By: Scott Walden
I think it is safe to assume each attending member of our LT 2017 class would agree, the highly anticipated two-day visit of our State Capitol did not disappoint. The session was intended to provide our class with a broad overview of our state’s political structure and processes supplemented with select panel discussions aimed at providing greater insight into certain aspects of Florida politics.
Day One of the retreat started early with a scheduled bus departure of 0700 on 4 April, 2017. Aside from a couple near death experiences caused by inclement weather, the bus ride to our hotel in Tallahassee was mostly uneventful. The sentiment on the bus was one of excitement and anticipation and, as usual, the conversation was lively.
Shortly after our arrival, the class gathered in the hotel’s conference room for a joint lunch / panel discussion moderated by former Speaker of the House, H. Lee Moffitt. Mr. Moffitt’s opening comments included a brief history on the establishment of the Moffitt Cancer Center, as well as a bit of insight regarding the unique political power held by the Speaker of the House. Panel members for this discussion included Jan Gorrie, Managing Partner, Ballard Partners, “Mac” Stipanovich, of Council, Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, PC, and Mark Walsh, USF System Assistant Vice President for Government Relations.
The panel primarily addressed those political issues relating to the Greater Tampa Chamber’s agenda: USF funding, additional cigarette tax revenue for Moffitt Cancer Center, statewide transportation network regulations and K-12 funding. Equally important and interesting during this discussion was our ability to hear from those who participate in the political process as a lobbyist. Also noteworthy were the numerous “tongue-in-cheek” comments regarding Florida’s current Speaker of the House, Richard Corcoran, and his stance on several contentious issues. This behavior did not go unnoticed by our class and highlighted how personality and party differences remain an enormous obstacle in the political process.
Following our initial panel discussion, the class walked to the old State Capitol. After an informative briefing on the building’s history, we were turned loose to explore. As one would expect, the old Capitol is a fascinating facility, steeped in history with a collection of very well-preserved artifacts and, of course, provided a great group photo opportunity.
Figure 1 LT-17 on the reconstructed staircase in the Old Capitol
Next on the agenda was a short walk to the new Capitol and the opportunity to view the political process in action. The group split between the House and Senate, and each were allotted 30-minutes to witness our lawmakers at work. The formality of the process was particularly interesting, but the process generally seemed confusing and a bit inefficient, and lawmaker attendance and attention seemed low. Many of these concerns were addressed during the following day’s panel discussion.
Before departing the Capitol for the day, LT’17 was treated to an informative briefing and Q&A with our Attorney General, Pamela Jo “Pam” Bondi in the Cabinet Room. Serving in this capacity since 2010, Mrs. Bondi has remained focused on solving issues that most impact Florida citizens. During our time with her she emphasized her current focus on combating drug and human trafficking-related problems.
Figure 2 Florida Attorney General Bondi
Having the Cabinet Room all to ourselves presented some unique photo opportunities…
Figure 3 Ryan Garlow for Governor?
The final item on the agenda for Day One was a formal Legislative Reception held at the Governor’s Club. The legislative session ran long on this day, so our ability to visit and interact with members of the Bay Area Legislative Delegation was very limited. In their absence, our classmates took the opportunity to visit socially and recap observations from the day’s events.
Once formal activities concluded for the day, the LT’17 GOATs took advantage of the first real opportunity to gather as a group and socialize. Class members utilized skills learned from previous sessions in navigating various means of public transportation as they made their way to Township, a local bar / restaurant, where Erica Shea secured a private room for dinner. It was evident everyone had a great time, and who would have guessed so many GOATs had such great JENGA skills!
Figure 4 GOATs on the loose in Tallahassee!
After a long day of political education and socializing, some class members began retreating to the hotel in preparation for the next day – but not all class members. Others decided to extend the socializing to other local establishments. I don’t know what has taken place the evening of Day One with other classes, but there are two specific things I do know which clearly set the GOATs apart from all others: 1) There is significant doubt previous classes found the gem of an establishment many of our classmates found for after-dinner socializing, and 2) There is NO possibility their evening could have been nearly as epic!
Day Two of the retreat began with a panel discussion and breakfast focused on the Present & Future Political Landscape. Conducted in the hotel conference room and moderated by Clint Shouppe, State Government Relations Manager, St. Joseph’s Hospital, this was perhaps the most informative and insightful panel discussion of the retreat. Sarah Bascom, President, Bascom Communications & Consulting, LLC., and Steve Schale, Political Strategist, Florida, shared their vast experience in Florida politics through an extremely interactive questions and answer session. Classmate Michael Ferrone addressed some of the shared concerns our classmates had while observing the House and Senate sessions. There is little doubt this was the correct panel to address those concerns, and their feedback shed significant light on what occurs on the floor of each house, why/how things occur, and why we should (or shouldn’t) be concerned with the process.
Another short walk to the new Capitol for a briefing in Senate Chambers with Senator Dana Young was next on the agenda. A former State Representative, Young gained the Senate seat representing western Hillsborough County in 2016. It was a privilege to listen to her speak to our class regarding those issues affecting the Tampa Bay community. As you can see in the photo, she had our undivided attention.
Figure 5 Future State Senators?
Our final scheduled event of the retreat was a tour of the Governor’s mansion. The mansion, which was designed to resemble Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, was designed by Marion Sims Wyeth who also designed numerous Palm Beach mansions including Mar-a-Lago. The building has 30 rooms and 15,000 square feet of living space on 1.5 acres of land. Our half-hour guided tour of the mansion was a nice way to wrap up our visit. No visit to the Governor’s mansion would be complete without an LT-17 group photo…
Figure 6 GOATs at Governor’s Mansion
It remains a bit of a mystery, but the bus ride back to Tampa may have been the quietest 5-hr bus ride in the history of bus rides. Was it simply exhaustion from the fast and furious pace at which information was imparted on us during our visit – or could it be something else? In any case, I believe I can speak for my classmates in saying this was certainly one of the more informative, insightful, enjoyable experiences we have had during our time in Leadership Tampa. Thank you to the sponsors, and to those charged with putting all of this together for us.