MICHAEL DOBSON-TALKING FLORIDA POLITICS BLOG We Know Florida Politics

28Dec/170

Michael Dobson: Musings on 2017 Florida Politics,our culture, and 2018 predictions from an old hand

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by Michael Dobson, Publisher of Talking Florida Politics

There has been no year like 2017 ever in American Politics. While we are bringing more attention to bad behavior (as we should), what we may have done is assured ourselves that the really accomplished and talented among us, would never subject themselves to the public humiliation of serving the public.

Over 35 years ago, I was introduced to major politics... hanging out with my father Jerome (Jerry) Foster when I lived in San Diego, God bless him. He cared enough about giving his 23 year old son valuable exposure to business and politics to take me along with him to every San Diego strategy meeting and  fundraiser held for George Dukemajin,  who was a candidate for Governor in California in 1982. He won. It was a historic and epic contest because it pitted Dukemajin against the popular Black Mayor of Los Angeles Tom Bradley. That was my first political campaign. My father was a Republican business man in San Diego. Yes, I met all the famous and infamous California politicians of that period including Brent Wilkes,  Governor Pete Wilson and Congressman Duke Cunningham; all of which my father was involved with .. at times not to his advantage as in this Washington Post article about my dad Jerome Foster circa Duke Cunningham scandal.

I later got involved in Florida politics at local political organizations in Gainesville and in Tampa through the 80s, and later as an intern in the Florida legislature in the mid 90s after pursuing an MBA from Florida A&M University. No one can argue that politics is not occasionally  a pretty sleazy business, and at times make usually well meaning people do some pretty awful things whenever sex, money and power intertwine. I would also argue that good and  more often than not ...innocent people sometimes get hurt in the cross-hairs of muckrakers in search of the best headline.. you know, the supermarket tabloid type. It is an honorable calling and I admire the men and women who take up the calling. It is much easier to sit in our living rooms.. in our chair and complain. But, its a great sacrifice to risk the slings and arrows of an angry public to leave your comfortable life, and serve the people. When you know what they sacrifice, you will learn than it is not the selfish act many have learned to believe it is.

In the famous movie "Inherit The Wind" Gene Kelly's newspaper man character famously said that the role of newspapers were to " Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." While I'm not in the journalism business, am not a reporter and do not pretend to know all things about that industry, I do believe that good journalist today find themselves forced to go places in their writing and their stories that they would not have in the past. As uncomfortable for some as it is, it is due to the way in which the industry has changed.. as print media is in a death grip to remain relevant in this new information age ...which is still being defined itself, as it changes with each new social media platform, competitor or app. But good journalism persist nonetheless.

The year 2017 in the Florida state legislature will be remembered for the number of resignations and special elections, not to mention the type of political gamesmanship that was usually only known to the insiders.. not the in your face kind we see today, which makes great headlines. The resignations are being mirrored in other state legislatures around the country, as allegations are being leveled toward men in power who have abused those powers. Additionally, you have to throw in the fact that we are  painfully learning that all communication ( including with your wife) can become a public record ripe for public consumption and used to sell/increase online newspaper clicks. Yes, in the early "you got mail" days, we would occasionally get peeved when we learned that an email we thought was personal, was forwarded and shared with others (which happens without question today); but today what is being shared is  a video, text communication, a voicemail, a photo or an entire audio conversation. We also learned that state lawmakers have been spied on, in video. My hunch is that we will learn what's on the video tape in 2018.

Yes, the old stories are true about politics in Tallahassee. Even this writer had a tab at the preferred watering whole near the Capitol, like other lobbyist; which lawmakers drank from, and bills were often written and deals were cut right there. Yes, in the old days ...at the end of every legislative session, you would see some interestingly clothed young women who posed as lobbyist ...show up, to walk the capital as "closers".. employed by certain lobbying firms to "meet" with lawmakers.  There were no term limits, no one resigned, great environmental legislation was passed and much of what are the public policy pillars that allows Florida to continue growing was crafted then. Even with all the debauchery, many lawmakers ( at the end of the day)  sided with their constituents. The money did not drown things out then to the point that constituents did not know what really was being done. And, in the end, lawmakers wanted to get reelected. Those who did not partake in the extracurricular, which were many, held the others feet to the fire when what a lobbyist wanted was not good government. Yes,  bad things still happen of course.. "Bo's  Bridge to Nowhere" and many items like that. Back then, most legislators had a deeper connection with Florida.. were second or third generation natives and saw Florida a bit  differently than some today. It's a bit different when its your adopted home rather than the one of your forefathers. But that to has made Florida special... the fact that we are made up of people from many different places.

My concern is that moving forward, we will not have the most talented among us be willing to serve anymore. We have made the public flogging that will either occur in the campaign itself or after being elected, not worth it. This is a national problem. Why do you think John Morgan is not going to be a candidate for Governor? Is it because he can astutely telegraph what that campaign will be like after decades of lawsuits as a trial attorney.. some lawsuits not very attractive to the average joe; and blow back from his own public statements, which some considered entertaining? The latter is only further  speculation because Mr Morgan can surely and have spoken for himself on that. But I will say, a comfortable man will not give up his comfort, and risk having his legacy in tatters. For one second, do you not think Jack Latvala wish he would have stayed retired from public service and just continued to have a few lobbying or political clients for which  he could  still hang out in Tallahassee, to have an occasional drink with  old friends, with his legacy in tact? No old school pol like Latvala could have imagined the buzz saw that is today's politics.. with cameras, spies and etc.

In Tallahassee, a City Manager (Rick Fernanez) is in deep do do because he accepted free football tickets. However, one could also argue that the scandal is made more real because he tried to hide it. Some years ago, our firm.. with some extra football tickets we did not need,  provided a City Manager some free football tickets. We did not lobby local government ( had no local government clients), but were just being friendly. Nothing to gain. But I suspect that more than one member of the Tallahassee political class has received free FSU football tickets from time to time, and that is why they are reticent to punish Rick Fernandez. That's a likely truth that you will never hear in polite conversations. Should they accept football tickets? Well, to this writer, its okay as long as its reported and does not exceed a certain value. If a public official is willing to sell out the citizens for a measly football ticket, then they are surely of low degree and should never have their coveted position. But admittedly, for some,  even a transparent system for receiving low value gifts would not be acceptable. The legislature grappled with that while crafting its lobbying gift ban, and that was the initial compromise.

Then,  there was also a time (pre internet and social media on steroids) where a politician could ride out a scandal, simply because the news cycle was more forgiving. But, in this area  of 24 hr media competition that never sleeps and a willingness to  look under any electronic rock, no politician today can withstand it. That's why the less stubborn ones quickly resigned  once they determined that their story would be good business for news outlets. Your story will be front and center as long as it sells.  So, with these realities, what kind of political leaders or candidates will we have in the future?

Pre-Harvey Weinstein, during one of the after dinner conversations at our home, my teenage son discussed how he does not tell a girl " that color looks good on you", " that looks pretty on you" or etc anymore; that he does not say anything to girls  anymore out of fear that they will consider him creepy. It was the first time I was made aware of the phenomena today's young men and now old school men have to come to grips with regarding our interaction with women. While it is true, that some men have often felt that a certain degree of privilege has allowed them to act badly, there are many good men ( and young men like my son) who have the utmost respect for women, whom now have to be afraid to have a friendly conversation with someone of the opposite sex. For the latter, I fail to see how this bodes well for the future.  It seems to contradict nature, as there   often is a natural attraction between the sexes that begin with innocent conversation, the type of conversation our young sons are now afraid to have. It is my prayer that this gets worked out, and that the #MeToo hashtag , and the movement it spurred does not inadvertently set women back as some from a recent article which my friend Jennifer Green is quoted in laments.

But before all of this is worked out, unfortunately I predict 2018 to be a brutal one. I predict more resignations, more hard hitting reporting ...as more look like tabloid style hit pieces, because as my dad use to say.. everyone has to eat. What that means is that news organizations are simply seeking to survive in a very competitive environment, and yes, the reporters have to eat,  pay their mortgages, braces for kids and etc.  I also predict some surprises in the race for Governor. Reading the article in the Root about the two Stacys, made me go back to remember 2002 when I was a statewide campaign coordinator (manager) for Florida State Senator Daryl Jones, an African American who the media called the first African American candidate for Governor in Florida with a serious chance of becoming Florida's Governor. Because of that experience and a lot that is echoed in the Root article, I know the headwinds Andrew Gillum face. But, he is indeed a naturally gifted politician, more so than his opponent. However, by comparison between the two African American serious candidates for governor in recent memory,  he  lacks Mr. Jones experience for the job of Governor. But the good news is that, in this new world where a lack of substance is not a handicap, and salesmanship can get you into the White House, it may  be difficult to completely count Mr Gillum out unless Graham picks up her fundraising tremendously. On the Republican side, the race is still forming with Adam Putnam still in the drivers seat. Being a native of Bartow just like Mr Putnam, I cant help but have a bit of pride about the idea of Mr. Putnam becoming the second person from Bartow to hold the Governors Mansion .. second to Governor  Spessard Holland.

Hold on to your seats, we are in for a ride in 2018. It'll be fun though! Happy Holidays yall.

 

Michael Dobson, is a long time Tallahassee based  lobbyist,Founder/ President of Dobson, Craig and Associates (aka Dobson and Associates), Publisher of Talking Florida Politics, Founder of the Florida Renewable Energy Producers Association (FREPA), President of The Dream Foundation,Inc and a writer/blogger on politics and public policy. Michael@dobsonandcraig.com, Michael@michaeldobson.org or Michael@talkingfloridapolitics.com

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