‘Tis the season, and the Legislature’s dubious Christmas present this year was moving up the 2018 Legislative Session two months from its usual March start date.
We will no doubt have many gifts in store, besides the inevitable policy food fights, such as perhaps seeing some lawmakers in their ugly holiday sweaters (the Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts “sunny, turning warm” for the first day of session).
Of course, there’s the “triptych poster,” an astronomy display sponsored by the First Coast Freethought Society, but that left the rotunda with everyone else on Dec. 22. Good thing nobody tried to take it home before then, anyway, or they’d run afoul of the Capitol Police.
For now, we bring you a look at Christmas lights and lobbyists — or, those individuals and organizations whose work helps ensure the very things that define the holiday.
We’re using the classic carol “The 12 Days of Christmas” as our lens to combine the political with the Noel. The tune started “either as a children’s song or a Christmas carol in the late 18th or mid-19th century,” according to a story on Mental Floss.
The site digs up some interesting details, including how the lyrics changed over the years. For instance, what we now sing as four “calling birds” has previously been “canary birds,” “mockingbirds,” and “collie birds,” an old term for blackbirds.
“In Sinatra’s version, he replaces the traditional gifts of birds with things he’d like: ‘Five ivory combs, Four mission lights, Three golf clubs, Two silken scarfs, and a most lovely lavender tie.’”
All that goes to say: We don’t feel bad appropriating the song yet again. With that …
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: A Partridge in a Pear Tree.
The image of the partridge – the non-migratory Old World bird akin to pheasants and quails – evokes hunting. And no organization is more active in promoting the interests of hunters in Tallahassee than the National Rifle Association and its Florida cousin, Unified Sportsmen of Florida, led by former NRA honcho Marion Hammer. With a handful of controversial bills circulating this Session during a tricky election year, the group will have to aim its sights carefully in order to continue having the almost unbridled success it has had in recent years in lobbying the Capitol.
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Two Turtle Doves.
This line reminded us of recent strides made in the name of love and fairness by the LGBTQ rights movement, repped in the Sunshine State by Equality Florida. The group, led by co-founder and CEO Nadine Smith, has accomplished quite a bit in recent years. EF’s former Government Affairs Manager Carlos Guillermo Smith made it to the Florida House last year and was recently recognized with the Tammy Baldwin Breakthrough Award. Smith’s old boss, former Rep. Joe Saunders, has also been on top of his game helping pro-LGBTQ candidates get elected, especially in St. Pete where Equality Florida played a big role in the re-election of St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman.
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Three French Hens.
Hens are not well represented in Tallahassee, but if we’re talking Capitol fowl, we’re thinking about the exotic Ayam Cemanis and Appenzeller Spitzhaubens of Southern Strategy Group founder Paul Bradshaw, who along with wife Sally Bradshaw raise hens in the couple’s Gadsden County home. Those fancy chickens even got some ink in The USA Today not long ago. Talk about power poultry.
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Four Calling Birds.
While the practice transmitting messages by carrier pigeon has sadly fallen out of fashion, the communications industry is bigger than ever, and growing. Everyone who has spent time around Adams Street knows the political power of AT&T. The telecom giant employs no fewer than 68 legislative lobbyists, including some of the biggest names in the business: Al Cardenas, Ron Book and Matt Bryan to name just a few, along with a healthy stable of in-house talent.
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Five Golden Rings.
The familiar image of five glowing gold rings puts us in mind of the gold standards of Adams Street – the firms by which all other firms are measured. The firms that made more than a million in lobbying revenues last quarter are a pretty solid compass to go by: Ballard Partners, Capital City Consulting, Ronald L. Book PA, and the aforementioned Southern Strategy Group. Also on the list were Greenberg Traurig and GrayRobinson, with Corcoran & Johnston coming in close behind with just shy of the $1 million mark in total compensation.
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Six Geese a Laying.
One state lawmaker has practically found a proverbial “golden goose” to help him along the way to becoming a respected voice on policy and as a peacemaker between beefing Senate rivals. That’s none other than the “Chicken Man” of the Florida Senate himself, Wilton Simpson. His family-owned Simpson Farms in Trilby has made him one of the wealthiest members of the Legislature. Truly a gift that keeps on giving.
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Seven Swans a Swimming.
2017 was a “watershed” year for swans and (political) animals looking to swim in less murky Florida waters following the passage Senate President Joe Negron’s bill to build water storage south of Lake Okeechobee. The move earned the Treasure Coast Republican a standing ovation from Audubon Florida, which named him a “Champion of the Everglades” for his “steadfast leadership” to reduce discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and prevent a repeat of the historic and harmful algal blooms that wreaked havoc on Florida waters in 2016.
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Eight Maids a Milking.
While Florida – like the North Pole, we think – is a “Right to Work” state, that doesn’t mean organized labor doesn’t possess a substantial amount of political muscle, especially in populous South Florida. Chief among agents who wield that power is the state arm of Service Employees International Union, led in their lobbying efforts by Alexander Samuel Ring, and the AFL-CIO, represented by fiery advocate Rich Templin. Both men have been known to make a committee hearing interesting, and with Republicans firmly in control of the legislative debate, it will be interesting to see how labor forges a way forward amid GOP-led pension reform efforts and the national “Fight for 15” movement making inroads in Florida.
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Nine Ladies Dancing.
Florida’s political ladies, so to speak, had plenty to dance about a couple years ago: 2015 was nothing less than a banner year for the League of Women Voters, the good-government advocacy group formed by suffragettes including the great Eleanor Roosevelt. It managed to overturn seven Congressional districts and a great deal of the state Senate map through its efforts in court. But those efforts really bore fruit in 2018, with the victory of Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo in a special election for SD 40. It was a hard-fought battle, and while the taint of Frank Artiles played a big role in spoiling Jose Felix Diaz’ chances, the importance of LWVF’s 2015 court victory cannot be overstated.
On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Ten Lords a Leaping.
The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops and executive director Michael B. Sheedy have already identified the group’s policy positions for the 2018 Legislative Session. Opposing abortion, of course, is still high on the list but there’s also “improving juvenile justice policies by treating minors according to their cognitive abilities and making the most of their capacity to reform their lives,” and “increasing protections of poor and vulnerable working people by capping the (annual percentage rate) for payday lenders, supporting a living wage, and creating local mechanisms to resolve wage theft disputes.”
On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: 11 Pipers Piping.
Credit Dr. Jeffrey Sharkey and Taylor Patrick Biehl of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida for shaping the medicinal pot lobby here in the Sunshine State. The Legislature passed the implementing bill for the constitutional amendment championed by Orlando trial attorney John Morgan. No surprise: Lawmakers’ plans don’t allow for smoking medical marijuana, but that hasn’t stopped shops from opening their doors and selling vaporizers and other devices to those with a prescription.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: 12 Drummers Drumming.
Gus Corbella, senior director of the Government Law & Policy Practice of the Tallahassee office of Greenberg Traurig, also has been an associate member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which puts on the GRAMMY awards every year, since 2008.