Often Portrayed as Evil, Lobbyists Perform Valuable Service

January 23, 2012  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  News

One of the basic rights in the U.S. Constitution is the right of people to redress grievances with their government.

But when some people exert that right in the state Capitol, they are portrayed in the media as evil “special interests” out to line their pockets.

As a general rule, anyone seeking to expand government and shrink the paychecks of Florida families is exempted from this label — even though they are performing the same function, and being well paid in the process.

When I covered the Legislature, I relied upon two main sources of information about issues. One was committee staff and the other was lobbyists. Staff members can tell you what a bill is intended to do and lobbyists can tell you why it should or shouldn’t be enacted.

The trick is to ask lobbyists on both sides. Only the true pros will give you his opponent’s argument. Then he will rebut it as effectively as he can.

The only time you really need to talk with politicians is when you want some quotable gloss in the form of a windy explanation of why the bill demonstrates his noble service to the people.

Lobbyists perform a valuable service to politicians. They present arguments for and against a bill.

But newspaper columnists and editorial writers are lobbyists, too, and they don’t like the competition. Ergo, the lobbyist-bashing that creeps into many an article.

Barney Bishop has been lobbying for more than 30 years. He cut his teeth by representing private investigating firms during an effort to sunset the regulation of many businesses and industries.

He recently ended a successful stint of seven years as head of Associated Industries of Florida, always described in the media as the “powerful” voice of business. Now, he is lobbying again as a freelancer.

Bishop listed — among the best of the lobbying best — such names as Scotty Frazier, Jim Krog, Buddy McCue, Ken Plante, Mac Stipanovich, H. Lee Moffitt, T.K. Wetherall, Jim Smith, Pete Dunbar, Bill Rubin, Ron Book and others.

In 2005, there was an effort to “reform” lobbying. It passed as a tradeoff to get tort reform and changed the way lobbying works, not necessarily for the better.

The main effect was to shut down some Tallahassee businesses, such as the famed Silver Slipper, where many lobbyists and politicians dined together.

Bishop said he never was successful in getting a politician’s support because of a dinner. He said it was more about building relationships and trust.

In Bishop’s view, it also has contributed to the polarization the press complains about so often. Legislators don’t socialize as much and, being term-limited, rarely have time to build relationships that might enable more compromise.

The reforms also allow the press to find out and report how much a lobbyist earns, just the kind of titillating information they dote on. Funny, they didn’t seem interested in someone’s suggestion that maybe editors and columnists should be required to report their salaries.

Not “fairness,” I guess.

Rick Scott preaches hope, Legislators roll the dice

January 18, 2012  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  Columns

Gov. Rick Scott presented his vision for the second year of his administration with a good dose of ad-libbing throughout a 30-minute speech. He cited three priorities: gainful employment, quality education and a promise to keep the cost of living low.

Maintaining as he did last year that government doesn’t create jobs, the governor told a joint session of the Legislature in his annual State of the State speech that “what government gives has to be taken from someone else” – taxpayers. His mantra is that the best that government can do is to create a level playing field and then get out of the way.

The “Let’s Get to Work” governor deemed taxes the “great destroyer” and made it clear that burdensome rules and regulations slow growth, calling jobs the first casualty. With Florida ranking as the third-fastest growing state in the nation with 250,000 people moving here over the last 15 months, Scott said, “The promise of Florida is still bright.” He pledged to balance the budget despite a $2 billion revenue shortfall, pointing out that, with the Legislature’s help, Florida netted more than 120,000 jobs – the third highest total in the United States. The Sunshine State also saw the second largest drop in unemployment in the country.

Scott also repeated his pledge to invest $1 billion in education, “the bedrock of our economy,” and emphasized the need to reform our auto insurance system. Floridians, Scott said, are paying 30 percent more in premiums because of rampant fraud and abuse, singling out the trial bar as a part of the problem.

The once-a-decade redistricting process and the annual budget are the only two issues that the Legislature must address, according to Florida’s Constitution. With the imposition of litigation-friendly Amendments 5 and 6 by the Democrats, trial lawyers, labor activists and all-around government do-gooders, rest assured that the courts will be overrun by questionable lawsuits filed by anyone who can afford an attorney. Savvy leadership by Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon will ensure that the state and federal plans will be submitted early in the 60-day session so that the justices can issue their verdict on any flaws with time to spare for the Legislature to fix them by the March 3 deadline.

The budget, which is required to be balanced every year, is being dealt with earlier than normal due to the re-drawing of political lines for all 160 officials. This is exacerbating problems for each chamber. The Senate is taking the predictably long view. It wants to address the budget in the spring, after the budget estimating conference finishes its work, so as to avoid any more draconian cuts than are necessary. Meanwhile, the more conservative House wants to tackle the inevitable budget cuts now, with the expectation that unanticipated revenues can be invested in the state’s rainy-day fund.

Aside from the battle over PIP reform, destination resorts will be the other high-profile issue this session. Promoted by the Associated Industries of Florida and the construction industry as a 100,000-job fixer for Florida’s economy, a coalition comprising Walt Disney World, the Florida Chamber, Florida Retail and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Associations is lined up to defend the state’s family-friendly reputation.

Although I’m not a gambler, I don’t get the opposition to expanding gambling in South Florida. I appreciate the fact that Mickey Mouse doesn’t want to spoil its family-friendly atmosphere in Central Florida, but must the rest of Florida suffer this head-in-the-sand attitude as well? Shouldn’t it be good enough that expansion will only happen where the taxpayers have already voted their conscience and said they want this entertainment for themselves, and the tourists it attracts?

In the meantime, we allow dog, horse, harness and even barrel racing, jai alai, ships to nowhere, Indian tribe casinos, card rooms, Internet cafes and, of course, the state-sanctioned and heavily-promoted lottery and Powerball. But somehow South Florida adding world-class architecture, much-needed construction jobs for the next four years, and well-paying jobs for desperately-seeking Floridians is a stretch too far. No proponent is saying that this is the solution to all of our ills, but you’d think Florida is going to go to hell if we allow developments of this type to exist. While it is unlikely to pass this year because of staunch opposition by the House speaker, destination resorts will eventually arrive on our shores. And for those who oppose them, I hope they refuse to have their conferences and meetings there because it will leave room for the rest of us who don’t need others telling us what we can legally do with our own money.

There’s a good reason why an early legislative session is warranted only every 10 years. Our founders knew we would need 10 years to get from over the last hurrah.

Bill Nelson – Not Business Friendly

January 9, 2012  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  Bishop Blog

This year’s race for the chance to oppose Bill Nelson will not resemble 2006.  Running for reelection for the first time, his opponent was a Republican US Congresswoman who was just completing only her second term in Congress.  Her name was Katherine Harris, the state’s former Secretary of State who oversaw the drawn-out election count from the 2000 battle between George Bush and Al Gore.  Remember hanging chads?  Congresswoman Harris was a weak candidate, to say the least.  Her own Party essentially disavowed her and none of the state’s top GOP elected officials would hardly be seen with her throughout the campaign.  She won only nine counties and lost the race to Nelson by 22 points – over a million votes.

Fast forward to today.  Bill Nelson, Florida’s senior Senator has been in office now for 12 years.  His opponent this time will be a Republican nominee that enjoys a unified party committed to taking him out.  Last year Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS ran ads against Senator Nelson so it is clear that he will be a target of the national GOP and the Super PAC’s.

Regardless of his opponent however the damning fact is that when it comes to a key business issue such as “Card Check” the Senator is clearly on the wrong side.  Card Check, introduced in the Senate by Ted Kennedy in 2009, is an attempt by Unions to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.  While Union membership has been in steady decline over the last century in the US, Florida has never been a particularly strong state for them.  That’s partially because our state Constitution makes us a Right to Work state, that is, you are not required to join a union to be employed.  Florida’s percent of employed that are represented by unions is only 6.9%, which is way below the national average of 11.9%.  Card Check is designed to make it easier, in fact much easier, to organize unions in two ways:  there would no longer be secret elections, a worker would be asked by the union to sign a card and once a majority of the company’s workers sign the cards, a union would be automatically created.  How un-American would that be?  While you and I are guaranteed the right to vote in secret, no one knows how we vote unless we tell them, but in the Union’s dream scenario, you could be asked in front of other pro-Union members to sign a card – and if you don’t?  Well, you get the idea.

While this ballot box-stuffing goes on all the time in Russia, China, Venezuela, Cuba, etc., it could happen right here in Florida.  Even though our state Constitution prohibits it.   That’s because Sen. Nelson, President Obama and their Union friends will use the Congress and its ability to pass federal laws to overrule our state Constitutional rights.  It’s not just that Sen. Nelson supports the Unions in this onerous overreach; he is a co-sponsor of the bill!  And since Florida is overwhelmingly small businesses state this law, if ever passed, would have a devastating impact on Florida employers.  So, why is Senator Nelson supporting this hurtful legislation?  Your guess is good as mine, but Senator Nelson should disavow his support of this bill and support Florida’s historical aversion to unionism.

But, Card Check is not the only piece of legislation that will hurt the Florida business community as the Senator has also been a big supporter of ObamaCare.  Despite all of the promises by the President and the Senator, polls show that Floridians have not warmed up to this attempt at government-run health care.  Senior citizens are especially wary and it seems that the more they learn about it, the more they dislike it. Although this legislations constitutionality will ultimately be decided by the U. S. Supreme Court, the carnage that it has wrought is still to come in this election cycle as it was in the last when several Florida Democrats lost their seats due to this European-style healthcare concept.  Unfortunately, the truth is that this will be mind-boggling expensive and we will still not have every American covered by insurance.  I suspect that if this law is upheld – and I hope it is not – that after the law has been in place for a year or two that we will still see crowded emergency rooms filled with both insured and uninsured people.  Because many insured will continue to use the emergency room as their preferred choice for primary care, and that folks will be terribly expensive.

Florida needs a Senator who will consistently support the free enterprise system and that’s why in my opinion we need to send to DC someone that will vote with Senator Marco Rubio as a counterbalance to President Obama.

Mitt and Jeb, That’s the Ticket

January 6, 2012  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  Columns

Six years, $100 million. That’s what Democrats are saying Mitt Romney has spent in the race so far for the presidency, as if somehow it’s a bad thing.

I believe that, ultimately, Mitt will win the Republican nomination, and it will come down for me and, I think, other conservative Democrats, that he is the best-tested, most-vetted, smartest, most successful capitalist in the race.

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