Could anyone be leading a more charmed life than super-lobbyist Brian Ballard?
He’s putting the finishing touches on his new downtown Tallahassee headquarters for Ballard Partners, his governmental affairs firm; he’s basking in the glow of his friendship with President Donald Trump, and he’s adding talent at an almost breakneck clip.
His latest acquisition: Jose Felix “Pepi” Diaz, the former state Representative who just lost a high-profile special election for the Florida Senate to Democrat Annette Taddeo.
But, á la Chris Dorworth, Diaz turned defeat into victory. (Dorworth had been slated to become House Speaker but instead lost his House seat and now leads Ballard’s Orlando office.)
Diaz now is executive vice president of the firm, and the Cuban-American is charged with leading the Miami practice and helping expand Ballard’s reach in Latin America.
“Pepi is a rare talent,” Ballard told me. “He can improve our South Florida presence immediately. He adds depth to our growing Latin America practice and can fit in on occasional D.C. projects. Longer term, he brings a wealth of Tallahassee experience and credibility with him.”
Speaking of “longer term,” we continue to wonder whether Ballard—admittedly nowhere near ready for retirement—will groom Diaz to eventually lead the firm after he, say, takes his money and buys a private Caribbean island.
Ballard won’t bite about the future.
“I’m not going anywhere anytime soon,” he said. “We have a number of exceptionally talented people who can and do play leadership roles in our firm.
Among the other contenders for the throne are, reportedly, Dorworth, Brady Benford, Brad Burleson, and Monica Rodriguez.
However, for the time being, all eyes are on Diaz.
“Pepi adds depth to the firm in this way as well,” Ballard added. “I’m truly blessed to have such a diverse and talented team that I’m lucky to call my partners.”
Diaz, 38, is a well-respected name in Miami-Dade County, having served seven years representing Districts 115 and 116 in the Florida House.
He eventually led the Commerce Committee, overseeing gaming, economic development, regulated industries, and tourism. And he chaired the influential Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation.
Ballard explained that his recruiting of Diaz started low key: “We talked generally after the (special) election and then more seriously around Christmas. Mutual friends kept recommending the idea.”
And thus how hires are done.
There’s one lingering question now that Diaz is on board: How does he vote on the proposed constitutional amendment before the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) that would lengthen the state’s ban on lobbying by former lawmakers and statewide elected officers to six years from the current two?
Speaker Richard Corcoran recently sent a letter to commissioners, including his former lieutenant Diaz, whom he named to sit on the CRC. He asked them to back the idea, which also passed the House as legislation the first week of the 2018 Legislative Session.
“As part of leadership, you follow the Speaker,” Ballard said.