on campus, plugging a budget shortfall. “We kind of have our hands in a lot of the work around children’s issues,” Turetsky said, “whether that be in early learning or juvenile justice issues for diversion, children’s health care or economic stability for families, which is obviously a huge issue for us this Session and always will be.” Children’s Services and other government entities or nonprofit organizations (such as the Florida Children’s Counsel and the Florida Chamber of Commerce) sometimes collaborate to attack illiteracy from social, economic or medical angles. Hunger, for example, makes it hard for kids to learn. In the most recent Legislative Session she was instrumental in a successful effort to apply Medicaid funds to school-based services. “That was a really big deal for us to finally pass,”

she said. “A huge accomplishment.” A native of Pembroke Pines, Turetsky got her first taste of politics at age 7, watching “The West Wing” with her parents. “I don’t think I fully understood it then,” she said, “but it set me on a trajectory to be involved in public policy.” She got involved in student government at Florida Gulf Coast University, serving as Senate President for a year. After graduation she moved to Washington to intern for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. That led to a lobbying position at the New Orleans-based Adams and Reese, where her education clients included three universities. “That kind of got me started in children’s issues and education broadly.” Turetsky also stays connected with service organizations such as the United Way Hispanic Unity, and currently co-chairs the Anti-Defamation League Glass Leadership Institute Miami. While COVID-19 has either suspended civic groups or relegated them to Zoom meetings, she goes kayaking. George, a rescue pitbull, keeps watch from the bow. A new pastime led her to build a ventilated enclosure in the backyard. Netting around it wards off pests. Inside, monarch caterpillars eat the milkweed cuttings she has left them. They spend up to two weeks that way before forming a chrysalis. “I bring them into the habitat until they become butterflies,” Turetsky said, “then release them and let them go off in the world. It’s really fun to watch.”

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Robbie VOGAN Jason Brodeur’s team celebrated in November after winning the District 9 Senate race with 50% of the vote. Democrats poured money into a race they thought they could flip but couldn’t get Patricia Sigman past 48%. Florida Politics rated Team Brodeur on the plus side of its winners-and-losers rundown, citing a crack campaign staff led by Robbie Vogan, now Brodeur’s top legislative aide. “I had had my hopes set on working with Jason for some time and hoped to one day work with him,” said Vogan, a Seminole County native whose increased interest in politics coincided with Brodeur’s four terms in the state House, the last six years representing District 28. “So early on, I started letting people know that that’s where I wanted to end up on the 2020 election cycle. Evidently I had enough of the right people in my corner to get that position.” Before that, he applied for a legislative scholars program through the University of Central Florida and landed an internship in 2017 with Sen. Kelli Stargel. He liked the variety of the work, the opportunity to immerse himself, on any given day, in business, science and technology or the environment, and the way new topics always came within a human context. “You get to talk to people from all walks of life, hear their stories and try to help them,” he said. He also spent eight months as a legislative fellow for the U.S. House, attached to Rep. Bill Posey. Vogan joined the Brodeur campaign in June 2019 and seemed calmed by the pressure rather than daunted by it. “I think when a lot is required of me, that’s when I tend to do that best work,” he said. “Being in a position like that was super fulfilling. You have a lot given to you carte blanche. But you have the ability to build your own strategy, build your own team.” The consultants helped get him up to speed, including top consultant Jim Rimes. And Vogan learned on the job by continuing to watch Brodeur, who ran in part on reordering the economy and fixing Florida’s unemployment system. Away from work, Vogan enjoys camping and hiking with his wife, Rachel Vogan, through St. Johns Water Management District lands, spending time with friends and his church.

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Jared WILLIAMS Some people come into the world wanting to see the stars. They become astronomers. Others want to see the world more closely — to watch microbes swimming inside a drop of water. They become scientists or doctors. The rest of us bumble along and hope the world doesn’t blow up. Jared Williams lives behind Door Number 2. A Winter Haven native, he majored in biology at Florida State University, immersed in the study of life. He breezed through the MCATS and was about to apply for med school because he had always assumed he would. But the closer he got to taking that leap, the more he realized something was missing. “I was kind of realizing that that’s not really what I wanted to do with the next eight years, the additional school, residencies and things like that,” Williams said. “If you’re not 100 percent sure about something like that, it’s probably not something you want to pursue.” He worked as a biological scientist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, which collects data on freshwater and marine fisheries for the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. He left that job, and for the next year and a half managed a restaurant in the Florida Keys. Those things had their merits, but neither challenged him in the way he needed. Williams moved back to Tallahassee, hoping to find that next right thing. “I was kind of looking for something like an industry that would allow for growth and continued learning,” he said. He heard about an entry-level job as a budget analyst in the Governor’s Office of Policy and Budget. Williams liked the job’s variability and breadth and kept digging deeper. For the last 18 months he has served as environmental policy chief for the governor’s executive office. “Once I started seeing what we do, it just became a real passion,” he said. “I’ve found something I think I’m good at that’s enjoyable to me as well. Also it’s a bonus that is kind of like a thing where you get to continually learn. And the more you learn the more valuable you become.” Williams is back in school, and in the closing phase of earning a master’s degree in public policy. He enjoys hiking and fishing and playing the drums for a band at his church. In May 2019 he married Katie Britt Williams, an environmental scientist.

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Ivey Rooney YARGER Ivey Rooney Yarger has impressed peers and politicians alike with her dedication and vision as a consultant at Political Capital, a Tallahassee fundraising firm. “From the moment she took charge of my fundraising efforts, we have exceeded all of my expectations and goals,” Rep. Jason Shoaf, who enlisted Political Capital for his 2020 campaign, told INFLUENCE. “I have found her to be incredibly talented, capable and, most of all, driven to succeed.” Businessman Nick DiCeglie, who relied on her during his run for state Representative, called Yarger “laser focused on keeping the candidate on track,” and added, “Her network of donors is extremely valuable for any candidate.” Five years after joining the Republican Party of Florida as the Deputy Finance Director, Yarger has been a valuable participant in a long string of wins. In 2016, she oversaw fundraising for part of the election cycle, including the Republican National Committee delegation activities in Cleveland and the 2016 victory dinner. Her role expanded in 2018 as Yarger became one of the lead consultants for state House and Senate races and Ron DeSantis’ gubernatorial campaign. Yarger is grateful to work with candidates she believes in and the donors who back them. “I can’t emphasize enough how lucky I am to work with these folks,” she said. “They are really good, principled people who are in office for the right reasons, and that makes my job easier.” She grew up in Orlando, in a family with deep roots in the petroleum industry. “It was a family business in a well regulated in-

dustry,” Yarger said. “I heard people talking about the effects of government. Government regulation was something heard about at the dinner table. So I knew I wanted to be involved in the political process.” Her introduction started in 2011, working for the Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association. Her first boss, Ned Bowman, is now the Executive Director of the Florida Petroleum Association. “He saw potential and pushed me out of the nest,” she said. When the petroleum marketers merged with the Florida Retail Federation, she acted as a liaison between those from either group, tracked developments in local ordinances or relevant state legislation and planned PAC events. Along the way, a bachelor’s degree in political science at Florida State University and the school’s master’s in applied American politics and policy followed. She soon realized that there was work in politics that suited her skills. Campaign seasons are like puzzles, she said. “We’re going to need this amount of money for this cause or this race,” she said. “I’m building a roadmap to help my clients, to coach them and motivate them and develop these relationships. And that’s what really interests me.” She is grateful to her employers at Political Capital, Gretchen Picotte and Rick Porter. “They definitely see my skills when I frequently may not and do not see it in myself,” she said. Yarger lives in Tallahassee with her husband, Alec, and their German shorthaired pointer, Hank.

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ON TH E

RADAR They are the legislative assistants who keep the trains running on time, the strategists who shape the message for some of the state’s largest organizations and the campaign workers who worked tirelessly on behalf of their candidates.

Alex Abdul

Digital Marketing Coordinator, Data Targeting

Tomas Alcala

Campaign Manager, Jose Javier Rodriguez for Florida Senate

George Alderman

Former Student Body President, Stetson University

These are the 35 young professionals who help make The Process tick. Think of them as the next generation of Florida’s esteemed political class. Whatever you do, remember their names because we predict big things on the horizon.

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Manny Orozco

Former Deputy Campaign Manger for Daniella Levine Cava, now serving as Special Aide to the Mayor and Digital Director

James Befanis

Political Affairs Liaison, Florida House Majority Office


Austin Belet

Deputy Statewide Director, Long Run Strategies

Lauren Brenzel

Statewide Director of Organizing, Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida

Allahandro Bradford President, Vanguard Campaigns and FDP political director, Senate Victory

London Camel

Deputy Political Affairs Director, Florida College Democrats

Christina Castillo

Gubernatorial Fellow, Florida Department of Education

Makenzi Conner

McClain Houston

Vice President of Communications, LobbyTools

Ryan Kimmey

Former field organizer, Republican Party of Florida

Hayed Kure

Finance Director, Maria Salazar for Congress

Jonas Marquez

Communications Coordinator, Executive Office of the Governor

Jaylin Martir

Political Affairs Liaison, Florida House Majority Office

Taylor Mejia

Malik Moore

Kayla van Wieringen

Cody Farrill

Sarah Nemes

Associate Strategist, Progress for Florida

Jessica Garafola

Legislative Assistant, Sen. Shevrin Jones

Zion Gates-Norris

Lobbyist, The Southern Group

Erika Peralta

Electoral Organizer, Community Change

Joe Rhodes

Creative Director, Office of Public Information, Florida House of Representatives

Political Director, Ruth's List FL

Keenen Vernon Legislative Assistant, Sen. Keith Perry

Michael Womack

Communications Manager, Equality Florida

Logan Wright

Judicial Law Clerk, U.S. District Court Middle District of Florida

Aaron Richmond

Young Americans Associate, Joe Biden for President Alum

Regional Manager, Florida Department of Financial Services

Laura Hernandez

Jennifer Rubiello

Campaigns and Program Manager, SEIU Florida

Taylor Walker

Florida State Coordinator, American Conservation Coalition

Executive Council Assistant, City of Jacksonville

Noah Fineberg

Former travel aide, Jason Brodeur for State Senate, former chair, College Republicans at UCF

Lobbyist, The Southern Group

Florida House Legislative Aide and Director of Political Affairs, Florida College Democrats

Deputy Chief of Staff, Florida Department of Management Services

Luke Strominger

Florida Deputy State Director, America Votes Winter 2021

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What I’ve Learned

John E. Thrasher 77, Tallahassee Former Legislator and Lobbyist, Outgoing Florida State University President AS TOLD TO ROSANNE AND LLOYD DUNKELBERGER

EARLY DAYS: My family was very poor growing up. Neither my mother nor my father had more than an eighth-grade education. They didn’t value education, and they didn’t understand it. I was not only the first graduate from college, I was the first graduate from high school in my family. I actually started at Florida State University when I was 17. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing here. I didn’t even know why I was here. I applied in the summer and got accepted. That was back in 1961. I think if you had a pulse and a few hundred bucks, you could get in. Jean and I met when I was a sophomore. We had three kids, and I have eight grandchildren. The oldest, I am proud to say, has one more semester in her master’s program for special education at FSU. After graduation, I went back to Jacksonville for about eight or nine months, got a draft notice, applied for an Army commission and got selected. Then we went to Germany and spent three years there. I spent my last year in the military in Vietnam then came back here to law school in 1972. I never really wanted to practice law. But I was fascinated with the understanding of what law can do for you if you … wanted to be in government. I wanted to be involved in politics, maybe. I didn’t know exactly then, but I just knew it would be a good background. When I got out of law school, I went to work for state Sen. Fred Karl. I was on the Senate Commerce Committee staff. When he left the Senate and I left law school, he hired me in his firm in Daytona Beach, and about a year later, we came back to open a branch office of the firm in Tallahassee. I worked with him for just a short time and then with Sandy D’Alemberte when we were outside counsel to the House impeachment committee when they prosecuted three Florida Supreme Court justices back in the mid ’70s.

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PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson

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WHAT I’VE LEARNED

lature — Republicans and Democrats — for what I thought was in the best interest of Florida State. I have personal feelings about things, of course I do, but here’s not where I bring them. I’ve even heard some people say, “Well, he’s turned out to be a liberal,” and all that. What I’ve tried to do is be a good President of Florida State. I think this has served me well.

John Thrasher served in the Florida House of Representatives representing District 19 from 1992 until 2000. He was the Speaker of the House from 1999 to 2000.

A CAREER IN LOBBYING AND POLITICS: I went back to Jacksonville and was general counsel for the Florida Medical Association for 20 years. That brought me over here lobbying some and working on their behalf. I ran for the Clay County School Board in 1986 and got elected. I was the first, I think, Republican ever elected. Things were changing, these were the Reagan days and [Gov.] Bob Martinez was in Tallahassee. After that one term on the School Board, I ran for the House in 1990. I have a lot of interesting stories about how T.K. [Wetherell] tried to get me to switch to being a Democrat. “I’ll give you anything you want,” he said. I didn’t do it and ended up losing anyway. In 1992 I got elected to the House and stayed there for eight years. My third term in the House, Danny [Daniel Webster] became Speaker. And then I got to be Speaker. The last two years were wonderful. I enjoyed it, but it felt like we were drinking out of a fire hose. Jeb [Bush] got elected Governor. Toni Jennings was President of the Senate. And except for a little resistance from the Senate people who didn’t particularly like Jeb and Republicans, it was really a lot of fun. We accomplished an awful lot of tort reform. Being a lawyer obviously is something that helped throughout all those things. Then we started Southern Strategy — now 180

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Southern Group — and it was certainly helpful in that, too. And I went back to lobbying for nine years. [Sen.] Jim King was always a great friend and knew he was going to leave in 2010 because of term limits. And I thought about running at that point because I really didn’t want to lobby anymore. He found out in 2009, right after the Session ended, that he had pancreatic cancer. He died in July of that year. I decided to run then. The trial lawyers really got after me big time. They didn’t want me in there. I think there were three other Republicans in the primary. BECOMING FSU’S PRESIDENT: I came here with some controversy, obviously from faculty members. All they could think of was John Thrasher, Republican, former chairman of the Republican Party, Speaker of the Florida House, Jeb’s friend, whatever. But when I got here, I made a commitment to people, my board and everybody else, that I was going to be the President of Florida State University. I wasn’t going to be the Republican John Thrasher. I wanted to be the President and take care of everybody in this institution who wanted to be here, regardless of their philosophy and their background. I’ve tried to do that. I’ve not made contributions politically. I’ve not gotten involved in political campaigns. I lobbied the Legis-

ON BEING A UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT: I was 70 when I started. I was too old. But I was blessed with good health, and I had a lot of energy, and I love this place. All these things combined, I think really that my age didn’t matter that much. I’ve done over 800 events since I’ve been here in six years. I felt like it was important for people to know what’s going on in the university and have some real, live communications as much as we could with all of our constituency groups such as the faculty Senate group and faculty, alumni groups all over the country, and obviously a lot of local groups in Florida. It’s important for whoever’s President to get out and talk to people and tell them what’s going on. The good things as well as some of the challenges we have. People ask me a lot of times how this job is different than being in politics. And I said, “Well, think about it as being the Mayor of a small town. We have 43,000 students and probably another 7,000 or 8,000 faculty and staff. You have all the same kind of problems, the same kind of issues. The only difference is the majority of the constituents are 18 and 19 years old.” You want them to come here, to be fulfilled and follow their hopes and dreams. And we do that for the vast, vast majority of them. There’s never a dull day in this job. There’s always something. Ten days after starting as President, we had a shooting at Strozier Library. We had three hurricanes. We’ve had another shooting at an off-campus yoga studio where we lost a faculty member and a student. When students pass away, or die unnecessarily, it just breaks your heart. OPPOSITION TO ALLOWING GUNS ON CAMPUS: My opposition goes back before I became President, when I was in the Senate. One night in 2011, Ashley and Amy Cowie were at the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity house, and a young man who had been drinking was showing them a high-powered rifle and one of the twins was shot and killed. The family were personal friends of mine. When this legislation came up, I de-


cided it wasn’t safe to have more guns on campus. That’s really what’s been driving me. I think that guns on campus simply don’t add more safety to our university. In fact, I think it’s just the opposite. It’s not that I’m against the Second Amendment. You don’t carry guns down to the Capitol. You don’t carry guns into a courthouse. I don’t think you ought to carry guns into a classroom or an event on campus. To me, it’s just not the right thing to do. This is a personal thing, it’s not a Republican/Democrat thing. It’s a philosophy I have about that issue. THE COVID CHALLENGE: Just like everybody else, FSU has had to deal with COVID. When we started in March, we basically converted 10,000 courses to online in about two weeks, and that was a challenge. We didn’t know how long it was going to last. And here we are now in the ninth month, and it’s getting worse. But we’re preparing for the spring classes again with face-to-face instruction in as many as we can within CDC guidelines. And trying to make sure that we communicate again for faculty and students to be safe. I’ve had COVID. Actually, I got it from my wife who had been in the hospital with double pneumonia for 12 days. When they released her from the hospital, they wanted to go over to the Tallahassee Memorial rehab place to get her strength back because she was really weak. She was over there at the same time as Bobby Bowden was, within a day of each other. They were in the hospital at the same time, too, and both of them got it. Up until that point I was testing myself twice a week — on Monday and on Friday — because I’m around all these folks. Neither of us had a bad case. She might have had a little spiking fever for a couple days. I had just really heavy head congestion and fatigue. Didn’t have taste; didn’t have appetite. I lost 10 pounds. I gained half of it back after food started tasting good. BEYOND ACADEMICS: When I first got here, [former FSU President T.K. Wetherell] told me “Some weeks, you’re going to spend 60 or 70% of your time on athletics.” About a year after I was here, I said, “You lied. It’s more than that.”

Top Left: House Speaker Dean Cannon, left, confers with Sen. John Thrasher, Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, in May 2011. Photo: Meredith Hill Geddings. Top Right: Governor Rick Scott, left, speaking with Florida State Senator John Thrasher at a Republican Party of Florida board meeting. Photo: Bill Cotterell. Bottom: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks with Thrasher in Tallahassee in October 2011. Photo: Mike Ewen. Football people are different, no question about it. They want instant gratification. I get it because, Bobby Bowden — for what, 15 years? — was in the Top 5. We all got a little spoiled. (Pointing to a door in the corner of his office) That little door over there leads to an inner kind of office, and I have some stuff in there — books and things — like that that I keep. When I realized Jimbo [Fisher] was leaving, I walked in that room and said to myself: “Look for a book that says, ‘How to Hire a Football Coach’.” And there wasn’t one because we hadn’t hired one in 42 years because Jimbo kind of segued in after Bobby left.” Hiring a football coach is a whole different ball game; it’s a lot of intrigue. I liked Willie Taggart. I thought he was a great guy. Still do, but it just wasn’t the right fit for Florida State. Along comes [Head Coach Mike Norvell] and I think we’ve made the right decision. I have high expectations for him, and I know he’s going to do well

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PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson

WHAT I’VE LEARNED

if they give him time. We’ve got to have some patience, no question about that. But I know we’ll be back, and I know that he’ll help us get back. THOUGHTS ON LEAVING FSU — AND HIS REPLACEMENT: It wasn’t COVID, I promise you that. It was something Jean and I talked about. My original contract was to stay five years. And then the board asked me if I’d be willing to stay another year. Now, I felt the time was right to start to search. It was good for us and a good time to transition, and I agreed to stay until they found someone. I’m not trying to get involved in (the search process). We’ll see what happens. I’m sure there’ll be a good group of folks that apply. I want somebody who cares about this university. We may not get somebody who has a Florida State degree. If you can find somebody that has some connection like that, that’s good. I would obviously argue for somebody younger. The energy level this job requires is enormous. And you want somebody who has that passion and is willing to stay here awhile. Somebody who understands the politics — being in this town, you’d better. SUCCESSES AT FSU. AND ONE REGRET: When I started, we were 43rd in the nation and in the U.S News and World Report rankings, which is the gold standard for public universities. And now we’re in 182

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the Top 20 for two years in a row. We have some amazing faculty. They’re doing research and things that are making a difference in the lives of people. We have seven faculty members here now who have been here 50 years, and they’re still teaching, and doing a great job. Our new College of Entrepreneurship got a $100 million gift from the Jim Moran Foundation, and Jan Moran has been incredible. That gift, by the way, I think still is the largest single gift of any public university in the history of the state. We just created the College of Hospitality. It had been a department and now it’s a college because of some of the graduate level programs. Our four-year graduation rate is currently one of the best in America and is top in the state of Florida. Our retention rate — which is where our kids come in their freshman year and stay for their sophomore year — is 95%. Those metrics give us some hope that the Legislature will continue investing in higher education because they’re seeing that we are getting the kids here. We’re getting them educated. We’re getting them the right kinds of jobs. Our College of Business has been so successful that we now are overrunning the Rovetta building. I really, really tried to focus on a new building for the College of Business, and I have not been successful there. We had a fairly significant amount of money in the budget last year. And the Governor vetoed it along with a lot of oth-

er [budget items]. It was a pretty big number, $20 million. I really, really want to try — in whatever time I have left — to see if we can focus on that. We have the property over by the Civic Center. Great location, because it’s close to downtown. We’ve got a great schematic done. We need to raise our part of the money and the Legislature could help us with that. Then we could get started on it. THOUGHTS ON A RETURN TO POLITICS: No. No. No. That train has left the station. I don’t think my wife would allow that anyway. I was ready to take a break from it (when he became FSU President). It has been wonderful — it really has — not to think about politics. FUTURE PLANS: I still have a house in Green Cove Springs. I think we’ll go back and spend some time there when we finish. Obviously, we want to see our young grandkids grow up — to spend more time with them. Now they’re spread out, three in Orange Park and five altogether in the Orlando area. I’ve worked all my life. I’m really kind of ready to just kind of not have a schedule for a while, and then we’ll see what happens. I’ve had some people ask me about certain limited types of things that I might could do still, but I’ll wait and see. Wait and see.


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The Big Question

Q: WHAT IS THE ONE THING

THAT GOT YOU THROUGH 2020?

“The silver linings of the pandemic quarantine have strengthened our collective bond as a family and allowed us to not only work smarter and more efficiently from remote settings, but also to refocus, prioritize and appreciate the simpler things in life — like our families and neighbors. Even in the midst of a difficult year, there’s still a lot to be grateful for.”

KATIE BOHNETT “Yoga teaching (via Zoom March—5/31, 1/3 capacity 6/1). Our new sanitation protocols assured me of safety and I could keep a routine while engaging regularly with a community I hold so dear. It was a welcome net positive for my mental and physical health.”

JOSH COOPER “My wife and I started making ‘Pandemic Pantry’ cooking videos with our kids to help people learn how to cook fun meals at home during the quarantine. What started as a fun little hobby has turned into a full scale media production business for our clients and digital cooking course!”

LORI KILLINGER “As an avid mountain biker, the pandemic gave me the opportunity to explore the road less traveled. Did my best thinking outdoors, and I am also grateful for all the Zooms with great friends.”

ALIA FARAJ-JOHNSON “What kept me going in 2020 was a lot of family golf! Grateful to my golf coaches (my husband Rob and my daughter Peyton) who helped me improve my game. I also have to say Netflix! I am still binge watching so many great shows with more to go.”

ERIC JOHNSON “Mandalorian. We may not be able to agree on mask wearing but everyone smiles when they see Baby Yoda (Grogu). When I just couldn’t take more I turned to Disney+ ‘Star Wars: Renaissance,’ which culminated in a finale that left me in happy tears. When things here were bad I went to a galaxy far far away.”

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ALEX PATTON “My wife, the therapist. Her constant push to get me to reframe events was frustrating but it’s the fuel that is getting me over the 2020 finishing line. That and drinking scotch while riding the Peloton.”

DARRICK MCGHEE “When I think back over 2020, the one thing that got me through was my kids (son and daughter). Watching how they adapted to our new normal with little to no complaining was my daily gut check reminder to stop whining and make the most of every day.”

NOAH PRANSKY “Intermittent self-imposed social media blackouts. Everyone needs a break from the inherent toxicity of the medium.”

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