Students take over legislative chambers for annual mock-legislative session

Jun 1, 2012

It’s been almost three months since the actual Florida Legislature wrapped up this year’s session and left Tallahassee.  But the Capitol was again the scene for policy disputes, bill debates and political intrigue.

In a legislative committee room, the action was hot and heavy as a group of "lawmakers" set to work amending and voting on proposals that could eventually become law. Moments later, the Speaker of the Florida House gave an informal news conference in a nearby hallway to bring reporters up to speed on all the bill action.

This Florida House Speaker, however, is neither Dean Cannon--who’s held the job for the past two sessions--nor Will Weatherford, who’ll guide the House during the next two sessions.  This speaker’s name is Brian Emory, a student at Stetson University.

“I’m actually an accounting major.  Politics is kind of a hobby of mine,” he said during a Model Legislature exercise at the state Capitol.

Likewise this Florida Senate President is neither the incoming Don Gaetz nor the outgoing Mike Haridopolos .  but  Kuhlil Quinan, an Agricultural Education and Communications major at the University of Florida.

“Well our senate for the purposes of this year is a conservative senate and so I will likely run it similar to his senate as well as Haridopolos's senate.  I’m not sure, maybe some of the social platforms may be different, however for the most part it will be run like a conservative senate.”

Both Emory and Quinan are among nearly a hundred college and university students from all over the state who are participating in this year's Model Legislature exercise.  Most of the students are connected with student government organizations, Phi Theta Kappa, Model United Nations or College Republicans and Democrats.  Santa Fe Community College’s Gerard Williams is this year’s acting governor and says he sees his role as helping mediate the lawmaking process when partisanship gets in the way.

“We will have to find compromises to get things passed.  Because let’s say the House does something and the Senate does not, then it still won’t get passed so we have to find that common ground," he said.

And just like the real thing, the Model Legislature has lobbyists trying to bend lawmakers to their clients’ wishes.  There is also a Capital Press Corps.

“Well hopefully, at least for me, this will transfer into a real life journalism job where I can actually sit in the Senate and speak with senators and a lot of these people here will hopefully one day be representatives or members of the Senate or in some way politically affiliated," said April Parsons, who is head of the Mock-press corps this year and a journalism student at the St. Petersburg Campus of the University of South Florida.

Allison DeFoor has some thoughts along that line, too.  DeFoor ran for Florida Lieutenant Governor in 1990, was Monroe County Sheriff and a judge.  Today, he’s in government relations and is an ordained Episcopal priest.  That puts him in a unique position to advise young people who want to use the Model Legislature as a career launching pad:

“Don’t do it!  No, I’m kidding.  What I’m going to tell them is that Florida’s a great opportunity for public policy.  If you really want to have an impact in a big state this is the greatest place in the world and it’s an opportune time if you like to buy low and sell high.  These are really challenging times and this would be a great time to start if you have the right focus and most of all you have the right heart.”

A “servant’s heart,” DeFoor told the students at the start of their make-believe lawmaking session.  Good advice also for the real-life politicians who prowl the corridors of power in Tallahassee.