August 1, 2014

Florida Trend's Gallery of Hired Guns

John D. McKinnon | 8/1/1995
So, the big mess in Tallahassee is about to get even worse. What's a business person to do? Here's what many are doing. To avoid being mugged by the capital gang, they're hiring a gun.

That's the tragedy of Tallahassee today. It is the nasty reality that without leadership from the Legislature, what is left is government by and for the organized special interests.

Call it government affairs representation or a political protection racket. Either way, it is the thriving industry in the capital, and that alone is a measure of the troubles in Tallahassee.

Thus, we offer Florida Trend's Hired-Gun Buyers' Guide. It is a product specially designed for Florida businesses badly in need of protection from a Legislature only too happy to do someone else's dirty work.

The Big Guns

Jim Rathbun, J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich
Fowler, White

Around the Capitol, Rathbun is the best-known of the new generation of highly partisan Republican lobbyists. Still in his early 30s, he's a former House Republican office director who ran both policy and political operations. Revered among GOP campaign hacks for putting House operations on competitive footing with Democrats. Still spends time on the road during political season getting to know candidates. Also spends a lot of time with freshmen after the election - a smart idea with term limits kicking in. A country gentleman, with tastes for good cigars and fine wine, Rathbun avoids the trading-pit atmosphere in the lobby between the House and Senate chambers on the fourth floor; he likes people to come to him. Knowledge of the process still lets him run rings around other lobbyists. Stipanovich is better known around the state, primarily because of his work on the Bob Martinez and Jeb Bush gubernatorial campaigns. Brings high-voltage political connections to complement Rathbun's insider abilities. Works the Senate side, while Rathbun focuses on the House. Stipanovich earned J.D. with high honors from the University of Florida, became a tax specialist for Fowler, White in Tampa but quickly caught the political bug. Conceived strategy that elected Martinez governor in 1986; worked a short stint as Martinez's chief of staff, but proved too voluble. Has been a lobbyist and political strategist in Tallahassee ever since. Big clients include Alamo Rent-A-Car, Anheuser-Busch, Gulf Power and Philip Morris.

Martha Barnett, Steve Uhlfelder, Curt Kiser, Allison Tant
Holland & Knight

Barnett is perhaps Tallahassee's best-known lawyer-lobbyist, a zealous advocate for her fat-cat clients, such as IBM, Pepsi, Browning Ferris Industries and the phosphate producers, who also is blessed with a strong sense of the greater good.

Especially prominent in state and local tax issues, established herself as a high-profile advocate of the short-lived services tax in 1987. Somewhat less visible recently, largely because she's now chair of the house of delegates of the American Bar Association, the ABA's second-highest post. In 1994, she took time out to punch through a hotly debated compensation bill on behalf of the black survivors of the 1923 Rosewood Massacre by a white mob - a lobbying effort that bordered on healing the lame and causing the blind to see.

Uhlfelder is the fretful conscience of Florida's lobbying corps - a big responsibility considering some of the things that go on in Tallahassee. Perhaps best known in recent years for his work on behalf of hospitals and universities, he's become an outspoken member of the Board of Regents. A fierce Chiles loyalist.

Kiser is a moderate Republican former state senator from Pinellas County who left the Legislature last year to run for lieutenant governor on a ticket with then-Insurance Commissioner Gallagher. Consults with firm members on legislative issues, likely will begin lobbying personally when his two-year legal moratorium ends in 1997 - unless he decides to run for governor in 1998. Tant is a non-lawyer who's impressed many observers with her hustle.

Jim Krog
Steel, Hector & Davis

One of the brightest minds in the lobbying corps and the reigning king of the political animals, Krog has successfully guided a number of statewide campaigns, most recently Chiles' two successful gubernatorial efforts. That's given him unmatched access to the governor, of course, as well as intimate familiarity with the realities of campaign warfare.

But Krog also has spent a lot of time on the inside of government, first as a top lobbyist for former Gov. Askew and later as chief of staff during Chiles' first term. That's given him in-depth knowledge of legislative coalition-building and the big policy issues confronting the state. Krog makes no claim at being a policy wonk and was criticized for being a poor organizer as chief of staff.

Given those strengths and weaknesses, he makes an ideal team player for lobbying big issues like telecommunications and the Everglades cleanup, both of which he's been drawn into in recent years. Also perceived to be close to current Speaker of the House Peter Rudy Wallace as well as other moderate Democrats. But Krog's not much of an ideologue either. He's even worked successfully on teams with Stipanovich, his old rival from the last two governor's races.

Big and easygoing, Krog is genuinely friendly, likes to get people in his shadow and work them over. Krog and lobbying buddy John French once won basketballs from then-Gov. Bob Graham for the slam dunk they pulled in passing a change in the state's presidential primary laws that gave a big advantage to Florida favorite-son Askew. At Miami-based Steel, Hector & Davis, land-use specialist Bob Rhodes also is highly respected.

The Hit Men

Ronnie Book
As one fellow lobbyist says admiringly, Book is "just always up there sweatin' and breathin' on people." A track star at the University of Florida in the early 1970s, the fast-moving, fast-talking Book still sets an exhausting pace around the Capitol. His speed lets him cover a lot of ground for a lot of different clients - at least 28 as of the start of the 1995 session, a higher total than all but two other lobbyists, both of whom specialize in small clients. (A few lobbyists complain that Book sometimes spreads himself too thin; they also say he occasionally plays fast and loose with facts.) Carries up to three cellular phones in his car, always has at least one with him as he cruises the Capitol.

Perhaps best known for his work on the Blockbuster theme park in 1994 when his flat-out style helped him untangle a huge logjam in a House committee. Other big clients include: the Florida Marlins, Metro-Dade County, Mount Sinai Medical Center, West Flagler Kennel Club.

Book pays attention to the money side, raises as much for candidates as almost any other lobbyist. Spends a lot of it in his home base in Dade and Broward, but spreads money around the state, too. Because he works with only a few other people, he also makes a lot of money, perhaps as much as any Florida lobbyist. Came up through the state House staff before attending law school at Tulane, then joined Gov. Bob Graham's legislative lobbying staff for a four-year hitch. In private practice more or less continuously since 1982.

Art Collins
Collins is best-known for his connections within the Legislature's black caucus. With its increased size since the 1992 reapportionment - there are now 20 African-American members - that's an important asset. But Collins is quietly building rapport with lots of white lawmakers, too. Collins' growing ability to raise and contribute money, including his own, is helping his access; Collins gave significantly to legislative races for the first time in 1994. Has resisted offers to join other firms and is expanding his own business into other Southeastern states.

Works a lot in teams with other lobbyists, but does it creatively, doesn't just parrot the party line. Example: a big bill in 1994 pitted harbor pilots against cruise lines and a powerful committee chairman, Rep. Jack Tobin of Broward County. Collins delivered every black vote on the committee to help harbor pilots score a remarkable victory. A key to the win was Collins' insistence on a modest but significant change in rules that would give black Navy veterans a better shot at becoming members of the historically all-white piloting profession. Also was a significant player in two big team efforts in recent years, interstate banking and telecommunications deregulation.

In both cases, satisfied urban black members that lower-income constituents wouldn't be harmed. Graduated from Florida A&M with a degree in accounting in 1982, worked at IBM for five years, then jumped to the state Department of Insurance as a director of legislative affairs. Served briefly on the staff of the state House in 1989. Entered private lobbying practice in 1990.

Fausto Gomez
Gomez is a leading Miami-area lobbyist, one who has especially good rapport with Cuban-American members. Close to Mario Diaz-Balart, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, and Rudy Garcia, Republican leader of the House Appropriations Committee. Also close to Rep. Luis Morse, who is likely to have a top spot in leadership if GOP Rep. Dan Webster becomes speaker in 1996. With the rising influence of Republicans in both chambers, those connections are becoming increasingly valuable.

Gomez demonstrated how those connections could pay off this year in winning a budget fight to prevent a former Barnett Banks subsidiary from taking over administration of part of the state's student loan program. Gomez represented the Money Store, which opposed the deal, and held Senate leaders firm when House leaders wanted to let the deal go through. Polite, intellectual, unlike backslappers who populate much of the lobbyist corps.

Often watches the action from the fifth floor balcony, above the fray. That perspective appears to help him analyze strategies and pick spots carefully. Also known for his work on behalf of Florida International University, where he began his lobbying career after a stint on the staff of former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre.

Has been active in recent years in international trade issues, helped lend credibility to Secretary of State Sandy Mortham's bid in 1995 to play a role in international trade development. Operates a management consulting firm in addition to his lobbying business. Lobbying clients include: cities of Miami Beach and West Miami, Metro-Dade County, Latin Chamber of Commerce of the United States, Miami Free Zone Corp. and Southern Bell.

Bill Rubin
The Rubin Group

One of the nicest guys in the lobbying corps, Rubin represents some of the toughest customers around, including Alamo Rent-A-Car and the aggressive hospital giant Columbia Healthcare Corp., as well as FLO-SUN (a major sugar producer), the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, Hollywood Greyhound Track and tobacco interests. Probably the leading Broward County-based lobbyist, a status that gave him huge political advantages in the heyday of urban Democratic power in the 1980s.

But lately, like a lot of Democratic lobbyists, Rubin has seen the handwriting on the wall. Recently hired on Alison Bernhard, a Pete Dunbar protege who's marrying the son of state Sen. Fred Dudley, R-Cape Coral. In fairness, Rubin has never been just a Broward Democratic lobbyist. He's always maintained exceptional relations with Senate President Jim Scott, R-Fort Lauderdale, for example, even during the so-called "Car Wars" when Rubin - then with the Katz Kutter firm - was working for Hertz against Alamo, a company that Scott counts among his important clients. Also perceived to be close to Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford, a Democrat from Polk County who worked closely with Scott while in the Senate.

Despite Rubin's high-profile client list, he prefers to operate in the Capitol's dark corners. He's seldom seen on the fourth floor swapping lies with lobbyists and reporters. A big fund raiser, certainly among the top ten, according to legislative leaders. Came up as an aide to Attorney General Robert Shevin and Insurance Commissioner Gunter. Associate Russ Klenet is highly regarded in his own right.

Guy Spearman
If the Capitol didn't have a Guy Spearman, it would have to create one: the lobbyists' poster boy, the round-bellied embodiment of special interest. No, when you represent the Tobacco Institute and Anheuser-Busch, there's not much point in pretending that you're just promoting the public good. So Spearman doesn't.

Instead, he brings a couple of simple but effective tools to his work: a canny understanding of the political process, coupled with dogged energy and a genuine love for the chase. He's especially good with money; he raises a lot, he contributes a lot and he makes a lot. (As one of the cheapest dates in the lobbyist corps, he also keeps a lot.) In addition, he finds a lot of money for clients in the state budget.

In fact, he's known as one of the few real masters of the appropriations process. When fellow lobbyist Jim Krog served as chief of staff for Chiles, he once told his staff to hunt up all the "turkeys" that Spearman had socked away in the budget during a supposed "no-turkey" year. They found four; Spearman says there were eight. Krog now backs him. Spearman, who lives in Cocoa, might be facing longer odds as the Legislature goes GOP.

His most valuable legislative ally, Winston "Bud" Gardner of Titusville, retired from the Senate at the height of his power three years ago. But even diehard Republicans genuinely admire Spearman's style, and appear to get along with him. Spearman came up as a lobbyist for Gov. Reubin Askew in the late 1970s, worked briefly for drugstore magnate Jack Eckerd.

Political Hatchet Men

Pennington & Haben firm
Former House Speaker Ralph Haben has built a firm that offers what he calls "one-stop-shopping" - the ability to push a bill effectively among Democrats and Republicans alike. On the Democratic side, Haben and John French, a former legislative staffer, enjoy a high profile. On the Republican side, the firm boasts former state Rep. Pete Dunbar, who was general counsel to Gov. Bob Martinez. Former House GOP leader Ron Richmond and House staffer Nancy Black Stewart, tax whiz Randy Miller and utilities guru David Swafford round out the team. The outfit recently merged with a top-flight Tallahassee law firm.

The wisecracking Haben is perhaps best remembered for using his House connections to help win a $30 million appropriation needed in 1988 for St. Petersburg to lure the Chicago White Sox. A rumored six-figure contingency fee if the White Sox moved provided extra incentive. French established himself as a top-gun lobbyist in the late 1970s by helping to pass Florida's strong malpractice protections. More recently he's been known as Philip Morris' main man, a position that lets him steer lots of campaign cash.

A remorseless competitor, French went through tough times last year after Chiles and a handful of legislative leaders slipped through a law that opened his client up to a potentially ruinous lawsuit. Clawed his way back in 1995 with a bill repealing the law - and had to roll over the speaker in the session's waning hours to get it. Dunbar is best known as a top lobbyist for the telecommunications industry. Affable, smooth and politically moderate - but also intensely competitive. Close to Rep. R.Z. "Sandy" Safley and former insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher.

Wade Hopping
Hopping, Green, Sams and Smith

Widely regarded as Tallahassee's leading land-use/developer lobbyist. While he's not known as a vote-getter in the frenetic mold of a Ronnie Book, Hopping is perhaps even more effective, at least within his niche. He and his partners have succeeded through long experience and encyclopedic knowledge of the laws, many of which they wrote in the first place. Want to know how strong Hopping is?

In 1995 he was the key negotiator for the big property rights bill on behalf of a group of the state's very largest landowners and developers. That put him in the remarkable position of telling many of Florida's traditional political powerhouses what they could and could not achieve in the debate. It's a sign of the respect Hopping commands that he held the group together. Also has shaped the state's air-pollution, siting and administrative procedures laws. Hopping isn't just a preeminent draftsman, though. He also helps steer a considerable load of campaign cash for his big-bucks clients.

Patient, mild-mannered yet persevering, Hopping has numerous critics among environmentalists - which may be the ultimate mark of his effectiveness. Began his career as legislative counsel to Gov. Claude Kirk in the 1960s, was rewarded with a seat on the state Supreme Court, where he served briefly. Has spent most of his career building his firm, which includes Frank Matthews and Brian Bibeau among its lawyer-lobbyists. Hopping has been closely associated with the Florida Chamber of Commerce for a number of years, serving at one time as president.

Katz Kutter firm
One fellow lobbyist calls them the "no-ego team." They're not flashy, and neither is their specialty, insurance. But they remain vitally important in the political process, with their know-how and their access to huge amounts of campaign dollars. They've spun off several lobbying firms that are highly successful in their own right, including the Rubin Group (see p. 62) and another that includes alumnus Gary Rutledge. In recent years, founders Allan Katz and Ed Kutter have relinquished most day-to-day lobbying duties.

But other firm members, particularly Gerald Wester and Larry Williams, have picked up the slack, and the group achieved one of its greatest successes two years ago, when the Legislature passed a comprehensive rewrite of the workers' comp laws to give employers relief from rising rates. The firm have not only helped to hold unions and trial lawyers at bay, but also put down dissent between commercial insurers and some so-called group self-insurers. The firm's comprehensive knowledge of the subject made it uniquely qualified. So far, the fix approved by the Legislature is holding. The firm suffered its best-known defeat in 1989, when longtime client Hertz kicked off "Car Wars," a heavily lobbied fight with rival Alamo over rental car insurance. A couple of promised votes on the House Rules Committee melted away, and the Hertz effort fizzled. Katz and Kutter both came up with Bill Gunter, the former congressman and state insurance commissioner.

The War Counsels

Associated Industries of Florida
Founded in 1920 to battle unions and fight laws governing working conditions, AIF remains true to its founders, serving the needs of manufacturers and other big employers. Headed by Tampa native Jon Shebel since the early 1970s, AIF has been on the upswing lately, following a period of sharp decline in the late 1980s.

Its posh new plantation-style headquarters on Adams Street rivals the grandness of the governor's mansion a few blocks up the street. AIF also has delved into full-service political operations recently, with big polling and media capabilities. In addition, AIF has made huge strides in its information services, including an on-line legislative data service and plans for a statewide business TV show. The computer operations have grown so extensive that they required a separate facility next door.

AIF's troubles in the late 1980s developed after it lost its workers' compensation insurance services when a private carrier pulled out. (Insurance services are a big cash cow for many of Tallahassee's big trade and professional associations.) For a year and a half, in fact, CEO and President Jon Shebel hardly was seen around the Capitol. He took a dollar-a-year salary; many other executives took cuts of 50% or more. But AIF survived, created its own insurance arm and gradually worked its way back to prominence. Even now, however, AIF remains a bit of a mystery.

Its leaders don't discuss its membership numbers or even disclose the identity of its board. Shebel himself is a tall, sharp-featured former Marine Vietnam vet who resembles a bird of prey. In fact, however, he's downright genial, even to most of his political rivals. Observers pick General Counsel Jodi Chase as AIF's top lobbyist these days. She's known for her aggressive persistence. One male lobbyist has unapologetically nicknamed her "Attila the honey."

The Florida Chamber of Commerce
In comparison to AIF, the Chamber tends to represent a broader group that includes more small businesses and service providers; it's also friendlier to lawyers and other professionals. As a result, the Chamber tends to speak with a less unified voice than AIF, but many legislators say they still listen to it carefully, if only because they believe it speaks for local business people - the kind who vote.

Of late the Chamber has struggled, however. Within the last year, the Chamber has been hit by the same trouble that plagued AIF in the late 1980s: namely, loss of its workers' comp insurance services, which has resulted in a dropoff in dues-paying members. As a result, the Chamber continues to search for exactly the right organizational formula.

For example, ex-state Sen. Robert W. McKnight recently confirmed that he's moving out of the chamber's executive vice president slot to head up the chamber's for-profit information-services subsidiary, apparently in an effort to boost revenues. His old job will be filled by marketing vice president Blake A. Wilson, who's expected to make few changes initially.

McKnight leaves a clear mark on the chamber's lobbying style: Just a few years ago, the Chamber functioned almost like a think tank, generating lavishly researched studies of the state's educational, tax and economic-development policies. Then its leaders would go out and lobby for the studies' earnest conclusions. More often than not, they got clobbered.

Under McKnight, the emphasis shifted to achieving results, and never mind whether the goals are so high-minded. Some observers complain that its new tactics - such as an elaborate faxing network - aren't really new and aren't really working. But the Chamber's new leadership has more plans in store for reaching its vast grassroots. If they can finally succeed in engaging its big membership - estimated to be at least 10,000 - the Chamber might finally succeed in realizing its perenially untapped potential.

National Federation of Independent Business
Though the federation doesn't have the same impressive buildings as the other major business lobbying organizations, it is a strong voice of small business. Bill Herrle represents his constituents on issues such as health care, workers' comp and the perennial retailer woe of check-kiting. Pound for pound, NFIB is as effective as the big guys.

The Wise Guys

Republicans Van B. Poole and Will McKinley have made a big impression in their first two years in business, mostly for their eye-popping client list, which includes Columbia Healthcare, the Florida Association of Greyhound Track Owners and several companies associated with GOP fund raiser Wayne Huizenga: Blockbuster, the Florida Marlins and the Florida Panthers, as well as Joe Robbie Stadium. Poole is a former chairman of the state party, and McKinley was Poole's executive director.

Other soldiers in the lobbying gangs:

L. Garry Smith and Associates was founded by former Graham chief of staff Smith, but day-to-day work gradually is being taken over by a group that includes former Graham aide Matt Bryan, former Fowler, White tax lawyer Julie Myers and Ron Villella, a former top aide to Attorney General Bob Butterworth. They've made a mark in lobbying on behalf of private prison companies such as Corrections Corporation of America. The firm continues to enjoy a regional prominence in Tampa Bay.

For longer than anyone can remember, Harry Landrum has presided over insurance matters in the Capitol, and at the insurance lobbyists' table at Clyde's, the Capitol watering hole. As he eases into semi-retirement, Paul Sanford and Marvin Arrington are showing signs of stepping up to take his place. Sanford is a Jacksonville insurance lawyer; Arrington grew up as the son of a North Florida state senator and is especially close to current Sen. Pat Thomas. Made his mark with the Florida Association of Realtors.

Sam Bell lined up the votes to become speaker of the House in 1991-1992; unfortunately, he didn't have the votes to get re-elected from his Volusia County district. After his defeat, he became a Tallahassee lobbyist for the law firm of Cobb, Cole and Bell. So far, the firm has remained effective, despite the Democrat's broader losses in recent elections. The firm also includes lobbyists Kevin Crowley and Paige Carter-Smith.

James Harold Thompson was one of the most conservative House speakers in recent memory, and also one of the most accessible and well-liked. He continues to garner broad respect as the chief lobbyist for the Macfarlane Ausley law firm, created recently from the merger of an old-money Tampa firm and an old-money Tallahassee firm. Macfarlane Ausley's clients include CSX, Tampa Electric and U.S. Sugar.

Former Senate minority leader Ken Plante spent a number of years convincing Democrats that he was impartial; now he jokes that Republicans believe him. Don't buy it, other lobbyists say; Plante and his partners Carl Adams and Doug Bruce remain some of the most effective in the business.

Lee Moffitt was the House speaker just prior to Thompson in 1983-84 and continues to lobby for a variety of clients, including many from the Tampa area. Friends say he's eased up a bit in recent years.

Longtime lobbyist Fred Baggett and his partners recently have been absorbed by Greenberg Traurig, the big and suddenly aggressive Miami mega-firm. That's giving them a lot more resources to draw on. Big clients include NationsBank and Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Tags: Florida Small Business, Politics & Law, Business Florida

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