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he orps t f o ss C e t Staol Presited pit Revi a C

A Publication


The Great Communicators

How Bascom Communications & Hill+Knowlton frame issues, win over opponents, and influence The Process

Katie Betta + Brian Hughes + Matt Dixon + Tia Mitchell Meet the Freshmen Legislators

Jack Latvala: What I’ve Learned (And It’s A Lot)

CREATE A SAFER FLORIDA WITH THE COMBINED POWER OF P25 RADIO AND PUBLIC SAFETY LTE PUBLIC SAFETY BECOMES MORE OF A CHALLENGE ON A DAILY BASIS. Outside threats continue to evolve at an accelerated pace. Florida’s First Responders need new capabilities that will empower them to work cohesively, while giving them the ability to access and share information instantaneously.













Source: 1. Accenture Citizen Pulse Survey on Policing 2014 2. 3. 2014 Public Safety Industry Survey, Motorola Solutions


Just as the Project 25 (P25) Digital Radio is the indispensable voice and data network for mission critical communications, Public Safety LTE will be for broadband data and auxiliary voice. Both are critical components of next-generation policing technologies being developed in Plantation, Florida, and are powerful in their own right. But their true potential will be realized, when they converge.









THE IMPORTANCE OF CONVERGENCE Public safety agencies must continue to seek funding for Land Mobile Radio (LMR) systems, equipment, and enhancements in order to sustain and improve mission-critical voice communications among public safety responders. Without continued investment in LMR systems to sustain mission-critical voice communications, capabilities could be compromised during response operations. Source: Department of Homeland Security - LMR for Decision Makers


MOTOROLA’S MISSION CRITICAL VOICE COMMUNICATIONS THE POWERFUL PLATFORM THAT WILL FUEL AND SUPPORT PUBLIC SAFETY LTE. For more information about Motorola’s Convergence Suite, visit us at: MOTOROLA, MOTO, MOTOROLA SOLUTIONS and the Stylized M Logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of Motorola Trademark Holdings, LLC and are used under license. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners. © 2016 Motorola Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved.


@ SaintPetersBlog

The Process, Unbound Looks like there’ll be no summertime slowdown in non-election-year 2017


t is a sad but unfortunate fact of life that, at the conclusion of every election cycle, a political publication like ours must part ways with some of the dedicated staff we had hired to help us report about the seemingly never-ending news of the day. And, as years past have taught us, it’s probably a good idea to squirrel away a few extra dollars for the lean months in an election cycle, like during the slow summer of an odd year when few are interested in campaigns and elections. Those were the days! Here we are in the warming months of another Florida spring and the political news business is booming. The pace of events — from The White House down to the city halls — is nonstop. Extensive Enterprises Media — the company which publishes INFLUENCE Magazine — has already hired back those “part-time” reporters and writers we just said goodbye to after the election. As for that slow summer we were all looking forward to … forget about it. As this edition goes to print, Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran are engaged in a low-grade civil war that threatens to fracture the Florida GOP just as it heads into what promises to be the busiest statewide election cycle since 1994. Collateral damage from this showdown

are dozens of legislative initiatives which have languished during the relatively unproductive sessions of the past three years. Major issues like criminal justice reform, environmental land-buying, and gambling have been mostly ignored. If an issue is to be heard by this Legislature, it’s likely the advocates for it have hired one of two public affairs firms — Bascom Communications & Consulting and Hill+ Knowlton — or one of the firms featured inside this magazine to message on their behalf. I first met both Sarah Bascom and Alia Faraj-Johnson seven years ago. Since that time, I’ve joined the rest of Tallahassee in watching them build two of the most respected brands in Florida politics. INFLUENCE Magazine is mostly about the governmental affairs professionals who shape what we describe as The Process. But any story about this shaping is incomplete without a recognition of the public affairs firms which are as integral as any lobbying shop. This issue is dedicated to these “flacks,” as well as to the journalists with whom they interact — and occasionally battle. I invited veteran reporter Audrey Post to revisit her seminal look at the Florida Capitol Press Corps. Much has changed from when she last took stock in 2013. If any single reporter embodies these changes, it’s

POLITICO Florida’s Matt Dixon, who works for an outlet that didn’t even exist in 2013, but today sets the pace for capital coverage. You may notice this is our biggest magazine yet, with almost 30 more pages than the last edition. There are just so many interesting aspects to this issue, including a very frank discussion with the state’s most outspoken lawmaker, Jack Latvala. But there’s also great food writing, great travel writing, even a story about the intersection of influence and sports! Please allow me to close with a reminder that our once-every-two-years list of the most influential people in Florida politics — the INFLUENCE 100 — is being decided now. We invite your nominations about who belongs on the list. Also, our choices for the “Golden Rotundas” — our annual awards for the governmental affairs industry — will be in the next edition. Email your suggestions away! In the meantime, it’s back to work!

Peter Schorsch Publisher

PHOTO: Via Marvel








CONTRIBUTORS Josh Cooper Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster A.G. Gancarski David Heller Tisha Keller Rochelle Koff


Peter Schorsch Phil Ammann

Rosanne Dunkelberger Tisha Keller Jim Rosica

Michael Moline Mitch Perry Scott Powers Jim Rosica Alan Snel

Andy Marlette Fred Piccolo


Mary Beth Tyson Mark Wallheiser


Harold Hedrick


Thomas Kiernan

SUBSCRIPTIONS One year (4 issues) is $25. Subscribe at

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 March 2017, Extensive Enterprises, LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited.


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A.G. GANCARSKI covers the Jacksonville political scene for, combining a deep bench of sources with relentless reporting and an irreverent style. In writing about Brian Hughes, A.G. treated the political communicator as an artist — fitting, given Hughes’ background in film studies. The piece is intended to read like an artist profile, providing insight into one of the most iconoclastic and effective people working in his sphere.

JIM ROSICA, Florida Politics’ man in Tallahassee, never thought

he’d be back in journalism. No, he was going to law school to become a big-shot attorney. Then he graduated into the Great Recession and ... well, you know how that went. He credits (or blames) Brendan Farrington for recruiting him as the AP’s session reporter in 2011, which led to a stint as the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter, then to his current post. His hobbies are changing diapers and cleaning spit-up. (Did we mention he’s almost 50 with an infant and a toddler?)

SCOTT POWERS is an Ohio native who grew up everywhere

as the son of a career military officer, and only ever wanted to be a journalist. He wrote for newspapers in Texas, Ohio and Florida [The Orlando Sentinel] for 30 years, and now writes, from Orlando, for He also is author of the new suspense-thriller novel, “The Roswell Swatch.” He and Connie have three now-adult children. He wears hats.

ROSANNE DUNKELBERGER is the editor-at-large of INFLUENCE and contributed stories about books and an Emerald Coast getaway to this issue. Most of her career in Florida’s capital city was spent as editor of Tallahassee Magazine. She leaves the political reporting to her husband, Lloyd, who is now covering his 34th Session. Rosanne recently celebrated her 60th birthday and is wondering where both her youth and her upper lip got off to.

ALAN SNEL covered the business side of sports, including spring

training facilities, for the South Florida (Fort Lauderdale) Sun-Sentinel and the Tampa Tribune. He lives in Vero Beach, not too far from Old Dodgertown.

MARY BETH TYSON grew up on the small island town of Cedar Key, located on the west coast of Florida in a multigenerational commercial fishing family. Watching the culture of fishing become endangered is what led to her desire to learn the art of photography. After turning her art into a business, she turned her attention to 10 | INFLUENCE SPRING 2017


ROSICA shooting weddings with a true documentary approach. Mary Beth and her husband, Ryan, live in Tallahassee where they are raising their three young sons and are advocates for their oldest with Down syndrome. There’s a very good chance this bio was written from a school pickup line. A Jill-of-all-trades, JENNA BUZZACCO-FOERSTER has spent more than a decade covering government and politics (and everything in between). When she’s not doing a yeoman’s job for and INFLUENCE, you can find her sipping cocktails and reading her mystery-of-the-month book club book by the pool.

AUDREY POST spent almost 30 years working as a reporter and editor at newspapers, primarily in Florida (The Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald, The Tampa Tribune, and Tallahassee Democrat) before the Great Recession forced out many veteran journalists. She opted for academia and is completing her doctorate in Mass Communication at Florida State University, where her research focuses on mass media and her newsroom background makes her question a lot of the conclusions ivory-tower scholars have made in earlier research. MITCH PERRY, Florida Politics’ Tampa Bay area correspondent,

hails from another Bay Area — the one on the Left Coast, otherwise known as San Francisco. After burning out in his attempt to be an actor, he reinvented himself as a newsman, first as a reporter/ Saturday Night News Anchor at KPFA Radio in Berkeley, California, before migrating east to become the Assistant News Director at WMNF Radio in Tampa in 2000, where he still hosts a weekly radio show on politics and other things. He also lives (and dies) with his beloved Golden State Warriors.

MARK WALLHEISER is driven to document the world around

us with a craft honed over the past 42 years of professional photography. Besides numerous state and national awards for his photojournalism, he’s been twice nominated individually for journalism’s highest honor — the Pulitzer Prize, once in 1988 in the public service category and again in 2016 for his coverage of the presidential elections. (That viral photo of candidate Trump and the baby at an Alabama rally? Yep, that was Mark.) His work was part of the Biloxi Sun Herald’s 2006 entry that won the Pulitzer in public service for their coverage of Hurricane Katrina.


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PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson


126 THE GREAT COMMUNICATORS Sarah Bascom and her team are tops in political communication. BY JENNA BUZZACCO-FOERSTER

96 Meet The Freshmen Newcomers to the House and Senate kick off session with big dreams and high hopes.

106 Food Fights A look at what happens when powerful interests are on opposite sides of the same issue.

112 Criminal Justice Reform

2017 could be the Session that ushers in big changes in laws relating to crime and punishment.

118 The State of the Capitol Press Corps

140 Flacks, Scribes and Spox

As legacy media shrinks, new methods of delivering the news are popping up in Tallahassee.

Up close with longtime Senate spox Katie Betta, political consultant Brian Hughes, and press corps members on top of their game, Matt Dixon and Tia Mitchell. PLUS: Twenty more names-to-know in media, public relations, and political communications.

132 International Know-How When it comes to public affairs, Hill+Knowlton can’t be beat for worldwide expertise and Florida pros.

142 What I’ve Learned with Jack Latvala With two stints in Florida’s Senate, he reflects on the differences between then and now, and the value of not following the leader.





17 79

Political Aficionado’s Guide


Get yourself organized. Books written before the presidential election that help explain why Trump won. Enticing MLB teams with spring training facilities. Florida’s Oscar-winning film. Florida Channel: It’s everywhere.

New places to dine in the capital city and the best spots for eats that are fast, cheap, and tasty. PLUS: Josh Cooper shares a Sunshine State-inspired cocktail and appetizer for your Kentucky Derby fete.


Insider’s Advice 87 Are you vulnerable? BLAKE DOWLING discusses the perils and pitfalls of your technological world.

89 Polls and Focus Groups

Go West!

When a quick trip out of town is what you need, head to the Emerald Coast.



Fourth Floor Files

Getting to know influencers, one question at a time.


STEVE VANCORE says they’re not the same, but both have their uses.

On the Move Briefings from the Rotunda


Social Scene


The Big Question 180

91 Watch Your (Campaign) Steps NOREEN FENNER explains how to run for office without running afoul of elections’ rules.

PHOTOS: Via Wild Light Films (Centrale); Jorg Gray (Watch); respecitve publishers (books); Mark Wallheiser

Tallahassee Dine Around 36

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D E V E LO P M E N T > D ATA B A S E D E V E LO P M E N T & M A N A G E M E N T > S T R AT E G I C P L A N N I N G > D I R E C T M A I L > P H O N E S > P O L L I N G > T V > W E B S I T E S > C O L L AT E R A L M AT E R I A L S / D E V E LO P M E N T & D E S I G N > P U B L I C I N F O R M AT I O N > L E G I S L AT I V E C O M M U N I C AT I O N > C O N S T I T U E N T C O N TA C T > I N T E R N A L C O M M U N I C AT I O N > I S S U E S M A N A G E M E N T > S T R AT E G I C C O M M U N I C AT I O N / P L A N N I N G & E X E C U T I O N > I S S U E D E V E LO P M E N T > A N D M O R E… G R A S S R O O T S A D V O C A C Y > S T O R Y -T E L L I N G E X P E R T S > P U B L I C R E L A T I O N S > C R I S I S C O M M U N I C A T I O N S > M E D I A O U T R E A C H > P R E S S R E L E A S E S > S E N3T APublic T I O N > SRelations P O K E S P E R S O(On3PR) N > T O W N is H AaL Lfull-service M E E T I N G S > C O M M U N I T Y R E L AT I O N S > S P E C I A L E V E N T S * P R E S S C O N F E R E N C E S > M E D I A T R A I N I N G & P R EOn E D I T O R I A L S > L E T T Efirm R S Tproviding O T H E E D I T Ocomprehensive R > P R E S S K I T D E strategies VELOPMENT > INTERN AL / E X TERN AL NE WSLE T TERS E D I T O R I A L B O A R D O U T R E A C H > O P I N I O N communications

for internal and external communications for local, state & M Afederal N A G E M E associations, N T > S T R A T E G I businesses, C P L A N N I N G >civic D I R Egroups, CT MAIL > PHONES > POLLING > TV > WEBSITES > D E V E L O P M E N T > D A T A B A S E D E V E L O P M E N T and > L E non-profits; C I N F O R M A T I O Nand G I S L AT I V E C O M M U N I C AT I O N > C O N S T I T U E N T C O N TA C T > I N T E R N A L D E S I G N > P U B L Igovernments C O L L A T E R A L M A T E R I A L S / D E V E L O P M E N T & communities, including > S T R A campaigns, T E G I C C O M M Uissue N I C A T referenda, I O N / P L A N N I Ninitiatives, G & E X E C Uissue T IO N > IS SU E DE V ELOPM E N T > A N D M ORE… C O M M U N I C A T I O N > I S S U E S M A N A G E M E N Tpolitical X P E R T S > P U B L Icrisis C R E L Amanagement T I O N S > C R I S I Sand C O Mgrassroots/ M U N I C AT I O N S > M E D I A O U T R E A C H > P R E S S R E L E A S E S > G R A S S R O O T S A D V O C A C Y > S T O R Y -T E L L I N G Emanagement, programs. N > S P O K E S Padvocacy ERSON > TO W N H A L L M E E T I N G S > C O M M U N I T Y R E L AT I O N S > S P E C I A L E V E N T S * P R E S S C O N F E R E N C E S > M E D I A T R A I N I N G & P R E S E N T A T I Ograsstops > I N I T I AT I V E S & R E F E R E N D A C A M PA I G N S > P U B L I C P O L I C Y C A M PA I G N S > C A M PA I G N P L A N S > F I N A N C E P L A N S / B U D G E T S > A D V E R T I S I N G > A L L I A N C E


D E V E LO P M E N T > D ATA B A S E D E V E LO P M E N T & M A N A G E M E N T > S T R AT E G I C P L A N N I N G > D I R E C T M A I L > P H O N E S > P O L L I N G > T V > W E B S I T E S > C O L L AT E R A L M AT E R I A L S / D E V E LO P M E N T & D E S I G N > P U B L I C I N F O R M AT I O N > L E G I S L AT I V E C O M M U N I C AT I O N > C O N S T I T U E N T C O N TA C T > I N T E R N A L C O M M U N I C AT I O N > I S S U E S M A N A G E M E N T > S T R AT E G I C C O M M U N I C AT I O N / P L A N N I N G & E X E C U T I O N > I S S U E D E V E LO P M E N T > A N D M O R E… G R A S S R O O T S A D V O C A C Y > S T O R Y -T E L L I N G E X P E R T S > P U B L I C R E L A T I O N S > C R I S I S C O M M U N I C A T I O N S > M E D I A O U T R E A C H > P R E S S R E L E A S E S > P R E S S C O N F E R E N C E S > M E D I A T R A I N I N G & P R E S E N TAT I O N > S P O K E S P E R S O N > TO W N H A L L M E E T I N G S > C O M M U N I T Y R E L AT I O N S > S P E C I A L E V E N T S * EDITORIAL BOARD OUTRE ACH > OPINION EDITORIALS > LE T TERS TO THE EDITOR > PRESS KIT DE VELOPMENT > INTERN AL / E X TERN AL NE WSLE T TERS 200 W. College Ave., Suite 210 > I N I T I A T I V E S & R E F E R E N D A C A M P A I G N S > P UTallahassee, B L I C P O L I CFL Y C32301 A M PA I G NS > C A M PA I G N PL A NS > F IN A N CE PL A NS / BU D G E TS > A DV ERT ISIN G > A LLI A N CE 850.391.5040 D E V E LO P M E N T > D ATA B A S E D E V E LO P M E N T & M A N A G E M E N T > S T R AT E G I C P L A N N I N G > D I R E C T M A I L > P H O N E S > P O L L I N G > T V > W E B S I T E S >

C O L L AT E R A L M AT E R I A L S / D E V E LO P M E N T & D E S I G N > P U B L I C I N F O R M AT I O N > L E G I S L AT I V E C O M M U N I C AT I O N > C O N S T I T U E N T C O N TA C T > I N T E R N A L C O M M U N I C AT I O N > I S S U E S M A N A G E M E N T > S T R AT E G I C C O M M U N I C AT I O N / P L A N N I N G & E X E C U T I O N > I S S U E D E V E LO P M E N T > A N D M O R E…


the Political BEST




Aficionado’s  Guide to ... READS







Some Serious Chill The Process takes its toll on everyone involved. Here are some curated treats to help you survive and thrive. BY TISHA CREWS KELLER

Matcha Tea Set

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BUG OFF Experience the marriage of beauty and function. Aromaflage is a botanical fragrance that smells like a fine perfume and repels even the hardiest Florida bugs with ease. Wild has notes of spicy cardamom, warm cedarwood and snappy spruce — a spa-like scent that’s free of DEET, parabens, and other harsh chemicals. Starting at $30; or Dillards.

A WARM WELCOME GIFT BOX From the rich olive oil made with handpicked Andalusian olives to the handmade bay leaf and lime soap, this box is brimming with artisanal ingredients that will inspire a luxurious evening in. $150; products/a-warm-welcome


PHOTOS: Pumeli; VisAcuity; Anne Stone Golf; AKGlobalTech; Tory Rust; Great Useful Stuff; Wassterstein Home

HOT PUTT Putt-A-Round catches the ball from any direction, allowing for 360º putting practice in the home, office, or on the green. It is made in the U.S.A. of sturdy anodized aluminum, giving it a sleek, expensive look. $29.97;

MULTI-TASKER This compact charging station is a small, sleek solution to consolidate charging and features a built-in USB power hub. Room for tablets, pads and e-readers, all while taking up less space than the length of a pen! Available in 4 finishes: Bamboo, Cherry, Black Leatherette and White Leatherette. $34.99;

FEDERAL CASE Jorg Gray watches are worn by POTUS and other dignitaries from across the globe, and command attention with timepieces of uncompromising quality and functionality. Encased in a silver or rose gold stainless-steel finish, the scratchresistant mineral crystal or sapphire crystal timepieces wear comfortably with alligator-pattern or buffalo-grain Italian leather straps, or a stainlesssteel bracelet. JG6500-83 Automatic; $895;

TECH TASSEL When fashion meets technology, your data and charging cables become a fashion statements. This playful, fashionable tassel can easily be attached to your keys or handbag and includes a macro USB, a micro USB and a lightning cable. The ONLY such product worldwide that works for your Apple, Android and all micro USB compatible products such as your Kindle. Available in three colors. $13.99;

ROLLED AWAY The TechAway Roll makes organizing your charging cords simple when you are on-thego. This lightweight and durable tri-fold bag has 3 different sized zipped compartments designed to hold everything from charging cords, earbuds, e-readers, pads, music players and wearable tech to a passport or reading glasses. Available in three colors. $24.99;

ALL BETS ARE OFF Don’t risk the drive. The AlcoMate Revo combines high-tech with common sense to offer reliable, convenient and accurate personal breathalyzer tests from the convenience of your car or purse. $249.95;


GET A HANDLE ON IT The Zoodi is the first hands-free protective case for iPad Air and Air 2 designed with a strap to allow people to use their tablet with both hands, eliminating the need to hold a tablet in one hand while typing with the other. Zoodi also provides protection from dropping the iPad when on-the-go and is easily transported by just slinging it to the side. It comes in several fun, trendy color combinations, as well as two traditional color schemes. $24.99;

IN FOCUS Tetley’s FOCUS Super Tea is a black tea with vanilla and added caffeine — to help increase alertness and concentration. (The caffeine content per serving is about the same as a cup of coffee.) $3.99 for 20 tea bags; in grocery stores or online at

PAIN-LESS Most pain management solutions simply block the pain. Oska Pulse mimics the body’s own recovery processes to relieve pain, muscle stiffness and inflammation, using optimized pulsed electromagnetic field technology (PEMF) to encourage recovery at a cellular level, so you can get back to life. The palm-sized device is silent and can be worn under or over clothing for 30-minute theraputic sessions. $399;

PHOTOS: Great Useful Stuff; Zoodi; Oska Wellness; Rebel Yell; Tetley

POCKET CHANGE The Travel Media Pouch conveniently stores tech gadgets and their charging cords into one lightweight pouch that easily fits in any carry-on. The interior is divided into 5 separate sections to securely hold a variety of devices, accessories and more. Available in three colors: black, green and red. $24.99;

CARRY CHANGE Rebel Yell Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is an original time-honored recipe with a big, round body and full flavor. Rebel Yell dates back to 1849 and is known for its softer taste of a wheated bourbon with a warm finish. $22.99;


the Political

Aficionado’s  Guide to ... GOOD READS

Missing the Obvious How the clues to Donald Trump’s 2016 victory were hiding in plain sight BY ROSANNE DUNKELBERGER


he media didn’t get it. The Democrats and Hillary Clinton didn’t get it. The pundits didn’t get it. Nate Silver and the pollsters didn’t get it. All but the true believers didn’t get that there was something afoot that could — and ultimately would — propel Donald Trump into the presidency. But with the benefit of hindsight, one can get an inkling of how dissatisfaction and demographics would combine to elect the most unlikely of candidates when reading books published before the 2016 election.

PHOTOS: Courtesy individual publishers


explainer for the disenfranchised working-class voter during election season, they often turned to J.D. Vance. He’s a Yale Law School graduate and principal at a Silicon Valley investment firm, but Vance has come a very long way from his Scots-Irish roots in Appalachian Kentucky and the Rust Belt town of Middleburg, Ohio. Much of his memoir — still No. 2 on the New York Times Best Seller list after 33 weeks — focuses on his tumultuous childhood, which was concurrent with the decline of America’s steel industry. His grandparents — Mamaw and Pawpaw — moved to Middleburg in the 1940s, following the promise of working-class success, but many of the problems of hillbilly culture came along with them, including alcoholism, domestic violence, and drug addiction. When jobs started leaving the region, those problems were only amplified. While he has compassion and fondness for those with whom he shared his youth, Vance doesn’t sugarcoat his experiences — or the contrariness of his people. But his experiences give “elites” an honest look at the bleak prospects many Americans in flyover country face. And the anger that swung this swing state to Trump in 2016. In mid-March, Vance announced in a New York Times opinion piece that he’s moving from California to Columbus, Ohio to found a nonprofit to combat opioid abuse in his home state. >>



Here are other books that provide insight into what recent elections mean — and what is portended for the future: “COMING APART: THE STATE OF WHITE AMERICA 1960-2010” BY CHARLES MURRAY “The most scholarly and legit prediction of things to come,” says Sally Bradshaw, who worked with Jeb Bush when he was running for president and is now owner of Midtown Reader in Tallahassee. “Murray wrote a column about why Trump was crushing the Republican field and I thought to myself, ‘Oh no – this isn’t going to end well.’ It’s eye opening.” “END OF WHITE CHRISTIAN AMERICA” BY ROBERT P. JONES For most of our history, White Christian America has shaped national policy and American values, but this cohort is no longer the majority. Jones explains how many of the country’s most heated issues make sense as the racial and religious landscape shifts. “STRANGERS IN THEIR OWN LAND” BY ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD A sociologist takes an empathetic look at the nation from the perspective of hurt and angry conservatives in Louisiana’s bayou country. “LISTEN LIBERAL, OR WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE PARTY OF THE PEOPLE” BY FRANK THOMAS Published in March 2016, it’s one of the New York Times’ “6 Books to Help Understand Trump’s Win.” “THE SELFIE VOTE: WHERE MILLENNIALS ARE LEADING AMERICA” BY KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON The sub-sub headline of this book is “And How Republicans Can Keep Up.” Written by the GOP’s leading pollster, it is a data-driven but readable look at demographics and culture.

COMING SOON “THE AMERICAN SPIRIT: WHO WE ARE AND WHAT WE STAND FOR” BY DAVID MCCULLOUGH (DUE OUT APRIL 18) After a bitter election and a divided country, McCullough has collected some of his most important speeches in a volume created to remind Americans of the nation’s core values. “THE EVANGELICALS: THE STRUGGLE TO SHAPE AMERICA” BY FRANCES FITZGERALD (DUE OUT APRIL 4) The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian tells the story of the Evangelical movement in America, from its beginnings to the 2016 presidential election. “THE VANISHING AMERICAN ADULT: OUR COMING-OF-AGE CRISIS — AND HOW TO REBUILD A CULTURE OF SELF-RELIANCE” BY BEN SASSE (DUE OUT MAY 16) The Nebraska senator posits that America’s youth are in crisis. Raised by overprotective parents and coddled by government programs, they are ill-equipped to survive in the global economy. He offers a path to raising resilient and engaged citizens.


“THE NEXT AMERICA” BY PAUL TAYLOR AND THE PEW RESEARCH CENTER If anecdotal evidence isn’t your thing and you’re looking for cold, hard facts to understand the state of the nation, this is the book for you. Published in 2014, it’s all data, all the time. Fully one third of “The Next America” is appendices — charts and bar graphs that tell the story. America is getting more racially diverse, attracting more immigrants, getting more gray and less religious. Prepare, the book says, for a coming generational showdown between baby boomers and millennials. The “forever young” boomer generation is crossing into retirement age at the rate of 10,000 a day, focusing now on their health and finances. The millennials now surpass the number of boomers, coming of age in a time of economic uncertainty and upheaval. They tend to be more liberal about things like intermarriage, immigrants, and marijuana and less tied to traditional religion. The “demographics is destiny” theory didn’t work for Democrats in 2016, and the loss in Florida could be ascribed to a growing share of millennials who aren’t happy with the two major parties.

PHOTOS: Courtesy individual publishers


BY GEORGE PACKER While Vance’s book puts a microscope on a single life, George Packer has pulled back just a bit to give the broader view in his book, published in 2013. He likens America to a coil of shared values that offers security to some, but can be stifling to others. Now, he posits, we are in the midst of an “unwinding,” a time of great change creating freedom that will propel some to great heights and leave others in free fall. Packer tells his story through the stories of people and places. You’ll find interesting insights into people with very familiar names and faces — Oprah Winfrey, Newt Gingrich, Colin Powell, Elizabeth Warren and Sam Walton, to name a few. But most of the book follows the lives of ordinary people like Tammy Thomas of Youngstown, Ohio. The single mother had a middle-class life working in a factory, but lived through downsizings and closings that ultimately left her without a job. She would find a new life as a community activist. One narrative follows the story of the housing crisis as seen through the lens of the Tampa area — including tales of overbuilding, reckless — even fraudulent — mortgage lending, and the ultimate creation of suburbia-turned-wasteland by foreclosures. The main character in Tampa’s story is Tampa Bay Times’ Government and Politics Editor Michael Van Sickler.

the Political

Aficionado’s  Guide to ... S P O RT S

The view from behind home plate at The Ballpark of The Palm Beaches, the new $148.5 million spring training home for the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals.

Spring T Training Shuffle PHOTO: Courtesy Alan Snel

Florida’s MLB teams are on the move, seeking new and upgraded facilities BY ALAN SNEL

he Houston Astros knew they were leaving Kissimmee, their Florida spring training home since 1984. But would they follow a trail blazed by other Major League Baseball teams that departed spring camps in Florida’s Grapefruit League for new swanky spring training digs in Arizona? (Think Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians.) Or would they find a new spring home in the Sunshine State? “We took a long, hard look at Arizona,” said Giles Kibbe, Astros general counsel. In the end, though, the best deal was in Palm Beach County, partnering with the Washington Nationals and inaugurating a new $148.5 million, 161-acre spring training camp in West Palm Beach this year. Both the Astros and the Nationals were tired of being geographically isolated in central Florida, and now join the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals as spring training tenants of Palm Beach County. And the New York Mets, working with St. Lucie County on a $55 million modernization project at the Mets’ spring camp in Port St. Lucie, are less than an hour away north off Interstate 95. When Palm Beach County locked up the Astros and Nats for a 30-year lease, it was a big step to stabilize the movement of teams in Florida, where now the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin and the Atlanta Braves at Disney are the lone clubs left seeking a new, modern facility, said John Webb, president of the Florida Sports Foundation, the state’s sports promotion and development arm. “It’s been a long road. Arizona has lured five teams from Florida,” Webb said. The Blue Jays want a modern facility in Dunedin, where the team plays in a small Cracker Jack box of a ballpark that would remind spring training fans of the Cleveland Indians’ former ballyard in Winter Haven. Meanwhile, the Braves would like to leave Disney, and two months ago unveiled plans for a new complex in North Port in Sarasota County. “If those deals get done, we’re good for 15 to 20 years,” Webb said of the Blue Jays and Braves situations. >>


But keeping major league franchises in Florida is no inexpensive matter. The new spring complex for the Astros and Nationals cost $148.5 million. But with interest, the two-team center will actually cost $233 million, with Palm Beach County spending $116 million and the teams forking over $67 million, with the state pitching in with $50 million. In 2015, Palm Beach County commissioners approved using hotel room charge revenues for their share. The site is a former trash site, just south of 45th Street. Crews removed 220,000 cubic yards of garbage to make way for the emerald ballfields. While sports economists debate the net economic impacts of sports facilities, one thing is for sure about the new facility in Palm Beach County: Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker said the spring camp is a wise investment of public dollars because it cements the county’s other spring training investment in Jupiter, where the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals spend March, 15 miles to the north. “We already had a two-team stadium, and Major League Baseball was looking to make sure we kept baseball in Florida with teams looking to transfer,” Baker said.

With four teams in Palm Beach County, it produces the type of critical mass of spring training sites that matches Arizona’s scene. Plus, the New York Mets are less than an hour away, just up Interstate 95 to the north in Port St. Lucie, Baker said. Speaking of the Mets, the club is looking to continue its long-term relationship with St. Lucie County, assuming the state signs off on a $20 million contribution toward a $55 million modernization of the Mets’ spring site in St. Lucie West. The project’s centerpiece is a new 360-degree ballpark concourse — a staple in most modern spring training ballyards that allows fans to walk around the field and watch the game from various vantage points, said Howard Tipton, St. Lucie County administrator. Tipton, interestingly enough, also served as Brevard county manager when the Nationals were discussing stadium issues with officials in Brevard County before they moved to West Palm Beach. A new main entrance will also be configured at First Data Field, where a naming rights deal for the Mets ballpark was recently announced. The Mets have played spring games there since 1988. The new Mets-St. Lucie County 25-year




lease would also require the county to pay $85 million in stadium upkeep during the next quarter-century, while the ballclub would pay $58 million toward ballpark maintenance and improvements, Tipton said. State grants for spring camps come through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, and does not require state legislative approval. With Florida House members, led by Speaker Richard Corcoran, not keen on subsidizing tourism marketing and initiatives, it would be a tough challenge for teams to win the $20 million and $50 million contributions if the Legislature was required to approve the grants. Counties and cities in Florida typically use hotel room fee revenues to pay off stadium construction debts. Those bed tax revenues normally are spent on tourism expenses such as beach renourishment and marketing campaigns. The fact the Mets are contributing $58 million toward its lease, and the Astros and Nationals are paying $67 million to help build their new home, points to a new trend of teams stepping up with more dollars in these public-private relationships. “The teams and the owners are putting up money more than ever before,” said Tom McNicholas, a West Palm Beach-based PR firm owner who works for the Astros, Nationals, and Braves on spring training projects. “They’re all paying a lot of money. The days of handouts to professional sports are beyond — and that’s not a bad thing.” McNicholas is helping the Braves with their transition from Disney. The Braves’ lease expires in 2018 and the team hopes to be in a new home for spring 2019, McNicholas said. The Braves are talking exclusively with Sarasota County about a new spring complex in North Port, he said. Sometimes, host communities and their major-league spring residents are not a match. Consider the Nationals and their former home in Viera, north of Melbourne in Brevard County. The spring complex was the home of the Marlins before the Montreal Expos took over the facility. The Montreal franchise then moved to the nation’s capital, with the Nationals inheriting the spring home. But the Nats-Brevard relationship didn’t click, with Brevard County Commission Chairman Curt Smith saying the Nationals’ economic impact was overrated. He said the Nationals complained the Viera site was too isolated, but he called the players “prima donnas” for squawking about the two-hour bus rides to other spring stadiums. “People didn’t fill up the hotels,” Smith said. “We got a dateline out of an article printed up north. They didn’t want to be here. And when we looked at the economics, we couldn’t justify spending for a new stadium.

PHOTOS: Courtesy Alan Snel

The bloom is off the rose, you can say.” Smith also disagrees with the state contributing $20 million to build single-team spring ballparks and $50 million for two-team spring camps. “It’s a waste. You have these owners and they can afford their own $50 million,” he said. While the Nationals struck out in staying in Brevard, the Mets have been a good match for Port St. Lucie, home to many New Yorkers. “The Mets have had a strong, emotional, great fan base in St. Lucie County and the Treasure Coast and that’s why St. Lucie County is stepping up,” McNicholas said. While the Nationals leaving Viera was not an emotional jolt to the town, the Dodgers departing Vero Beach for Arizona in 2008 was a major hit — and was symbolic of the exodus of some MLB teams from Florida to the Cactus League. Old Dodgertown and its ballpark, Holman Stadium, are essential parts of baseball history and the site struggled after Dodgers left. But remarkably, Dodgertown has re-invented itself into “Historic Dodgertown,” an all-purpose sports center that still hosts hundreds of high school and college baseball games and is financially breaking even thanks to branching out and marketing itself as a training center for other sports such as lacrosse and football.

Left: A pitcher warms up in the bullpen of the Palm Beach stadium. Above: PR firm owner Tom McNicholas is a key player, working with the Nationals, Astros, and Braves on spring training stadium deals. In much the same way that Dodgertown created the template for the modern Florida spring training complex, its new 2017 version of an all-sports, youth-oriented business model has also served as the business model for former spring training homes. For example, the former Nationals’ site, an hour to the north, is being marketed as an amateur sports mecca thanks to its new tenant — the U.S. Specialty Sports Association, which is moving from Kissimmee to the Nationals’ former home in Viera’s Space Coast Stadium. USSSA is looking to deliver 75,000 annual hotel room nights and 175 tournament days a year, mostly youth baseball and softball games. “With all those sports families coming in, we will get more economic spending from that than the Nationals,” Smith said. Even Disney wanted its facility being used by the Braves to be a home to more amateur sports — one of the factors contributing to the Braves looking to relocate in Sarasota County, McNicholas said. The youth market is so large that even new spring training sites are also recruiting youth and college baseball teams for nonspring training months so that revenues are

flowing year-round. “These stadiums are built smarter now. You have outer facilities where communities are getting a return on investment all year around,” McNicholas said. Besides the Braves, the Blue Jays want a new facility. The club would like to stay in Dunedin, with state Sen. Jack Latvala helping out on the deal. Latvala said the city is requesting Pinellas County put up $45 million or $46 million toward an $80 million renovation of the current Blue Jays’ facilities that the state senator described as a “substantial construction project.” Latvala said the request might be too “rich” for the county, which could ask the city or team to kick in more money. “It’s in the consideration process,” Latvala said of the Blue Jays-Dunedin-Pinellas County deal. Major League Baseball prefers teams in Florida stay here because there’s an even 1515 split of clubs in Arizona and the Sunshine State, Webb said. With the prospects of the Braves and Blue Jays staying put in Florida looking good, it appears the Grapefruit League’s members will be here for years. SPRING 2017 INFLUENCE | 25


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the Political

Aficionado’s  Guide to ... MOVIES

Basking in ‘Moonlight’ Creating the Academy Awards’ Best Picture is an FSU ‘family’ affair BY DAVID HELLER, FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY NEWS

PHOTOS: Michael Bucker/REX/Shutterstock and via Plan B Entertainment


t’s a rare rainy, gray day in Los Angeles, home of film director Barry Jenkins, who finds himself in the middle of another kind of storm — an unexpected but sweet storm of cinematic praise showering over his personal labor of love, “Moonlight.” Jenkins, a 2003 alumnus of the Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts, is the writer-director of the breakout film that won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and was selected as Best Picture (Drama) at the Golden Globe Awards. He is sharing the spotlight with some of his best friends from Florida State. Seven FSU film school graduates worked on “Moonlight.” Five earned Oscar nominations: Jenkins, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay; Adele Romanski, Best Picture; James Laxton, Best Cinematographer; Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders, Best Film Editing. Actor André Holland and co-producer Andrew Hevia completed the Florida State squad.

For Jenkins, the chance to navigate this whirlwind journey with some of the people he loves and respects most has made the adventure even sweeter. “We spend holidays together,” Jenkins said from Los Angeles. “It’s been a continuous sort of family affair.” This FSU family has supported one another since graduation. They’ve shared successes, as well as struggles. “They can tell you there have been years where I was so broke,” Jenkins said. “But I needed to be in L.A., so I’d live on somebody’s couch for a couple of months or live in somebody’s spare bedroom for a couple of months. “This is my second family, my 1-A kind of family. It’s meant everything, even more than just filmmaking. I think the people who know me the best are these people I went to film school with. That’s why so much of what’s happened with the film is truly special.” Jenkins understands the truly special

recognition for “Moonlight” is about as good as it gets. He appreciates this unique moment and savors the chance to experience it with his Florida State family. “I’m 37 and some of these friendships I’ve had for 15-17 years,” Jenkins said. “It’s extraordinary to be sharing these things now, Academy Award nominations, with these people.”


Fourteen years have passed since Jenkins graduated from FSU with two bachelor’s degrees, one in film and a second in creative writing. His old college memories remain crystal clear. They are every bit as special in their own way as the exhilarating emotions of the present. “Other than the last six months,” Jenkins said, “Florida State is probably one of the two or three best experiences of my life, going to that school.” >>


A Shocking and Unforgettable Oscar Night In a very confusing and crazy conclusion to the 89th annual Academy Awards, “La La Land” was initially named Best Picture. But after members of that film came onstage and delivered speeches, they were told the announcement was a mistake and the real winner of the top award at the Oscars 2017 was actually “Moonlight” — written and directed by FSU alumnus Barry Jenkins. “Moonlight” won three Oscars: Best Picture, FSU alumna Adele Romanski, producer; Best Adapted Screenplay, Jenkins and writer Tarell McCrany; and Best Supporting Actor, Mahershala Ali. Other nominations included Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Original Music Score, and Best Film Editing.

moments,” Laxton remembered. “We would leave DVDs of classic films on repeat on television and have these things running constantly in the background of conversations, always immersing ourselves in some sort of craft concept. “It was a physical space where we all connected with each other in a very inspirational way that, from second to second, provided an atmosphere of creativity that felt special. We wanted to keep going with that energy because it felt so right for us.” Jenkins and Laxton first developed that chemistry on student film projects, including an eight-minute short, “My Josephine.” The film demonstrated Jenkins’ ability to write from his heart and tell a story with authenticity. Five years later, the two friends collaborated again on Jenkins’ other feature-length film, “Medicine for Melancholy.” Finding traditional financing turned into a futile effort, but an FSU friend stepped up with financial assistance and they were able to make the movie for just $13,000.

A TELEPATHIC CONNECTION Going to FSU was life-changing for Jenkins. He arrived on campus with scholarships, raw writing talent and a will to succeed. He got to work pursuing an English degree and, perhaps more important, writing a new chapter for his life. As a child in Liberty City, a dangerous Miami neighborhood, Jenkins was forced to confront loss, violence, racial tension, drugs, and his mother’s desperate struggle with addiction. He was raised by a family friend. Florida State was a 7½-hour drive from Liberty City but in many ways, the university was an utterly different universe with its stately, ornate brick buildings; gorgeously manicured grounds; and plentiful opportunities to think, talk and learn. It looked and felt like an ethereal Land of Oz. That’s about how Jenkins remembers the house near campus that he shared with his buddy Laxton and two others. “It was just a fantastical place,” Jenkins recalled. “It was otherworldly, and it’s where we did a lot of good work. We’d watch films and listen to music all the time. It was a cool little place.” Cinematographer Laxton shares those special feelings for the quaint house near campus that became the setting for a singular, unrepeatable moment in their lives. Laxton describes the place as a sort of “artists’ commune,” where four guys learning to make films set up an inimitable space where thought-provoking discussions flourished and creativity thrived. “We surrounded ourselves with inspiring 30 | INFLUENCE SPRING 2017

Laxton’s wife and former FSU classmate, Romanski, became the driving force behind “Moonlight,” has joked that her husband and Jenkins share an almost telepathic connection when they work together. Jenkins agrees and adds he shares that connection with all of his Florida State filmmaking friends. “We all have a shorthand, for sure,” Jenkins said. “I think when you’re making a film you want to operate with as much trust as possible. There are few people in filmmaking who I can trust as much as these people, who were with me when I learned my first baby steps in the craft. They all know why I’m doing certain things. There isn’t a lot of explaining that has to occur because they’ve seen my voice develop over all these years.” Jenkins and Laxton have never talked about their enigmatic connection, but Laxton knows it’s there. “There is something about our rapport that goes back to the trust concept,” Laxton said. “I think from the very beginning, because of our shared visual vocabulary, we didn’t ever second guess one another. If he had an idea, I don’t think I ever had a reaction thinking, ‘That’s a strange idea. We shouldn’t do that.’ It was always thinking more like, ‘OK, maybe I don’t exactly know what he’s getting at, but let’s try that idea.’ Then five minutes later, I understood what he was getting at. We allow one another to freely express oneself and then we support that vision.” The bonds of trust between FSU’s “Moonlight” crew were encouraged and prophetically predicted by two of Jenkins’ professors: Richard Portman and Andy Ruben, both of

whom recently died. “They emphasized to us that the most talented people you would ever work with were probably sitting in that classroom right then, and the only people who would never tell you ‘no’ were also probably sitting in that room,” Jenkins said. “(For me), it’s remained true.”


Jenkins credits Florida State’s film school with creating an environment where students could form reassuring relationships with each other, as well as professors. “There was great nurturing and feedback between students and faculty,” Jenkins said. “Before I went into the film school, I was also in the English department and there were professors on that side, such as Elizabeth Stuckey-French, who were instrumental in my development. There wasn’t a barrier between students and teachers where you couldn’t communicate.” And film students did not face barriers in their creative process. Jenkins said they were given camera gear and the freedom to build films in whatever ways they could imagine. That unconventional approach provided a lasting lesson. “‘Moonlight’ is not a conventional narrative,” Jenkins noted. “It’s told in a very interesting way and that approach to storytelling was instilled in me from the very beginning at FSU. They didn’t try to put us in a box. They gave us the freedom to create whatever box we thought was most appropriate for our voice.” Developing a voice for his work was a key component of Jenkins’ film school experience. At graduation in 2003, he ran into Frank Patterson — the dean of the film school at that time — who slipped off his Skagen watch and gave it to Jenkins along with a bit of advice. “Make a movie with your voice,” Patterson told Jenkins, as recounted later to Tallahassee Democrat writer Mark Hinson, “and you’ll be OK.” It remains an indelible moment in Jenkins’ mind and a continuing guide in his work. “I do remember that moment,” Jenkins said. “He also said he gave me the watch because he wanted me to remember that I should dictate when the time was right to make that film and not to be in a rush. That’s a true story. I still have the watch, too.” Now, 14 years later, on this gray day in L.A., Jenkins pauses to consider the clarity of that tip amid the cinematic storm swirling around his life. Patterson was right. Everything has turned out OK — and then some. And that simple truth, “make a movie with your voice,” shines through in “Moonlight.” “FSU changed me. Literally. It completely changed who I was as a human being,” Jenkins said. “I think if you go to film school with that kind of openness, you’ll get the world out of it.”

the Political

Aficionado’s  Guide to ... TELEVISION

Beth Switzer, executive director of The Florida Channel, in their studios at the Florida Capitol.

An Eye on The Process Can’t make a meeting? No worries. The Florida Channel is ‘everywhere’ covering state government BY MICHAEL MOLINE

PHOTO: Mark Wallheiser


nter any office in the Capitol, and you’ll likely find The Florida Channel playing on a video screen. Venture into any committee room, and you’ll find it there in the person of a reporter, camera operator, or robotic cameras. The Florida Channel produces some 2,500 hours each year of coverage of the state’s government and law courts, streaming it to viewers through public television stations, cable providers, and 18 live web streams. “The mission is quite simple, and that is to get as much information out of this building as possible about the decisions being made, issues being discussed, in a way that people can make up their own minds about what they think,” Executive Director Beth Switzer

said during an interview in her office on the Capitol’s ninth floor. “From the get-go, that was the idea,” she said. It’s difficult to overstate The Florida Channel’s value to the people who populate state government. Legislators and staff use it to monitor meetings they’re unable to attend, or to review them afterward via the channel’s archives. So do executive branch officials. And lobbyists. Reporters, too. “It’s mostly useful because they quickly archive events,” Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier said. “I can’t always attend every committee meeting that I would like to, and it’s helpful to go back and watch those events. It’s always nice to know through the

interviews they do (and) what everybody’s perspective is on the various issues.” “There’s a lot of other pieces to it, too,” Sen. Bill Montford said. Take “Florida Crossroads,” for example. The program, in production for 29 years, produces documentaries about Florida history and culture. “It talks about different pieces of Florida,” Montford said. “Not only that, back in my day as an educator, as a principal, and (school) superintendent, we encouraged teachers to use it as a resource, as well.” “The Florida Channel brings us some insights that you just can’t get anywhere else in the state,” lobbyist David Mica said. “I try to keep it on almost my entire work day,” he


said — watching committee meetings, learning insights about “key influential and people who are valuable to the legislative process.” “Not fake news, but real news,” Mica said. The channel has produced live, gavel-to-gavel coverage of legislative sessions since 1996. The next year, WFSU-TV assumed management of the operation. “When we switched, they wanted us to make it a more contemporary news program, and so the half-hour format of Capitol Update was born,” Switzer said. “We’re still hanging with it.” The program packages news reports about happenings in the Capitol and airs nightly during session, weekly the rest of the year. You’ll find it on The Florida Channel itself, and on most public broadcasting stations. Four years ago, the producers created “News Brief,” which airs nightly at 5:30 and mornings at 8, so viewers don’t have to wait for Friday for their news fix. Switzer herself presides over “Florida Face to Face” — as she has done for 27 years. Interstitials run between programs — short vignettes about, say, Florida lighthouses, or state colleges. “Those are around as long as they’re meaningful,” Switzer said. The budget runs between $3 million and $4 million each year, funneled through the Department of Education. “Every now and then we will ask for nonrecurring funds to do something, buy a


piece of equipment, so it varies from year to year,” Switzer said. “We’ve been through things just like everyone else. When there are tough economic times, our funding has been cut, as well.” That pays for 54 full-time staff. The channel adds people during session — but not reporters. “These are very hard jobs to do for television reporters. They’re longer-format packages. They’re deeper. We have the luxury of time to report a story in depth,” Switzer said. She described the team as “legislative analysts who also have some experience on TV. Because they’ve really got to understand it. Our audience is quite broad. Our audience is members of the public — which are very important. They are staff members. They are members of the Legislature. They are people involved in the process. They expect us to get it right. And they will know if we get it wrong.” The operation — newsgathering, master control, engineering, videography, editing, webs and feeds, remote-control news crews, robotics directors, and all — fills an entire floor of the Capitol’s 22-story tower. Several people work in converted closets. “We take every little piece that we can,” Switzer said. She knows how to squeeze a dime. “Over the years it has been cobbled together to make it into a very functional production facility,” Switzer said. People multitask, filling in where needed. Engineers

carted in two-by-fours to build storage racks. Switzer herself made some of the graphics used on air. “Out of every single penny, we take a lot. We built our own green screen. We researched it and found the green screen paint and saved some money.” Similarly, staffers bought black fabric and sewed curtains that line the studio. Another made a protective cover for the clear news studio desktop. The affect is industrial chic — you can see building girders and pipes inside the studio. “It’s lofty. Now we’re in fashion,” Switzer joked. “All these things, we designed ourselves, to make sure we could use the space appropriately and get everything we wanted in. It is not off-the-shelf. Most television operations have not only a lot more room, but more funding to do these things. We’ve been able to make it work very efficiently and very effectively.” About those robotics directors: They run the remote-control cameras located in the Capitol Complex’s many meeting rooms. In the early days, “we were physically rolling cameras from room to room,” Switzer said — no mean trick, given the crowds a session attracts. “You can imagine what it was like, because they were big and you had to wait for an elevator to get there. It was a real challenge.”

PHOTOS: Mark Wallheiser

Left: Bob Brooks in the production control room at The Florida Channel, after the joint session of the Florida Legislature. Above: News managers Krysta Brown, left, and Theresa Marsenburg with Beth Switzer, executive director of The Florida Channel, in their studios at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee.

Now, “we have more robotic cameras in this building than any other state in the country,” Switzer said. “It’s right around 90, either a little under or a little over. We have the Cabinet room, we have both chambers of the Legislature, and all the committee rooms have robotic cameras in them. A minimum of three, so you’ve got multiple shots.” The channel started streaming everything on the web three years ago. “It really made everybody happy, because then everyone has access to whatever it is we’re covering simultaneously,” Switzer said. “You don’t have to pick and choose. It’s not one TV stream. We are streaming and archiving everything we do. We’re the only organization in the country that does that in a broadcast-quality way … with multiple cameras so you can see who’s speaking.” That capacity makes The Florida Channel the envy of its peers in other statehouses, said Paul Giguere, president and CEO of the Connecticut Public Affairs Network and president of the National Civil Trust, which represents public broadcasters. “The Florida Channel is right at the top,” he said. “They do impressive work. The gold standard the rest of us look to when aspiring to what we could become.” Of the number of web feeds the channel can stream, “that’s just mind-boggling — to be able to pump out that amount of programming on a daily basis,” he said. “The state of Georgia doesn’t have anything like the Florida Channel. It has a public broadcasting system, but it doesn’t have the access to the various meetings and information that The Florida Channel does,” said Steve Birtman, a lobbyist who works in statehouses across the country. The Florida Channel’s staff remains in contact with legislative aides during meetings, so they can load names and identify witnesses’ organizations onto screen graphics in real time. They Google to find out background information. “We want to put these people in as much context as possible,” Switzer said. “We have no control over the live events that we cover — where they are, what time they start, or when they end. These guys have to be ready to juggle. They’re a very active bunch.” Remote crews travel the state in groups of three in a “truck-in-a-box” — “a big, portable switcher with three cameras so we can get a broadcast-quality, multiple-camera switched feed” of board and government meetings outside the Capitol Complex, Switzer said. “If a third event comes up that we really have to cover, we can field a third unit. Somebody of the six is designated as a crew leader, and then there’s a pool from almost every

other department, so they may get called into the duty to be a part of the crew. We do whatever we need to do.” The channel’s peripatetic character sometimes astounds state leaders. Jeb Bush, when governor, remarked once “You guys are everywhere,“ when The Florida Channel showed up at news events on the same day in Tallahassee and Tampa, she said. “We had gotten somebody down there in time to cover an event. “And I have members of the Press Corps who call a lot to go, ‘Are y’all going down to Miami for this meeting? Because I’m hoping that we don’t have to make the travel.’ Because we’re just about everywhere.” About the Press Corps — Tallahassee has not been immune to the decline in reporting from state capitals. In fact, Switzer recently hired statehouse veteran John Kennedy after the Palm Beach Post laid him off to concentrate on hometown reporting. Does that trend make The Florida Channel more valuable? “I hope so,” Switzer said. “I worry that people in the state won’t have as much access to information coming out of the Capitol. So I hope that we are an important source of that.” The value of public broadcasting will only grow if more federal responsibilities shift onto

state governments, Giguere said. “The reality is, the issues being decided at the state level have far more importance to our daily lives.” What’s next? Well, The Florida Channel expanded to the Roku streaming platform last year, and Switzer hopes to add Amazon and Apple TV. “We want to increase access even further. One of the things we’ll be working on is better tagging and metadata, so that our archives and individual meetings are more easily searchable. People can go look for a bill. They can go look for something specific rather than go through the meetings. There are a million ways that we want to keep going.” To Switzer, it’s all about “providing access and ease of access.” “What I hear all the time from a wide variety of professionals involved in this process is, ‘I couldn’t do my job without the Florida Channel. Or, ‘The Florida Channel makes it a lot easier. I’m able to be more thorough because of The Florida Channel,’” she said. “And then I have citizens who tell us very frequently — and tell others who are in the meetings — ‘Oh, that’s how it works. Now I understand.’ And that it increases trust in the process. It’s not invisible to them. It’s more transparent.”


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Josh Cooper

In the Kitchen with ...

A FLORIDA-STYLE DERBY DAY Is there any sporting event so steeped in tradition and symbolism as the Kentucky Derby? The elaborate hats. The dapper seersucker suits. The garland of red roses. “My Old Kentucky Home.” And, of course, the Mint Julep. This year, the Run for the Roses is set for Saturday, May 6 with a post time of 6:34 p.m. But the parties start much earlier and last much longer than the two-minute race, so it’s good to have plentiful food and libations on hand for a Derby Day party. In this issue, Josh Cooper has created a Sunshine State version of the julep. The muddled mint is still there, but it’s complemented by the sweet-tart flavor key limes. He’s also created a bourbon-marinated pork tenderloin served on a traditional Southern-style buttermilk biscuit, complimented by either herbed butter or an apple-flavored honey mustard sauce. Most of the components can be made well ahead of the festivities, giving you plenty of time to fill out your racing form (downloadable for free from

Bourbon-Marinated Pork Tenderloin Biscuits served with Roasted Garlic and Herb Butter or a Honey Dijon mustard sauce PORK TENDERLOIN 1. Mix together ¼ cup soy sauce, ¼ cup bourbon, 2 tablespoons brown sugar and 2 cloves of garlic and pour over your pork tenderloin. Marinate for at least two hours, preferably overnight. 2. Preheat oven to 350° and cook in a roasting pan. After 30 minutes, check the internal temperature and cook until it registers 145°. Slice into ¼-inch-thick slices. SOUTHERN BUTTERMILK BISCUITS 2 cups bread flour 1 tablespoon baking powder 1 teaspoon fine salt 6 tablespoons frozen butter 1 cup buttermilk 1. Mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Using a box grater, grate the frozen butter and mix into the dry ingredients until it resembles coarse meal. 3. Making a well in the middle, pour the buttermilk into the well. Pull the dry ingredients from the outside into the buttermilk, being careful not to overmix. 4. On a lightly floured surface, take the dough and gently fold it over itself 5–7 times. Pat down to dough to ½ inch-thick and cut out your biscuits. Flour the biscuit cutter between cuts and never twist. 5. Bake at 425° for 15 minutes. Once the biscuits are out, paint with melted butter. 36 | INFLUENCE SPRING 2017

ROASTED GARLIC AND HERB BUTTER 8 ounces Kerrygold Irish Butter 1 head (or bulb) of garlic 1 tablespoon fresh minced parsley 1 tablespoon fresh minced oregano 1 tablespoon fresh minced thyme 1. Soften butter to room temperature. 2. Drizzle some olive oil on a sheet of tinfoil. Season with salt. Cut the bottom off the garlic head and place the exposed cloves onto the olive oil. Seal up the tinfoil around the garlic and roast at 400° for 30 minutes or until the cloves are softened. 3. Once cooled, remove the cloves from the peel and smash with a fork into a paste. Mix into the softened butter with the herbs. HONEY DIJON MUSTARD SAUCE 2 tablespoons Dijon or spicy mustard 1 tablespoon honey 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar 1 tablespoon apple juice 2 cloves garlic Mix all ingredients and store in a cool place.

Key Lime Mint Julep 5 mint sprigs 1 tablespoon Key Lime Simple Syrup Crushed ice 3 tablespoons bourbon 2 tablespoons club soda 1. Place mint leaves and simple syrup in a highball glass. Gently muddle the leaves. 2. Pack with crushed ice and pour bourbon over the ice. 3. Top with the club soda and garnish with a mint sprig.

KEY LIME SIMPLE SYRUP Over medium heat, heat up ½ cup water with 1 cup sugar until the sugar is fully dissolved. Add 1/2 cup fresh key lime juice and 1 tablespoon lime zest. Move to fridge to cool.


PHOTOS: Mark Wallheiser Photography

El Cocinero



PHOTOS: Courtesy Backwoods Crossing; Wild Light Film; Rochell Koff; Courtesy Centrale


Backwoods Crossing

Eat at Someplace

New & Different New local restaurants have popped up since the last time you were in Tallahassee BY ROCHELLE KOFF

HUNGRY YET? The 2017 legislative session is here and so begins the 60-day feeding frenzy in Tallahassee. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of restaurants in the city. Tallahassee has plenty of places serving everything from burgers to bulgogi. Even better: The city’s dining scene keeps expanding, with several new spots opening since the 2016 session ended in March. Here’s a look at eight new local restaurants in Tallahassee. No need to be hangry, my friends.

BACKWOODS CROSSING You can get a taste of the country without leaving the city at this folksy farm-to-table restaurant, just under nine miles — and a straight shot — from downtown. If you have the time, it’s worth the trip. Chef Jesse Rice and his brother Tyler grow dozens of crops that wind up in the special garden menu. The restaurant also provides a broader selection of steaks, seafood, and sandwiches. Don’t miss the corn fritters, build-your-own salad and homey bread pudding with caramel sauce. Details: lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday, a full bar (happy hour 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays), and live music Thursday nights. 6725 Mahan Drive. (across from the Tallahassee Auto Museum); 850-765-3753

BLU HALO If you’re looking for a high-end dining destination, Blu Halo is the swankiest new restaurant in Tallahassee. The venue features over-the-top options including a $150 martini (made with pricey Nolet’s Reserve Dry Gin), a $98 rib-eye called “The Boss,” and a $125 seafood tower (with

lobster, stone crabs, and jumbo shrimp). If you don’t have the boss’s bank account, you don’t have to spend a bundle. Most entrees (including pork chops, pasta, and crab cakes) are under $25. Blu Halo is in northeast Tallahassee, about 12 miles from the Capitol, so owner Keith Paniucki will be offering limousine service to pick up and drop off downtown customers as part of an all-inclusive, session dinner package for groups of 15 or more (by reservation). Details: Dinner daily, Saturday and Sunday brunch, happy hour 5 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Bannerman Crossing, 3431 Bannerman Road; 850-792-7884

CENTRALE ITALIAN PARLOUR This new Italian eatery is in the midst of College Town, but you don’t have to be under 25 to join in the fun. The space, from the owners of Madison Social and the new bar Township, attracts a mix of ages here for the hip setting with its retro vibe, lively atmosphere (remember, it’s on Gaines Street), and affordable fare like chick pea fries, chicken and eggplant Parmesan, pizza, pasta, and sandwiches. On Wednesdays,

the “The Boozeness” lunch special allows for a complimentary glass of wine or draft beer with a lunch purchase (11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Details: Lunch Monday to Friday, brunch Saturday and Sunday, dinner daily, happy hour 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays. 815 W. Madison St.; 850-765-6799

EL COCINERO The new El Cocinero is generating a lot of buzz with its emphasis on local ingredients, full bar, and low prices. Tacos ($3 and $4) are served on flour and corn tortillas made on premises. Jesse Edmunds, chef/owner of Liberty Bar & Restaurant, tweaks tradition with fillings like fried avocado, pumpkin, and cauliflower as well as blackened fish, steak, pork, and chicken. Other items include beans and rice, empanadas, and tortas (sandwiches). Details: Lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday, happy hour 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. weekdays. 402 E. Tennessee St.; 850-765-4094

GRITZ N GREENS If you’re craving comfort food, there’s a new Southern-style eatery in Tallahassee, about



TABLE 23 Located in Midtown’s former Front Porch (and Chez Pierre), the iconic Tallahassee location still features a sprawling porch, now accented with cherry red curtains, and chandeliers illuminating the handsome bar. Owners Joe and Mandy Lemons showcase Southern-inspired fare, including gumbo, pecan-crusted okra, and a decadent version of shrimp and grits (with bacon-tomato gravy and smoked gouda grits). Steak, fish, salads, and desserts round out the menu. There’s space for private parties and events in the upstairs dining room. Details: Lunch Monday to Friday, dinner Monday to Saturday, Sunday brunch, happy hour 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays.


Reservations accepted for all meals. 1215 Thomasville Road.; 850- 329-2261

TEQUILA TRIBE It’s a quick walk from the Capitol to this new Mexican eatery replacing the former 101 Restaurant in Kleman Plaza. The space attracts a mix of college students as well as downtown professionals — though not necessarily at the same time. The menu features guacamole tableside (made your way), rice bowls, and typical fare like burritos, tacos, and enchiladas. The full bar specializes in (no surprise) tequila and margaritas. The restaurant is a joint venture with the folks behind The Edison and the principal owners of the El Jalisco Mexican restaurants. Room 2IV has replaced the adjacent, former Mint Lounge. Details: Lunch, dinner and happy hour (3 to 7 p.m.) Monday to Saturday. Kleman Plaza, 215 W. College Ave.; 850-391-5204

+39 This upscale Italian restaurant is ensconced in classy quarters inside the new, expansive Urban Food Market in the Centre of Tallahassee, formerly the Tallahassee Mall. Don’t be deterred by the mall redevelopment; the market is among the first tenants in the outdoor portion (near the concert

pavilion). Urban Food Market’s fine dining entry, +39 — the name refers to the country phone code for Italy — features classics from executive chef Allessandro Di Maggio. Among them: pepata di cozze (mussels), linguine cartoccio (wrapped in parchment) and over-the-top house-made cheesecake (no translation needed). The restaurant has a chef’s table and private dining room for groups. Details: lunch Monday through Saturday, dinner daily, and Sunday brunch. 2415 N. Monroe St; 850-536-6843

IZZY PUB: This just-opened restaurant shares a deck with the independent bookstore, Midtown Reader. Izzy Pub offers a sushi bar with a chef’s choice tasting menu and Japanese-inspired snacks. 1123 Thomasville Rd.

On the horizon THE EGG CAFE & EATERY: The popular breakfast and lunch spot at 3740 Austin Davis Ave., is opening a second, full-service restaurant in the Plaza Tower in Kleman Plaza in spring 2017. The Egg also operates a small cafe in the Museum of Florida History. The new restaurant will be at 300 S. Duval St.

PHOTO: Courtesy Blu Halo

a mile from the Capitol. Gritz N Greens whips up mac and cheese, country fried steak, chicken and waffles, collard greens, pork belly, and fried green tomatoes. The $7.97 special offers a different choice of meat daily (pork chops, meatloaf, fried chicken, roast beef, fried catfish) and three sides. Good for the soul: Servers donate half their tips to nonprofit groups in Haiti and Europe to help orphans and prevent sex trafficking. Details: Lunch weekdays, Sunday brunch, and dinner Monday to Thursday. 460 W. Tennessee St.; 850-577-9255


To go or dine in, Tallahassee downtown does lunch during session BY ROCHELLE KOFF




Good. Cheap. Eats. T

he cost of dining out during the legislative Session adds up if you’re always on the go — and not on a mega expense account. Fortunately, you don’t need a fat wallet to fill up on inexpensive, good food while you’re in Tallahassee. The city is packed with a variety of casual choices, whether you’re craving pizza, pork chops, or pho. Here’s our take on some of the best sources for cheap eats. Many of these places also offer takeout and delivery (for when things get really wild). BIRD’S APHRODISIAC OYSTER SHACK It looks like a college dive, but insiders know Bird’s is the place to go for one of the best grouper sandwiches in the city ($12 with fries, coleslaw, or onion rings), not to mention the excellent fresh-shucked oysters and fat burgers. A


tip: Ask about Bird Sauce. 325 N. Bronough St.; 850-222-1075. FAT NOODLE This small Asian venue, also a quick walk from the Capitol, offers a globe-trotting menu with rice and noodle bowls, Vietnamese pho and bánh mì sandwiches, Korean kimchi, Japanese curry, and Chinese wontons, with prices from $3 to $15. Open for lunch and dinner. 222 E. College Ave., 850-765-4867. GOODIE’S EATERY Grab coffee with bagels or a breakfast sandwich starting at 7 a.m., and then come back for lunch. Goodie’s provides a long list of sandwiches under $7, plus soups or salads. Another bonus: an ice cream bar and brownies. 116 E. College Ave., 850-681-3888. METRO DELI Arrive early to beat the crowd lining up for soups, salads, and subs (plus melts, grinders, and wraps) at this counter-serve downtown nook. Can’t decide? Get soup and a half deli sandwich for $6.95. The place is frequented by lobbyists, lawyers, politicians, and reporters, so think of it as a cheap power lunch (or breakfast). 104 S. Monroe St.; 850-224-6870. MO BETTA BBQ Follow the hickory-scented smoke to this bastion of barbecue based in a corner of the Shell station parking lot at Apalachee Parkway and Capital Circle Southeast. Mo and Nicole Holloway have turned this small red trailer into a

popular destination for spareribs; chicken, pulled pork, and beef brisket sandwiches ($3 to $7); and house-made sides. Order at the window and then eat at picnic tables or get takeout (meat also is sold by the pound). The sign says “Break Yo’ Mouth” but you don’t have to bust your budget to eat here. 3105 Apalachee Parkway; 850-570-8800. MOMO’S PIZZA Known for slices “as big as your head,” this venerable pizza joint has a laid-back college vibe but its appeal is cross-generational. Stop by the Tennessee Street locale weekdays for a $6.99 lunch deal offering one slice with two toppings (trust us, one slice is plenty, and try the locally made Bradley sausage) and a beverage (including a Budweiser tall boy). Whole pies range from 16inch medium to 30-inch Big Daddy. Its Market Street sibling also serves calzones and salads. 1416 W. Tennessee St., 850-224-9808; 1410 Market St., 850-412-0222. SAVANNAH COUNTRY BUFFET For a hearty lunch, load up on all the Southern comfort food you can eat for $10 — including tax and tea — at this casual buffet. You’re bound to find fried chicken, pork chops, ribs, collard greens, and other traditional fare (choices vary). The place opens at 6 a.m. with breakfast specials for $2 to $3. 437 W. Gaines St.; 850-224-7100. SHELL OYSTER BAR The old-time seafood house only takes cash, doesn’t serve alcohol (it’s BYOB) and the location is hidden away in a hard-to-find spot off Monroe Street, but Shell Oyster Bar has been

a Tallahassee favorite for 45 years. With good reason. Check out the oysters, seafood baskets, and sandwiches washed down with a tall glass of sweet tea. Most lunch items are under $10. 114 E. Oakland Ave.; 850-224-9919.


VOODOO DOG There’s more to Voodoo Dog than its zany name. It’s a popular spot for killer hot dogs, like the Atomic Veggie or Jefferson (with bacon and house-made mac ‘n’ cheese). Hamburgers and fries are other highlights at this funky space, open for lunch and dinner with weekly deals. 805 S. Macomb St.; 850-224-0005.

Here are lots more inexpensive choices to put on your list.  BADA BEAN, a homey, family-run spot serving breakfast and lunch, with daily specials. 2500 Apalachee Parkway; 850-562-2326. CABOS ISLAND GRILL & BAR, featuring Mexican and American fare with a surfer-themed decor and special lunch deals. Parkway Center, 1221 Apalachee Parkway; 850-878-7707. CANOPY ROAD, serving breakfast and lunch daily, with signature sweet potato pancakes. 1779 Apalachee Parkway, 850-727-0263; 1913 N. Monroe St., 850-668-6600; and 2202 N.E. Capital Circle, 850-893-0466.



DOG ET AL, for lovers of hot dogs, corn dogs, Polish sausage, bratwurst, and extras like lemonade and fried apple pies. Open for lunch (starting at 10 a.m.) and dinner. 1456 S. Monroe St.; 850-222-4099. HOPKINS EATERY, offering inexpensive lunch and dinner choices, with plenty of salads, sandwiches, and sweets. 1660-9 N. Monroe St., 850386-4258; 1208 Capital Circle S.E., 850-325-6422; 1415 Market St., 850-668-0311. MERV’S MELTS, creating variations on the grilled cheese sandwich with breakfast melts, sandwiches and burgers. 825 Railroad Ave., 850-765-5222. POWER PLANT CAFE ENERGIZED BY CATALINA CAFE, a coffee shop with sandwiches and pastries at The Edison, 470 Suwannee St.; 850-536-6821. SOUL VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT, specializing in vegan versions of soul food staples. 1205 S. Adams St.; 850-893-8208. TACO BOUT IT, a new spot serving inexpensive tacos through a pass-through window or inside the casual dining room. 507 W. Gaines St.; 850-765-2008. UPTOWN CAFE, a longtime breakfast and lunch favorite in a cheery setting. 1325 Miccosukee Road; 850-219-9800. YOSTIE’S CHILI PARLOUR, offering hot dogs topped with house-made chili, chili spaghetti, pepperoni rolls, and more items with chili. 915 Railroad Ave.; 850-459-3679.



PHOTO: Modus Photography



When it’s time to escape your Session home-away-from-home, take a one-tank trip to the Emerald Coast BY ROSANNE DUNKELBERGER

Your bill wasn’t taken up by the Legislature until late Friday and

committee meetings kick off Monday at 8 a.m. sharp. After a long week traversing the Capitol’s hallways and late-night strategy sessions, you’re beat. The thought of running the airport gauntlet or a long drive home is daunting.But spending another minute within the walls of your Tallahassee pied-à-terre has you tearing your hair out. My advice? Go west! And a little bit south, to take a break on the beaches along the coast of Walton and Okaloosa counties, aka The Emerald Coast. >>


#EmeraldCoasting is your next great


“Top Beach in the U.S.” USA TODAY “Top Place to Visit” National Geographic “Top 25 Destinations in the U.S.” TripAdvisor 800-322-3319 •

Destin Ft. Walton Beach Okaloosa Island

Whether your goal is pampered luxury, communing with nature, blowing off a little steam recreating with golf, tennis or deepsea fishing — or just taking in a seaside view — there’s something for everyone in the beach communities along this stretch of the Panhandle. Even if you live within spitting distance of the coast elsewhere, this stretch of beach offers an experience unlike any other found in Florida. It’s a 20,000-year-old story that starts with quartz deposits in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and ends with expanses of fine, white sand that’s aptly compared to sugar and squeaks when you walk on it. In the spring, daytime highs stay in a very comfortable range between the high 60s and low 80s. Before May, the water temperature will probably be too cold for swimming, but will still offer a superb sound and sight experience whether you’re viewing from a balcony or strolling along the beach. The sun reflecting off that sand creates water that can become a brilliant shade of emerald green. In 2016, Stephen Leatherman — “Dr. Beach” — declared GRAYTON BEACH STATE PARK in Walton County one of the Top 10 beaches in America. Unlike most of coastal Florida, high season for the Emerald Coast is in the summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. There is spring break business, but it’s families who come, rather than the college crowd. It takes between 2½ to 3 hours to drive from Tallahassee to the beach communities between ROSEMARY BEACH and FORT WALTON BEACH and each has its own “personality.” Many of the communities in South Walton County stretch along coastal highway 30A. Home to the area’s original beach houses, GRAYTON BEACH, BLUE MOUNTAIN BEACH, and DUNE ALLEN BEACH give off an “old Florida” vibe. Started just over 30 years ago, Seaside brought the precepts of New Urbanism to the area. The madefrom-scratch, walkable community has gained worldwide recognition for its architecture — and some fame as the setting for the idyllic fantasy land in “The Truman Show.” Since then, other resort towns have arisen from the sands along 30A, including ROSEMARY BEACH, WATERCOLOR, WATERSOUND and the visually stunning ALYS BEACH, with its stark white buildings and green expanses of lawn. Within ROSEMARY BEACH is a 55-room luxury boutique hotel, The Pearl, that opened in 2013 and has already garnered several “best” awards from travel publications. It has an Old World style that features turrets, terraces, and black-and-white striped awnings, but also many amenities

Many of the communities in South Walton County stretch along coastal highway 30A. Home to the area’s original beach houses, Grayton Beach, Blue Mountain Beach, and Dune Allen Beach give off an “old Florida” vibe. Started just over 30 years ago, Seaside brought the precepts of New Urbanism to the area. The madefrom-scratch, walkable community has gained worldwide recognition for its architecture — and some fame as the setting for the idyllic fantasy land in “The Truman Show.”

(in-room iPads, your choice of Direct or Apple TV) to suit the most tech-savvy guests. The hotel’s Havana Beach Bar & Grill is a Golden Spoon Award winner and is a AAA 4-Diamond restaurant. Spa Pearl offers an array of pampering services, including private outdoor treatment cabanas and poolside manicures and pedicures. East of 30A is the town of MIRAMAR BEACH, home to the area’s two largest resorts, SANDESTIN and the HILTON SANDESTIN BEACH GOLF RESORT & SPA. It’s quite possible to park your car at either when checking in and leave it on the lot for your entire stay. Sandestin spans 2,400 acres, reaching from the beach across Highway 98 all the way to the Choctawhatchee Bay, with a wide array of accommodations, from beachfront towers, to the bayside Grand Sandestin hotel, to villages of condo rentals. Sandestin’s Village of Baytowne Wharf has shopping, dining and entertainment, with activity lasting all day and into the night. A short walk away is Baytowne Marina, home base for water activities on the Choctawhatchee Bay, including kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, sailing, and exploring on WaveRunners. Golfers should pack their clubs; Sandestin and the Hilton share four golf courses offering different golf experiences for all skill levels. The beach-to-bay Baytowne Golf Club has five sets of tees, from championship to junior. The Links provides spectacular water views, Bermuda grass, and coastal winds. The Raven, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., offers many challenges, including an island green and wide, but hazard-lined fairways. Named the “crown jewel” Florida courses is Burnt Pine Golf Club, designed by Rees Jones, located in a stunning natural setting. SANDESTIN also is home to a 15-court tennis center, with lessons, tournament events, and a top-rated pro shop. The Hilton Sandestin is situated right on the beach and the 600-room resort has been growing its size and amenities for 30 years. It’s a family-friendly — and just plain friendly — place with all gulf-view rooms, including junior suites with alcoves just for the kids. Aside from the sea, sand, and sun, the resort is also home to the AAA 4-Diamond restaurant Seagar’s. It’s a classic New York-style steakhouse, renowned for its Prime USDA steaks and fresh-from-the-gulf seafood. Enjoy the show as the staff creates preparations at your table, including Steak Diane, Dover Sole and a flaming Bananas Foster. Seagar’s also boasts the area’s largest selection of wine — with more than 600 labels on hand. The Hilton also boasts the area’s largest



Clockwise from top left: The Henderson’s adult pool enjoys spectacular sunset views and is overlooked by the resort’s restaurant, bar and guestroom suites; The “30-A” area of Northwest Florida has gained a stellar reputation for laid-back luxe relaxation and family atmosphere; Many of The Henderson’s spa treatment rooms overlooking the treetops of the Henderson Beach State Park.


PHOTOS: Modus Photoraphy

spa, Serenity by the sea. The spa offers the full array of facial, body care and salon services, with full facilities for men and women, including lounges where you’re welcome to while away the day enjoying tea, snacks, and relaxing zero-gravity chairs. This area also is home to two superb shopping opportunities. Many of the most popular upscale stores can be found at Grand Boulevard, including Anthropologie, Vineyard Vines, JJill, J Crew, Brooks Brothers, Tommy Bahama, Lilly Pulitzer, and Orvis. The open-air center also features several restaurant favorites like Fleming’s, Cantina Laredo, P.F. Chang’s, and Mitchell’s Fish Market, as well as the Boulevard 10 movie theater that includes a dining room. Not to be missed is Silver Sands Premium Outlets. Put on your eight-hour shoes before exploring 110 discount stores featuring some of the world’s most popular brands. Featured stores include Calvin Klein, Cole Haan Outlet, J.Crew Factory, Michael Kors, Nautica, Polo Ralph Lauren Factory Store, Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5TH, Tommy Hilfiger, and kate spade new York. You’ll also find Vera Bradley, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, Coach, Columbia, and Nike. Further westward is Destin Commons, an outdoor “lifestyle center,” where you can stroll between the stores in a townlike atmosphere. It includes a massive Bass Pro Shop and a brand-new Whole Foods. There’s an AMC theater and Belk department stores here and dozens of stores like Williams-Sonoma, H&M, Chico’s, Brighton, Sephora, Talbots, and Soma. If luxury and comfort are what you seek, consider The Henderson in Destin. Opening last November, it’s the first full-service resort to be constructed in the area in a generation. It is a (much bigger) sister property to the Henderson Park Inn across the street. (With just 35 rooms, the Inn is a much different experience. Children are not allowed, so the quiet vibe makes it very romantic. And the room rate includes a full breakfast, box lunch and sunset happy hour.) A Salamander Beach & Spa Resort, The Henderson was meticulously designed to create an atmosphere of indulgence without being fancy or stuffy. The lobby, called “The Living Room,” is full of couches and chairs arranged for conversation, which is echoed on the wide porch outside, site of a sunset salute every evening. A walk down the meeting room hallway off the lobby features gorgeous black-andwhite photography of the area’s beginnings as a remote fishing village. (If that piques your interest, the Destin History & Fishing Museum is just a few miles down the road.

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Still on the fence about taking a drive to the Emerald Coast? Here are some special events and festivals that may entice you westward for a fun-filled weekend:

APRIL 20-23 SANDESTIN WINE FESTIVAL Now in its 31st year, this grand event is highly anticipated by wine connoisseurs and novices who want to learn and sample a comprehensive selection in all varieties, regions, and price ranges. The Village of Baytowne Wharf, Sandestin APRIL 27-30 SOUTH WALTON BEACHES WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL Escape to the beach and enjoy this fun weekend. More than 800 wines will be poured and dozens of winemakers will be there too. Craft beer and spirits are in the spotlight on Friday, along with small plates from restaurants, eateries and food trucks. Grand Boulevard MAY 12-20 ART WEEK SOUTH WALTON More than 130 artists from the community and around the world will show their creations, along with live music, artist’s workshop, a children’s exhibit and more. Grand Boulevard MAY 19-21 DIGITAL GRAFFITI The stark white buildings in Alys Beach become canvases for digital art projections in this unique, stylish festival. Alys Beach

It includes one of the original fishing boats in the area, the Primrose. The Henderson’s signature restaurant is named in her honor.) Most of the public spaces and many guest rooms overlook a 208-acre state park and its 1.3-mile pristine beach, a view not often found in the rest of the more-crowded local beachfront. The hotel commissioned 13 local artists to create 465 original works that are displayed throughout halls, restaurants — even the bathrooms — at The Henderson. Some of the most stunning works can be found in the Salamander Spa. The focal point at the end of a hallway featuring mosaic waterfalls is a 6-foot-tall sculpture hand blown by glass artist Russ Gilbert. Decorated in iridescent seaside shades of ranging from oyster white to turquoise, the spa invites guests to relax and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere while also enjoying the full array of services. In addition to a whirlpool and steam room, the wet area also includes an “experiential shower” where you can choose from a detox spray, a tropical shower or a heart-pounding arctic blast. There’s beach access, two pools — one reserved for adults only — a children’s program, casual dining options, a fitness center … all the resort amenities. And there’s no need to retrieve the car during your stay. The Henderson’s second-to-none valet services will drop you off at local shopping or other nearby destinations. If you’re looking to stay where the action is, consider the whimsical castle-like Emerald Grande, a resort with vacation rentals located at the foot of the Destin Bridge. It is surrounded by HarborWalk Village, a collection of restaurants, fun activities, shops, and rentals. The boardwalk along Destin Harbor gives visitors a glimpse of the area’s original attraction — fishing. It’s still home to the largest fishing fleet in Florida, with about 150 charter and party boats. A quirk of underwater topography here is the 100-fathom curve, which brings the deep sea to within 10 miles of Destin’s coast. That, and easy Gulf access, means less time getting there and more time fishing. There also are oodles of water adventures as well — parasailing, dolphin tours, scuba and snorkeling, paddle boarding and jet skiing, thrill rides, boat rentals and more. Crab Island, just north of the bridge, is one of the area’s oddest and most enjoyable attractions. The “island” actually is a sandbar under shallow water that’s usually about waist deep. During the tourist season, hundreds of boats will anchor there to party, play, and socialize. There are food vendors, an entertainment stage, and even a floating water park. Even though it’s close to Destin Harbor, it’s not possible to swim to it


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because of currents and boat traffic. Boat rentals and charters are plentiful, however. When it comes to fine dining, the Emerald Coast has an embarrassment of riches — all of those already mentioned, and a roster of others, such as WaterColor’s Fish Out of Water, Cuvee Bistro, Louisiana Lagniappe, Beach Walk Café at Henderson Park Inn, Marlin Grill in Sandestin and Ocean Club Restaurant. Great seafood restaurants line Highway 98, which is the coastal highway that gets you pretty much anywhere between Point A and Point B in coastal Walton County. But sometimes, you’re looking for those places where the locals go for good food and good times. Here are a few from my list: The fish doesn’t get any fresher than Harbor Docks; which has its own seafood market. You can see it in action if you get there early enough (they serve breakfast) and peer over the patio railing. It’s also known for “Mama’s” Thai food and for its sushi, created there for more than 25 years by Chef Yoshi Eddings. Dewey Destin’s, owned by one of the area’s original fishing families, is right down the street. But for a true “native” experience, travel a bit further down the road to its location near Crab Island. You have to navigate a bumpy, twisting track, there’s no AC, and you can see the water through the wooden floor slats, but the baskets of steamed and fried seafood are a treat. It doesn’t get more touristy than Fudpuckers, a 500-seat restaurant where the in-season wait for a table can be an hour and a half. But it’s kid friendly, there are live alligators, you can write on the walls, the burgers are great, and the portion sizes are epic. The Gulf, on Okaloosa Island, is a new, trendy spot that’s as much about the setting and the vibe as it is about ever-changing, locally sourced menu. Located at the western end of the Choctawhatchee Bay, you can reach the waterfront location by land or sea. The two-story azure blue building is constructed of shipping containers with an abundance of decks and porches, as well as a fairway grass lawn and sandy “beach” lit at night by giant globes. At the end of the day, make your way to Bud & Alley’s. A landmark restaurant in Seaside for 31 years, Bud & Alley’s was farm-to-table way before it was cool — and the attention to great food (try the crab cakes and barbecued head-on shrimp) earned it a spot in Florida Trend’s Golden Spoon Hall of Fame. While you can eat there all day long, the sunset “ceremony” on the rooftop bar is a not-to-be-missed treat. Patrons are invited to guess the time the sun will set, a ship’s bell is rung, and you can toast to the end of another perfect day on the coast. ][

Want to Know More? For information on 30A, Destin and many of the places mentioned in the story, here are some websites to visit:




To entice you into a weekend stay, Tallahassee offers a tempting array of fun and cultural events when the weather is beautiful in the spring. Here are a few highlights:


MARCH 31–APRIL 1 Springtime Tallahassee In response to efforts to move Florida’s state capital, local leaders created this festival to showcase Tallahassee’s beauty and hospitality. And, 49 years later, they’re still rolling out the welcome mat with a weekend of fun activities that include a grand parade through downtown as well as concerts, entertainment, food, and vendors. Downtown Tallahassee


APRIL 7–9 Word of South Only in its third year, this weekend-long festival of literature and music features an array of artists speaking and performing throughout Tallahassee’s picturesque park in the shadow of the Capitol. Cascades Park APRIL 15–16 Lemoyne Chain of Parks Art Festival This two-day festival draws thousands of visitors and more than 150 artists every year. In addition to art in a wide variety of media, the event also includes entertainment, children’s and educational activities, and food. Chain of Parks — Downtown Tallahassee MAY 12–14 Southern Shakespeare Festival This year’s annual tribute to the Bard will be a roaring ’20s take on the comedy “As You Like It,” in this interpretation, set on the shadier side of Chicago. Throughout the weekend there will be other performances, activities for kids, some sword fighting, and sonnet reading. Capital City Amphitheater at Cascades Park SPRING 2017 INFLUENCE | 53




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Briefings from the Rotunda

FAMU’s lobbyist tapped as Al Lawson’s chief of staff


ew Congressman Al Lawson named Tola Thompson, longtime director and assistant vice president of Florida A&M University’s government relations, to be his chief of staff. Lawson announced the hire in December. Thompson is a Tallahassee native and FAMU graduate. “I will miss the incredible people I have had the pleasure of working with and the tremendously talented students who are the reason why I lobbied so hard for FAMU,” Thompson said. But “I look forward to working with Rep. Lawson and the people of Florida’s 5th Congressional District, which includes FAMU, giving me the opportunity to support my alma mater once again,” he added. Interim President Larry Robinson announced that Barbara Cohen-Pippin will serve as FAMU’s new director of governmental relations, effective Jan. 10.


She has more than 30 years of political experience, including serving as the special assistant to the president for governmental relations at Broward Community College from 2000–11. Cohen-Pippin was also a policy advisor to former Gov. Lawton Chiles and executive assistant to former University of Florida President Marshall Criser Jr.

Conflict of interest leads to a breakup between Miami-Dade and Gomez Barker


omez Barker Associates withdrew as lobbyists for Miami-Dade County earlier this year after a falling out with the county commission. The commission not only ended its contract with the Miami firm but also decided to ban it from lobbying for the county for up to three years, according to the website. In November, Gomez Barker “was accused of essentially selling out the county” because it found a client — The Miami Dade Expressway Authority — that paid more, the Miami Herald had reported in November. Investigators for the Miami-Dade Ethics board said they found “ample evidence” the firm failed to disclose a conflict of interest over its representation of the Expressway Authority before lawmakers during the 2016 Legislative Session. Those conflicts were between the authority’s interests and the county’s transportation priorities, according to reports. Gomez Barker did not comment.

PHOTO: Via FAMU News; Bigstock



Ballard Rises Up

PHOTOS: Mark Wallheiser

Lobbyist Brian Ballard’s new six-story office building in downtown Tallahassee is getting closer to reality. But at an added cost: Once projected at $15 million, the new office tower now has a price tag of just over $20 million, Ballard told INFLUENCE. As of mid-February, the interior structure was finished, the exterior panels were in place and workers were putting in the glass. Project superintendent Mark Houck said the building, on the southeast corner of Monroe Street and Park Avenue, remains on track to be completed by fall 2017. The site is the location of the old Florida Homebuilders headquarters, which was razed. Ballard previously told INFLUENCE his Ballard Partners firm will occupy 17,000 feet on the top two floors; the other space will be rented, including the planned ground-floor showcase – an upscale fine-dining restaurant with 7,500 square feet of space and a dining patio. In February, Ballard said he couldn’t yet discuss any tenant negotiations. The new tower and refurbished parking deck in the back will wrap around an existing historical building, the David S. Walker Library, which was built in 1903 and now houses the offices of Springtime Tallahassee. Ballard also bought a neighboring three-story building, once the location of the now-defunct Guaranty National Bank, which he donated to Florida State University to become the new home of the Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship and the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship. Ballard’s building was designed by the Lewis+Whitlock architectural firm and is being built by Culpepper Construction Co.



Briefings from the Rotunda


he Florida Retail Federation (FRF) will spend all of 2017 celebrating its 80th birthday, the trade group announced in January. “To see the growth and progress of FRF, from its humble beginnings in 1937 to the influential advocacy and support organization it’s become today, is a testament to the passion and determination of all the employees and board members who played a part during the past 80 years,” FRF President and CEO Randy Miller said in a statement. “As we enter our eighth decade, it’s important we reflect back and appreciate not only where the FRF started from, but to stay true to those same goals and


ideals which laid the foundation for the organization.” The federation was founded in 1937 as the Florida Chain Store Association. Twenty years later, it was renamed the Florida Retail Federation. That name has stuck, keeping it “The Voice of Florida Retailing.” Over the next year, FRF “will feature key moments from the organization’s history on its website, as well as incorporate an 80th anniversary logo in all its hard copy collateral and online presence and celebrate the milestone during many events in 2017,” the organization said. It began in response to a “wave of anti-business legislation that swept through

Florida, culminating in a 1935 law that created one of the most discriminatory business taxes in the nation.” In 1941, the association expanded to include smaller chain stores, and by 1956, associate membership was extended to independently owned stores. Ultimately, the group’s charter included a mission to “foster a closer relationship between the public and Florida’s retail merchants by conducting service and public relations programs, to provide nonpartisan representation to all retailers — independent, chain, small and large — and to cooperate with all branches of the state and federal governments so that retailers could better serve the public.”

PHOTO: Ray Stanyard

Happy Birthday, Florida Retail Federation




Lobby Firm Audits Announced Even as some lawmakers have questioned its necessity, legislative and executive branch lobbying firms were again randomly selected this February for audits of their compensation reports. The last round of audits, required under a 2005 state law and released in September 2015, found discrepancies big and small after staff randomly picked 26 lobbying firms to be audited. Auditors discovered a number of firms either underreporting or overreporting the money they made in 2014. In another case, auditors couldn’t tell who had paid a particular bill. But generally, lobbying firms were annoyed at having to undergo auditing and lawmakers were underwhelmed. “I don’t understand how the public’s interest is advanced by this exercise,” said state Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who formerly sat on the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee. “I just don’t see how this information is relevant” other than being a “marketing tool for big lobbying firms,” Bradley said in late 2015.

Legislation was filed for the 2016 Legislative Session that would have repealed the audit requirement, but it died in both chambers. The firms picked for legislative lobbying audits are: — Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney — Buigas & Associates — David R. Custin & Associates — Ericks Consultants — Hopping Green & Sams — Lewis Longman & Walker — Lisa Aaron Consulting — Luis E. Rojas — McGee & Mason — Redfish Consulting — Ronald R. Richmond — Shumaker Loop & Kendrick — Smith & Smith — The Labrador Co. The alternates are: — Barlow Consulting — Butler Weihmuller Katz Craig — Capitol Hill Group — Damon Smith Consulting — Dixie Sansom Consulting — Littlejohn Mann & Associates — Pruitt & Associates — Quintairos Prieto Wood & Boyer — R. Dale Patchett Management — Shutts & Bowen — Southern Campaign Resources — Strategos Public Affairs

— Sunrise Consulting Group — Uhlfelder and Associates The firms picked for executive-branch lobbying audits are: — Andrew J. Liles — Calhoun Management & Consulting — Capitol Insight — Carr Allison — Champion Consultants — Janet Llewellyn — Lester Abberger — Lindstrom Consulting — Pruitt & Associates — T.B. Consultants — TC Wolfe — Wilson & Associates The alternates are: — Capitol Energy Florida — Foley & Lardner — Horton & Associates — Impact GR — Jordan Connors Group — Law Office of Cynthia G. Angelos — Cusick and Associates — Punyko Associates — R. Bruce Kershner Co. — Rachael Ondrus — Richard S. Kip — The Peeples Group The latest audits are scheduled to begin May. SPRING 2017 INFLUENCE | 61


Briefings from the Rotunda

Meet the Members of Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission



fter much waiting and armchair-quarterbacking, the full membership of the Constitution Revision Commission was announced earlier this year: CHAIRMAN: Carlos Beruff, a Manatee County homebuilder and unsuccessful Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in 2016. MEMBERS Attorney General Pam Bondi (R). The constitution names the sitting attorney general as an automatic member. Appointed by Gov. Rick Scott: > Dr. Jose “Pepe” Armas of Miami, chairman of a physician healthcare group. > Former state Sen. Lisa Carlton (R-Sarasota). > Tim Cerio, a GrayRobinson shareholder and Scott’s former general counsel.


> Emery Gainey, Director of Law Enforcement, Victim Services & Criminal Justice Programs for the Attorney General’s Office. > Brecht Heuchan, founder and CEO of Tallahassee’s ContributionLink, a political data analysis and fundraising firm. > Marva Johnson, chair of the Florida State Board of Education and regional vice president of state government affairs for Charter Communications, of Winter Garden. > Darlene Jordan, executive director of the Gerald R. Jordan Foundation, of Palm Beach. > Fred Karlinsky, a Weston-based insurance lawyer and lobbyist. > Belinda Keiser, vice chancellor of Keiser University, of Parkland. > Frank Kruppenbacher, an Orlando attorney who has been on many state boards and commissions. > Dr. Gary Lester, The Villages’ vice

president for community relations and a Presbyterian minister. > Jimmy Patronis, a former state representative from Bay County and now a Scott-appointed member of the Public Service Commission. > Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, of Tallahassee. > Nicole Washington, a Miami Beach-based state policy consultant for the Lumina Foundation, an educational grant maker. Appointed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land O’ Lakes): > Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (R-Miami). > House Speaker pro tempore Jeanette Nuñez (R-Miami). > Rep. Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor). > Former Senate President and current Sen. Tom Lee (R-Thonotosassa). >> pg 65

PHOTOS: Courtesy R Newsome; via; via




Holland & Knight taps Javier Fernández for its South Florida Government Advocacy team

PHOTOS: Courtesy Holland & Night; via Ballard Partners


avier Fernández, a chief of staff to former City of Miami Mayor Manuel A. Diaz, joined Holland & Knight in February as a partner in the firm’s South Florida Government Advocacy & Development Group, the firm said in a press release. “Javier has a terrific reputation as a hardworking, diligent attorney who has handled large and notable matters throughout the City of Miami,” said Miguel De Grandy, leader of Holland & Knight’s South Florida Government Advocacy & Development Group. “His political background and understanding of the nuances of politics and policy will assist him in crafting effective solutions to achieve our clients’ goals.” Fernández represents clients “in all aspects of the land use and zoning entitlement process, including in the preparation and approval of planning and zoning applications, platting, and other permits required by a variety of federal, state, and local agencies,” the release said. “He also has successfully represented clients in a variety of administrative and quasi-judicial hearings, code enforcement hearings, and public hearing processes related to the procurement of government contracts and public incentive agreements,” it added. “I’ve long admired the Holland & Knight government and land-use team and its influence in Miami-Dade County,” Fernández said. “My focus on the City of Miami perfectly complements the team’s existing strengths and creates a full-service practice that benefits all of our developer clients.” Fernández received his undergraduate degree from Colby College in Maine and a law degree from the University of Miami School of Law. He’s a member of the TransitAlliance Miami board of directors and serves as co-chair of the advisory board of the Miami chapter of the New Leaders Council. Before joining Holland & Knight, he was a shareholder with Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson, P.A.

Ballard Firm Promotes Chip Iglesias to Lead Miami Office Brian Ballard, one of the favored lobbyists of President Donald J. Trump, promoted Genaro “Chip” Iglesias to managing partner of Ballard Partners’ Miami office. Iglesias replaces Sylvester Lukis, now in the firm’s newly opened Washington, D.C. office. Iglesias joined the firm in 2014 after 30 years of public- and private-sector experience, beginning with 24 years as a firefighter and paramedic with the City of Miami Fire Department. He was later Deputy Mayor/Chief of Staff of Miami-Dade County; CEO of the Village of Key Biscayne; and chief of staff to then-City of Miami Manager Carlos Gimenez. Iglesias has served as president of the Miami-Dade County and City Manager Association and as president of the South Florida Council of Fire Fighters. “Chip has been an integral part of our Miami team and we are pleased to promote him to this new leadership role,” Ballard said in a statement. “His keen insight into the Miami-Dade government affairs landscape and wealth of contacts in the area will continue to help our clients achieve their policy goals, while allowing us to grow our business in South Florida.”



Wilfredo A. Ferrer, formerly the top federal prosecutor for South Florida, joined the Holland & Knight law firm as a partner in Miami. He’s leading the firm’s Global Compliance and Investigations Team within the firm’s White Collar Defense Practice. Ferrer will handle international and domestic investigations for corporate clients, including Foreign Corrupt Practices Act matters. He’ll represent companies and individuals facing enforcement actions, complex litigation, and other compliance issues. “Willy Ferrer is one of the most respected government officials in South Florida, and has an impeccable reputation in our profession,” said Steven Sonberg, the firm’s managing partner. As the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, the nation’s third largest U.S. Attorney’s Office, Ferrer oversaw approximately 500 lawyers and professional staff. He was appointed by President Barack Obama, having served since 2010. “He successfully prosecuted a wide range of financial crimes, including healthcare fraud, complex investment and security fraud, identity theft, and Ponzi schemes, (and) focused on fighting public corruption, environmental crimes, and drug and human trafficking,” the firm’s press release said. 64 | INFLUENCE SPRING 2017


Former Federal Prosecutor Wilfredo Ferrer joins H&K

Help Save Lives

CRC, from page 62 > Sen. Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg). > Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco. > Erika Donalds, a Naples CPA and Collier County School Board member. > Rich Newsome, an Orlando-based personal injury lawyer. > John Stemberger, a lawyer and president of the Florida Family Policy Council. Appointed by Senate President Joe Negron (R-Stuart): > Former Florida Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville). > Former Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale. > Anna Marie Hernandez Gamez, a Miami lawyer and past president of the Cuban American Bar Association. > Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush. > Sherry Plymale, past chair of the State Board of Community Colleges and chief of staff to former state Education Commissioner Frank Brogan. > William “Bill” Schifino Jr., the 2016-17 president of The Florida Bar. > Bob Solari, Indian River county commissioner, former Vero Beach City Council member and retired businessman. > Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, a former teacher and past mayor of Sewall’s Point. > Carolyn Timmann, the Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller for Martin County.

Thousands of women in Florida are able to enjoy time with their families today because a mammogram found their cancer early. Last year, the Mary Brogan Breast & Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program helped provide more than 14,000 breast cancer screenings to women in need.

Tell your lawmaker to fund the Mary Brogan program to help save lives.

There for you – when you need it most.

Appointed by Florida Chief Justice Jorge Labarga: > Hank Coxe, a former Florida Bar president from Jacksonville. > Former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa). > Roberto Martinez, a former federal prosecutor from Miami. The Constitution Revision Commission convenes every 20 years and has met twice before, in 1977–78 and 1997–98. But this group is the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans. It will review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document after holding public meetings across the state. Any changes the commission proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot. The commission has launched a website and held an organizational meeting March 20 with a brief agenda of “Welcoming Remarks, Oath of Office, Rules of the Commission, Ethics Briefing.”

Floridians deserve access to emergency air medical transportation in times of need.

Learn more about how these services can be protected at


An investment in their care is an investment in all of us. Florida Legislators: Nurses, aides, and other caregivers are the heart of Florida’s long term care profession. With your continued support, they can meet the ongoing needs of elders and other residents of skilled nursing centers across our state. As the voice of Florida’s long term caregivers, the Florida Health Care Association is proud to advocate on behalf of the thousands of professionals who are caring for our oldest and most frail residents. Join Florida Health Care Association in working to maintain high-quality long term care.



INVESTMENTS $40.1 billion in personal income

$117.6 billion in total economic activity


Florida ranked sixth among the nation’s top exporting states in 2015

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TOURISM DRIVER Florida welcomes 15.2 million annual visitors through Florida’s cruise terminals


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Greenberg Traurig Celebration SOCIAL s cene



  The GreenbergTraurig law firm celebrated 25 years in Tallahassee at the Governor's Club January 11, 2017 in Tallahassee, Florida. 1. Fred Karlinsky, Fred Baggett, and Gov. Rick Scott. 2. Cesar Alvarez, Fred Baggett, Larry Hoffman, and David Ashburn. 3. Barry Richard and Larry Hoffman.


toasting florida politics

SOCIAL scene

  

 4. Sen. Aaron Bean, Marion County Clerk Carolyn Timman, Hayden Dempsey, and Wakulla County Clerk Brent Thurmond. 5. Florida CFO Jeff Atwater and Fred Karlinsky. 6. Gus Corbella, Karen Phillips, and Lance Lozano. 7. Gov. Rick Scott and Fred Karlinsky.




By the Numbers


63 of 67


By registered voters to put medical marijuana on the 2016 ballot

Supported Medical Marijuana With Over 60% of the Vote

27 of 27

18 of 23


Endorsed Amendment 2



Voted “Yes” on Amendment 2




In Favor of Amendment 2


Supported Medical Marijuana With Over 60% of the Vote

40 of 40


Supported Medical Marijuana With Over 60% of the Vote

118 of 120


Supported Medical Marijuana With Over 60% of the Vote

SICK & SUFFERING FLORIDIANS Who Will Benefit from the Passage of Amendment 2, according to estimates from the Florida Department of Health

Florida For Care’s Team for the 2017 Legislative Session ben pollara, executive director · dan rogers, policy director frank & tracy mayernick, lobbyists, the mayernick group brecht heuchan, lobbyist, the labrador company

toasting florida politics

Annual AIF Reception SOCIAL s cene



 The night before the Legislature gets down to business, Associated Industries of Florida puts out the welcome mat to people in The Process for one last pre-Session bash. 1) U.S. Congressman Al Lawson (D-Tallahassee); 2) Ryan Tyson, center, AIF's VP of Political Operations; 3) Chief Judge Clay Roberts and friends; 4) From left, state Rep. and Florida GOP chair Blaise Ingoglia, with Van Poole of Poole McKinley, Carole Jean Jordan, Indian River Tax Collector and lobbyist Al Cardenas.


toasting florida politics

 SOCIAL scene

5) AIF president Tom Feeney with Van Poole of Poole McKinley; 6) Guests enjoy food, libations and conversation on a beautiful evening outside of the AIF's North Adams Street office 7) Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam; 8) Uber’s Cesar Fernandez, Stephanie Smith, Brad Nail and Javi Correoso.


Research you can rely on, counsel you can trust.

“Steve Vancore produces some of the state’s best polls.” Marc Caputo, Politico

“In this writer’s estimation, Vancore is inarguably one of the Top 5 brightest minds in Florida politics.” Peter Schorsch, St. Petersblog

FOURTH FLOOR>FILES Significant other? Children? Grandkids? Negative. I’m 27, single, and eagerly awaiting my audition for INFLUENCE: The Bachelor Edition.

exempted from that restraint. I pillage the Skittles supply and occasionally launch a few toward unsuspecting friends below on the 4th floor.

In 25 words or less, explain what you do. I educate clients on elected/appointed officials’ positions while educating those officials on my clients’ positions. The goal: to find consensus and drive mutually beneficial outcomes.

What are you most looking forward to during the Legislative Session? Any days that involve zoo animals on the Capitol grounds, with preference given to those that involve me befriending a monkey or tiger cub.

Without using the words Democrat, Independent or Republican; conservative or liberal, describe your political persuasion. I believe strongly in individual freedom and the importance of taking personal responsibility for one’s successes and failures. At the same time, I acknowledge the diversity of circumstances from which we all come and believe it’s in our best interest to help those who are at a disadvantage through no fault of their own. Whether the public or private sector is the right solution for a given problem is often situationally dependent, so I’m grateful our founders built a political system that has allowed us to debate and attempt to answer these questions without pushing the nation beyond its breaking point.

If you could have another lobbyist’s client list, it would be … I’d say Jeff Sharkey’s, specifically to rep Tesla and SpaceX. Shocking that a millennial would want Elon Musk as a client, right? You’re a lucky dude, Jeff.

PHOTO: Mark Wallheiser

If you have one, what is your motto? Work hard, play hard.

Matt Brockelman

During your career, have you had a favorite pro bono client? The University of North Florida Student Government. Higher education issues propelled me into state politics while I was UNF’s student body president and vice chairman of the Florida Student Association (during the era of Florida’s hefty annual tuition increases), and I continue to have a personal passion for that area of public policy. It’s fun to work with Jacksonville’s current student leaders, connect them with what’s going on in Tallahassee, and help them understand the effects the state government’s actions have on their lives. Three favorite charities. Hubbard House, Habitat for Humanity, Alzheimer’s Association. Any last-day-of-Session traditions? I usually steer clear of the Capitol’s 5th floor candy station (which no longer exists), but the hours before sine die are shamelessly

Professional accomplishment of which you are most proud? Being named a partner at Southern Strategy Group at 26 years old. I’m surrounded by some amazing and talented people from whom I continuously learn a great deal. Lobbyists are often accused of wearing Gucci loafers; do you own a pair of Gucci loafers? If not, why not? Nope. The most compliments I’ve gotten on shoes are from my least expensive pair (some JCPenney Staffords I found for under $50). They’re also ridiculously comfortable. What you wear isn’t always as important as how you wear it. Who is your favorite Florida Capitol Press Corps reporter and why? Matt Dixon. When I was first getting into politics in Jacksonville, he was still writing for the Florida Times-Union. Beyond the geographic familiarity, Matt’s a young guy with passion who’s determined to impact his industry. I respect that. He’s also got a decent first name. What is your most treasured possession? Probably my Taylor acoustic guitar. It’s from a 2009 limited edition run and has a great finish and tone. Sometimes it’s hard to choose between staring at it and playing it.



Here and now

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FOURTH FLOOR>FILES Significant other? Children? While I like all of these; starting, running and loving your own business can often become the love of your life, baby, (and now adolescent) in need of constant love and attention. I anticipate many of these in the future and look forward to the greater work/life balance, or the utter chaos I know balancing it all will bring!

all family and friends who volunteered and put it on! We raised about $15,000 over just two years. It was probably one of the most rewarding and heartwarming endeavors I have done and a great way to memorialize two very important people.

In 25 words or less, explain what you do. We help clients tell their story. My family will tell you I was born asking questions and talking. Now I get to help others do the talking and be very strategic in how they communicate.

Any last-day-of-Session traditions? Usually bring the whole staff the Capitol, watch the hanky drop (usually from the 5th floor near the Capitol Press Gallery) and then remove the 4-inch heels that have been killing my feet for the last 60 days — and have a very stiff drink far away from Adams Street.

Without using the words Democrat, Independent or Republican; conservative or liberal, describe your political persuasion. I love this question. Mostly because I can’t fit into any of these categories and people always try and characterize my political persuasion, especially because of my early career as a journalist. Despite what people think, I have never found myself beholden to one persuasion or another. I guess you could describe me as open-minded and issues-focused. I am a supporter of good people and good causes that improve our society.

PHOTO: Mark Wallheiser

Allison North Jones

If you have one, what is your motto? Come from a place of yes and don’t take no for an answer.

During your career, have you had a favorite pro bono client? We do a lot of work with NAVIGATING nonprofits and have had various pro bono clients, I don’t THE PROCESS think I could pick a favorite. IN 4-INCH HEELS A few years ago, I started raising money for cancer awareness and research in honor of my father and grandmother. For several years, my family and friends all came together back home in St. Louis and we put on a 5K turkey trot around Thanksgiving. It was

Three favorite charities. American Cancer Society, Humane Society, Girls on the Run.

What are you most looking forward to during the Legislative Session? The action. It still gets my adrenaline pumping — whether we’re holding conference, attending committee meetings, helping clients navigate a crisis, or educating lawmakers on their cause. It’s amazing to be a front-row witness to the process of lawmaking that affects people’s lives. If you could have another lobbyist’s client list, it would be … Gary Vaynerchuk. Professional accomplishment of which you are most proud? Being a mentor to other professional women. Who is your favorite Florida Capitol Press Corps reporter and why? All of them. As a former reporter, I know firsthand how hard the work is that they do, the personal investment and commitment it takes to cover politics in Florida, and the invaluable public service they provide. Other than, your reading list includes … New York Times, The Skimm, Sayfie. 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? Sen. Jack Latvala, because he is always entertaining. Gov. Rick Scott, because I think he’s more dynamic than anyone realizes. Pitbull, because of his support of the governor and involvement in politics in South Florida and because his New Year’s Eve special was amazing! Attorney General Pam Bondi, because she’s a Republican woman in a very tough game who is carving a very interesting path and legacy. SPRING 2017 INFLUENCE | 81

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ALL YOU NEED IS … A HOME RUN FOR YOUR CLIENTS Significant other? Children? Happily married to Brenda for 34 years. She’s the source of all the best things in my life — three sons, two daughters-in-law, and four extraordinary grandchildren.

What are you most looking forward to during the Legislative Session? Two things: Helping our clients succeed (I’m in PR — did you think I’d say anything else?) and, of course, sine die.

In 25 words or less, explain what you do. As VP of public relations at Sachs Media Group, I help craft messaging that enables our clients to win in the court of public opinion.

If you could have another PR pro’s client list, it would be … No one’s — our firm already draws the best clients. That may be the PR-correct response, but it also happens to be absolutely true. When I worked in government, I always felt the only firm I’d ever choose to leave public service for was Sachs Media Group; over the past five years, I’ve found out exactly how spot-on my assessment was.

Without using the words Democrat, Independent or Republican, conservative or liberal, describe your political persuasion. Skeptic. Now in my 40th year observing or participating in Florida government — as a reporter, government communicator, and PR professional — I’ve seen enough to dissuade me from any single party or persuasion. If you have one, what is your motto? Not exactly a motto, but I believe everything in life can be described, somehow, by a reference to baseball or the Beatles.

PHOTO: Mark Wallheiser Benjamin Todd

Jon Peck

During your career, have you had a favorite pro bono client? I led our firm’s successful effort to get Tom Petty inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame. The only compensation was the satisfaction of righting a wrong — it was inconceivable there could be such an institution without the Gainesville legend among its inductees. Plus, I got to hang out with Petty’s brother at the induction ceremony. Three favorite charities. Lighthouse of the Big Bend (I proudly serve on the board), United Way, all nonprofits that work to stop domestic violence and help its victims. Any last-day-of-Session traditions? Rejoicing when it’s finally over.

Professional accomplishment of which you are most proud? Writing a speech that was delivered by former President Ronald Reagan. While working for Gov. Bob Martinez, I was asked to draft remarks for the former president to deliver at an event. We of course fully anticipated Reagan’s staff would rewrite it to reflect his renowned speaking style. Just a few lines into Reagan delivery of his remarks, I found myself thinking, “That sure sounds familiar.” In the end, he delivered what I had written, pretty much verbatim. 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? Mac Stipanovich, Ron Sachs, Adam Goodman, and Peter Schorsch (honestly). As host, I wouldn’t have to say a word. The best hotel in Florida is … Out of my price range. But The Breakers in Palm Beach was the swankiest I ever stayed at. Favorite movie? “Casablanca” (drama), “Blazing Saddles” (comedy). When you pig out, what do you eat? Pizza? Ice cream? Close, but no. Milk chocolate is the purest form of indulgence there is. If you could have dinner with a historical figure no longer living, who would it be? I know the “correct” answer would be someone like Lincoln or Gandhi — but if I’m being truthful, I’d have to say George Harrison.


Lobbying with Impact The Rubin Group is one of Florida’s premier lobbying firms. We have earned a reputation for achieving successful outcomes for our clients through our development of winning strategies and network of strong relationships throughout Florida’s Executive Branch and Legislature. Our professional team understands the important role we play in serving as a liaison between those we represent and the highly regulated world of government. We provide our clients with hands-on assistance with legislative and regulatory matters through constant communication with the state’s key decision makers. In addition, the Rubin Group has a long history of helping our clients market their products and services, offering advice on all aspects of their presentation to help grow their businesses.

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FOURTH FLOOR>FILES Significant other? Children? I will have been married to my best friend, Jonathon, for 13 years in May and we have two sweet, smart, handsome, hilarious little boys, Elliott (8) and Asher Webb (4). In 25 words or less, explain what you do. I pitch stories to the media to try to influence the legislative process. I work on campaigns and advise clients on targeted messaging and political strategy. Without using the words Democrat, Independent or Republican, conservative or liberal, describe your political persuasion. Live and let live. If you have one, what is your motto? Be the change you want to see in this world.

PHOTO: Mark Wallheiser Benjamin Todd

Ryan Wiggins

During your career, have you had a favorite pro bono client? Hands down, my favorite pro bono work was in 2014 when I worked as the political strategist and media consultant for RayAnn Moseley to get Charlotte’s Web passed in the Legislature. That was an election year and convincing the Republican-led Legislature and the governor to take a first step towards the legalization of marijuana was a heavy lift. Kim Bertron, Jules Kariher, Ron Watson, and I were working on this issue way before it was the cool thing to do and really before anyone thought it would ever pass. The media told RayAnn’s story beautifully and made the issue about helping children instead of legalizing drugs. In doing so, I believe it erased the stigma surrounding the issue and provided the political cover to allow members of the Legislature to do the right thing without the risk of it coming back to bite them when they were up for re-election that fall. I’m really proud to have been a part of that first step and am excited to see what will happen with medical marijuana this year.


Three favorite charities. Loaves and Fishes, a Pensacola-based charity that helps people down on their luck get back on their feet again. Being from the “Cradle of Naval Aviation” and with Eglin Airforce Base as a neighbor, the USO holds a special place in my heart as well. I’m also a really big fan of the work done by Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research, which raises awareness and funds for childhood cancer research. Any last-day-of-Session traditions? I love being at the Capitol that day. I like being on the 4th floor where all the action is and hanging out in the offices of my buddies before we all go our separate ways until committee weeks start up again. Since I don’t live in Tallahassee, the night of sine die is usually my last hurrah with my friends for months. However, my favorite last-day-ofSession tradition is always packing up to go home to spend some much-needed quality time with my boys on the water. What are you most looking forward to during the Legislative Session? I love everything about legislative Session. I thrive on the energy, stress, and how fast paced it is. I love the political games and the strategy, the trades and all the behind-thescenes stuff that goes on. For 60 days you get to live in this bubble where anything can (and usually does) happen. It’s fun, exciting, and exhausting all at the same time. Who is your favorite Florida Capitol Press Corp reporter and why? This is dangerous territory. It’s like asking a lobbyist who their favorite legislator is. I like them all? If I had to choose, I could maybe narrow it down to Brendan Farrington, Gary Fineout, and Matt Dixon. They are all brilliant, talented, and tough. They also always take my calls, have great senses of humor, and are good friends and great people outside of their day jobs. I also adore Dara Kam, Tia Mitchell, Christine Sexton, Mary Ellen Klas, and Michael Auslen too. Oh, and Steve Bousquet … and Jim Saunders …. Ugh, this is too hard. Next question. If you could have dinner with a historical figure no longer living, who would it be? I think I’d like to have dinner with Ernest Hemingway. He could spin a good yarn, lived a fascinating life, loved the water, and enjoyed a good cocktail. I think he’d make a fun dinner date.



{ insiders’ ADVICE

blake dowling shares how to navigate the treacherous landscape that is technology


ello 2017, nice to see you. In technology, there are buzzwords you hear every day: platform, synergy, scalable, disruption, vulnerability, cloud, etc. If you hear more than two of these words in a sentence, rest assured you are being sold something you don’t need. For example, “our offerings leverage the cloud in a scalable manner with zero disruption for your end user.” Let’s pick one of these buzz words and take a swim into the world of “vulnerability.” Make sure your life jacket is in arm’s reach, in case a nasty tweet causes your career to sink. In the highly scrutinized world of politics, technology provides dozens of ways to shoot yourself in the foot. Speeches, social media, interviews, security, email—all are ticking bricks of C-4 ready to knock you back down to interning at Anthony Weiner’s new office. Africa is a continent, Rep. Pelosi, but we all make mistakes … and thanks to the amazing power of social media, millions of people got to see this. How does one avoid stepping on these digital land mines? For starters, don’t let the intern manage social media. This needs to be a high-level job given as much attention as you would a television ad, because that’s the kind of exposure you are talking about. Unless

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you were on former Superintendent Jackie Pons’ team here in North Florida last year, they need someone to manage the TV ads (ouch) and social media before going live. Some rules of thumb: don’t post past midnight, don’t drink and tweet, selfies never, and if you think it might be over the line, it is. There are internet trolls on both sides of the fence waiting to trample you. Stay out of their way, check your facts … then do it again. And try not to attack people in public cyber forums; it makes you look silly (while you sit in the Crown Room thinking you are witty). Regarding the internet: stay off the dark web; don’t steal movies and music (yes, it is stealing if you don’t pay for it); avoid dating sites (especially if you are married; spouses hate that sort of thing, apparently); don’t email anything sensitive; and pay for security, storage, and communication products (Gmail is free; don’t use it for business). When the music stops, you don’t want to be the one without a chair. Is your password complicated? I had a client say “make my password the same for everything.” I said, “that really defeats the purpose of security.” He said, “I do not care.” Don’t be that person. Hackers all over the world want your info now, and they are launching DOS attacks, sending socially

engineered emails embedded with ransomware, and even calling your staffers trying to defraud you. 2017 brings us a clean slate to work toward making society a better place for all. Make sure technology is your asset and not your liability. On the home front, make sure your air conditioner that runs from your iPad has a password, or — guess what? — your data could be stolen via the AC. This happens. Artificial intelligence, drones (and drone-jacking), driverless cars, medicinal ganja, and emerging cashier-free Amazon Go stores will be all over the news this year. If you need some new clients, dive into these sectors. Also, know the enemy — and Russia is the enemy. Their government is after your data. With so many clouds available for data storage and the internet of things connecting all things together, we are ripe targets. So, ladies and gents, be responsible and be secure. And if you want a foolproof way to stay out of harm’s way, don’t work in politics and don’t get on the internet, and you should be good. Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and writes for several organizations. He can be reached at



{ insiders’ ADVICE

Focused Approach

steve vancore wonders if focus groups are the new ‘next’?


ere’s a question we’ve been asked a lot since the election: “Should we be doing focus groups instead of a poll?” The presumption behind the question seems to be that as some polls during the presidential election called the race wrong — and yes, quite a few did that — so perhaps we need another technique to understand our audience. The short answer is a resounding “NO!” Public opinion surveys (polls) and focus groups are different, they measure different things in different ways and give us different insights. But first, in defense of those national polls; let us recall that the national polling aggregators said Hillary Clinton would win the popular vote by about 3 points. She won by 2. Truth is, they weren’t the problem polls. (The problem came from a dearth of state-level polls in swing states like Michigan and Wisconsin — but that’s another story for another day.) For most projects, for most needs, and for most clients, a single percentage point simply will not make a difference in understanding what motivates an audience. A single point

will not throw off a branding poll, it will not impact legislative strategy, nor will it change whether a group should move forward with a ballot initiative, for example. So when do you poll? And when do you conduct focus groups? We generally recommend polling as an out-of-the-gate way to understand key generalities of an audience. Whether that audience is a customer base, a target electorate, or a swath of citizens, it really doesn’t matter. A poll helps us understand that audience’s general attitudes, opinions, priorities, and concerns across a variety of issues and subject areas. They also can be very useful in helping clients know what different subgroups think, feel, or believe about the subjects tested and how they differ from each other. Are men different than women? Do older respondents feel differently than younger ones? These subgroups can be examined across regions, age brackets, income levels, race/ethnicity groupings, and even by church attendance. In short, we can learn a great deal from polls, but they have their limits. Polling helps better understand groups of people overall, which makes it difficult to understand tone, subtext, or the reasons

WHY someone feels the way they do. That’s where focus groups come in. We like to identify a few key issues for a select target audience (like millennials, older Republicans, likely voting independent voters, or those who engaged in a certain behavior) and probe deeply into their thinking. There is no better way to truly understand motivation, feelings or inherent beliefs than spending 90 minutes with 12-15 people probing a limited number of subjects. We gain depth of understanding and often learn things we simply had not considered. Focus groups are also a way to explore poll-tested messages or advertisements and learn how the implementation or manifestation of the message will be received by a predetermined audience. No. Focus groups are not a good substitute for polls. They measure different things and in different ways. Steven J. Vancore is president of ClearView Research, a political polling and research firm in Tallahassee. Steve has been conducting polls, focus groups, and related research projects in Florida for nearly three decades. He can be reached at


The Florida Retail Federation Celebrates 80 Years of Advocating for Retail in Florida

FRF is excited to welcome aboard our new President & Chief Executive Officer, Scott Shalley.


{ insiders’ ADVICE

Breaking the Election Code

noreen fenner explains how to avoid missteps when announcing for political office


e have all heard the adage: There’s no such thing as bad publicity. While that may be true for Kim Kardashian, it is not true for public officials and those seeking public office. Many a campaign has been stalled — or even sunk — by news reports of even seemingly insignificant actions. Citizens and voters hold their elected officials to a higher standard, and rightly so. We entrust these men and women to ensure our public safety, educate our children, protect our environment, and spend our tax dollars wisely. But small missteps can make for big headlines — and countless mail pieces showing up in voters’ mailboxes — just before Election Day. Some of the most common errors are Election Code requirements many are unware of and can easily avoid. For example, a candidate must file initial paperwork with the filing officer prior to incurring any campaign-related expenses or accepting any contributions. It is a simple procedure involving just two forms. Many candidates, wanting to make a big splash in the media on announcement day, end up getting caught in this provision of law. The Florida Election Code also imposes

restrictions on how campaign funds may be utilized. In Florida, campaigns are not permitted to deficit spend or enter into contracts for services without sufficient funds on deposit in the campaign account. Campaign funds only may be used to influence the results of the election. Candidates and their families are not permitted to use campaign funds to offset normal living expenses, although they are allowed to be reimbursed for campaign-related expenditures. Public reports of contributions received and expenditures made are required to be filed on a specific schedule. If reports are late-filed, statutorily authorized automatic fines are imposed by the filing officer. In addition to potentially hefty fines, media and the opposition often seize upon this information, causing a candidate to defend claims he or she is unable to follow even basic campaign finance laws. Probably the most common error involves political advertising disclaimers. While it may seem harmless that a disclaimer is not exactly correct, it is not. Fines can be imposed by the Florida Elections Commission. A finding against a candidate by the commission, or even the fact

that a complaint has been filed against a candidate, becomes news and, once again, a mail piece or television ad. Even commonsense Election Code restrictions are specifically outlined. For example, candidates may not represent that they have been endorsed by a person or organization without first having written authorization of such an endorsement. Falsely representing military service or making malicious statements about opposing candidates also are included in the code. Public officials are not permitted to utilize public resources for campaign purposes. This includes using the copier, email, office personnel, county or city vehicle, to name a few. Running for public office is an exciting endeavor many people aspire to. Following the election laws closely helps to ensure it’s exciting for all the right reasons. Noreen Fenner is President of PAC Financial Management, a Tallahassee-based campaign finance management firm, specializing in establishing, maintaining, and reporting for Florida candidate campaigns and political committees of all sizes. For additional information, visit


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Shaping the future of technology for Florida public safety

A global leader in the technologies that enable our connected lives. In January 2016, Nokia completed the acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent and its research and innovation entity Bell Labs. This acquisition comes after those of Siemens and Motorola carrier businesses, to establish Nokia as the global leader in communications and mission-critical broadband networks. Nokia invents, designs, and deploys intelligent, connecting, technologies that make a real difference in people’s lives. We focus on the human possibilities of technology - continually reinventing communications to make it simpler, seamless. By doing so, we make society better, safer. Solving life’s digital challenges with integrity is how Nokia exercises its social responsibility. Shaping the future of technology – the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud and 5G – we anticipate and deliver information when and where it’s needed: transforming the human experience through autonomous driving, smart cities, smart homes, digital health and public safety.

A renewed commitment to bring leading innovation to Florida public safety Nokia is powering the backbone of the SLERS Public Safety Network. In 2017 Florida will be upgrading its network to Project 25 digital radio. This backbone will play a vital role in delivering the reliability and security needed, and support mission critical applications. And it will make the network readily scalable for new technologies such as 4G-LTE, the IoT and eventually 5G. Nokia is at the forefront of global innovation. We are committed to providing the people of Florida with the leading edge technology and services that its public safety officers are counting on. Learn more.




Call them the new kids on the block. There are 66 new members of the Florida Legislature serving during the 2016-18 term. Twenty of those members are finding their way in the Senate; 46 are working their way through the ranks of the House. They are bright-eyed and hopeful, ready to take the capital city by storm. For some, the 2017 Legislative Session is their first chance to do something for their constituents. For others, it is a continuation of the good work they’ve done elsewhere, whether that be in local office or through advocacy work. Some graduated to the Senate from the House. Here’s a look at a few of the freshman we think will go on to do

PHOTO: Mark Wallheiser

big things during their time in office. >>



REPUBLICAN REP. JAYER WILLIAMSON, HOUSE DISTRICT 3 Jayer Williamson was five or six years old when he decided he wanted to serve in the Florida House. He was on his way home from a trip to Tallahassee with his grandfather, former Santa Rosa County Commissioner W.L. Butler, who wanted his grandson to meet his representatives and understand the process. As the two drove home, Butler asked his grandson what he thought of their excursion. Decades later, Williamson remembers their conversation as clear as day. “I said, ‘I’m going to be a member of the Florida House’,” the now 38-year-old state representative recalls. “My grandfather said … ‘Why would you want to be a state representative? Is it because you get to meet all these cool people?’ And I said it was because I wanted to help people.” That’s a creed Williamson has tried to live by throughout his career in public service. In 2014, he was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to the Santa Rosa County Commission District 1 seat after his father, Santa Rosa County Commissioner Jim Williamson, died. He was elected without opposition a few months later. While Williamson initially planned to run in 2018, a game of electoral dominoes in Northwest Florida gave him an opening sooner than expected. He easily won his election, and scored spots of several key House committees, including the Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee and the Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee. And Williamson has a passion for transportation, a trait that seems to have been passed down from one generation to the next. Williamson says, according to family tales, his grandfather would spend his Saturdays in the 1970s filling in potholes on county roads. The reason? He wanted to help his constituents. Williamson plans to do much of the same, just on a much larger scale. While he might not be out paving the potholes anytime soon, he does want to focus on transportation infrastructure during his time in office. The way he sees it, transportation is Florida’s lifeline. “I can’t think of anything better in government to me than roads. You can get out there and you can touch it, you can feel it. It’s your taxpayer dollars. And if it’s not good, it’s not good,” he says. “Roads are so important because if we’re going to spend money on tourism or hospitals or economic development or schools, what does any of that matter if we’re not going to have roads to get to those things?” SPRING 2017 INFLUENCE | 97


If the name Amber Mariano sounds familiar, there’s a reason for that. The 21-year-old New Port Richey resident has made a lot of headlines in the past few months. She bounced an incumbent in her first-ever election, becoming one of the youngest people to be elected to the Florida House. That feat, combined with the Republican wave that swept the nation on Election Day, landed Mariano some serious press coverage. She was featured on a recent episode of NBC’s “Today” show, talking with political analyst Nicole Wallace about her election. USA Today College profiled her, as have news outlets across the Sunshine State. But for Mariano, the decision to run wasn’t about the accolades or good media coverage. She’s known she wanted to run for public office since she was a young girl, telling friends and family when she was just six years old that she wanted to be the president of the United States when she grew up. She hasn’t wavered on that dream, but says she didn’t think her entry into politics would happen at this stage in her life. She thought she would finish college, go to law school, and start a family before getting into it. But when the opportunity presented itself, Mariano says she couldn’t pass up a chance to help her community and Florida. While the issues in her district are important to her, Mariano is deeply interested in higher education. Which makes a lot of sense, especially when you consider she’s one of the few lawmakers who isn’t just studying bills when she goes home at night. “There’s no one else that’s so recent to all of these experiences; Rep. Jennifer Sullivan is the only one that’s close,” she says. 98 | INFLUENCE SPRING 2017


Some families talk about sports around the dinner table. Growing up, Ben Diamond’s family was not one of those. Sure, they occasionally talked about the big game, but requests for seconds were served up with a side of chit chat about the news of the day. But that is what happened when your grandfather was Rep. Dante Fascell. “It’s been ingrained in us from an early

age that we’re supposed to be involved and giving back to our community,” says Diamond. The 38-year-old Pinellas County native has spent much of his life involved in public service. His fascination with the process is what drove him to go to law school, and eventually to go to look for opportunities to work in state government. He spent four years working as an attorney under Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, eventually serving as general counsel.

When Sink left office, he returned to the private sector, but jumped at the opportunity to “continue (his) public service” when the House seat opened up. He now has the chance to, at least in part, follow in his late grandfather’s footsteps. A member of the Florida House during the early 1950s, Fascell had a keen interest in environmental issues. It’s also an issue that’s close to Diamond’s heart, and one directly impacting many of his constituents. Diamond says he hopes to use his time in office to, among other things, look at ways to address growing concerns about the state’s water and natural resources. While he says the state has good laws on the books when it comes to environmental protection, lawmakers need to focus on making sure they are “being properly enforced.” As a father of a 4-year-old, Diamond also hopes to tackle issues surrounding early education, which he says is one of the most important issues facing the state. And with years of experience in the Department of Financial Services under his belt, you can bet Diamond will be wading into the assignment of benefit debates. “Right now, what I’m focused on is trying to build the relationships here in the Legislature so I can be an effective advocate for my district,” says Diamond. “That’s

PHOTOS: Mark Wallheiser


“I went to a charter school. I went to public school. I went to online school. I (did) AP courses. I’m at a public university. I know what I’m talking about, not because I read a lot, but because I just went through it.” She’s putting her recent experience in the education system to good use in the Florida Legislature, already filing two bills aimed at making higher education more affordable. The first bill (HB 155) would allow students to use their Bright Futures Scholarships for classes during the summer term. Currently, the Bright Futures Scholarship Program only provides funding for students enrolled in fall and spring semesters. But with more pressure to finish school in four years, more students are taking summer courses. And that could lead to higher costs and more student debt down the road. Mariano should know. A few years back, she took three online courses over the summer. The courses cost more than traditional courses would have, and her Bright Futures scholarships didn’t cover the cost because she was taking them during the summer term. She ended up having to take out a loan for $3,000, and says she paid more for those nine credit hours than she generally does for 12 to 15 credit hours in the fall or spring. The second bill (HB 153) increases the number of credit hours students can enroll in before being billed a 100 percent surcharge of the normal tuition rate. The proposal increases the baseline credit hour limit from 110 percent to 120 percent. “I’m here to fix the problems I’ve seen,” she says. Mariano is planning to attend classes online after the spring semester and graduate early, before eventually going to law school. She still wants to be president someday, but until then she says she just wants to do the job she was elected for — and maybe have a little fun along the way. “It’s going to be hard juggling everything, but I’ve juggled much more,” she says. “And this isn’t a job. I’m juggling my dream. It’s not like this is painful work that I’m doing. This is what I’ve been working for my whole life.”


what I’m supposed to be doing up here. I am supposed to be representing District 68 … and I’m trying to spend my time working toward being effective in representing the people in my community.”


For Byron Donalds, conversations about education reform shouldn’t center around the question of what lawmakers should do; but why they’re doing it in the first place. “For me, when you’re talking about education, that’s what sets up every child’s future. That experience — good, bad, or indifferent — is going to set them up for success or set them up for failure,” he says. “That’s what drives the vision. That’s what drives overall policy. And for me, ‘why’ matters far more than ‘what’.” The 38-year-old is deeply invested in education policy. He mulled a run for the Collier County school board back in 2012, opting instead to run for Congress when a seat opened up. His wife, Erika Donalds, would win a seat on the same board two years later. The couple played an active role in getting Mason Classical Academy, a Collier County charter school, up and running. He was a founding board member, while she served as an advisory board member. So it is no surprise Donalds is using his time in the Florida House to advocate for education reform. But in order to make changes, Donalds says lawmakers need to be willing to sit down and listen to opposing views and have meaningful discussions about what is best for Florida. The sole African-American Republican in the Legislature, Donalds joined the Black Caucus, where all the other members are Democrats, for that reason. While his conservative leanings might not always line up with the rest of the caucus, he has said he thinks there will be an opportunity to find

common ground. “I always go back to what are we trying to accomplish,” he says. “I think the common ground is making sure we get the best opportunity possible.”


The traditional career path in Tallahassee means many people start their life in the process as a legislator before returning to the Florida Capitol as a lobbyist. But Carlos Guillermo Smith is anything but traditional. The former government affairs manager for Equality Florida, Smith spent years advocating on behalf of the LGBTQ community in front of the Florida Legislature. But after a particularly difficult session two years ago, he realized there was only so much he could do from the outside. He decided it was time to run for office and try to change the system from within. “It’s crazy,” says Smith. “This was not the plan.” At 36 years old, Smith is now one of just two openly gay members currently serving in the Florida House. Although Smith had always planned to be an advocate for the LGBT community in the Florida House, he says his entire campaign — and the issues important to his constituents — changed on June 12, 2016.

Around 2 a.m., an armed gunman walked into Pulse nightclub and opened fire. It was Latin night, and the gay nightclub was packed. Forty-nine people died and 53 more were injured. Many of those people were Latino. “As someone who is LGBT and Latino, who is from Orlando and who is by profession and trade an LGBT civil rights activist, of course for me this tragedy is personal,” says Smith. “How could it not be?” The tragedy, he says, “evokes so many different issues.” Gun safety may be the first thing that comes to mind when someone thinks about the shooting, but Smith says it also raises the issue of equality and the need for non-discrimination laws; access for health insurance, especially among Latinos; and the need for comprehensive mental health reforms. And Smith says the aftermath has shown him the state needs to start thinking about ways to address post-traumatic stress disorder. Currently, PTSD is not listed as a condition eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. And that means first responders who suffer from PTSD, like the Orlando police officer who helped remove the bodies from the nightclub, can’t collect workers’ compensation for psychological issues suffered on the job “It’s a tragedy; it’s an injustice,” he says. “I think it’s important we add PTSD as an SPRING 2017 INFLUENCE | 99

THE P ROCESS would have said you’re crazy,” says the 33-year-old father of three. “But when I had my son, that changed everything.” And after four years, he decided he wanted to take what he learned while serving on the Duval County School Board and apply it to the Florida Legislature.

An engineer by trade, Fischer is hoping to spend his time in Tallahassee looking at ways to make Florida more attractive to the manufacturing sector through reducing tangible property taxes and regulations. He says he’d also like to look at ways to enhance the state’s transportation network, making sure it’s sustainable for years to come. “I really enjoy public service,” he says.



A third-generation Floridian, Jason Fischer got into politics the same way so many firsttime politicians do: He ran for school board. But that might be where the similarities end. The Jacksonville native’s first campaign for school board was backed by former Gov. Jeb Bush, former Speaker Will Weatherford, and current Speaker Richard Corcoran. He spent four years on the school board advocating for school choice, increasing the number of students taking advantage of options offered to them; taking a closer look at spending; and helping push the county to start thinking about education differently. “If you would have asked me 10 years ago if I would be on the school board, I


with with somebody from Pensacola. They met when he was in law school at Southern Methodist University, started a family together and made a life in Dallas. When they found out they were pregnant with twins, they decided it was time to start thinking about where they wanted to be for the long haul. “I grew up around a lot of family and she did as well, and we had neither in Dallas,” says White. “We had wonderful friends, a church we loved, but we didn’t have family.” So in 2010, they packed their bags and moved across the country. It was “absolutely the right decision,” and one that would help launch the now 38-year-old’s political career. The chief financial officer and general counsel for his family’s car dealerships in Pensacola, White says he is deeply interested in health care policy. He’ll get a chance to put that interest to work in the coming years, scoring appointments to the House Health & Human Services Committee, Health Innovation Subcommittee, and Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee. You also can watch for White to file legislation aimed at encouraging free enterprise and free market approaches. He says he hopes to file a bill aimed at the cottage food industry, which would remove “unnecessary regulations that hurt entrepreneurs.” White, who benefited from a game of political dominoes in Northwest Florida, faced no primary opposition in 2016, and, unlike many of the members of his freshman classmates, sailed to an easy victory in November. That’s allowed him more time to craft his approach to lawmaking, and prepare himself for the frenzy of session. “It’s been like drinking from a fire hose,” says White. “But if you like policy and you like people, this is Disney World.”


A native Texan, the story of how Frank White found himself living in the Florida Panhandle is a simple one: He fell in love

If Paul Renner had to pick one word to describe himself, it might just be “principled.” Chat with the Palm Coast Republican long enough, and you’ll notice he regularly sprinkles it throughout his conversations. And it’s why he decided to run for office in the first place, because he felt that the country was moving away from the “foundational principles that … made us the strongest, freest, and most prosperous country in history.” First elected in a 2015 special election, Renner is in a unique position. He knows where everything is, the breakneck speak of session, and has even had a bill become a law. But he’s still considered one of the new guys on the block, trying to figure out the ins and outs of Tallahassee. >>

PHOTOS: Mark Wallheiser

eligible condition for workers’ comp.” Smith says he’s been in discussions with the Attorney General’s office about how it administered benefits through the Victim’s Compensation Fund when it responded to Pulse. He says he has some ideas about how the state can make the fund “better and stronger and more available to victims of crime.” He also filed a bill with Sen. Linda Stewart to ban the sale of civilian versions of military assault weapons. Smith isn’t planning to just focus on issues that arose from the shooting during his time in office. With five colleges and universities in his district, Smith says he wants to make higher education — particularly making it affordable to more people — a top priority. And while he knows he is a “LGBT, feminist, liberal in a very conservative Florida Legislature,” he says he hasn’t let that get in the way of his effectiveness in the past. He’s reached across the aisle to neutralize bills in the past, and says he takes a “Reagan-era” approach to politics, making friends with Republicans and working together, even when they don’t always see eye to eye. “Even though I’m a leader in the Democratic Party, I am an advocate in this work before I am a party person,” he says. “If finding a commonsense, reasonable Republican lawmaker to sponsor legislation, for example, that I believe and that I support increases the likelihood of those bills passing, then we want to find those Republicans, and we want to ask them to sponsor legislation that will help improve the lives of everyday Floridians whether that be gun safety, LGBT equality, or reforming the criminal justice system. I want Republicans to file these bills because that increases the likelihood of passage. It doesn’t matter whose name is on it to me. I’m an advocate in this work and I care about the issues.”



Robert Asencio is a South Florida Democrat who doesn’t see party affiliation. Yes, he knows he’s a member of the minority party. And yes, he knows that could make pushing priorities through the Legislature a tad more difficult. But the 53-yearold doesn’t think party lines should stop him — or anyone for that matter — from doing what’s right for their constituents. “I don’t see the ‘R’ issue, and I don’t see the ‘D’ issue,” he says. “I just see issues. I think, right now, if we walk away from the 2016 election cycle, most voters don’t care whether you’re (a Republican or a Democrat). They just want you to represent them, they just want you to understand what they want and need, and they just want you to work for them.” Asencio has spent much of his life working for his community. A veteran law enforcement officer, Asencio retired in 2015 after more than 30 years as a public servant. And he says work in law enforcement gives him a unique perspective into public safety issues, much like how a CPA has a different approach to the budget or a teacher to education policy. “You see things from a different point of view,” he says. “You experience things in a different way.” But don’t expect him to focus solely on public safety while he’s in the House. Asencio says he’s looking forward to working on ways to improve education, create more business opportunities and create a safer and healthier Florida. “When I retire and sit back, I want to be able to look at my son, my stepchildren and their children, my community and say I tried,” he says.



DEMOCRATIC SEN. LAUREN BOOK, SENATE DISTRICT 32 Lauren Book’s life is about to get crazy. Not that it wasn’t already. At 32, Book has already started her own nonprofit aimed at preventing sexual abuse; written two books, including a memoir; given a TED Talk at Oxford New Theatre in Oxford, England; and walked more than 7,700 miles as part of her “Walk in My Shoes” campaign. But now she is adding two more things to her resume: State senator and new mom. Book gave birth to twins earlier this year, and will have both newborns with her in Tallahassee throughout session. “For me, it’s important … when mommy brings value to the family,” says Book, the daughter of legendary lobbyist Ron Book. “It’s all about the next generation, and it’s all about having civic-minded children.” Book is well-known in the process, having spent her spring breaks in the capital city with her father. She’s also well-known in her own right, spending years advocating for children and victims of sexual abuse. It’s a deeply personal issue for Book, who endured sexual abuse for six years at the hands of a trusted caretaker. Even though she has been successful in making the state a safer place for kids and families, she said there were still things to do. She says she knew there was “only so much you can do from the outside looking in,” and decided it was time for her to become part of the process. While child protection remains a top priority for Book, she also hopes to focus on a wide variety of issues during her time in Tallahassee. She’s chairwoman of the chamber’s Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee and the vice chairwoman of the Environment and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee. And her future as a leader in the Democratic Party has already been secured. In November, Book was named Democratic Leader Pro Tempore by her caucus members, making her one of the highest ranking Democrats in the chamber. “I’m really lucky that I’ve grown up in the process,” she says. “These folks aren’t just colleagues, they’re friends.” 102 | INFLUENCE SPRING 2017


PHOTOS: Mark Wallheiser

For Renner, serving in the Legislature is just another way to serve his country. A Navy veteran, Renner was deployed to the Persian Gulf in 1991 as part of Operation Desert Storm and to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2011. He says his decision to run in the special election, one year after losing a race in House District 15 by just two votes, was “about a model of public service.” “It’s about putting principle first,” he says. “People become co-opted by the system, and I have so many criticisms of Republicans who either didn’t stick to their principles or didn’t advocate well for their principles. I know I’ll keep my principles and hopefully I’ll be a strong advocate for those principles.” He is already turning heads in the capital city. Renner is one of at least three contenders in the running for House Speaker in 2022–24. Renner has been tight-lipped about whether he is interested in the job, saying he’s focused on doing what’s best for Florida and his constituents. “The challenge for me and my colleagues is to come in and be who you are, stick by your principles and do not be concerned by your re-election, do not be concerned about what a vote on a bill is going to cost you in fundraising,” he says. “I think most people appreciate authenticity, they appreciate principle, they appreciate people willing to stand up when it might hurt them. It’s a weakness in the system if they’re making decisions about where it takes them, instead of where it takes Florida.”

REPUBLICAN REP. RANDY FINE, HOUSE DISTRICT 53 Randy Fine was not planning to run for office. But two years ago, Fine says his son came home from first grade and says he was

told “nine plus six didn’t equal 15.” Baffled, Fine went to talk to the principal. “The principal told me in the state of Florida, nine plus six didn’t equal 15. It equaled four minutes of gibberish. You have to go through a tortured explanation, and figuring it out in your head isn’t adequate,” says Fine. “Two hours later, I was a candidate for Florida House.” The 42-year-old businessman breezed to victory, his campaign focusing primarily on education, the Indian River Lagoon, making Florida the premier place to build and grow businesses, and fixing the social safety net. And those are the same issues, he says, he’ll zero in on during his time in office. “I’d like to make as much of an impact as I can and I’d like to leverage my experience in creating transformative change to be as effective as I can,” says Fine. “I built three businesses that transformed industries. If that is helpful in transforming the state, then I’d like to be able to leverage that experience here.”

Fine, the son of a middle school teacher and blind college professor, attended Harvard University, and initially thought he would become an attorney. But he says he needed to help pay for college, and decided to start a business. The idea, he says, was better than he thought, leading him to get his MBA and pursue a career in business. For nearly a decade, he served a consultant to a number of gaming-related companies through The Fine Point Group, where he was managing director. He also holds a patent for a system that tracks casino customer activities, so they can get points to earn cash and rewards. That decision to become an entrepreneur turned out to be a good one. Fine semi-retired at the age of 40, a birthday

present to himself. Financial disclosure documents filed in 2016 show his net worth was more than $22.5 million. Now Fine says he wants to use that experience to try to help other Floridians, saying his time in business has taught him that government can’t always do much to help, but can “do much to hurt” people looking to grow their companies. While only a freshman, Fine has already made a name for himself. He briefly considered running for Senate, but reportedly took himself out of consideration after a spat with a well-known GOP consultant. And before he even took the oath of office, Fine’s name began popping up as one of three contenders in the 2022-24 House Speaker’s race. In April 2016, he told Florida Today he was “interested in being a leader in the class” and wanted to make sure Brevard county had “a strong voice in the Legislature.” “I don’t want anything out of this process for myself,” says Fine when asked about his future. “I want to be able to look back on the eight years I hopefully spend here and be able to say we did as much good as we could and the sacrifice my boys made was worth it. … I’m not looking to have a political career. I think I’ll do this, and hopefully do some good.”


Dana Young has deep roots in Florida government. Her father was the assistant secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Her uncle served in the Florida House for 16 years; her grandfather, Randolph Hodges, served in the Senate for 10. And his presence still looms large in the upper chamber. Hodges served as Senate president from 1961 until 1963, and his



portrait still hangs in the same chamber Young, his Republican granddaughter, now serves. Despite that family pedigree, Young says she never thought she’d run for office. But when a House seat opened up in the Tampa area, she decided to give it a go. She beat out three Republicans in a primary, and defeated her Democratic opponent by a wide margin. It was the first of many tough races, and helped prepare Young for what would be a difficult race to win in Senate District 18. “I have always been very, very comfortable in the political arena,” she says. Young might just be walking across the Capitol to her new offices in the Senate, but says her experience is unlike that of many of the other members making the transition from the House. Since much of her time in the House was in leadership, she often spent time counting votes for members’ bills instead of filing her own. She’s looking forward to the chance to spend time on the issues she’s been wanting to focus on in recent years. She’s already made good on one campaign promise, filing a bill in January to ban fracking throughout the state. A longtime defender of the craft beer industry, Floridians can also expect Young to continue to push legislation aimed at helping craft brewers. While Young, who carried gambling legislation in the House, isn’t the sponsor of comprehensive gambling legislation in the Senate this year, you can expect she’ll be involved. And she’s already taking aim at one industry, filing her own version of a bill to legalize and regulate fantasy sports. “I have never been afraid of a challenge,” she says.


Gary Farmer’s entry into the Florida Legislature started slowly. An adoption bill in the early 2000s helped him realize the process isn’t at all like “Schoolhouse Rock.” His daughter’s profound learning disability got him involved in education policy. But the tipping point came in 2005, when then-Gov. Jeb Bush pushed tort reform. A trial attorney, Farmer went to Tallahassee for one day. He ended up staying for five weeks. “I was hooked,” says the 52-year-old. “I enjoyed advocating, and I enjoyed giving a voice to those who didn’t have one.” Farmer, who defeated two well-known former House members in the Senate District 34 Democratic primary, knows a thing or two about advocating for people in need. He began his legal career with an insurance defense firm, before moving on to plaintiff’s work. Over the years, Farmer worked to push for new laws for people who were wrongly denied coverage by their HMOs, and represented clients who said they were wronged by deceptive trade practices. He plans to continue to take a “very consumer-centric” approach to his time in office, saying issues like insurance, gun safety, and the environment are among his top priorities. “I feel like I was put here for a reason, and this is it,” he says. “When people talk about me, I want them to say ‘there’s a guy who put society and the little guy and little gal first to make sure they’re protected.’”


Linda Stewart’s origin story isn’t that much different than most elected officials. She spent years working behind the

scenes, appealing to local officials for help. When her calls went unanswered, she decided she could do a better job and ran for county commission. She lost that first race, but a few years later, she bounced an incumbent to score a seat on the Orange County Commission. Fifteen years later, the 68-year-old is now a state senator. And while she might be a tad bit older than she was when she first took office in 2002, Stewart says she’s still just trying to do good by her constituents. “I feel like I need to be myself,” she says. “I need to be able to remind them I’m for equal pay for equal work. I’m for the environment, I’m for weaning us off septic tanks. I’m for trying to protect our ecosystem, to find ways to protect (against) algae, to protect the bears. (I want to do) whatever I can do to help, because that’s why I was sent up here.”And this year, that means doing her part to reduce gun violence. Stewart’s district includes the Pulse nightclub, where 49 people were killed and 53 others were wounded in a mass shooting in June. Stewart and Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat, filed legislation banning the sale of civilian versions of military assault weapons. She knows the bill has a difficult road ahead in both chambers, and that it might not pass. But she also says she made a promise to her constituents to fight for them, and she didn’t want to let them down. “This begins the conversation,” she says. “Whether you feel that this is going to happen this year, I’m going to do everything in my power … to keep the conversation going. You’ve got to work it and get the people to work it with you. The people at home, and around the state, aren’t going to let me down.” ][

PHOTOS: Mark Wallheiser




Randolph Bracy’s political career started with a simple request from his mother: Would he be interested in running her school board campaign? He was pursuing a professional basketball career, and was in between trying out for teams when his mom asked for help. At 23 years old, Bracy had no interest in politics. But like any good son, he obliged. “I played sports my whole life, I never got into politics and it didn’t seem like what I wanted to be doing,” says the now 39-year-old state senator. “But I loved it. And after the campaign was over, I worked on another campaign, and another.” After a few races behind the scenes, Bracy decided to run when a House seat in his community opened up. He was a school administrator at the time, and thought it was a chance to help “not only young people, but their families and their community.” He’s hoping to do the same in the Senate, where Democrats have a bit more clout. He has already scored meaty committee assignments, including being named chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and vice chairman of the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee. And you can expect Bracy to take a serious look at criminal justice reform during his tenure as chairman. He’s already filed a bill that would give tax credits to businesses that hire felons, and is mulling several other proposals to reform the system. “My approach is to be aggressive,” he says. As to his future, Bracy says he likes to keep an open mind about what will come next for him. He never thought he’d get into politics, but he ended up loving it. He didn’t think he’s run for the Senate when he did, but jumped at the opportunity when it presented itself. “I think you take opportunities as they come,” he says. “That’s how I approach opportunities. It’s a calculated risk.”



Illustration by Andy Marlette


Food Fights 2017 SPRING 2017 INFLUENCE | 107

Gambling, Health Care, and Industry Disruptors Create Perennial Session Standoffs BY JIM ROSICA


et’s talk about “food fights” — but not the kind made famous in National Lampoon’s “Animal House.” In Capitol-ese, they’re the issues that always seem to bog down the Legislature. The session ends; nothing gets passed. In fact, over the last few years, some have become zombies for their ability to never die. Beat them back and they keep coming at you. Perhaps the best-known of these is gambling, where Florida lawmakers have cornered the market on inaction. The gridlock here comes mainly from the pari-mutuels — horse and dog tracks who want to offer more gambling and be free of the state’s requirement that they run live races in order to offer cards or slots — and Disney and other “family-friendly” tourism proponents. The recent history of failure in passing any kind of gambling law reforms goes back to 2012, when then-Sen. Ellyn Setnor Bogdanoff pushed a measure to permit three destination hotel-casinos in South Florida. That effort died.

“Nobody wants to address a comprehensive approach to gambling in this state. It’s taboo, but it still needs to be fixed.” — SEN. ELLYN SETNOR BOGDANOFF

The next year, lawmakers hastily moved to ban Internet gambling cafés — only after a multistate investigation that netted dozens of arrests threw egg on the Legislature’s collective face. Caught in the crossfire was Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who before her election had provided public-relations representation to the company at the center of the probe. Carroll resigned, though she was not accused of wrongdoing. Two years later, then-House Republican Leader Dana Young of Tampa sponsored her own sweeping legislation to permit two destination resort casinos in South Florida and allow dog tracks to stop live racing but continue to offer slot machines, among many other provisions. Surprise: It, too, died during the Legislative Session. Then there’s health care, which along with education eats up about two-thirds of the state’s budget every year. As former Senate President Andy 108 | INFLUENCE SPRING 2017

Gardiner — a hospital executive — once put it, “The Legislature will have to determine what is the best path. Do you put more general revenue in? Do you look at some of the different ideas floating out there?” Charity care, or uncompensated medical treatment, fractured the 2015 session, with the chambers split on Medicaid expansion and funding the Low Income Pool, or LIP, the federal-state pool of money that goes to hospitals. The federal government under then-President Obama wanted Florida to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to insure more working poor Floridians. The Senate drew its own plan to do so, but the House Republican majority has been vehemently opposed. Meantime, the state instituted a managed care program for the state’s patients who use Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for the poor. But state economists said cost savings from managed care aren’t as much as projected. These days, Florida lawmakers are trying to convince Congress to go to a block grant approach. Under health care is “scope of practice,” a sub-issue that never gets resolved. It involves whether to allow certain medical professionals to operate more like doctors, including the power to prescribe medications and operate independently. Physicians say it puts patients at risk of substandard health care, while advocates for such bills say it expands access to primary care. Then the tug of war begins, with the docs dragging the Legislature in one direction, and a host of professionals — optometrists and nurse practitioners to name a couple — pulling toward the other. In 2015, Tampa anesthesiologist Rafael Miguel testified against one such scope of practice expansion measure, putting into high relief the medical community’s agitation. “The last thing we need is a lesser-trained group of individuals to be able to write prescriptions,” he said. Ouch. Then there are potential food fights, more like pots on the stove, waiting to boil over. We got a taste of one such fight back in 2015, in the middle of another food fight that could get resolved this year over


Food Fights in 2017


ride-booking services such as Uber and Lyft. Sen. David Simmons, an Altamonte Springs Republican, tried moving a bill to require liability coverage for the smartphone app-based car services. But tucked in that measure, which went nowhere, was a provision for insurance for “short-term rental network companies.” This was aimed at Airbnb, the online lodging-booking website, and similar services. The bill defined them as providing “prearranged short-term rentals, such as homes or rooms within homes, for compensation using a software application.”

The idea was to clarify one of the murkiest issues of the sharing economy: Who’s on the hook when something goes wrong, and whose insurance policy will cover it? Generally speaking, homeowners’ coverage is not for businesses. And if you’re renting a room to a stranger in your house, you’re acting as a business. “It’s always a good idea to let your insurance carrier know about rental activity in your space,” AirBnB’s website says. AirBnB does have a Host Protection Insurance program that “provides primary liability coverage for up to $1 million per occurrence in the event of a third-party claim of bodily injury or property damage related to an Airbnb stay,” the website adds. But there are exceptions, like “intentional acts where liability isn’t the result of an accident,” and property issues such as exposure to “mold, bed bugs, asbestos, (or) pollution.” Simmons’ proposal was “to provide a model for the assurance that there is insurance for these people,” he told the Orlando Sentinel during the 2015 session. “It’s just a very pragmatic method of keeping up with the changing times.” ][


PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson



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Reform at Last? Lawmakers — including many Republicans — want to transform the state’s criminal justice system BY MITCH PERRY


fter years of falling behind their fellow red states when it comes to addressing criminal justice reform, the state of Florida appears poised to make significant inroads in the 2017 legislative session. There are several reasons why the stars are aligning this year on the issue, but a lot of the momentum comes from the leadership of GOP state Sen. Jeff Brandes and Senate President Joe Negron. Brandes has introduced a bill this year (with Pasadena House Republican Kathleen Peters) that calls for the creation of a task force to look at a broad range of criminal justice issues. It will include — but is not limited to — sentencing practices, statutory minimum mandatory requirements, prison and jail facilities, and criminal penalties in statute. “I really think you need a comprehensive approach to criminal justice reform, and I’ve never seen it done well in the committee process,” he says. “What we really need is a task force to vet these things, and give the committee a vetted set of bills.” When it comes to crafting new and sometimes controversial legislation, the GOP-led Florida Legislature has often looked to duplicate policies passed by fellow conservatives around the country. Curiously, though, that hasn’t been the case when it comes to criminal justice reform. While deeply red states like Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky have been leading the way in passing major reforms in recent years, Florida Republicans have been strangely AWOL. “I’ll get together with people in conferences in New York and Chicago and


wherever and people will be sitting around at lunch and say, “Well, is this the year we finally get Florida?” recounts Vikram Paddy, a senior research fellow at the Charles Koch Institute. In an essay penned last year, Paddy wrote that among national criminal justice reform advocates, Florida remains the great “white whale,” comparing the inability of Sunshine State legislators to pass meaningful reforms to Captain Ahab’s hunt for Moby Dick.

Brandes is aided by the backing of Stuart Republican Negron, who in his acceptance speech in becoming Senate President last fall urged the body to “not criminalize adolescence.” And showing that he means it, Negron surprised some by choosing Orlando Democrat Randolph Bracy to chair the Criminal Justice Committee, one of only four Democrats overall he’s chosen to lead the more than 30 committees in the Senate. The Legislature has already been busy this winter pushing bills through committee in advance of the regular session. Last month, the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee passed a bill by St. Petersburg Democrat Darryl Rouson that would end mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenses, a bill he says will save the state more than $130 million. There have been some reform measures in the past few years. Last April, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law what Brandes called “the most robust protections in civil asset forfeiture” of any big state in the country. That bill requires law enforcement officials to arrest suspects before seizing most property using civil asset forfeiture. The

seizing agency now has to pay a $1,000 filing fee to take the property and put up a $1,500 bond, which would go to the owner should he or she be found innocent. Law enforcement agencies still can seize funds without making an arrest, but any forfeiture of property can’t be made permanent unless law enforcement agencies can prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that it is linked to a crime. In another significant achievement, the Legislature passed SB 228, which overturned the famous mandatory minimum 10-20-Life law, giving judges across the state some flexibility when sentencing people convicted of gun-involved crimes. Under the original law signed by Jeb Bush in 1999, people convicted of a gun-involved crime automatically were given a 10year sentence and a 20-year sentence if they fired that gun — including if that gun was fired as a warning and not at an individual. The most notorious example of how that law handcuffed judges was the story of Jacksonville’s Marissa Alexander, whose case drew national attention from an incident when she fired warning shots in her house in 2010 while trying to escape an abusive husband. The new law now gives judges some discretion, marking it as the first real reversal of the state’s series of tough-on-crime laws enacted in the late 1990s. The idea of using a task force to begin to comprehensively address the deleterious effects of current criminal justice policy is a page out of the playbook of what other conservative-leaning states have done in recent years. That’s what Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal did after he took office in 2011. With the Peach State in midst of a budget crisis and

PHOTOS: Mark Wallheiser and Mary Beth Tyson (Newburn)

Clockwise from top: Greg Newburn, state policy director for Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM); Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Lady Lake), left, listens as Sen. David Simmons (R-Longwood) reads the bill; From left, Senators Jeff Brandes (R-St Petersburg), Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville) and Rob Bradley (R-Orange Park); Sen. Darryl Ervin Rouson (D-St Petersburg) speaks. Next page: Sen. Randolph Bracy (D-Ocoee), right, Chairman of the Florida Senate Committee on Criminal Justice prior to their committee meeting.



The number of inmates housed by the state is down nearly 10,000 after those diversion programs were cranked up, with three state prisons shut down. And there could be a fourth, as an official with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice announced in December that offenders housed at the South Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility in downtown Houston will be relocated “as the facility is slated for closure.” Jim DeBeaugrine formed the Coalition to Advance Justice a year ago, a 501(c)(4) designed to provide objective research on the issue “to help members rise above the sound bites.” He attributes part of the reluctance of Republican lawmakers to embrace criminal justice reform in part to the fact that Florida’s issues with crime in the 1990s which deleteriously affected the number of foreign tourists from entering the state. “There are still people in this process who still remember what it was like back then,” he recounts. DeBeaugrine served as staff director for 114 | INFLUENCE SPRING 2017

the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee for a decade (1997-2007). Another factor in the state’s delayed reaction to the national movement amongst conservatives for criminal justice reform, he says, is that that law enforcement and state attorneys are extremely powerful players in Florida politics. “If you’re a state Representative or state Senator, there’s basically two people you want to be friends with and keep happy, and that’s your sheriff and your local state attorney,” he says.

So while a task force is probably the way to go in 2017, Brandes says there’s still a chance to attack some “lowhanging fruit,” such as reclassifying some violations to misdemeanor which are currently felonies. One of those bills might be Miami Republican State Sen. Anitere Flores’ bill that would require a civil citation instead of arrest for juveniles facing any of 11 different nonviolent misdemeanor-level offenses. Another modest bill Brandes and St. Petersburg Democrat Darryl Rouson have proposed would end the suspension of licenses for non-driving-related offenses. Similar legislation was proposed in 2016 but didn’t make it out of the Appropriations Committee, due in part to resistance from the clerks of the court and tax collectors who retain a portion of revenues from certain driver’s license sanctions when issuing reinstatements. “I’m very sensitive to the clerk of the court, and it’s a shame that we have been funding their operations off the backs of people who pay tickets, fines, and fees. They ought to be fully funded and directly funded for their operation of government,” says Rouson. Palm Beach County Democrat Jeff Clemens has served with Brandes on the Senate Criminal Justice Committee for the past three years. He says unlike so many other issues in the Legislature, Democrats and Republicans have shown the ability to pass some serious reforms in that committee over the past few years — but the problem is once their proposals gets to the House, most often they die.

“Does the House want to keep spending money incarcerating people that don’t deserve to be incarcerated? Or do they want to save those dollars and return them to the taxpayer?” Clemens asks. In their list of policy priorities for the coming session, the James Madison Institute listed three separate items: • Address Florida’s direct practices of charging children as adults in overwhelming

PHOTO: Mark Wallheiser

the state’s prison population and incarceration budget having doubled in the previous two decades, he created a task force that year which set the framework to enact reforms in 2012 and 2013 he says have made the state’s criminal justice system “smarter, fairer, and more effective and less costly.” Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin announced last fall the formation of a 23-member Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council to review the state’s criminal justice system and recommend reforms that will make it more effective and less costly. In Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin formed a task force that resulted in four justice reform bills in 2016 that dealt with reducing mandatory minimums for drug offenders, gave prosecutors discretion to charge certain lower-level crimes as misdemeanors rather than felonies, and provided broader use of drug courts and community sentencing. A year ago she followed up with a task force to develop data-driven reforms. Observers say the movement amongst conservatives for criminal justice reform originated in Texas in 2007, when the state’s Legislative Budget Board told lawmakers that with record numbers of people moving into the Lone Star State, they would need to find a way to pay for 17,000 new prison beds by 2012. “They were told that the alternative would be to invest in better parole, better probation, stronger drug courts, and other options for low-level offenders so they can stave off building prison beds, and it worked,” says Paddy.

numbers and provide a constitutional check and balance on the process. • Restore judicial discretion in sentencing policies to ensure individuals are provided with appropriate due process protections. • Expand awareness and use of pre-arrest diversion programs such as civil citations as a tool for both public safety and long-term economic opportunity. In addition to JMI, the coalition in recent years fighting for such reforms include the Reason Foundation, the Project on Accountable Justice, Right on Crime, Florida TaxWatch, and Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).

Advocates can’t help but notice the scope and volume of bills that have already come out of committee so far this year. “I learned a long time ago not to try to predict how an issue will fare in a legislative session, but I’m certain we’re moving in the right direction,” says Greg Newburn, state policy director for FAMM. Florida lawmakers certainly wouldn’t be getting ahead of the public once they begin making such reforms. A survey by the U.S. Justice Action Network of Florida showed 69 percent of voters said Florida imprisons too many individuals. Another 74 percent said the state spent too much tax money keeping nonviolent offenders behind bars, and nearly 80 percent said the main goal of our justice system should be rehabilitating those in prison to become law-abiding citizens. “I think this is just one of the most challenging issues I’ve worked on in the legislative process,” Brandes says, adding that trying to get people who have served their time in prison to become productive members of society is “both a calling in my civic duty and my personal faith.” “At the end of the day I want to be able to look back on this experience in the Legislature and say we changed lives, not just for those with the ability to advocate the Legislature, but for those without it.” ][

PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson


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PHOTO: Mark Wallheiser



The State of the

Capitol Press Corps The ever-precarious position of Tallahassee’s statehouse reporters BY AUDREY POST


s the 2017 legislative session carries on, the Capitol Press Corps continues to document who wants to do what to whom, or for whom, with whom, and how much taxpayer money it will cost. Many familiar names are still around, lending their institutional memory and journalistic skills to The Process. Others are gone or have changed employers, some by choice — and some not. More newspapers have decided to stop staffing a Capitol bureau. One newspaper and one online news organization ceased operations over the past four years. On the flip side, two more online news services have begun providing Florida political coverage, particularly of state government. Overall, though, the number of reporters fulfilling the Fourth Estate’s “watchdog function” of monitoring government continues to drop. The Great Recession never ended for the news industry in general, and for newspapers in particular. The Pew Research Center’s “State of the Media 2016” says 2015 was the worst year for newsroom layoffs since 2009, and the layoffs continued in 2016. >>



Left to right: Capitol press corps interviewing Governor Warren in Tallahassee, Florida in 1949; Members of the AP bureau, circa 1953; Capitol Press Corps members, hanging over the Senate Press Box balcony, trying to hear what senators are planning, circa 1988.


identified as GOP have faith in the news media. It reflects a trend that emerged in 2010, when Florida Gov. Rick Scott, won his first term after refusing to meet with any newspapers’ editorial boards. All of the state’s major newspapers had endorsed his opponent. Scott has since developed a better working relationship with the Florida news media, but a twist on that scenario is playing out on a national scale. Since Republican President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January, he has continued to use his Twitter account to argue with reporters’ coverage, even when the facts are on the reporters’ side, as well as chastise members of the judiciary who find elements of his agenda unconstitutional. “It’s frightening,” said Brent Kallestad, a former AP correspondent who spent the last 30 years of his career in Tallahassee, until his retirement in 2013. “Most of the people who voted for Trump share his attitude toward the media. Trump is not the first guy to disregard the facts and disdain the media, but he’s the most blatant.” There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over how the mainstream media missed the rumbling undercurrent of disillusionment that led to Trump’s election. Many journalists have acknowledged they need to cast their source nets wider in the future. And some journalists believe the media need to take a good, hard look at themselves, for practices and behaviors that may be undercutting their own credibility. Why does it matter? Journalists are the public’s access to the elected, the appointed, the powerful and the influential, to the facts without spin or underlying agenda. Walter Cronkite was arguably the most trusted person in America when he anchored the “CBS Evening News” 50 years ago. As the Pew report summarized, a news

“It’s frightening ... most of the people who voted for Trump share his attitude toward the media. Trump is not the first guy to disregard the facts and disdain the media, but he’s the most blatant.” — BRENT KALLESTAD organization’s struggle to remain solvent is about more than solidifying the bottom line: “It is determining how and with what kinds of storytelling Americans learn about the issues and events facing society and the world.” Linda Kleindienst, who covered the Legislature and state government for 32 years for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, said the electorate cannot make informed choices if the media aren’t informing them. “I always saw it as our job to explain to our readers how state government and state legislative actions would affect their lives,” she said. “I don’t see much of that anymore. I see ‘he said/she said’ and talking heads. And because we don’t teach civics anymore, people don’t understand how government works.”

Departures and Downsides

Although the building on College Avenue known as the Press Center once was bustling with satellite offices for most of the state’s newspapers, only a few news bureaus remain in the building. The Associated Press is still there, although with a smaller staff. The Tampa Bay Times-Miami

PHOTOS: Red Kierce Collection, Donn Dughi, (State Archives of Florida)

In addition, “a wave of consolidation” over the past several years ended the long existence of several chains, such as E.W. Scripps, so fewer companies own a bigger chunk of the news business. The future, everyone seems to agree, is digital. The Pew report notes it has long been evident “that the financial realities of the web are not friendly to news entities, whether legacy or digital only. There is money to be made on the web, just not by news organizations.” Communication conglomerates explore various business models, trying to figure out how to wed technology and news to create a profitable bottom line. “We have to get people who are willing to invest in local journalism,” said Mary Ellen Klas, bureau chief of the McClatchy-owned Miami Herald. Finding such investors can be problematic because profit margin expectations climbed dramatically over the past few decades, as newspaper ownership shifted from media companies comfortable with single-digit returns to hedge fund managers and media conglomerates seeking 30 percent returns. The result was staff cuts and less space for news, resulting in less coverage and less depth to that lesser coverage. In corporate journalism, critics say, the directors answer to Wall Street, not Main Street, and the quality of journalism suffers. Meanwhile, respect for the news media erodes. A Gallup poll released in September 2016 showed only 32 percent of Americans trust the news media to report the news “fully, accurately, and fairly.” That’s the lowest percentage since Gallup first began asking the question in 1972. While responses from Democrats showed a slight drop in respect, Republican responses were overwhelmingly negative — only 14 percent of respondents who

PHOTOS: Mark Wallheiser and Florida Memory Project ......


Herald combined super-bureau’s staffing levels have been holding steady the past few years. Jacksonville’s Florida Times-Union and Bay News Nine, a cable channel serving the Tampa Bay area, retain one-person bureaus. The Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, whose Tallahassee staffs used to share an office, now share one reporter. Some, but not all, of these will boost legislative coverage by adding temporary staffers or reassigning reporters from the main newsroom to the Capitol for the Session. Some news organizations will rely solely on the wire services. “I think it’s obvious there are fewer people covering state government,” said Lucy Morgan, retired senior Tallahassee correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s always easier for editors in Miami, St. Pete, or Jacksonville to cut people they don’t see every day, especially if you’re having to choose between covering the state Capitol or covering local schools.” Gone is the Palm Beach Post’s Tallahassee bureau, long a powerhouse of state government coverage. Gone is what for years was the New York Times Regional Media Group’s bureau, which served Times’-owned newspapers in Sarasota, Lakeland, Gainesville, and Ocala. Even after Halifax purchased the New York Times Group and Halifax was subsequently bought by GateHouse Media, a one-person bureau was maintained. That changed in July last year, when GateHouse decided to close the Tallahassee bureau. Gone is The Florida Current, the daily online news operation created to supplement LobbyTools’ governmental research and bill-tracking service.

Capitol reporters gaggle in news conferences throughout the years, featuring (clockwise from top) Gov. Bob Martinez, Gov. Lawton Chiles, and now-U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.



Left: Capitol Press Corps members surround Florida’s Attorney General Jim Smith (center left) and Secretary of State George Firestone in 1985; Photographers Colin Hackley and Donn Dughi, in a photo from 1991.

“I always saw it as our job to explain to our readers how state government and state legislative actions would affect their lives. I don’t see much of that anymore. I see ‘he said/she said’ and talking heads.” — LINDA KLEINDIENST And really gone is The Tampa Tribune, which at one time had one of the largest staffs of any Tallahassee bureau. Longtime cross-bay competitor Tampa Bay Times, formerly the St. Petersburg Times, bought the 123-year-old paper last May and shut it down the same day. Even the Florida Press Association is gone. The statewide organization, which owned the Press Center, sold the property and moved its headquarters to the Orlando suburb of Lake Mary.

PHOTOS: Unknown photographer and Donn Dughi, (State Archives of Florida)

Arrivals and upsides

There are, however, bright spots in Capitol coverage, as well as a couple of new players in the news game. News Service of Florida, the subscription wire service launched a decade ago, offers the kind of comprehensive state government coverage wire services once were known for. But while traditional wire services such as AP have begun focusing on the bigger issues, likely a result of reduced staffing, NSF offers gavel-to-gavel coverage of House and Senate sessions and a long list of advisories and updates. Gannett has strengthened its yearround state government coverage, primarily because of the Naples Daily News, gained as part of the Scripps acquisition. Naples’ Capitol bureau chief Arek Sarkissian, who works out of the Tallahassee Democrat’s newsroom, said Gannett is planning its most robust legislative coverage in years

with the addition of session reporters. Two new digital news operations are making a big impact. Politico, well-regarded for its coverage of national politics, launched Politico Florida under the direction of former Miami Herald reporter Marc Caputo, based in Miami. Politico has five reporters in Tallahassee, including health-care specialist Christine Jordan Sexton and environmental specialist Bruce Ritchie, and Matt Dixon, a veteran statehouse reporter. Also new to the Capitol coverage arena is Peter Schorsch’s expanding media operation, Extensive Enterprises Media. The brand includes reporters around the state and in the capital city feeding a number of blogs and digests, as well as the magazine this article appears in. Schorsch is a controversial figure, juggling roles as a media consultant and online news publisher. The inherent potential conflicts between the two have not been lost on Schorsch or his critics. A year ago, Schorsch said he didn’t consider himself a journalist. Now, he realizes that his role as publisher of Extensive Enterprises makes him something of a journalist. “I try to keep my businesses separate but there is a bleed-over, although it’s much less than it was five years ago,” he said. “I know I sound like a Corleone, insisting that the business has gone legit, but my reporters know they can push back if they feel they need to.” Where is the high moral ground?

It’s easy to bemoan the lack of public confidence in news media, but harder to ask — and honestly answer — whether media behavior is contributing to the problem. There are those who believe blurred lines between news and advertising, and between news and media consultancy, have contributed to the diminished respect afforded the news media. Readers who can’t discern who is making judgments about what is or isn’t news tend to view the entire process through a cynical lens. The lack of transparency makes it worse. But what about the lines between reporters and their sources? At this year’s annual pre-legislative information session sponsored by the Associated Press, it was apparent just how blurry those lines have become when members of the Legislature who had been invited to speak embraced Capitol reporters before taking the microphone. Also problematic for some was the expectation that they applaud legislators after they spoke, something that historically was not done. Kallestad, the retired AP reporter who started the pre-session get-together, shares those concerns. “The familiarity with those we are supposed to cover is a big part of what’s wrong. We’re not supposed to be chums. Shake hands, perhaps,” he said. “Reporters must distance themselves from those we’re supposed to be keeping an eye on or else continue to lose public confidence.” ][



The Great Communicators Talk, people like to say, is cheap. And with the infinite number of

pixels, bytes, and decibels available today, the fusillade of information heading our way is relentless. But there are influencers able to cut through that torrent and communicate a message that is received and understood. And they are worth their weight in gold. This feature section focuses on more than two dozen organizations and individuals who have raised communications to high art in Florida. They include statewide and international public information consultancies, agency and association spokespersons, political operatives, and both legacy and new media journalists. In this feature package you’ll find stories about: Sarah Bascom and her team at Bascom Communications & Consulting; the public policy experts at Hill+Knowlton Strategies; “bad boy” political operative Brian Hughes; Katie Betta, right hand to legislative leaders; Political Reporters Matt Dixon and Tia Mitchell; and profiles of 20 others in a variety of roles who are crafting communications throughout Florida. >>



PHOTO: Ellis Agency



Play Hard ... Work Hardest

A hectic business, but family comes first for Sarah Bascom—including ‘work family’ BY JENNA BUZZACCO-FOERSTER

SARAH BASCOM Parlays Know-How and Integrity Into a Successful Com Shop BY JENNA BUZZACCO-FOERSTER



SARAH BASCOM has built a shop that has the trust of the media and of the members of the Legislature. She also has built a team that acts like a family and works like a well-oiled machine.


arah Bascom occasionally jokes her team is similar to a four-yearold’s soccer team: When the ball moves, everyone dives on it. It’s a line that always gets a chuckle. But the quip is a good analogy for how the team at Bascom Communications & Consulting operates. Sure, Bascom, in some way touches every client, but with a full roster of political, legislative, and corporate clients, everyone on the team is ready to move when a client is in need. “Sarah and her team are the very best to work with,” said Nick Iarossi, a founding member of Capital City Consulting. “Sarah has, over the years, earned the trust of the media, and the trust of the members of the Legislature. She’s developed credibility with them.” A Clearwater native, Bascom has always been interested in politics and media. She went to Florida State University, where she earned brownie points from professors after helping classmates petrified of public speaking pass the class. She learned the ropes of political journalism at Channel 8 in Tampa, where she got the chance to work with Rod Challenger and Mark Douglas. She realized two things during her time at the TV station: Working in journalism wasn’t for her, but she could make a career out of political communications. She quickly understood her love of the media would be critical to her future success.

“Sarah was a great partner and confidant. She quickly earned my respect. She’s quick witted, smart, and dependable.” — SEN. GARRETT RICHTER “I respected the need for it,” she said. “If you don’t like or respect the media, you can’t do what we do.” Her first foray into political communications couldn’t have come at a more exciting time. She got an entry-level job at the Republican Party of Florida in June 1999, working there through the 2000 presidential recount. And while some young staffers would eventually voice interest in moving to Washington, D.C., a newly married Bascom took a job as a press staffer in the Florida Senate Majority Office. It may


have been one of the best decisions she ever made. She served as press secretary for the Senate Majority Caucus under Sen. Jim King. When the Jacksonville Republican became Senate President, she became his director of communications. At the time, she was one of the youngest people to ever serve in the role. “Sarah was a great partner and confidant,” said former state Sen. Garrett Richter, who first got to know Bascom through King. “She quickly earned my respect. She’s quick witted, smart, and dependable.” Nowadays, it isn’t unheard of for top staffers to stick around from one administration to the next, but that wasn’t the case back when Bascom worked in the Senate. So six months before his term ended, King sat her down and asked her what she wanted to do next. Her response? She wanted to try her hand in the private sector. She joined a firm in Tallahassee, brought in some clients and learned the tricks of the trade. She must have been doing something right; when Mike Murphy and Todd Harris decided to open a Florida outpost of Navigators, they hired Bascom. She brought on Kristen Bridges, and the rest, is history — well, sort of. After about a year and a half of operating in Florida, Bascom said Navigators decided they wanted to make some changes. “I’m a Republican consultant,” said Bascom, who had quickly risen to partner in the company. “I do it by trade. By preference we are a political communications firm.” So when Navigators made the shift, Bascom bought out her partners, came up with a new concept and rebranded the company. Eight years later, the firm has seen significant growth and is considered one of the top communications shops in the state. Her team has grown over the years, but the key players have stayed largely the same. Bridges, now a senior vice president, has been there since the beginning. Lyndsey Brzozowski started her career as Bascom was striking out on her own. She left in 2010 to become the press secretary for the House leadership team, before becoming former Senate President Mike Haridopolos’ director of communications.

Kelsey Swithers started as an intern there in 2011, now she is a senior communications consultant and oversees the firm’s intern program. Sarah Proctor has been part of the team for more than two years, joining after a stint with a statewide trade association. And Rebekah Stamps, who served as finance director at the Republican Party of Florida and has been close with Bascom since 1999, rounds out the team on the operations side But for Bascom, the women she works with are more than just colleagues. They’re friends and family; people she trusts and enjoys spending time with. And that’s important, especially in this business. About half of the firm’s work is political, ranging from legislative and congressional candidates to statewide referendums. And that’s OK by them, said Bascom. Still, it gets hectic. They’re acting on behalf of several different candidates, and when they’re on a statewide referendum, they’re often the face of the campaign. That means they have a target on their backs, forcing them to build up a thick skin to handle the criticisms. Unlike some firms in the capital city that focus primarily on campaign work, the pace doesn’t slow down once the polls close on Election Day. For Bascom and Co., corporate and legislative clients keep them just as busy as political candidates.

Tallahassee insiders can expect to see Bascom’s team play a key part on the Everglades Foundation’s communications team, something that could be pivotal as state lawmakers begin discussions over whether to set aside money to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. The proposal is a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron. While it may seem like Bascom is always working, she does try to make some time to relax. A friend of hers once gave her a piece of advice that she continues to take to heart to this day: When you’re at home, be at home. So while her daughter might be used to her crazy hours, to Bascom “family comes first.” On weekends, her Tallahassee home is a landing spot, filled with friends and

“She can take a thought, and put it together in a way that’s understandable and convincing. You know when those juices are alive; that’s the benefit of having a Sarah Bascom, to keep those juices alive. Not everyone has those gifts. There’s only one way to get a reputation, and that’s to earn it. I think Sarah can always be proud of her reputation, because she’s earned it.” — SEN. GARRETT RICHTER

PHOTO: Ellis Agency

From left, Sarah Proctor, Rebekah Stamps, Sarah Bascom, Lyndsey Brzozowski, Kelsey Swithers, and Kristen Bridges, almost certainly not talking about work stuff.

children. Many of them are in the process, but shop talk if kept to a minimum, so friends can decompress and escape. Brian Ballard, the president of Ballard Partners, said his team has worked with Bascom’s firm on legislative issues over the years. Ballard first met Bascom when she was working with King, and said he was “struck by her work ethic.” Years later, that hasn’t changed. “I think she’s tenacious and a hard worker,” said Ballard. Tallahassee insiders can expect to see Bascom’s team play a key part on the Everglades Foundation’s communications team, something that could be pivotal as state lawmakers begin discussions over whether to set aside money to build a

reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. The proposal is a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron. “I have enjoyed working with Sarah over the years,” said Negron. “She is an honest and loyal professional who I could always trust to provide frank and solid advice.” Richter got a taste of that advice when he proposed a bill to regulate fracking in Florida. The bill faced fierce opposition, and Richter said Bascom was always there to help and bounce ideas off of, and always had something to add that he hadn’t thought about. The proposal passed the House, but died in the Senate. “She can take a thought, and put it together in a way that’s understandable and convincing. You know when those juices

are alive; that’s the benefit of having a Sarah Bascom, to keep those juices alive. Not everyone has those gifts,” said Richter. “There’s only one way to get a reputation, and that’s to earn it. I think Sarah can always be proud of her reputation, because she’s earned it.” Bascom continues to focus on growing her firm, but not to the detriment of those close to her. She would never take a client that her parents oppose, and you won’t find her taking on a new client if they are “massively adverse to a friend.” And she says she won’t go out “destroy someone.” “I intend to be in this business for the long run, and I intend to create a business my family can be proud of,” she said. ][



For Bascom, the women she works with are more than just colleagues. They’re friends and family; people she trusts and enjoys spending time with. And that’s important, especially in this business.


PHOTO: Ellis Agency

From left, Mike and Sarah Bascom, Jamie and Rebekah Stamps, Kristen and Walker Bridges, Patrick Deasy and Kelsey Swithers, Lyndsey Brzozowski, and Graham Demont and Sarah Proctor.



International Skills + Local Touch Worldwide know-how plus a team with Florida connections is an equation for public affairs success BY JENNA BUZZACCO-FOERSTER


PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson


Alia Faraj-Johnson

ocated on the eighth floor of the Highpoint Center building is a global firm perhaps best known for its local connections. With offices in 50 countries, Hill+Knowlton Strategies has teams and clients in every corner of the globe. And while that clearly is a perk for clients looking to hire a top-notch public affairs firm, the team in Florida and its decades of experience walking the halls of the Capitol could be the biggest reason why the firm has experienced such significant growth in recent years. “We have, I think, hands down the strongest amount of history of state public policy issues and state capital know-how of connections, of the issues, and of understanding how the process works,” said Ron Bartlett, general manager of Hill+Knowlton’s Florida operations. Bartlett, who splits time between Tampa and Tallahassee, has been with the firm since 2000. Back then, it didn’t have much of a full-time presence in the capital city, setting up shop in the Florida Retail Federation during session. Things sure have changed. Now the Tallahassee public affairs team reads like a who’s who of capital city insiders. Alia Faraj-Johnson came on board in January 2014, after spending nearly seven years at another firm in Tallahassee. She had wanted to strike out on her own, but hadn’t been out a month before Bartlett came calling. She wooed Ryan Duffy, former House Speaker Will Weatherford’s director of communications, with whom she has a long history. She was his first boss, and they would work together a couple of times over the years. And when Kristen McDonald, who spent nearly four years as the House majority leader’s communications director, started to think about life after the Florida House, Duffy reached out to her and convinced her to join the team. “When you put all of us together,” SPRING 2017 INFLUENCE | 133


Ryan Duffy


PHOTOS: Mary Beth Tyson

From left: Ron Bartlett, Kristen McDonald

said Bartlett, “I like to joke … we know just about everybody in Tallahassee except for a couple, three people in a remote neighborhood.” That knowledge base is one of the things that makes the firm stand out; many in Tallahassee say it’s really the people that make the difference. And some attribute the firm’s recent growth to one person in particular: Faraj-Johnson. Attorney General Pam Bondi has known Faraj-Johnson for several years, and said she knew from the moment she met her how special she was. “She is a skilled strategist,” said Bondi. “She’s well-versed. She’s absolutely brilliant. She’s down to earth. She’s a real person. She’s honest and ethical, and when you speak to her, that comes across.” Faraj-Johnson found her way to Tallahassee as an international student at Florida State University. She got a job with Capitol News Service after college, and worked her way up the ladder, eventually running the whole news operation. She left the Capitol press corps after more than a decade, joining Gov. Jeb Bush’s administration in 2002, serving as spokeswoman for various agencies. She served two years as the governor’s press secretary; and in 2004, she took over as his communications director.

“When you put all of us together ... I like to joke … we know just about everybody in Tallahassee except for a couple, three people in a remote neighborhood.” — RON BARTLETT She jokes Bartlett once tried to recruit her when she was still with Bush, something she didn’t think was serious. Years later, she would realize just how serious of an offer it was. Bartlett said in the early years of Hill+ Knowlton’s public affairs practice, the team focused heavily on health care and insurance issues. And that makes sense: Bartlett, who spent more than a decade as a reporter and editor for the Tampa Tribune, was the communications manager for the Florida Residential Property and Casualty Joint Underwriting Association, now Citizens Property Insurance Corp., before joining Hill+Knowlton. But the addition of Faraj-Johnson — and later Duffy and McDonald — helped diversify the practice. And Bartlett said it’s safe to say each session the firm is involved with “one, two, three or more of the Top 5 issues playing out in the Capitol.” That’s already the situation this session. The firm represents parties in the discussion over whether to buy land for water storage south of Lake Okeechobee, SPRING 2017 INFLUENCE | 135



PHOTOS: Mary Beth Tyson

with some of its clients are firmly on the “opposed” side. And you can expect them to be deeply involved in discussions over insurance issues and the ongoing debate over the expansion of gambling. But beyond the hot topics playing out in the chambers, the Florida firm is growing by taking advantage of global connections. They apply best practices developed by their colleagues, and are in constant contact with their peers in other offices to make sure they have all their bases covered. And that means adapting to the changing media landscape, such as using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to spread their clients’ message, in addition to traditional means. “If you’re a company and you’re trying to determine how to be viewed, they’re a great resource,” said Weatherford, who has worked with the firm on occasion. “They’re much bigger than public affairs.” One thing you won’t see Hill+Knowlton doing is getting involved in candidate campaigns. The firm doesn’t take on candidate campaigns because it has a diverse group of employees and clients. However, Faraj-Johnson said the firm can work on issue campaigns that “help shape policy in the best interest of the state or region.” The team was involved in one such campaign last summer, when Oxitec, a U.K.-based client, was looking to boost public support to begin testing genetically modified mosquitoes in a Monroe County community. Despite being on the ground for years, some residents were concerned about the project and called on the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District to put a referendum on the ballot. The district placed two non-binding referendums on the ballot to gauge public support, one in Key Haven, where the project was supposed to take place, and a second covering the entire mosquito control district.


One thing you won’t see Hill+ Knowlton doing is getting involved candidate campaigns. However, Faraj-Johnson said the firm can work on issue campaigns that “help shape policy in the best interest of the state or region.” Steve Vancore and his team at VancoreJones worked with Hill+Knowlton on the public information campaign, encouraging residents to vote “yes” on the ballot initiative. The team, among other things, released radio ads and mailers to encourage support of the initiative. The Key Haven proposal failed, but the district-wide effort passed with 58 percent support. “They are truly consummate professionals who are engaged and engaging,” Vancore said. “They’re easy to work with in the sense that they’re positive people. That matters.” While the firm has experienced significant growth in the past few years, both Bartlett and Faraj-Johnson said they continue to have high hopes for its future. Even though there is a lot of activity in Tallahassee, the Tampa Bay and South Florida markets are strong and growing. Cori Rice is president of Hill+Knowlton’s office in Miami. The public affairs team has key members — Susan Thurston, a former business writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and Estella Gray, formerly with the Southwest Florida Water Management District — working out of its Tampa office. And Faraj-Johnson said they are dedicated to making sure junior staffers are learning and growing in the field, so the firm can continue to outpace its lofty expectations. “We want to continue to recruit professionals and stars,” she said. “We want to continue to grow.” ][


With co-hosts Gary Yordon, Sean Pittman, and Steve Vancore.

· IRREVERENT · · ENGAGING · · ENTERTAINING · Capitol conversations for over 16 years. Airs weekends locally on WCTV-CBS, Saturdays at 11:00 a.m.


THE CATES The communications business runs through the Cate family’s blood. Now co-anchor of the evening news on WFLA-TV, patriarch Keith Cate has won 13 Emmy Awards, interviewed presidents, and covered hurricanes, popes, and everything in between. So, is it really a surprise the younger members of the Cate clan are entrenched in the communications business? Founded in 2010, Kevin Cate has grown CateComm into a media relations and communications powerhouse. You like emails? He’s got them. Each morning, Cate’s team puts out a morning newsletter featuring all the front pages of the state’s newspapers (with a must-read disclaimer at the end). Want to contact legislators? He’s got you covered, building a tool that helps organizations with their advocacy needs. And let’s not forget Cate’s political and legislative work, which keeps him busy through the year. Chris Cate is the senior public affairs director at SalterMitchell. He joined the firm in 2016, after more than a year as the vice president of corporate communications at 180 Communications, where he helped conduct media training for business leaders and college athletes. His entry into the private sector came after about eight years working in a variety of communications roles for the state, including serving as former Gov. Charlie Crist’s deputy press secretary and as director of communications for the Department of State. Elizabeth Cate Ray got her start in the TV business, covering everything from presidential elections to the BP oil spill. She eventually made the leap to the public relations sector, and currently serves as a consultant for the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association. Not to be outdone, she married Whitney Ray, Attorney General Pam Bondi’s director of communications. And that, by our count, makes him a member of the Cate clan.


PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson




Heidi Otway has been in the business since she was in middle school. She was in the seventh grade when she wrote her first article for the school newspaper. The story was about a word, and she remembers how people talked about it forever and told her how much they learned. It was around that same time she decided she wanted to become a broadcast journalist. “I honestly believe I have been gifted as a communicator,” she said. Otway spent nearly a decade in television, working as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps, before moving on to Miami, Tampa, and Tulsa. She’s interviewed governors and celebrities, and has covered national tragedies. And every one of those experiences has shaped the person she would become when she decided to make the leap into public relations. In her nearly 15 years in the industry, Otway has helped clients varying from Verizon and Bank of America to The Able Trust and Florida Impact. Otway said the firm has been “successful in achieving … the goal of the campaign” for nearly all its clients, in part because her team makes sure they understand the audience, and the best ways to communicate with them to prompt action or change. But Otway also could be a key part of that success. While her clients have benefited from her career in the media, Otway said she also strives for authenticity in everything she does. “I work in a business that’s built on trust and relationships, so I will always try to remain true to who I am,” she said. 142 | INFLUENCE SPRING 2017

PHOTOS: Mary Beth Tyson

VP + Director of Public Relations and Social Media at SalterMitchell


Change is the name of the game at SL7 Consulting. For nearly two decades, Patrick Slevin has prided himself on being a change agent. He’s worked with Fortune 500 companies, trade organizations, and international public relations firms. He’s helped clients through crises, and is there to help when clients are at a crossroads. “I represent clients that are caught in the crosshairs between the status quo and change,” said Slevin, the founder and CEO of SL7 Consulting. Slevin’s entry into the industry might be a bit untraditional. In 1996, he became the youngest mayor in Safety Harbor’s history at the age of 27. The day he won his seat was also his first lesson in public relations. Slevin said he did everything wrong and “looked like a total schmuck” within his first 24 hours as an elected official. He learned from that experience, and said it has benefited his clients over the years. While about half his work is in the public affairs arena, he’s expanding into the lobbying industry. The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has hired him to help with engagement and advocacy. “I feel I present myself as a generalist with many specialties,” said Slevin. “The common denominator is the stakeholder and impacting their perspectives, and in most cases it’s about change.”



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CRAIG WATERS director of communications for the Supreme Court of Florida

Very few communications directors can say they’ve been portrayed in a movie. Craig Waters is one of them. As the director of the Florida Supreme Court’s public information office, Waters has been on hand for some major moments in the state’s history. But none were as well documented as the times he stood on the steps of the court to brief the media about the 2000 presidential recount. His briefings were even featured in the 2008 HBO film “Recount,” where actor Alex Staggs played Waters. But Waters’ career with the court goes well beyond the 2000 presidential election. He’s spent more than 30 years with the state’s high court, serving as a staff attorney for nearly 10 years before becoming the court’s communications counsel in 1996. An early adopter of social media, he created the court’s first website and continues to serve as its webmaster. Love watching live broadcasts of oral arguments? Waters developed the permanent program for that back in 1996. And the University of Florida College of Law graduate has been handling crisis communications for the high court for more than two decades.


PHOTOS: Mary Beth Tyson and Mark Wallheiser

vice president at Mercury Florida

For Danielle Alvarez, becoming a master communicator has meant borrowing traits she’s learned from her bosses along the way. From then-Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, she learned how to be a strong woman, how to communicate well, and how to always be honest about what you know — and maybe more importantly, what you don’t. She learned the importance of hard work and dedication during her time working for Gov. Rick Scott in South Florida, saying there were days where she “was exhausted — and he was ready to go.” The list goes on and on. Enterprise Florida taught her to be tough; campaign work taught her to think on her toes. And as vice president at Mercury Florida, she’s putting that experience to use as she and the Mercury team work on high-stakes issues for their clients. Alvarez says one of the things that makes Mercury stand out is that it is a bipartisan firm, and many of the team members — including Alvarez, Ashley Walker, and Brian Swensen — have top-notch campaign experience. “We have tools that are new to our corporate clients, and we’re able to bring that political mindset to some of our corporate clients,” she said. “With crisis communications and trying to reach these stakes goals, that makes us really successful.” SPRING 2017 INFLUENCE | 145


ON3 PUBLIC RELATIONS Ask Christina Johnson to describe On3 Public Relations style, and she’s quick to answer. “For us to make our mark, we wanted to have fun,” said Johnson, founder and president of the Tallahassee-based public relations firm. “I think everyone works hard, but we like to play. We have a whimsical take on things.” Founded nine years ago, Johnson said she wanted to bring a team together that has a little bit of everything. And with an estimated 60 years of combined experience between them, Johnson has done just that with the team of Anna Alexopoulos, Alix Miller, and Holly Brooks. On3 has taken on some tough issues over the years, and Johnson said the results show just how important a good communications team is. One of the best examples of that is the weeks immediately after the BP oil spill, when there were reports of oil washing onshore in Florida. On3 worked with the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association to get Carol Dover on the news to explain the situation in Florida, which she said helped moved the needle. People started booking weddings and vacations, after being reassured there wasn’t any oil washing up on the beaches. Another example? After years of filing the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, the bill received its first hearing in 2016. The bill failed on a 5–5 vote, but Johnson said just getting it to a hearing was a success in and of itself. And one reason they were able to do that, she said, was by “letting folks know it wasn’t just an LGBT issue, but also an economic issue.” “There are a lot of good issues that need attention,” she said. “We pride ourselves on being storytelling experts.” 146 | INFLUENCE SPRING 2017

TRIMMEL GOMES founder and host of The Rotunda with Trimmel Gomes

Trimmel Gomes is a radio man at heart. So when Gomes decided to launch “The Rotunda,” he went all out, developing a slick, well-produced, radio-ready weekly show focused on the people and stories shaping Florida politics. And the podcast has taken off, becoming one of the must-listen public affairs shows each week. The reason? Gomes mixes casual with the serious, talking about complicated issues with lawmakers over cocktails. He says he wants listeners to get a feel for how things really work in the capital city. “Those casual chats are when business gets started,” he said. “When you’re seeing (lawmakers) in the hallways, they’re prepared. After hours is when we’re seeing them make deals and having the conversations. The casual aspect (of the podcast) is getting them to sit back and relax, and reveal the true story.”


PHOTOS: Courtesy Troy Kinsey; Mary Beth Tyson

Capitol reporter for Bay News 9 and News 13 Close your eyes and listen to Troy Kinsey talk, and for a second, you just might think it’s someone else. Maybe a former governor with an excellent tan? Kinsey jokes that his impressions of former Gov. Charlie Crist helped him become better known in Tallahassee in the early part of his career, but says the rise of social media has allowed him to connect with an audience far beyond the Tampa Bay and Orlando media markets. “The industry has changed,” he said. “We didn’t have Twitter; we didn’t have streaming video (when I started). Now I can get my stories out via Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.” And for Kinsey, talking about state government doesn’t mean getting into the weeds on complicated issues. Instead, he tries to explain how the things lawmakers do in Tallahassee will impact viewers at home. That can be challenging, though, when you’re dealing with issues like health care or insurance reform. But Kinsey said he just tries to “keep it short and sweet.” “It takes someone whose been covering the process for a while,” he said. “There’s where experience is valuable. It’s important to know what matters and what doesn’t.” SPRING 2017 INFLUENCE | 147


VANCOREJONES COMMUNICATIONS At VancoreJones, a good communications plan comes with a whole lot of research. It helps that Steve Vancore is one of the top pollsters in the state, and VancoreJones clients often get an assist from Clearview Research, the polling and focus group firm started by Vancore and partner Andrew Jones. The numbers side of things came first for Vancore, who got his start as a pollster back in 1984. He ran a statewide polling and research center for more than a dozen years, overseeing hundreds of polling and political research projects over the years. He began dipping his toe in the communications side of things in the early 2000s, working on campaigns across the state. That political work led to legislative and advocacy clients, people looking to help get their message through to lawmakers and policy makers. When it comes to getting that message across, oftentimes his team goes back to research, occasionally turning to focus groups to help them “understand what average people are thinking.” And you will rarely see Vancore or his team — many of whom have been on board since the early years — acting as spokesmen for their clients. Instead, their goal is to help them communicate the best message they can, through in-depth analysis. “We like to go deep with clients,” said Vancore.


PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson




host of The Usual Suspects on WCTV Gary Yordon knows how to get people talking. His political gabfest, “The Usual Suspects,” has been a weekend staple for thousands upon thousands of viewers across North Florida and South Georgia for more than a dozen years. Airing on 38 stations, the show brings together newsmakers and influencers each week to chat about the issues of the day. Bringing people together is something Yordon has been doing for much of his life. He spent eight years as a public television host and producer before winning a seat on the Leon County Commission in 1986. He gained a reputation as a consensus builder, and was even nominated for a John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award for his work to protect Florida’s water. But Yordon’s show isn’t the only way the five-time Emmy Award winner is communicating with Floridians. As the president of The Zachary Group, a media production and political consulting firm, he has directed the design and marketing of more than 170 local, state, and federal campaigns.


PHOTOS: Mary Beth Tyson

director of communications for the Florida Department of Revenue For Valerie Wickboldt, being a top-notch communicator means helping connect people with the information they need. It’s something she’s been doing for years, as she worked on behalf of nonprofits and think tanks over the years. She picked up a little bit of something from everyone she worked with, telling the Florida State College of Communications & Information in January that she learned as much from the people she managed over the years as she did her managers. In her new job for the Florida Department of Revenue, Wickboldt is tasked with making the agency responsible for taxes interesting and accessible to Floridians. The agency has 5,000 employees and serves millions of customers each year, and Wickboldt said recently her one of her favorite parts of the job is being able to create and implement policies to help Floridians. “It is an honor to have the opportunity to work with the many talented and dedicated public servants at the Florida Department of Revenue,” she said when she joined the agency last year. SPRING 2017 INFLUENCE | 151



director of communications for the Office of the Speaker of the House When it comes to working in politics, Fred Piccolo knows it’s all a “matter of luck and proximity.” And he’s been fortunate enough to have both. A recovering attorney, Piccolo, now director of communications for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, got his start driving Katherine Harris around the state when she ran for Senate. That job led to another, which led to another, and before he knew it he was moving to Washington, D.C. to serve as the communications director for a Utah congressman. Piccolo admits his point of view has morphed over the years. When he first started out in the business, he thought everything written or said about his boss was life-and-death important and seen by everyone. Now he knows better, and tries to remind people that “every story isn’t the end of the world, everything written on Twitter isn’t being read by the masses.” But Piccolo and his team are taking to social media more and more to get their message across. While he doesn’t think they can go “over the heads of media in Florida,” reaching out to voters through short videos on Twitter and Facebook does “level the playing field a little bit.” “I think any communications office in any political figure’s life is 80 percent the political figure, 10 percent luck and 10 percent faith,” he said. “Our leadership, and I’m not just saying this … likes to use various forms to talk to voters, to talk to the press. They really embrace the idea of using different tools.”


Edie Ousley (far right) and her team at the Florida Chamber of Commerce.


When it comes to messaging, Edie Ousley knows what the other side is thinking. She got her start in Florida working at a small conservative newspaper, gaining insight into the political process. She learned the ropes at the Department of Environmental Protection, before becoming Gov. Lawton Chiles’s spokeswoman. And after about a year with the governor, she took a job as the communications director for Senate President Toni Jennings. That ability to work across party lines has played a role in helping Ousley, now vice president of public affairs at the Florida Chamber of Commerce, develop her communications style over the years. Her time in the state government — and later at the Florida Home Builders Association and Herrle Communications, now SalterMitchell — also has given her a chance to work on everything from advocacy work to being in the trenches when it comes to campaigns. “I believe effective communications requires flexibility,” she said. “I think that has played a role throughout my career.” At the Florida Chamber, Ousley and her team are constantly evolving and using new techniques to get their message out to the masses. “It’s been an exciting revolution, and it’s been one we’ve embraced,” said Ousley. “We’ve enriched and diversified. We still prepare press releases, but at the same time, we’re also fully aware we can be more effective communicating via other channels.”

PHOTOS: Mary Beth Tyson

vice president of public affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce


PHOTOS: Mary Beth Tyson and Mark Wallheiser

news director WFSU/Florida Public Radio You know who she is the minute you hear her voice. For nearly a decade, Lynn Hatter has been a member of the WFSU news team, reporting on education and health care issues from the Capitol. The award-winning reporter has a constant presence to public radio listeners across the state, hoping to get a better understanding of the complicated issues at play in the capital city. Hatter joined WFSU/Florida Public Radio in 2007, after a brief stint covering community affairs and education at the Tallahassee Democrat. The Florida A&M University graduate was named news director in 2014, and was charged with coordinating local and state government news production for WFSU and Capitol coverage for public radio stations across the state. “Lynn brings a formidable skill set to the job of covering one of Florida’s toughest news markets,” said Tom Flanigan, the station’s program director for news, in a news release at the time.

SACHS MEDIA GROUP Sachs Media Group is everywhere. No, really. With dozens of employees in Tallahassee, Orlando, Boca Raton, and Washington, D.C, Ron Sachs has built a mini-empire over the past 20 years. Founded in 1996, Sachs has put together a team that includes top-notch government strategists, former journalists, and crisis managers. It’s easy to see why Sachs Media is one of the go-to communications firms in the state. The team is involved with dozens of issues each year, impacting thousands upon thousands of Floridians. It has developed successful campaigns with Florida’s Department of Children & Families and Lauren’s Kids to raise awareness about the signs of child abuse; worked with the Department of Health to reduce drowning deaths among Florida youth; and worked with Step Up for Students to protect the state’s tax credit scholarship program. “We’re all about breakthroughs,” the firm’s website declares. “We believe in insight-informed strategy — doing the right things to reach the right audiences and achieve the right outcomes, measuring success the way our clients do.” SPRING 2017 INFLUENCE | 153

MIKE VASILINDA veteran broadcast reporter with Capitol News Service


Few people have had as big of impact on how Floridians get their news from Tallahassee as Mike Vasilinda. As one of the longest serving members of Florida’s Capitol press corps, Vasilinda has helped shape how Floridians get their news. In 1974, he founded a 30-minute weekly wrap up of legislative news, which would become what is now Florida Public Radio’s Capitol Report. The Capitol News Service was founded one year later. Back then, film needed to be shipped at noon to Tampa, Miami, and Orlando to allow enough time for processing before airing on the evening news. Nowadays, Capitol News Service provides high definition live shots and daily coverage to clients across the state. For more than four decades, Vasilinda has been keeping Floridians up to date on the happenings of their elected officials. And he’s earned top marks from his peers for his work. In 2005 he received a Walter Cronkite Award — Excellence in Political Television Journalism for his work covering the “felons list” during the 2004 election cycle.


With long hair and a beard that would make ZZ Top proud, Rick Flagg stands out in the sea of starched shirts and navy suits that roam the halls of the Florida Capitol. But that isn’t the only thing that stands out about the veteran radio reporter. For nearly four decades, Flagg has been a near-constant presence at the Capitol, covering the politics, policy and people that make the capital city tick. “I try to take politics and make it fun,” said Flagg in a 1986 interview in the Orlando Sentinel. “My role is to remind people not to take things so seriously.” A Florida A&M University graduate, Flagg started Florida Radio News, a radio news service. In 2003, he joined Capitol News Service as its news manager. Flagg spent four years in the world of television, before returning to his radio roots as the Tallahassee bureau chief for the Florida News Network in 2007. In that role, Flagg reaches millions of Floridians each week, keeping them up to date on day-to-day happenings. 154 | INFLUENCE SPRING 2017

PHOTOS: Mark Wallheiser

Tallahassee bureau chief for the Florida News Network


PHOTOS: Mark Wallheiser and Mary Beth Tyson

president of the Florida Cable Telecommunications Association

Brad Swanson has made it his mission to make sure people understand the cable and telecommunications industry. His approach is simple: Focus on the things people care about. “You can talk about regulatory policy, which is nuanced,” he said. “But really, what you want to talk about is you want that awesome show or communications uninterrupted.” While Swanson has spent just nine months at the FCTA, his whole career has been as an advocate. He’ll also tell you he was a born into the business. His dad was in the film industry, and he grew up on sets of major motion pictures where professionals were trying to put out the most “creative product ever.” As the cable industry is changing, so is the way Swanson and his team communicate its message. They’re pushing out their public affairs show, “Capital Dateline,” digitally, in short nuggets rather than one-hour segments. They’re doing what they can to humanize the political process. “My goal is to communicate about our industry in the way people perceive us,” he said. “The more we attach our message in what they watch and stream, the better. Simple, clear communication is how we brand who we are.”

BRIAN BURGESS founder of The Capitolist

He might have the reputation of being a bit of a tough cookie, but Brian Burgess tries to keep things light. “I try not to take myself too seriously,” he said. “I think that carries through.” The Republican consultant turned public relations guru is dipping his toe in the new media landscape. Launched last summer, The Capitolist is meant to be a mix of news, satire, and conservative commentary. The site has already developed a sizeable following, and Burgess expects those numbers to grow as more and more legislators and insiders learn about the site. Burgess said he decided to take the plunge and start his own site because “there’s a market” for what he does. Sure, he’s breaking news; but Burgess also likes to play around with humor and satire. “It’s a fun mix,” he said. His entry into the media business goes beyond just the new blog. Burgess is using social media platforms like Facebook Live and Twitter to communicate with new audiences. And he’s not just hanging his hat on his own laurels; Burgess is also aggregating others’ work, something he said helps drive traffic and interest to both his site and others like it. SPRING 2017 INFLUENCE | 155

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Track. Flack. Attack. Hack.

These are the four active verbs in the Twitter bio of political consultant and communicator extraordinaire Brian Hughes. Media members can tell you how that works. Sooner or later — usually sooner, sometimes immediately — they experience his temper, via a barrage of strongly worded declarations, often seasoned liberally with the kind of colorful language they don’t expect to hear from a front man for a buttoned-up conservative candidate or cause. It could be a print columnist trying to get a quote for her weekend column, being told that a TV soundbite is more important for Hughes’ client. Or it could be a TV reporter having slanted a story outside of the parameters Hughes would prefer. Almost to a person, media members take this seriously. It’s almost as if they don’t understand the negotiating technique. Just as an athlete might see an opening in an official’s eyes and “work the ref,” Hughes works the press. There’s a reason for that. It works. *** Hughes — for better or worse, but mostly better if you look at his track record in recent years — has developed a reputation as “the bad boy of comms.” There is a utility behind that — and a certain accuracy. “Some people feel I’m overly aggressive,” says Hughes, a “motorcycle guy who


cusses and gets angry.” To borrow a phrase from a certain politician from a bygone era, Hughes is on the clock “27/6” for his clients. If he’s looking to push a narrative, to win a news cycle, he starts earlier than most and finishes later. And when driving that narrative, it’s as if he embodies the motorcycles he enjoys in his off time. He revs up the engine. He moves it forward. And he dares an adversary to stop him. He’s rarely stopped. *** And while all the above is true about Hughes, there are parallel truths as well — truths which help those on the outside of the process, or new to the process, understand who they are dealing with. For starters, the man who has done his share to shape conservative messaging is not a native Floridian at all. Hughes hails originally from upstate New York outside of Schenectady — the Mohican Valley of James Fenimore Cooper — and he comes from the kind of dual-income middle class home that was a standard in the latter part of the 20th century. Hughes’ dad: a state trooper. Hughes’ mom: a nurse, the daughter of farmers. “I didn’t think the world was too much bigger than that 10- to 15-mile area,” Hughes says of his bucolic wonderland where kids ran around like wild creatures in the woods, until they graduated to dirt bikes. It was a Mayberry RFD type of existence, Hughes recounts. His grandfather

had been a member of the school board, but it was the kind of place where “everybody is a member of a board or commission at some point.” Politics, far away from the young Brian Hughes’ mind, “didn’t seem like it is now”: Rockefeller Republicans, Cuomo Democrats. *** That bucolic bubble was bound to deflate soon enough, however. Hughes’ older brother went off to college, and from there, he “started seeing a bigger world out there … the small-town thing was wearing off.” Hughes coped in the way many smalltown kids from small-time places do: “cause trouble, raise hell, and see what the next day brings.” He wasn’t an “academically successful teenager,” a point which frustrated teachers. He found his inspiration, meanwhile, in literature throughout his teens; specifically, the kind of literature that typically serves as a lodestone for bright, unmotivated youth, such as the Beats (Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac among them) and Hunter S. Thompson. “It all seemed so romantic,” Hughes says. Hughes rattled off some favorites: “Hell’s Angels” by Thompson and “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” by Tom Wolfe were among them. “Young characters in big situations,” says Hughes, models for him to “belligerently smash [his] way into the big wide world.” School wasn’t for him. But the Air >>

PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson




School wasn’t for him. But the Air >> Force was a way out of upstate — especially at the tail end of the Cold War era. However, Hughes got most of his action not from the Cold War of the 1980s, but the beginning of a conflict yet to be fully resolved: the Gulf War, working as a boom operator and a flight engineer, including on refueling missions for bomber planes and fighter jets. Hughes flew in combat space, earning an Air Medal for his efforts, but in terms of who he was to become, the downtime was invaluable for its “solitude … time to sit and smoke, read, and think about the world.” One of his insights: “being a pawn isn’t as interesting as being one of the people making the decisions.” Hughes decided not to re-up with the military, and was strongly considering studying marine biology at Florida Atlantic University (he had vacationed in New Smyrna Beach while younger, and had several romanticized illusions about his future in the field). Then fate intervened. *** Before his matriculation at FAU, Hughes spent the spring in upstate New York, where he took a political science course. By this point, Hughes had already read “God and Man at Yale” by William


Buckley, a literary portmanteau that served as a gateway drug for many into movement conservatism. These were the heady days of the Buchanan Brigades “firing up an insurgency against the establishment,” and Hughes had approximated the pugnacity of the conservative pundit running against President George H.W. Bush. Hughes’ liberal professor, after one of many “really tough debates” in class, suggested Hughes spend time in Washington. One thing led to another, and Hughes ended up as an intern for his local congressman, moderate Republican Sherwood Boehlert for one “magical summer.” The job wasn’t glamorous: a lot of formulaic “snail mail” responses on hot-button issues of a bygone era, such as NAFTA and the Russian Republics. But Hughes “emerged with a skill in writing” and an ability to process an “unfathomable amount of info about policy and politics.” The experience “ignited something,” and “by the time (he) was out of D.C., the bug had been planted.” School wasn’t holding the young Hughes, who moved on to work in politics by 1994: first with a West Palm Beach firm called Public Concepts, then doing oppo research on the primary campaign of Rep. Mark Foley.

Some of that oppo research made it into a 30-second ad. And Hughes wondered, fatefully as it turns out, “how do you do that?” *** From there, Hughes moved to D.C., working for Rep. Foley, then moved on to do some work for Flo-Sun (now better known as Florida Crystals), where he started to figure out the digital sphere, building an email database of vendors and sub vendors during a successful campaign to defeat a penny sales tax initiative. Despite the comfortable salary and gig, Hughes — imbued with a “military mindset” — moved on … to the other side of the continent. Hughes landed in San Francisco, in thrall to a “generational moment” that coincided with the tech boom. He had money saved, and had planned on taking a year to write (“a Kerouac moment”), but ended up working for a year, learning the tech side before a return to D.C., where he balanced staff jobs with classes in filmmaking. Hughes found his skill was in digital work, and rode out the rest of the tech bubble with a position doing production for a company that ended up selling him, for pennies on the dollar, an entire studio — “top-notch, broadcast-quality” cameras, lights, a Beta SP deck, and so on — after the

mayor’s office and Hughes and his chief collaborator, Tim Baker (with whom he’d had overlap in work with Benacquisto and Atwater), to the famed Data Targeting firm, and ultimately, toward a platform in which Hughes and Baker have revolutionized political communication in Jacksonville. *** Like most of the environs Hughes has been in throughout his life, he learned to read Jacksonville quickly.

PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson

When asked about the challenges of adapting his style to different markets, Hughes either trusts his “gut,” or “forces (his) will to make it work.”


bubble popped. Then film school beckoned. Syracuse gave Hughes a full ride, seeking “grad students who knew digital” to serve as TAs in its small “artistic program.” From there, a move to Portland, where he adjuncted at Pacific University, while working in the city’s “hot ad industry.” And then, a tenure-track move to New Jersey’s Ramapo College in 2004, where the conservative Hughes was an awkward fit in the “School of Human Potential,” otherwise staffed by “liberal hippie professors” and the odd communist. Hughes’ professional life was in a comfortable “rut,” leading him to ask himself: “What did I go to film school for?” Despite attempting to engage students with contrarian works like Ayn Rand’s “Anthem” and Eric Hoffer’s “True Believer,” the

model was unsustainable. Once again, Hughes was getting “antsy.” *** Hughes, motivated by his own Gulf War experience, embarked to Afghanistan to research a documentary on military chaplains. However, the siren call of politics in the Sunshine State was too much to resist. By the end of the last decade, Hughes was back in the game, with work for Lizbeth Benacquisto and Jeff Atwater. And he met his second wife in Tallahassee, which provided further incentive for the itinerant Hughes to put down roots in Florida. In that timeframe, Hughes also met Lenny Curry via the Republican Party of Florida, setting the stage for an association that vaulted Curry to the Jacksonville

He looks at how consumer goods are sold — soda, groceries, cars — and then adapts his political pitch to that of the area, balancing his “knee jerk intuition” with Baker’s “sense of strategic process.” “Combined,” says Hughes, they are “lethal.” In Northeast Florida, the Hughes/Baker narrative in campaigns has been a classic “heroes vs. villains” paradigm. Hughes rejected the idea that he was creating “personas” — the language reminded him of academia — before describing the process of “taking the core of what I see in somebody and pulling it out.” “I have 30 to 60 seconds to do something. I trust my gut: meet my clients, assess their opponents, drill in,” Hughes said, “like a dentist does a cavity.” “I don’t invent my clients. They’re authentic people. I try to take away every distraction from their core … polish away the other stuff … let the audience see (in a short window) what I see through the luxury of time,” Hughes added. *** Hughes, as he approaches his 50th birthday in a few years, is in a place where he calls his own shots. He has the luxury of clients and causes he believes in. He has a happy home life with Rachel Perrin Rogers, Chief Legislative Aide for Sen. Wilton Simpson who is very much “in the process.” It hasn’t been a linear path for Hughes to get to any of this — from New York State and the Gulf War to becoming a leading communicator in Florida politics. But what is clear: he’s gotten here, by his own path, on his own terms. And in doing so, he has changed the way the game is played. ][ SPRING 2017 INFLUENCE | 163




f you ask Katie Betta why she’s such an effective communicator, prepare for a long silence. “I don’t know if I would say that,” she says. “I guess that’s more a question for the people I have worked for.” One of those had a frank answer: She doesn’t lie. Betta’s clearly doing something right. She’s been back-to-back communications director for four legislative leaders since 2010: House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate Presidents Don Gaetz, Andy Gardiner, and Joe Negron. “When I took over as speaker, it was one of the toughest environments, particularly in terms of economics,” Cannon tells INFLUENCE. “Katie helped us deliver

of “30 Under 30 Rising Stars in Florida Politics.” “I just try to work hard,” she says. “I just try to be mindful of the people I represent in the way I interact with the press corps and others.” For Gaetz, Betta wasn’t “just a mouthpiece,” he says. “She helped create and develop policy, then had responsibility to communicate it.” What makes her most effective? “She doesn’t lie, or allow other people to lie,” adds Gaetz, who was term-limited out of the Senate last year. “I’ve never found a reporter who told me Katie lied or misled them. Because she will not abide it.” Gaetz also mentioned her “dry sense of humor.”

for Crist and several tornadoes ripped through Central Florida. But, she adds, “If I wasn’t working in the Legislature, I’d most likely go back to the campaign and political side. Of course, when you’re working at the Capitol, you miss the political side, and when you’re there, you miss the excitement of the Capitol.” When asked whether anyone tried to steal her away for the Capitol in recent years, she again gets quiet, then laughs. “I haven’t pursued those opportunities because I have been fortunate that, since I moved to the Senate, I knew well in advance that I had an opportunity to stay on board,” Betta says. “I have talked to people over the last six

“I could take a concept and explain something we wanted to do and 10 times out of 10 she could ... make something more accurate, more effective, and more powerful.” — dean cannon tough messages about economic reform as well as difficult political and policy situations. She’s a kind person, passionate about her work, and incredibly gifted, especially when under fire. “On the budget, she made sure the House’s message … was super strong,” adds Cannon, now a lawyer-lobbyist in Tallahassee for GrayRobinson. “I could take a concept and explain something we wanted to do and 10 times out of 10 she could craft a communication strategy and make something more accurate, more effective, and more powerful.” Betta, 33, shies from self-promotion, just saying she’s been “lucky to work for some great leaders.” SaintPetersBlog featured her as a member of the 2013 class


“Katie is not a throne-sniffer,” he says. “She does not ‘cozy up’ to people in power. Instead, she would rib me … She would remind all of us not to take ourselves too seriously. “Now, she doesn’t use humor as a weapon; that is, she would never embarrass people,” Gaetz says. “But inside the Senate President’s office, she would use humor to keep people humble.” The Florida State University graduate, who grew up in an Army family, worked on the late Fred Thompson’s presidential campaign, did a stint with the Republican Party of Florida, and was with the governor’s office under Charlie Crist. For example, Betta remembers her longest work day was when she was working

years in the private sector and on the political side about opportunities that may be available (but) because I enjoyed my time with the Legislature, I did not pursue them.” She says she’s enjoyed the various personalities and issues that have moved through the Capitol: “You never know when you come in to work in the morning what may happen through the course of the day. “I like that it’s constantly changing, that there’s always an opportunity to learn something, to meet new people.” ][


PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson

“I just try to work hard and be mindful of the people I represent in the way I interact with the press corps and others.”



Katie Betta, deputy chief of staff on communications for Senate President Joe Negron in Negron’s office taking notes during a phone call at the Florida Capitol.


PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson and Mark Wallheiser Photography (Kise)

“I like that it’s constantly changing, that there’s always an opportunity to learn something, to meet new people.”






All Work, No Play, and Social Media Savvy Make MATT DIXON One of Florida’s Top Political Reporters BY SCOTT POWERS


PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson




He’s very tenacious. He extraordinarily does his homework. I don’t ever remember him writing anything that wasn’t backed up with facts and corroboration.” — sen. john thrasher

eware of the dedicated journalist who claims to not have a life. For nearly a decade now, political reporter Matt Dixon has cut his swath through Florida, moving about and moving up. The Villages. Panama City. Jacksonville. Naples. The Treasure Coast. Finally Tallahassee, now under the flag of POLITICO. And as he’s done so, Dixon has often found his preoccupation and joy lay not in living the Sunshine State lifestyle so much as life in the “sunshine”: nurturing sources, flipping rocks, seeking and perusing documents, mining mind-numbing data, and searching for news nuggets in the archival landfills of government activity and the eddies of political feeder streams. 170 | INFLUENCE SPRING 2017

“I spend more time than I care to admit with public records. I don’t particularly have any hobbies. I don’t understand why people golf or go sailing on the weekends when they can be scouring through public records requests,” Dixon confessed. “It’s sort of the intersection of me not really having a life, and the real life I have I use to try to develop sources.” In an ever-shrinking Florida political press corps that nonetheless still retains a handful of tested, savvy, and potent veterans, Dixon, barely 32, has long been a must-read, because as often as anyone he’s the one breaking the big new story. Others have their source networks. Others have their obsessions with public records. Others have their data mining skills. Few have it all — plus having most weekends free because they’d rather be working, and with

the youthful energy to keep going. It was Dixon in Tallahassee, not the press corps in Orlando, that discovered the push for Orlando lawyer John Morgan to run for governor. When state Sen. Bill Galvano secretly met with Transportation Committee Chair George Gainer about red light cameras, it soon was no secret to Dixon’s readers. When South Florida journalists had diverted their attention from Tri-Rail, Dixon, in Tallahassee, helped expose that the commuter train’s South Florida Regional Transportation Authority had quietly dumped five low bids to award a half-billion-dollar contract to the highest bidder. They’re the kinds of stories he’s broken for years. Lottery scandals. Jeb Bush’s connections to Nigerian oil interests. Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll’s resignation. Intra-party dagger fights. Fundraising connections.

PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson

And Dixon has managed to do so while retaining respect and trust, keeping those sources coming back, and keeping the politicians, after licking whatever wounds, taking his calls again. “When I met him he was kind of a shy guy. Real quiet,” recalled Florida State University President John Thrasher. He first met Dixon when Thrasher was lobbying, in between his tenures holding sway in the Florida Legislature, while Dixon was reporting for various newspapers, ultimately for the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, Thrasher’s home turf. Beware of the shy guy with a pen. “But I found this out, he’s very tenacious. He extraordinarily does his homework. I don’t ever remember him writing anything that wasn’t backed up with facts and corroboration,” Thrasher said.

Dixon is from Wisconsin, a graduate of Marquette University where he studied political science and journalism. When he was getting out of school in 2008, he had a few offers around the country, but came to Florida because The Villages Daily Sun was the only interested paper looking specifically for a political reporter. The Sun wanted someone to cover city and county governments in Sumter and Marion counties, with a few state opportunities thrown in. Politics is complicated in The Villages, considering the heavy influence of the staunchly Republican Morse family who essentially own the community — and the paper. Dixon did what he could for 14 months, but found himself uncomfortable with the limitations he perceived, and started looking early to move on. The Panama City News Herald offered

him a new option. He arrived on the Emerald Coast in time to help uncover brewing shenanigans at Panama City Hall. Those enterprise and investigative stories, and he, might have gone nowhere outside of Bay County. But Dixon, being of the Social Media Generation, knew before most of his press corps colleagues how to promote work through Twitter. His tweets caught the attention of Marilyn Young, then the managing editor of the Times-Union. So 10 months after arriving in Panama City, Dixon had a new, better, bigger offer, and was packing his bags for Jacksonville. Young, now the editor of Financial News & Daily Record in Jacksonville, said someone tweeted a link to one of Dixon’s SPRING 2017 INFLUENCE | 171


stories with a “You gotta read this!” recommendation, and her reaction was, “Huh, this guy’s pretty good. I should start following him. “And then I saw how, he not only posted his stories, and they were good, but he had conversations with people. With Twitter, we were still far behind, and I was looking for people who could join the staff who already are skilled with social media.” So she watched him closely, and eventually went out and got him. In Jacksonville he was awarded an enterprise beat, something usually reserved for savvy veterans, because Young was convinced he “had the ability to do it at a much higher level, and at a much bigger paper.” He didn’t disappoint. He impressed her with his source-building skills, getting people to trust him, and what she called his “crazy work ethic… I don’t know if he sleeps.” And as a bonus, she said, he brought social media skills that Young said her paper was lacking. “He brought this young, social media aspect, but he also brought this old-school work ethic, this old-school journalism desire that you don’t see in a lot of kids at this point,” Young recalled. Eventually the Times-Union needed a Tallahassee reporter for the Legislative Session and Dixon was given a room in the Holiday Inn. Soon Tallahassee became his next home. And along came the Carroll story. The lieutenant governor, a Navy veteran from Jacksonville, already had been tied, much through reporting by Dixon and other reporters at the Times-Union, to the emerging scandal involving Allied Veterans of the World, which appeared to be laundering charity money through illegal gambling in internet cafes. But like almost everyone in Gov. Rick Scott’s administration at that time, Carroll appeared bulletproof. Yet Dixon had gotten a tip to the contrary, and called around on it. Like many reporters pursing a big story, he was ignored by everyone in the governor’s office. That night the Tallahassee Press Corps put on their annual political satire skits. In an ironic touch, Tia Mitchell of the Tampa Bay Times was playing Carroll in a skit, portraying her as begging Scott to keep her on the re-election ticket. There already was a rising stink about Carroll’s situation, and rumors were beginning to circulate. But no one had what Dixon had. At the very least, what he had was an opportunity, created by his past work. The governor’s office had a table at the skits. Dixon laid in wait outside for them to come out, and jumped the staff with a 172 | INFLUENCE SPRING 2017

“‘Hey guys, I have this. Let’s work together.’ At that point, they knew I had it, and they told me to come to the governor’s office the next day at 5 in the morning,” Dixon recalled. “I had to get let in by Capitol police. And they handed me her resignation. So we had it real early in the morning. We had it first.” After making his name in Tallahassee, he got a Capitol gig with the Scripps Newspapers bureau, reporting for the Naples Daily News and the Treasure Coast Newspapers. That gave Dixon an almost unique resume of having reported politics for papers in Central Florida, the Panhandle, Jacksonville, the Gulf Coast, and the Treasure Coast. If there are indeed five or six different Floridas, as any campaign advisor will tell a candidate, Dixon’s had a crack at figuring out the politics and culture of most of them. “The only place I haven’t lived in is South Florida and that is a very, very scary place to me. South Florida I try to stay away from. I’ve heard the stories from my colleague [at POLITICO] Mark Caputo, and I sort of leave that part of the state for him,” Dixon said. When POLITICO was forming its Florida coverage, the Virginia-based political news operation started with Caputo as its Playbook reporter. When that foothold began paying off and they decided to start a bureau, they went after Dixon to be its chief. Josh Benson, then co-founder and co-editor of POLITICO States, put in a couple of get-to-know-you calls to him, and then flew down to Orlando where Dixon was reporting, and caught up with him in a hotel bar for a couple of drinks. Dixon said he didn’t know he was being interviewed, but Benson closed out the final drink with a job offer. Dixon’s a Wisconsin guy, still simple, still, in the words of one of his longtime sources, former state representaive and current Public Service Commissioner Jimmy Patronis of Panama City, “not full of himself.” So those drinks? Most likely they were Miller Lites. If there is a next level, it most likely would be out of Florida, but Dixon’s not all that interested in leaving the state. Most people come to Florida and fall in love with the beaches, the golf, the sailing, the sunshine. That’s not him. That’s not where he gets his kicks. He came to Florida and fell in love with the open records laws, the open meetings laws, the Sunshine Laws. Why, he challenged, would anyone ever want to give that up? ][

Tia Mitchell T-U’s bureau of one plays nice, but she’s ‘no pushover’ BY JENNA BUZZACCO-FOERSTER


career, opportunity has come knocking in unexpected ways. She never planned to go to Florida A&M University, but an unsolicited scholarship offer — and her mother’s refusal to back down when it came to her daughter going to FAMU — changed the course of her life. She went to journalism school, but said her post-collegiate plans didn’t include a career in the business, until she landed an internship with the Florida Times-Union during the 2002 Legislative Session. That internship would ultimately lead to a job at the Jacksonville newspaper, a place she would call home for nearly a decade. “A lot of my life has been opportunity, coincidence, timing, and those pivot points,” she said recently over dinner at Hobbit American Grill in Tallahassee. “I chose ‘A’ instead of ‘B’ and life took me here, and my life is totally different as a result.” So when the Tampa Bay Times went through a round of restructuring a few years ago, Mitchell, who spent nearly three years as part of the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau, knew it was another pivot point. She could stay with the Tampa Bay Times, but leave political journalism. Or she could accept an offer from the Florida Times-Union to become paper’s Tallahassee bureau chief. She chose the latter, and has spent the past two and a half years becoming a formidable bureau of one. Mitchell took over for the role as the Times-Union’s bureau chief in 2014, when Matt Dixon left the paper to launch the Naples Daily News’ Tallahassee bureau. Mitchell said she was drawn to the fact she’d get to

have a column, and would be able to do a little bit of everything, rather than specializing in just a few subject matters. There was a period of adjustment as she figured out how to approach the job to make sure she was covering the right stories for her readers. And Mitchell said sometimes that means deciding not to cover the hot story of the day, even if everyone else in the press corps is on it. She admits her approach is different than other members of the press corps, but is quick to say she doesn’t think one way is right or wrong. “Flies with honey has always been my approach to journalism. It’s not that I can’t write a tough story or ask a tough question; I’m definitely no pushover, and I’m definitely not taking nobody’s B.S.,” she said. “Generally speaking, my default is being nice.” And you can see that in her daily interactions with lawmakers and staffers. She doesn’t hesitate to crack a joke with a staffer or “say something bubbly” to Gov. Rick Scott. In a recent Facebook live interview with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, she kept things light and breezy, while touching on all the issues of the day. “I think at this point, people know me and know my character,” she said. “This is what I built for myself, and it’s because I’m out here on my own trying to make it. I have to be cognizant of how I portray myself, of how I’m perceived.” While much Mitchell’s focus at the Times-Union deals with Northeast Florida, she’s also been able to bring a few passion projects with her. She continues to cover issues related to the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, calling the caucus a powerful voting bloc that can have a “real impact in the political caucus.” She was one of the first reporters in the state to write about Rep. Shevrin Jones’ emergency spinal surgery, and highlighted a trip taken by five members to an Alabama casino. Similarly, she’s continued to cover FAMU, connecting the dots back in 2015 when it became clear board members were looking to get rid of the president. And with the 2017 Legislative Session at hand, Mitchell said she has no intention of bidding adieu to the Florida Capitol any time soon. “I think state political journalism is very important, even more so than the federal government, because the state government has way more control and the state Legislature is affecting the pocketbook more than Congress can,” she said. “I’m here for now. I’m not looking.” ][ SPRING 2017 INFLUENCE | 173

What I’ve Learned

Jack Latvala 65, Clearwater Veteran lawmaker, environmentally conscious Republican, Chris’s dad AS TOLD TO JENNA BUZZACCO-FOERSTER

I WAS ALWAYS INTERESTED IN POLITICS: In 1960, I came home with a John Kennedy pin on or something from school, and my dad said “No son, we’re not for Kennedy.” I think that was the day I became a Republican. I was 9. (My parents) were like the third and fourth Republicans in our voting precinct in Bartow when they moved there. And the supervisor of elections gave them a hard time about registering as a Republican, basically saying you can’t vote if you’re a Republican, which they said all over Florida in those days. ON GETTING HIS START IN POLITICS: I went to work for the Republican Party of Florida in 1975 and worked for the party for five years. The last couple of years, I was the executive director of the legislative campaign committee. After Jack Eckerd ran for governor he agreed to stay active in the party and he was the chair of that committee. He hired me and brought me to Pinellas County. After that, I set up a government affairs and direct mail-type business that evolved into direct mail and political direct mail. It became one of the largest Republican direct


mail companies in the nation outside of Washington, right in Clearwater. I did the direct mail fundraising for the state Republican Party in 28 states at our zenith. I did all of the original George Bush’s direct mail in the South. In 1988 when he was elected, they split the country up into three vendors to do the direct mail and I was one. I did some campaign consulting and helped a lot of other people to run, always with an eye that someday I would run myself. In 1993, Sandra Mortham the House member who represented the district I lived in, decided to run for secretary of state and so I (decided I) was going to run for her House seat. I raised money and had a lot of money in the bank, and 10 days before qualifying in ’94, the incumbent Republican state senator in my district resigned to run statewide for lieutenant governor. So I shifted over to the Senate race, and that’s where I’ve been since. ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HIS FIRST STINT IN THE SENATE AND NOW: It was a lot different (then). There were 40 leaders raised up by their communities, who came to Tallahassee and did what they thought was best for their communities. No one told a Florida senator how to vote. You could get 21 votes; you could pass something. Now, the advent of term limits and so many people moving over from the House, there’s a lot more follow the leader. It was the worst when I came back in 2011, and then after I stood up to them

and got a group of other people to stand up to them, it slowed down a little bit. But the House members that are coming over are very used to following their Speaker, to following their leader. I don’t think it’s all that good. That means one Speaker, one President makes all the decisions. And I just don’t think people want that. It’s always been a difference of cultures because of 40 members versus 120 members, but in the ’90s the Senate always dominated. Since I’ve been back … the House probably dominates more than the Senate. We just don’t have the strength we used to have in the old Senate. The worst two years were (2011–12) with (Senate President Mike Haridopolos). And the last two years with (Senate President Andy Gardiner) were not real great. The House ran over us on redistricting, ran over us on Medicaid expansion. In the old days, if one house felt strongly about it, they would sit here until the other house agreed. And now it’s like nobody wants to extend the session because it makes you look bad. So if you can get all the way to 60 days, you get your way. ON HIS PROUDEST ACCOMPLISHMENTS DURING HIS EIGHT YEARS IN OFFICE AND HOW IT SHAPED WHO HE IS NOW: I did the Florida Forever bill, which extended out the land buying program. I did the bill that created the CFO office after the constitutional amendments. I did all the implementing law of the net ban, which was passed in ’94

PHOTO: Mark Wallheiser

ON GROWING UP IN BARTOW: I went to public schools. I thought public schools were just fine. I got a good education. My teachers were role models … some of the best impressions of my life came from my teachers in junior high probably.

“I learned who in this body can be counted on and who can keep their word. Of course, I’ve always been a good vote counter on issues or whatever, because I look people in the eye and then I can usually tell if they’re sincere or not.

PHOTO: Mary Beth Tyson

Most senators are sincere.”



Top: Senators Joe Negron (right) and Jack Latvala confer during the 2017 Session. Left: Sen. Jack Latvala holds forth on a proposed bill in March 2017.

PHOTOS: Darryl Jarmon

Opposite: Latvala, then chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, holds forth on a document dealing with residency requirements for members of the Florida Legislature. He and Senate President Don Gaetz made tightening of the residency definition a top priority for the subsequent 2014 legislative session.



“I’m kind of a conservative, but I’m a centrist. I take care of a lot of issues that independents and Democrats are concerned about, whether its environmental or whether it’s protecting our public employees, public safety employees, public schools.”

and it took like three years to close all the loopholes. We were involved in a lot of good criminal justice legislation that has contributed to Florida’s crime rate being at a 45-year low. I consider that a major accomplishment. I came back an environmentally conscious Republican, which is a little harder to find than it might have been in the ’90s. There are people who want to back up from the criminal justice things we did in the ’90s, who want to tie law enforcement’s hands. And yet we can say that’s one of our biggest accomplishments, but there are people that want to back up from it. ON WHY HE DECIDED TO RETURN TO THE SENATE: I decided to run the day I woke up ... and the House had voted to allow oil drilling three miles off the Gulf Coast. That was when I made the decision to run again. I moved into a district that was going to be vacant. Well, no, I moved into a district that Charlie Justice was up (for) in ’10 and he made the decision to run for Congress, rather than run against me. It was not a real rugged race. My only rugged race in my career was the first one. In ’94, I actually came in second in the first primary and if we hadn’t had a runoff, I wouldn’t have been here. ... Since then I haven’t had to break a sweat. I’m kind of a conservative, but I’m a centrist. I take care of a lot of issues that independents and Democrats are concerned about, whether its environmental or whether it’s protecting our public employees, public safety employees, public schools. A lot of Democrats and independents care about that. ON HIS DEDICATION TO PUBLIC EMPLOYEE RAISES: My experience in private business is that you need to compensate your employees if you want good employees. So why should we have substandard employees for government, people who can’t get a job anywhere else as government employees, because the pay is so low? A lot of our public employees will take lower pay because of the pensions. Well, Republicans started to go after the pension. It’s not as well funded as it was, but part of the reason is they haven’t made the required annual contributions from government to it. …They cut it back when we had plenty of money in SPRING 2017 INFLUENCE | 177


Sen. Jack Latvala, center, celebrates with students following passage of his legislation allowing in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants near the end of the 2014 Legislative Session.

ON THE VOTE HE’S THE PROUDEST OF: The in-state tuition for kids whose parents happen to be illegals, but who’ve done nothing wrong themselves because they’re kids. Giving them the same level of tuition as another Florida high school graduate. In-state tuition was set up not as a political tool, but as an economic tool because instate residents pay the taxes that fund the college system. Well, illegals also pay those taxes because they buy stuff and they pay sales taxes. It’s a big difference between someone who lives in Florida and someone who lives in Georgia and doesn’t pay any 178 | INFLUENCE SPRING 2017

of our taxes. So why should those kids get penalized for the actions of their parents, many times that were before they of an age to realize what was going on? They were brought over as babies or small children. Some of (the students at the Capitol) were trying to make a political statement. But there was one young man who came and testified … he was like 26 years old and he had lived here for 24 years. He was in school in Jacksonville, and in a graduate program and paying the out-of-state rate, even though he had lived here for 24 years. (Editor’s note: A bill has been filed that would repeal the state law that allows undocumented students to receive in-state tuition at state college and universities). Let me put it to you this way, the repeal of that bill, the third committee stop is my committee. I’ll just let you figure it out. ON WHETHER THE POLITICAL TONE OF THE SENATE IS CHANGING: I think every two years ... the more conservatives think they’ve taken control over here. Sometimes

you get elected over here from the House, and you start having a little bit of a wider perspective and you change how you vote on things. For the most part, it traditionally has been those of us who have never (been in) the House (who) have been able to be strong and be in the middle on things. Of the 20 new members this year, 17 came from the House. ON HIS MOST DIFFICULT MOMENT: Obviously, for three and a half years we were locked in a presidential race between me and Sen. Negron. That was very tense in the Senate. Everything that happened in the Senate was somehow or another related to that and, you know, he won. But I’m not unhappy with where I came out of that situation. I think I have a role, an important role for my area particularly. So it all comes out well. There’s some remnants, there’s still some remnants. There’s still a little bit of us versus them. But I think we’re very rapidly getting unified because of some of the

PHOTO: State Archives of Florida/Cotterell

the system. Then they cut it back because we were having economic downturn, and they used that money for other things. And now they complain because ... they aren’t fully funded. Well, when I left in 2002, the Florida Pension System was 112 percent funded. (Now it’s) about 86 percent. It’s still one of the best in the country. It’s considered well-funded by the standard of the industry.

Florida State Senators having fun during the 2000 Legislative Session. Sen. Buddy Dyer gives Latvala what appears to be a statue of an elephant with donkey ears and a tail affixed to it. things the House is doing, especially the Speaker, that are really disrespectful to the Senate.

PHOTO: State Archives of Florida

ON WHAT IT’S LIKE TO HAVE HIS SON SERVE IN THE HOUSE: We throw some barbs back and forth. ... But I love my son, and I respect his role. I don’t try to influence how he votes on things, and he really doesn’t try to influence how I try to vote on things. We’re pretty independent. On the day we passed Chris’ first bill, I was the Senate sponsor. So when it was called up on the Senate side, I had him come over and stand with me, and then … we realized it was “Bring Your Child to Work Day” that very day. I would hope he would be strong in his convictions, and he is. His convictions aren’t all the same as mine. But I would hope he would be strong in his convictions, No. 1. I would hope he would always tell the truth, No. 2; and keep his word, No. 3. Because those are the important things up here to be successful. I want to leave this place with no one being able to say I didn’t tell the truth or I broke my word, that’s just very important to me. ON HIS FUTURE: I don’t really plan to retire, but yet I’m not ready to say exactly what I’m thinking about doing. But I am thinking about doing something significant. When you’ve been around as long as I have, you have a lot of knowledge. Just the historical perspective on what’s happened in Tallahassee through the years, why we’ve got some of the problems we’ve got, what we’ve tried to do to solve those problems in the past, so we don’t always try to reinvent the wheel. That’s been very valuable as I’ve come back to the Senate. That’s why I have a constant parade of senators coming in here to ask my advice on things … because they know I’ve been here. The idea of having outsiders, you know, it sounds good. But there’s a lot of on-the-job training, so sometimes you’re not as quick on the draw as you need to be when it comes to handling problems. And so, I think we need to have officials that are well versed in the total job, of our state government. ][ SPRING 2017 INFLUENCE | 179

The Big Question



I plan to contact a therapist. The lack of sunshine in Florida’s government is as depressing as music from the 1990s Seattle Grunge scene. — Arek Sarkissian, Naples Daily News I plan to spend that day (and several more) with my son Henry, who will be two months old. His being born a week before session means I don’t get nearly as much time with him as I want during the first two months of his life. I plan to make up for lost time, and let his mom relax. — Monte Stevens, Southern Strategy Group

Fingers crossed, I will deliver a healthy baby girl … if she can hang on until Sine Die! — Erin Ballas, Public Affairs Consulting I’ll head to the best vacation spot in Florida, which is Amalie Arena. Where else can you enjoy a 55-degree temperature while watching grown men with sticks chase a rubber object on ice — all while having razor blades stuck to their feet? 180 | INFLUENCE SPRING 2017

— Rachel Kruse, Ramba Consulting Hydrate with a good pinot noir for my birthday to celebrate my advanced state of aging. — Jim Magill, Buchanan Ingersoll Rooney If you ask my kids: a Disney Cruise, hands down, but I retreat to the mountains in August. Will Weatherford never got me to tell him how long I’d really be gone for…. — Seth McKeel, Southern Strategy Group

Since I can’t technically work during session, my busy time starts the day after Sine Die. While I get to see all of the lobby corps on social media go on amazingly luxurious vacations while wearing Gucci flip flops, campaign staffers are gearing up for our elections. — Nancy Texeira, Ground Game Solutions Jenn and I love the beaches of South Walton, especially those on 30A. A 30A trip means an umbrella drink in hand, feet in the sand, and watching the sunset after an amazing meal. The entire Emerald Coast combines the “cool” of the West Coast, the timelessness of the East Coast, topped with Southern hospitality. It’s our version of the happiest place on earth. — Greg Ungru, Leading Age Florida

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INFLUENCE Magazine — Spring 2017  

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