Welcome to Fabulous Tallahassee

Where your humble state legislators work hard by day and play hard by night

Because power is now concentrated in the hands of so few, the Miami delegation faces a somewhat new challenge: Hold itself together sufficiently to a) make Marco Rubio speaker and b) push current leadership into making concessions on local issues. No matter how it may look from the outside, the effort requires constant maintenance; the group of ten Cubans and one Colombian spans an array of personalities, ideologies, and ambitions.

At one end is smooth, intellectual insider Marco Rubio; at the other is pugnacious charmer Ralph Arza. The two could not be more different and yet, after initial skirmishing, Arza played a key role in helping Rubio lock up pledges for the speakership. Rubio is often described as a talented young politician who has thus far managed to balance his larger ambitions with more parochial considerations. He can strong-arm party members into accepting a position, or he can broker a consensus, sometimes in clever ways, such as relying on the debating skills of the eloquent Dan Gelber.

Majority whip Gaston Cantens is a quiet, serious fellow, smart and well regarded even outside South Florida. His unsuccessful bid for the 2004 speaker position helped bring the delegation together and laid the groundwork for Rubio. Gus Barreiro and Manny Prieguez are leaders within the group even though they're considered mavericks who don't always vote along party lines.

Jonathan Postal
The governor takes center stage at Miami-Dade Days 
and complains loudly about the ugly ties; meanwhile 
county Commissioner José "Pepe" Diaz (bottom)
Photos Courtesy of Miami-Dade County Days
The governor takes center stage at Miami-Dade Days and complains loudly about the ugly ties; meanwhile county Commissioner José "Pepe" Diaz (bottom)

Rene Garcia was initially viewed as just another Raul Martinez protégé trying to get the heck out of Hialeah, but he's become a more serious player. The friendly, eager-to-please Garcia was elected chairman of the Miami-Dade delegation two years running because he has managed to make the rambunctious, sometimes unruly, members get along with each other. Julio Robaina, former mayor of South Miami, is considered by some of his peers to be a closet Democrat with a pothole mayor's mentality.

David Rivera is the experienced back-channel strategist and loudest drumbeat on Cuba issues. Juan-Carlos Planas, a notorious practical joker, is carving a niche for himself on judicial issues. Marcelo Llorente, the youngest at age 28, is considered bright but in need of some maturing. Juan Carlos Zapata is an interesting case because as the only Colombian Republican, he is the minority within the minority. Some think that made him a little paranoid initially, but this year he's clearly on the team and his colleagues are willing to publicly support him.

Barreiro, Prieguez, and Cantens were each elected in 1998, when the Cuban delegation was divided by personal politics; other legislators didn't view them as a bloc because they were so busy fighting each other. The three newcomers saw this and made a decision to change. "We saw how things worked and how important being in leadership was and we looked at Gaston and said, 'Would you like to be speaker?'" remembers Barreiro. "Then we sat down with each Hispanic member and talked to them about how we have to stick together. We saw that we each are as strong as our strongest member."

Cantens concurs. "You're less likely to screw someone if you like them," he reasons. "Build on personal relationships rather than playing hardball. Every member of the team needs to check their ego at the door. We've hopefully learned from some of the mistakes of the past."

The future will depend on it, especially if Rubio does ascend to the speaker's post in two years. Florida may be more like Miami every year, but there is still a lot of trepidation in points north. "It's a very careful balancing act he needs to perform," Cantens allows. "We don't want the rest of the state to come back and say, 'See? This is why we don't trust South Florida.'"

Tallahassee Here We Come

This year's Miami-Dade County Days (March 31 and April 1) was quite the bonanza for airlines, hotels, and restaurants in Tallahassee. About 350 people registered through the official organization, which charged $150 a head to participate in the events, and offered package deals that ran up to $600 for airfare, hotel, meals, and events. Coordinators also gave away several packages to organizations that kicked in sponsorship money. Other attendees made different arrangements. Here's a brief look at some of the numbers, as provided by each entity.

Miami-Dade County spent $24,988 to send 39 people, including commissioners Sally Heyman, Katy Sorenson, José "Pepe" Diaz, Javier Souto, Rebeca Sosa, and Bruno Barreiro. The commissioners brought a total of fourteen aides with them, including those sent by Barbara Carey-Shuler and Dorrin Rolle. The rest were from various departments, such as transit, cultural affairs, community relations, the fire department, and county courts.

City of Miami spent about $3000 to send eight people, including Mayor Manny Diaz and his chief of staff, Manager Joe Arriola, Commissioner Joe Sanchez and an aide, two aides to Commissioner Johnny Winton, and the city's grants administrator. Some of their costs were covered by event organizers.

City of Miami Beach spent an estimated $1800 to send commissioners Luis Garcia and Richard Steinberg, and the city's economic development director. Manager Jorge Gonzalez also went along, but his trip costs were covered by event organizers.

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