We start the new week off with some good news and some good news.
First the good news: I’m off to Tallahassee this week.
Now the good news: You’re not.
Just Wright Citrus takes its first field trip for the annual Citrus County Legislative Days this Wednesday and Thursday in the state capital.
It’s a chance for business leaders, elected officials, political candidates and the like from Citrus County to mingle not only with our state legislators, but also agency directors.
The Citrus County Chamber of Commerce organizes this event and it’s also an annual highlight for the Leadership Citrus class which, as part of boot camp, must make the three-hour trip by bus leaving from Crystal River before dawn on Thursday.
It’s a trip filled with important meetings and such. I’ll fill you in on the details if they’re interesting enough.
A trip to the state capital is always a big deal. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend it. Very exciting to see the state government up close and personal.
But it’s not what I call a fun trip. The capital is a big place with long hallways and tall buildings, everyone walking quickly, hardly saying hello to anyone on the street. It’s very easy to feel small there. Inverness it ain’t.
At the Capitol, it seems like everyone knows how to get where they’re going except the group I’m with. Some of the elevators go to the 22nd floor (the top), others do not. The Cabinet offices are on the first floor, which isn’t the first level. It’s confusing to someone who can’t figure out how to get through Citrus Hills without GPS.
It’s probably been pre-covid since I last sat in the gallery to watch the Senate or House. Again, very interesting to view even though probably no clue what they’re debating. Like watching Australian rules football for the first time.
At least when I’m with the chamber group I can follow them around and all get lost together. As a reporter, it’s much worse.
Early in my Chronicle career, we actually made an attempt to cover the Legislature during Session. We couldn’t let a reporter go for 60 days, so we’d try to narrow down two or three days when our legislators were doing something important.
Frankly, I don’t recall a lot of award-winning reporting taking place during that time, but it was fun because I didn’t know what I was doing and there really was no expectation back home.
Some early memories involve Paul Hawkes, who was the first Republican elected to the state House from Citrus County when he defeated Dick Locke.
This was when Democrats still ran things in Florida, so Hawkes was both a freshman and in the minority party.
Hawkes and other freshman Republicans got together and started making some noise (two of those other freshmen: former House Speaker Tom Feeney and our current congressman, Daniel Webster).
Now, I had an approach I used in Tallahassee or anywhere far from my home base. I played the “I’m just a reporter from little ‘ol Citrus County” line to gain sympathy and into rooms that might otherwise be closed to the press.
So was the situation on one of these trips when Hawkes and his friends were making noise. They had arranged to meet the governor for lunch to go over their budget plan.
“A reporter from the local paper is here,” Hawkes told the governor’s aide. “Is it OK if he comes?”
Everyone knows local reporters can do no harm, so next thing I’m watching Paul Hawkes and Lawton Chiles enjoying a BLT and pickle spear, discussing ways to make our fine state even finer. And I left Tallahassee with a Page One story.
(A few years ago I was covering a Webster event at the Inverness City Hall. Many people there weren’t happy with Webster for some reason, and security whisked him and anyone nearby, like me, to a closed-off hallway.
We were in the hallway a few minutes while deputies cleared the room
“Hey Congressman,” I said, “do you remember me coming up to Tallahassee and hanging around with you and Paul Hawkes and Tom Feeney, drinking beers and shooting pool?”
He looked at me like I was Forrest Gump talking about Lt. Dan. I decided just to drop it.)
So the good news is I’ll be in Tallahassee for a few days this week and you won’t. Hold down the fort while we’re gone.
If I run into the governor, I’ll tell him Citrus County says hi.