Daniel Tilson: Middle-class Floridians, pay attention to the 2014 legislative session

Let’s face it. Most working families and retirees in Florida take a pass on paying much if any attention to the 60-day lawmaking scrimmage that takes place in Tallahassee around this time each year.

Maybe if legislators actually scrimmaged in pads and helmets while debating what they’re going to do to our lives, we’d pay closer attention.

But they don’t … so we don’t.

Chances are that’s just the way a whole lot of them want it, too.

That would help explain why the language of legislating is often unbearably boring, unbelievably unfathomable, or dangerously deceptive.

It’s almost as if some of the “public servants” we elect don’t want us understanding what they’re really up to for two months in the Capitol, or what their real motives are.

Imagine that.

Speaking of that, most folks I know or encounter in Florida can’t imagine who their state senators or representatives are, much less what they stand for.

I ask people why they don’t pay closer attention, why they don’t make phone calls, send emails, attend rallies and vote in support of their own best interests – especially in even-numbered years like 2014, when our entire Legislature is up for election.

Unsurprisingly, the two top answers I get are that they don’t have the time, and they don’t think their engagement or activism would make a difference in legislative outcomes.

And so, most people tend to tune out.

That kind of disengagement is of course exactly what the state’s wealthiest and most powerful people and corporations count on.

Apathy and disengagement make it much easier for national organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to aggressively advance an anti-middle class agenda in Florida.

State organizations like the Florida Chamber have it easier too, “constantly recruiting, researching and vetting potential candidates for office” as their website proudly states, then pouring Big Biz bucks into getting them elected and reaping legislative rewards.

Those “rewards” have included corporate tax cuts and a “look the other way” approach to corporate tax evasion schemes; school voucher ploys diverting our tax dollars to private, for-profit companies; and multiple voter suppression strategies.

With all the ongoing civic disengagement, you have to wonder why they bother trying to block people from voting in the first place. Probably because they can get away with it.

But they don’t always get away with everything.

When the attention level of the general public occasionally rises and large numbers of people express their opinion about a bill headed toward becoming law and hurting – or on occasion helping – them and their families, guess what?

It makes a difference, a big difference. In recent years, spikes in civic engagement have been responsible for keeping our prison system from being plunged into for-profit, privatized chaos, and saving our public school system from total ruination.

Paying attention matters, as do phone calls, emails and attending public rallies.

If and when you and enough of your family, friends and neighbors pay attention and actively object to an anti-middle class legislative initiative in the coming months, legislators seeking reelection will notice – and may defeat it.

You don’t need to read details of all the bills in this 2014 legislative session. Just pay attention to the big, controversial ones. Get the “big picture” of what they’re about and what they’re supposed to do, drill down behind partisan spin and ask yourself:

Who stands to benefit the most from this if it becomes law?

If it’s not you and other middle-class Floridians, consider taking a little time to tell your legislator that. It could make a difference.

A New York University graduate, Daniel Tilson owns a Boca Raton-based firm, Full Cup Media, offering “a la carte” and custom-bundled packages of communication services.

Daniel Tilson


2 comments

  • Lori Wallace

    February 28, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Great points. For those who have no interest in politics may we (the ones who are paying attention) remind you that politics and politicians have an interest in you, and even more specifically what is or isn’t in your pocket.

  • Dan Tilson

    March 7, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    Rodney, sorry a little late in getting back to you. Yes, unfortunately you can substitute Oregon and any other number of states for FL and with perhaps only most minor of tweaks needed, reprint the piece and have it be relevant. By all means do reprint up in the Great Northwest, crediting me and Context Florida. Would also make your own note at top of it – (NOTE to readers:) explaining you’ve substituted ORE for FL, noting that given how ALEC and other national forces (Chamber of Commerce)operate, many states face same challenges – and have same desperate need for mass middle-class engagement. Best, D

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