Our Experience at Leadership Tampa’s Tallahassee Retreat

Brian CummingsBrian Cummings

Attorney – Greenspoon Marder, P.A.

Leadership Tampa Class of 2014

Leadership Tampa’s Class of 2014 solidified its legacy as the Best Class Ever during the recent Tallahassee Retreat, a two-day tour of Florida’s capital city that many consider a highlight of the Leadership Tampa experience.  It was definitely a great experience for our class.  We enjoyed an inside glimpse of our state government, featuring private meetings with leaders of each branch of government; we observed the Legislature in action and we toured the Governor’s Mansion.

LT 14 arrived in Tallahassee for the first day of the Retreat around noon, ready to tackle a daunting schedule packed with meetings and events following a refreshing five-and-a-half hour bus ride.  We started off with a luncheon featuring political consultants Steve Schale and Sarah Bascom.  Schale, a Democrat, and Bascom, a Republican, discussed the current and future political landscape of Florida, sharing their own personal experiences managing campaigns in the ultimate swing state.  Schale, a sought-after Democratic consultant who served as director of Obama Florida, is now a top strategist for the gubernatorial campaign of former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.  Bascom, a long-time Republican consultant, very recently served as spokesperson and communications director for the successful congressional campaign of David Jolly against former Florida CFO Alex Sink Campaign.

Following lunch, our class walked over to the Florida Supreme Court where we were given a private tour of the High Court’s courtroom, including a chance to pose for photographs on the bench or at the podium.  We were then afforded a private audience with Justice Peggy A. Quince.  Quince discussed the role and duties of Supreme Court, and she related her first-hand experience being a member of the Court during its high-profile decisions involving the 2000 presidential election.  Justice Quince also shared with LT 14 her own personal experiences as an attorney and judge, becoming the first African American woman to be appointed to one of Florida district courts of appeal and to the Florida Supreme Court, and to serve as Florida Chief Justice.

After visiting the judicial branch, we crossed Duval Street to legislative branch, meeting some of our local legislators in the Old Capitol Building.  In an upstairs meeting hall with very antiquated acoustics, we were addressed by Rep. Jamie Grant of Tampa, Rep. Jake Raburn of Valrico, Rep. Dana Young of Tampa, Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, and Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg.  Each of them shared their own perspective and experiences with the legislative process, and then answered the class members’ always interesting questions.  While we were certainly impressed with the leadership skills of our local elect representatives, some class members were surprised by their relative youth, which is reflective of the entire legislature as a result of terms limits.  In fact, nearly one-third of the 120 representatives are under 40 years old, including seven under the age of 30, and House Speaker Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel is only 34 years old.  Only 24 members of the Florida House are over the age of 60, which sort of blows away my pre-conceived image of the legislature as a bunch of gray-haired old guys.

Following our meeting at the old Capitol building, LT 14 returned to our hotel for a Legislative Reception and short program in recognition of the Tallahassee Retreat’s program Sponsors, Adams and Reese LLP and Moffitt Cancer Center.   Other Tampa area legislators and state officials joined the class for drinks and hors d’oeuvres, including Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Secretary of the Department of Business & Professional Regulation Ken Lawson, former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives Lee Moffitt, Sens. Arthenia Joyner & Jeff Brandes, Reps. Janet Cruz & Mark Danish of Tampa.

After the reception, class members fanned out in groups to Tallahassee’s finest restaurants (better than Arby’s!) for dinner, and then headed out for a night on the town.  Nearly everyone ended up at a downtown karaoke bar, Club Mint, for a memorable night of entertainment and fun.  Certainly, for me anyway, a fun moment of Tallahassee Retreat LT 14’s trip was watching a dozen or so classmates on stage singing the B-52s 1989 hit “Love Shack.”  Many more talents were showcased, and LT 14 out-karaoke’ed a group of FSU students jockeying for the stage.

Notwithstanding the late night for some class members, everyone made it to the Capitol the next morning for visits to the House Gallery, where we watched the legislature in action.  Actually, there wasn’t much action: our time at the House coincided with the 2014 Legislative Reunion, so we mostly just watched the current the House honor past members who had served over the last six decades.  We did witness as few moments of legislative action before departing for our next meeting, including consideration of a bill to rename Edison State College in Fort Myers as “Florida SouthWestern,” which passed after a probing question about the capitalization of the “W” in SouthWestern.

From the House Gallery, LT 14 was shepherded to the Cabinet Room, where we received a private audience with a living legend from the Tampa area and Florida Legislature: H. Lee Moffitt, former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives and founder of his namesake Moffitt Cancer Center.  Moffitt took time to address the class and answer questions, before and after an appearance by Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera for a photo-op with the class.  Moffitt shared how he was inspired to push for a full-service cancer center in Tampa after witnessing several close friends diagnosed with cancer having to travel to distant cities for quality treatment.  Moffitt described his lengthy efforts over many years to get legislative support for starting a top-tier cancer center in Tampa, despite opposition from the medical community, and later a veto by Gov. Bob Graham.  Ultimately, once Moffitt became Speaker of the Florida House, he was able to secure Gov. Graham’s support for a law that created the Moffitt Cancer Center.  Moffitt noted that he would never have been able to foster creation of one of the world’s foremost cancer centers in Tampa if he had been restricted by term limits, as legislators are today.

After our meeting with Moffitt, LT 14 boarded buses for a final, undisclosed “special destination.”  We didn’t have to go far for our secret destination – the Governor’s Mansion, which is located a mere ten blocks from the Capitol.  While it was unclear whether or not Gov. Rick Scott was home, our class enjoyed a private tour of the “public” portion of the Greek Revival mansion, which abounds in Florida artwork, historical artifacts, and antique furnishings, including a Steinway piano on which class member Edward Spenceley surprised us with his skills.

After our private tour of the Governor’s Mansion, LT 14 returned to our buses for the long ride home.  There’s nothing like being confined to a bus for multiple hours to build class camaraderie, although the trip back to Tampa was much quieter than the ride to Tallahassee.  All in all, the Tallahassee Retreat was an interesting glimpse into our state’s government, as well as our class’s singing ability, and I think all of us had a very memorable and enjoyable experience.

A special recognition and thanks for putting together this fantastic program is due to our Day Chairs Merritt Martin of Moffitt Cancer Center, Mike Griffin of Vertical Integration, and Karen McFarland of Adams and Reese LLP, as well as our Sponsors Adams and Reese LLP and Moffitt Cancer Center.

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About Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce is a not-for-profit business membership organization that helps promote the businesses and business interests of our members. We come from diverse backgrounds: from small businesses, big corporations, government bodies and the military. United, we become a single, unifying force with the power to shape the future of Tampa Bay.

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