A lot of times what one sees at the state capitol depends on one’s point of view. A spectator’s voter registration card can very well indicate whether he’s watching a war on public education or an attempt to improve student’s learning gains.
It’s a bit like the adage about a glass of water.
Every now and then though you come across someone like Ron Watson who asks,”Why are we using a glass? Maybe a saucer would be better.”
“We get a bad rap, but I think we’re very important part of what government does,” said Watson. “We bring a voice to the Legislature. Now it’s their job to listen to all of our voices and make a decision but I think it’s sometimes easier for them if they have trusted voices they can listen too.”
Watson is a lobbyist, a face in the crowd in television and newspaper stories about committee meetings or well-heeled lawyers loitering in the halls of power for a chance to plead a client’s case with a lawmaker.
But as a “voice” he is also someone who has researched a topic and wrestled with different proposals long enough to know how far they go in achieving a policy objective and the unintentional consequences created along the way.
Given Florida has a two-month legislative session lobbyists often struggle to be heard as lawmakers move from an education meeting, to a healthcare meeting to one on transportation. Watson noted it is unreasonable to expect lawmakers to be experts on every issue. And he views the give and take and the debates of a legislative session as an art form, the art of compromise.
“Compromise is the art of democracy. You bring together a whole bunch of different minds to sit in a room and debate and discuss things,” said Watson. “It’s unfortunate in today’s times that you have people so far to the left and so far to the right that they feel you’ve betrayed them if you compromised on an issue. That kind of philosophy gets you a dead end, it gives you games of chicken, it is not productive. Democracy is the art of compromise.
“I’ve always said in this business if you can’t have a beer at the end of the day with whom you are arguing with then you’re in the wrong business, ” said Watson, echoing a political hero from his youth.
It may have sounded like a Tip O’Neill line but Watson would have sided with Ronald Reagan during the 1980s battles when the two locked horns in Washington but developed a warm friendship. Here’s how O’Neill’s son characterized the relationship the two.
“What both men deplored more than the other’s political philosophy was stalemate and a country that was so polarized by ideology and party politics that it could not move forward. There were tough words and important disagreements over everything from taxation to Medicare and military spending. But there was yet a stronger commitment to getting things done,” Thomas P. O’Neill wrote for the New York Times.
Reagan is someone with whom Watson would like to discuss things with over dinner. And if he were to moderate a panel discussion about Florida politics the first person he would call would be Steve Schale.
“Because he is brilliant,” said Watson. “Then, if I could get her I would go with Sally Bradshaw. I like to be diverse so on the D side I would get Screven Watson.”
For many years Watson lobbied for the Florida Medical Association before setting off on his own to represent medical marijuana and other interests. His goal for the 2015 Legislative Session is to foster an open and honest discussion of how to do medical marijuana in Florida quickly. That includes implementation of the Charlotte’s Web law approved last year and explication of the proposals filed authorizing cannabis as a treatment for more illnesses.
Watson has empathy for the parents of the 1,500 children waiting for Charlotte’s Web cannabis oil to calm the severe epileptic seizures that threaten their lives. Although he often laces his conversations with subtle quips he always becomes emphatic when discussing getting a medicinal cannabis product to sick children.
“To be awesome, cool and funny,” is the Watson motto. “That is what my eight-year-old child wrote for his goal for the day. So if he could do that while he’s dying from cancer my goal every day is to be awesome, cool and funny. Some days are better than others.”