Florida's part-time legislature is turning into a full-time job, but without the pay. And that's forced some lawmakers to find a second job. The House's powerful Rules chairman is one such legislator with a part-time gig. He's an Uber driver--and he's been surprising passengers in his car for the past few days.
South Monroe is dark and nearly deserted when the gleaming F-150 pulls in front of the Hotel Duval. Dressed in a black Shula’s uniform, Catherine smiles cheerfully and piles into the back seat.
In Uber culture, nobody is a stranger and everybody’s personal business is fair game. Tonight, the 20-something political science major is shocked when she finds out her chauffer’s day job.
“Well, would you be interested to know that Uber is my part time job? My other job is I’m a legislator. I am. I represent Brevard County in District 52," Rep. Ritch Workman says.
No, it’s not a joke. And yes, Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, chairs House Rules. And yes, he seems genuinely interested in what the voters think.
“What do kids on campus wish Florida would do" He asks. " Uhm, help college students not be so broke," says Catherine. "Well, I wish they would help 42-year-old men not be so broke," Workman quipped.
Income is a sensitive topic for Workman. He works full time as an administrator for Kaiser University and his salary for being a part-time legislator is slightly less than $30,000 a year. His wife is a language and speech pathologist. But they have six children to raise, and they care for a small army of animals. Workman sats every little bit helps.
“When I first realized that I wanted to do it, there was a moment of what would others think? Would they think that I’m doing something silly? Something that others perceive as beneath the position that I hold? And I find that to be silly.”
But Workman’s part time job runs so deeply contrary to the stereotype, that Brian, Workman’s second fare of the night, is amused.
“Are times that tough on the hill?" Brian asked. "Well, it doesn’t pay that well," Workman laughed.
Tallahassee may be the Capitol, but in many ways it’s still a sleepy southern town. Workman was driving for only three days before word leaked. It was inevitable. Workman has given rides to legislative staff and at least one lobbyist.
But he says that’s not his typical fare.
“One guy, I picked him up twice, actually, works at Best Buy. One lady works at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. I picked her up, brought her home. One works at a beauty shop. I picked her up and took her home.”
Workman’s Uber job can’t escape press attention, and it also can’t escape current events. The Legislature is prepared next year to debate measures that would ban local governments from regulating app-based ride services like Uber and Lyft.
Like all other lawmakers with outside jobs, Workman says he’ll be careful to avoid any conflict of interest. After all, he is rules chairman.
“When it comes to a vote that could enrich me or my family or special interest, I will simply file a conflict form and stay out of the conversation," he said.
Workman is not on a redistricting committee, he has to be available to render his opinion whenever the Legislature is convened. So he says there’s plenty of down time to ferry Tallahassee-ans to work in the morning and home late at night.
One of his favorites so far is FSU student Michael Vaughan, a 20-year-old business major from Tavernier who lost most of his sight last year. Vaughan says he was thrilled to be able to discuss medical marijuana policy with his Uber driver.
“He was a stand-up individual and a lot of fun to talk to and get to know for the five minutes that I was in the car," Vaughn said.
Anyone in the Capitol area who wants a lift from a powerful committee chairman better hurry. Workman expects to head back to Melbourne when the special session adjourns September 21st.