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Tom O’Hara: Banner plane delivered highlight of AP Legislative Planning Day

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I attended the annual Tallahassee ritual Wednesday when politicians address the media and take some questions.

The Republicans talked in generalities at the AP Legislative Planning Session and, for the most part, refused to respond to direct questions with direct answers. The Democrats, because they have absolutely no power in Florida government, mostly complained.

Nonetheless, the gathering was great fun, particularly for someone like me who rarely sees these people. (I saw Gov. Rick Scott last year in a Starbucks in Fort Lauderdale wearing that annoying Navy hat and again at the debate with Charlie Crist when it appeared no one was going to see Rick unless Charlie turned off his fan.)

Rick started the festivities at 9 a.m. As a novice to these things, I was taken aback by how many people were with him. It was like a scene from “Entourage.”

Rick’s groupies then spread themselves around the room and applauded every time he delivered a dull talking point.

“It’s the year of the manufacturer,” Rick said. Applause. Applause.

“My grandson wants to be a construction worker. … We’re going to make sure there are jobs for him.” Applause. Applause.

Based on his comments, I think this is Rick’s agenda for the 2016 session: extend the sales tax break on the purchase of manufacturing equipment, cut taxes by millions of dollars, badger legislators to give Enterprise Florida bags of money so Rick can lure prestigious companies to Florida and then brag about it to other Republican governors.

Now, I had never seen Melissa Sellers, Rick’s chief of staff, before Wednesday. I’ve heard that if you like Rick, she’s efficient; if you don’t like Rick, she’s ruthless.

What little I saw Wednesday concerns me. While Scott was delivering his talking points, she was staring directly at him and nodding her head in approval of a statement such as, “This is going to be the year of the manufacturer.”

I had many talented assistants when I was a newspaper managing editor. But if any of them stared at me and relentlessly nodded after I made some mundane statement, I would have eased that person into a less stressful job.

At any rate, if you oppose this weekend’s bear hunt, apparently you should contact Melissa. At least, that’s what the message on a banner plane flying by the Capitol during the AP get-together said.

I don’t know whether Melissa likes bears. Given her reputation, she may like to eat bears. But then again, I’ve known many people who don’t much like humans, but they love furry critters.

At any rate, if you care about the bears, you can contact her at: melissa.sellers@eog.myflorida.com.

Other important people addressed the media Wednesday. Here’s what I learned:

•Congressman Ron DeSantis, who wants to be a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, played in the Little League World Series and on the Yale University baseball team. He seems like a very nice man.

•Congressman Dave Jolly, who is running against DeSantis, said he gave himself to Jesus when he had a religious experience at age 5. He let us know that after a reporter asked him why he supported gay marriage. To his credit, Jolly said that even though he personally believes in “traditional marriage,” states should have the right to determine who can get married to whom. Jolly was refreshingly blunt about the dysfunction of the GOP.

•Senate President Andy Gardiner. He has an autistic child. He desperately wants to pass legislation to help special-needs children and their families. The consensus is that he’s going to have to play ball with the governor during the session or risk having Rick veto his bill – like Rick did last year.

•House Speaker Steve Crisafulli. He said that unlike last session, the Senate, House and Rick are all going to get along fine this year. He didn’t sound convincing.

•State Sen. Arthenia Joyner and state Rep. Mark Pafford. These were the two legislative Democrats invited to speak. Arthenia called Republicans “callous and cruel” for refusing to expand Medicaid in Florida. Pafford said he’s been working eight years in a “bizarro atmosphere.”

•Congressmen Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy. Both these guys want to be the Democratic nominee in the U.S. Senate race. Grayson is very smart and isn’t shy about letting you know it. Murphy used to be a Republican because his dad was. He said the Iraq war and the Tea Party drove him to the other side.

Everyone talked about guns but no one has any convincing idea how to stop the gun-slinging lunacy.

Tom O’Hara is a veteran newspaperman. He is the former managing editor of The Palm Beach Post and the Plain Dealer in Ohio. 

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