Information is a valuable commodity at the Florida State Capitol. When someone can say they have support for their proposal from top leadership—that can carry a lot of weight. But often comments made by leadership which are believed to be statements of support for legislation are nothing more than polite responses.
When I was serving in the Florida House of Representatives I spent a lot of time trying to help other Members get their priorities passed. It was a form of servant leadership that I watched former Speaker Allen Bense use successfully when he ran for speaker. He worked tirelessly to help members. I tried to do the same.
I recall one occasion when a Member came to me asking for assistance on a rather obscure bill. My first question was “has the Speaker taken a position”? The Member excitedly said “oh, I talked to the Speaker and he fully supports the bill.”
I then tried to slow things down and said “tell me exactly what the Speaker said”. The member said “The Speaker told me it sounds like a great idea—spread the word”. That response caused me to laugh out loud. It was clear the Member did not fully understand the language used by those in leadership at the Capitol.
I told the member “that does not mean the Speaker supports your bill—it means he doesn’t care one way or the other”. The Member looked puzzled by my response. I had been in many meetings with the speaker and had heard him give very specific instruction on bills he supported or opposed. Calling a piece of legislation a “good idea” was far from a ringing endorsement.
To the Member’s credit—he at least went directly to the Speaker to get his take on the bill. This is often not the case. In fact, it has become common place at the Capitol for someone to proclaim that the Speaker, or President of the Senate, or even the Governor has taken a position on a bill—even though no direct communication has taken place with any of them.
As Lieutenant Governor I often would be told that the Governor had taken a position on legislation. In most cases I knew for a fact that was not true. I would tell people “unless you have heard the words spoken directly by the Governor—assume nothing.” The same should be the rule of thumb for the Speaker of the House or the Senate President.
Thus, when working an issue at the Capitol you should always keep in mind a quote from Yogi Berra who was once asked to respond to a quote attributed to him. Yogi replied “I didn’t really say everything I said.” The same is often true when it comes to statements attributed to leaders at the Capitol.
Just because someone proclaims that the Speaker, President or Governor has taken a position on legislation doesn’t mean that is accurate. In the end—the only thing you can say with certainly about working an issue at the Capitol during Session can be summed up by another quote from Yogi Berra—“it ain’t over ‘till it’s over”.