One of the benefits of being a member of LT ’15 (Best Class Ever!) is that in nine short months you get access and exposure to people and places that are otherwise unattainable to the average Tampa resident. No part of the program highlights this fact more than the annual Leadership Tampa Tallahassee trip – a 36 hour tour d’ force through our great state’s capitol while the legislature is in session.
Like most amazing journeys, ours started with a rather uneventful first step – a 5:45 a.m. pre-dawn gathering at Busch Gardens’ parking lot to board the buses that would, roughly 4 ½ hours later, bring us to our destination. On the ride up (after the obligatory silence until after the Lake City stop for coffee and breakfast), LT ’15 discussed the current legislative session and the pending bills and issues that are pertinent to the Tampa area. Our discussions were led by Wendy Brill (Tampa Chamber Sr. Director, Government Relations) and Michael Maurino (Tampa Chamber Director, Government Relations). From complicated state budget issues to funding for USF’s medical school in downtown Tampa to the plea of local micro-brewers for the right to sell their wares in 64 ounce growlers – we arrived in Tallahassee at the Double Tree Hotel well-armed with an understanding of the topics currently being tackled in this legislative session.
Our tour d’ force hit the ground running upon arriving in Tallahassee with a strong lunch time presentation on the present and future political landscape by Steve Schale (political strategist and one-time state director for the 2008 Obama campaign in Florida) and Sarah Bascom (president of Bascom Communications & Consulting, LLC). Their presentation was lively, informative, interactive and, at times, very funny. They gave tremendous insight on the inner workings of statewide campaigns, politics in Tallahassee and the dangers of Florida’s political future presented by the growing trend of political ideology over bipartisan cooperation (a theme repeated throughout our visit).
From lunch, LT ’15 ventured on to the Florida Historic Capitol. The Old Capitol building was completed in 1845 just before Florida’s entry into the Union as the 27th state and was renovated and added onto over the years as Florida grew. Facing demolition in the 1970s to make way for the new Capitol building, it was rescued by the citizens of Florida and restored to its 1902 appearance. It now serves as a museum providing an insightful view of Florida’s unique cultural and political heritage.
From ancient Native American artifacts to a perfectly intact and preserved “hanging chad” Florida Election booth from the 2000 presidential election, the museum has an amazing array of artifacts and informative displays that kept LT’15 enthralled during its visit.
After a walk-through of the museum, LT ’15 had the opportunity to meet a group of our area’s State representatives and senators who took time out of their schedules (some running out of ongoing committee meetings) to meet and continue our dialogue on the issues being wrestled by the legislature this session. These informal discussions gave way to the afternoon’s panel discussion facilitated by none other than Former Speaker of the Florida House Mr. H. Lee Moffitt, and included Mr. Justin Day (from the Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners), Mr. Ron Pierce (President of RSA Consulting, LLC), Mr. John McKager “Mac” Stipanovich (former Chief of Staff to Florida Governor Bob Martinez and current of council at Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, PC) and Mark Walsh (USF System Assistant Vice President for Government Relations).
The lively panel provided an honest discussion of not only the most challenging issue facing the legislature this session – the budget issues surrounding the Senate’s proposed expansion of Medicaid and the House’s vehement stance against it (which most presumed would require an extended session to resolve) – but also of the power of special interest groups to drive policy and the breakdown of problem solving when political ideologies override practical solutions. By providing a historical and contemporary analysis of the legislative process, the panel was able to provide LT’15 a unique insight into the future of Florida politics. We even learned when and how to apply the classic Florida political colloquialism “beat him like a rented mule.”
LT ’15 closed out its first day in Tallahassee with a legislative reception at the Double Tree highlighted by introductory remarks from our Class Chair Mr. Jim Porter, recognition of the various politicians in attendance (including a delegation from our own Hillsborough County School Board), thank yous to our day sponsors and small presentations by several of our distinguished guests including Representative Janet Cruz and Senator Arthenia L. Joyner. The informal setting allowed for casual conversation with the various people we met during the day. Well attended and well apportioned, the cocktail party was the perfect blend of politics, hors d’oeuvres and beverages. LT ’15 then rolled out to dinner and camaraderie where a good time was had by all.
Day two started off with a tour of the Florida Supreme Court’s chambers and a wonderful meet and greet session with Supreme Court Justice Peggy Anne Quince, the first African-American woman appointed to our state’s highest court. Justice Quince was approachable, insightful, inspiring and humble. Being from our area (a prior local attorney and 2nd District Court of Appeal Judge), she had a particular fondness for our group and left open the invitation for us to hear the Court in session the next time we were in Tallahassee.
From the Supreme Court’s chambers we ventured to the new Capitol building (1970s being deemed new relative to the Historic Capitol) where we had another opportunity to meet more of our local state senators and representatives carrying on our continuing dialogue of the current legislative agenda and the issues impacting our specific region. As with the prior day’s presentations, the frank and honest discussion of the issues, regardless of political affiliation, provided amazing insight to LT ’15. Over these two days, LT’15 had the pleasure of discussing Florida politics with State Senators Jeff Brandes, Jack Latvala and Tom Lee along with State Representatives Shawn Harrison, Edwin Narain, Chris Latvala, Dwight Dudley, Darryl E. Rouson and Chris Sprowls.
After two straight days of Florida politics, we moved on to one of Florida’s other great passions – college football. Thanks to the Chamber and its many supporters, LT ’15 was treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of Florida State University’s athletic facilities at Doak Campbell stadium. LT ’15 was given guided tours through the weight rooms, training areas, locker rooms and coaches’ office. There was even a brief surprise run-in with the NFL’s potential No. 1 draft pick during the tour (who laughed at the serendipity of running into a tour group from Tampa this close to draft day). The tour was highlighted by a wonderful lunch at the top of Doak Campbell Stadium catered by FSU’s Dedman School of Hospitality.
After feasting on lunch and picking up some FSU merchandise at the stadium gift shop, we once again boarded the buses to travel to our final and surprise stop before heading back to Tampa – the Governor’s Mansion. The 1957-built home had a Florida feel to it – not overly grand or pompous but casual and approachable. The home is full of Florida specific accoutrements and mementos like the silver place settings from the battleship Florida to the manatee water fountain sculpture in the back yard. The outside walkways and driveway were paved with bricks from Ybor City donated by Tampa leaders during construction. Our current first family’s personal pictures seamlessly blended in to the home’s general decor and feel.
After the mansion tour, we once again boarded our buses and Tallahassee slowly faded into the background as we began our 4 ½ hour bus ride back to Tampa, bringing an end to an amazing 36 hours. Special Thanks to our Day Chairs Mike Griffin (Vertical Integration) and Merritt Martin (Moffitt Cancer Center) and our day sponsors Adams and Reese, LLP (thank you Laurel Corriveau) and Moffit Cancer Center.