‘Petty stuff got in the way’: Fentrice Driskell, Andrew Learned lament Legislative Session

Learned Tiger Bay
The Democratic lawmakers spoke about the recently wrapped Session during a Tampa Tiger Bay forum meeting.

Florida’s recently ended Legislative Session was this year marked by contentious debate over “culture wars” rather than important issues affecting Floridians, according to Reps. Fentrice Driskell and Andrew Learned.

The two Democratic members of the Legislature’s Hillsborough delegation accepted an invite to a Tiger Bay Club forum Friday in Tampa. All members of the delegation were invited, said Tom Scherberger, the club’s president. Driskell and Learned were joined on the panel by longtime political reporter William March.

Republicans have had control of state government in Florida for the better part of the last 23 years (Charlie Crist left the GOP in his last year as Governor). And Democrats are used to being scrappy to get bills passed. Driskell and Learned have earned a reputation for bipartisan success. They both, however, noted growing disappointment in the prominence of “culture war” issues and increased divisiveness.

Driskell said she was disappointed in a lack of action on pertinent issues like property insurance, affordable housing and especially condo inspections in the wake of the Surfside collapse last year.

“We had an opportunity to work together to maybe solve a real crisis,” Driskell said. “This was our big chance to come back and fix it. Just petty, petty stuff got in the way.”

March said even normally predictable battles like the decennial redistricting process took a different shape. The battle, he said, is usually between Republicans and Democrats wrestling for seats.

But this year’s battle was highlighted by a fight between Gov. Ron DeSantis and his own party. DeSantis broke redistricting norms and submitted his own congressional map, threatening to veto maps presented by the Legislature even though his own party is in control. March said the gamble — and some of the culture conflicts — are indications the Governor is trying to show the nation he can win for Republicans. Though DeSantis has denied it, rumors abound of a 2024 presidential run for the Governor.

“I think that’s what’s going on and that’s why he took the unusual step — extremely unusual for a Governor — of getting involved in the redistricting fights, submitting his own maps and publicly announcing he’ll veto the maps submitted by the Legislature.”

But the most talked about “petty” issue to “get in the way” during the forum was HB 1557. It’s officially called the Parental Rights in Education act, but has been described by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

The bill, which is headed to the Governor’s desk, bans the instruction of gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade, and allows it only where “age appropriate” after. But the LGBTQ community and its allies (including the whole of the Democratic Caucus) opposed the bill, saying it sought remove conversations around homosexuality and transgender youth.

Learned said Democrats, along with Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, tried to amend the bill to regulate instruction on “sexual education” as opposed to singling out sexual identity and gender. Learned said by shooting that amendment down, the GOP laid bare its true intent.

“To anybody who says this bill wasn’t an attack on LGBT kids, I would remind them that they should’ve taken that,” Learned said. “The Republicans, by walking that, said that they wanted third graders and first graders and kindergarteners to talk about sex. They just don’t want them talking about gay sex.”

During the forum, Republican candidate for House District 65 Jake Hoffman said though the bill was passed and is a sure-shot to become law, Democrats won the “marketing war” in successfully branding the bill as “Don’t Say Gay.” Driskell said she has heard the same from Republican colleagues. That, however, offers her no solace in the face of the hours upon hours of testimony legislators heard from LGBTQ youth who fear the real-world consequences of the bill.

“We all have to take a deep breath and reset,” Driskell said. “If we are going to be — as elected officials and future elected officials — leaders of the people of this state, it can’t just be about marketing and who wins the hashtag. It’s real people’s lives.”

Daniel Figueroa IV

Bronx, NY —> St. Pete, Fla. Just your friendly, neighborhood journo junkie with a penchant for motorcycles and Star Wars. Daniel has spent the last decade covering Tampa Bay and Florida for the Ledger of Lakeland, Tampa Bay Times, and WMNF. You can reach Daniel Figueroa IV at [email protected]


  • tom palmer

    March 18, 2022 at 6:35 pm

    What you need to do is to recruit more quality candidates. Elections matter.

  • Charlotte Greenbarg

    March 19, 2022 at 4:04 pm

    Oh Tiger Bay wanted a Democrat echo chamber. LOL

Comments are closed.


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