Deep into their sixth decade in public life, Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, 81, and Van Poole, 80, still dazzle. D’Alemberte, a lawyer and liberal Democrat, quarterbacks high-stakes litigation. Lobbyist Poole, a conservative Republican, strategizes big-ticket legislative battles. D’Alemberte and Poole served together in the House of Representatives in the 1970s, a time when it had not yet occurred to the political class that people who disagreed with you were enemy combatants to be demonized and destroyed.
The two old friends took time out from their 18-hour days to reminisce with INFLUENCE Magazine.
INFLUENCE: People in “The Process” talk all the time about “relationships” but a lot of them will cross the street to avoid eye contact with anyone who disagrees with them about anything.
D’Alemberte: Van and I were fighting rural Democrats, not each other. We put together the first urban coalition.
Poole: They don’t socialize today. They are in their corners. We had legislative trail rides. We had weekend trips to Cedar Key and Pensacola and Sarasota, all of us, and our families. It made a big difference.
INFLUENCE: Who paid for that?
Poole: Chambers of Commerce. It drew a different kind of crowd than what we have now at the Capitol for “Broward Days.” A real cross-section of the community would come out. Teachers. Small-business people.
D’Alemberte: I knew the Panhandle where I grew up, and I knew South Florida where I was practicing law, but I didn’t know much in between.
Poole: When I got elected, I didn’t know where Tallahassee was. These weekends gave everyone an education about places we’d never seen.
INFLUENCE: So … junkets paid for by special interests? Did you take heat from the press?
Poole: It was all out in the open.
D’Alemberte: Lou Wolfson kept a bar upstairs with direct access to the Chamber. He drank Campari all day long.
INFLUENCE: A lot of your class died of cirrhosis of the liver.
D’Alemberte: Not everybody. Some went to prison.
INFLUENCE: Jeff Gautier?
D’Alemberte: There was a cocktail party every night. Jeff brought a date, and a spare date. The Holiday Inn. Howard Johnson’s. The Red Door, to dance. The citrus folks had Old Florida rum. It was awful. But there was other stuff at their bar.
Poole: The press was around, without their notebooks. It was an unwritten rule that “it’s after hours.”
D’Alemberte: During the day, all our doors were open and reporters were free to walk in. We might change the subject while they were there.
INFLUENCE: Tell us about the Florida Mobile Home and Recreational Vehicle Association, headquartered at “the trailers.” When she was reporting for the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Jill Chamberlin likened the trailers to Sodom and Gomorrah. Can you confirm that?
D’Alemberte: You didn’t want to look too closely at the trailers.
Poole: Open bar. Very good cooked-to-order steaks.
D’Alemberte: Their lobbyist, Bill Olson, was crippled from parachuting into Belgium with the 101st Airborne in World War II. He was never not in pain.
Poole: It was lobbying in the context of the times.
D’Alemberte: After I left the Legislature, I was up here a lot to work on the Administrative Procedures Act. Associated Industries was still having its daily free breakfasts in a hotel lobby.
Poole: There was a Caucus Club off the side entrance to what is now Shula’s restaurant in the Hotel Duval, it was a private club, but any member of the Legislature could walk in.
D’Alemberte: There were people like Dick Pettigrew and Buddy MacKay who just worked all the damn time, and they were brilliantly effective. But I really believe Van and I would not have been as effective if we had not connected outside of “legislative hours.”
Poole: I totally agree. You fight all day. You close the door. You leave everything in the Chamber.
INFLUENCE: Pettigrew’s name comes up a lot. Don Reed, too.
D’Alemberte: They were such a wonderful pair. They knew how the pieces fit together. They went to law school together and they were great friends. Don did not spend any time at home studying. He was a very quick study and he understood the ramifications of legislation and he could debate anything.
Poole: As minority leader, Reed knew how important the rules were. He made all of us read them and study them and know how to use them. By the time Claude Kirk was governor, Reed controlled Republicans so closely that when he’d vote green, all would follow, and then he’d switch to red at the last second, just to show that he could make everyone scramble to change their vote to follow his.
D’Alemberte: You didn’t have to file amendments ahead of time. We’d have a stack of them in our desk and start pulling them out and making a train out of them.
Poole: Everything is so scripted now.
INFLUENCE: It’s depressing to see people reading things they can’t pronounce and don’t understand. Would you encourage young people to run for office today?
Poole: You have to be committed, and for the right reasons. You have to be willing to go door-to-door in your district. That’s the only way to learn what people really think. I lost 35 pounds (getting elected). I looked like a prisoner of war. But you’ll get that vote, if you ask for it.
D’Alemberte (tongue deep in cheek): Dade County is a big place, so my campaign was expensive … $12,000.
Poole: We didn’t think about campaigning until right before the filing deadline.
D’Alemberte: My biggest expenses were bumper stickers, car tops and some billboards. The first week we posted billboards with the word “Remember.” And we worked up to the campaign slogan, “Remember the name that’s hard to remember.”
INFLUENCE: An idea you ripped off from the old Burma Shave advertising?
D’Alemberte: We didn’t have high-paid consultants.
Poole: They didn’t exist.
D’Alemberte: We were our own experts. If you had a problem about juvenile justice, you went to Louis de la Parte, Democrat or Republican.
Poole: Ralph Turlington understood K — 12. And Marshall Harris was damn good. I was on a committee he chaired, and I’ll never forget the first hearing where I could not get a straight answer about anything. Marshall called me over and told me what was really going on. I will always remember that.
INFLUENCE: Can it ever be that much fun again?
Poole: The money. Term limits.
D’Alemberte: The gift ban was a mistake.
INFLUENCE: There seems to be an emerging consensus that terms limits are the root of all evil and that the gift ban was just plain stupid.
Poole: I can’t imagine what it would be like to come into office knowing from Day One who the speaker will be during my last term in office. There’s talk about extending term limits to 12 years. That’s pretty much how long legislators were around in the days before term limits. There were some who were around much longer, like Dempsey Barron, but mostly, they went back home (to their professional practices and businesses).
It was dinnertime, but D’Alembert and Poole would not be going home. D’Alemberte, who doesn’t carry a cellphone, looked at his watch and excused himself to join John Thrasher for dinner.
“It’s my Republican night,” he said to Poole.
Poole picked up his smartphone. It was time for him, too, to get back to work.