Tally Ho! Destin Forward’s journey to the state Capitol

William Hatfield

Florida’s lieutenant governor has a new favorite joke that he likes to share. "A Democrat, Republican and independent walk into a bar. And the bartender says “Hi Charlie.”

Carlos Lopez-Cantera then turns serious. “Rick Scott is in his heart what Charlie Crist pretends to be,” he says, adding that Scott has a great record to run on as the “business and jobs governor” in the November elections.

That statewide contest and politics in general loomed as large as the towering state Capitol building when the Destin Forward class toured Tallahassee last month and met the power-brokers, including Lopez-Cantera, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Senate President Don Gaetz, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, as well as representatives from the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Visit Florida.

It’s an ear-popping experience as the elevator shoots up to the observation deck of the 23-story building. The Tallahassee street scene below looks idyllic and serene, a striking contrast to the bipartisan battle, which is often waged in the floors of the House and Senate below.

The group heads back down and surveys the rotunda, which lists all of the state symbols of Florida. We are surprised to see that Florida has a state reptile — the alligator, of course — and a state saltwater reptile, the loggerhead sea turtle. With special interest, our tour guide notes another species that is known to hang around these halls — the lobbyist.

But he isn’t as powerful as some would make him out to be.

“There are thousands of lobbyists crawling around Tallahassee and I meet with very few of them,” Senate President Don Gaetz tells our group later.

While some lobbyists feed on influencing public policy, others focus on funding.  

“We get 38 times more requests for funding than we have dollars available,” the Niceville Republican continued, “and unlike Washington, we can’t borrow money from China.”

Sure, the money is always flowing in and out of the Capitol. But it isn’t the most important factor, says someone else who should know — Florida Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Adam Giery.

“As important as a lobbyist is, nothing is as important as a community who cares and gets behind an issue,” he said.

William Hatfield is editor of The Northwest Florida Daily News and member of the 2013-14 Destin Forward Class. You can reach him at whatfield@nwfdailynews.com

WHAT IS DESTIN FORWARD?

Destin Forward is the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce’s leadership program that gives participants a “behind the scenes” look at the city of Destin through various programs and educational opportunities. To learn more about the annual program, visit www.destinchamber.com or call 850-837-2711.