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Broward Leaders Shift To Virtual Advocacy At The Florida Capitol

Gary Farmer poses with city skyline in the background
Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer, D-Ft. Lauderdale

Like most everything else, grass-roots advocacy has gone virtual in Tallahassee because of the pandemic. An effort is underway by one of Florida's largest counties to connect with the Florida Capitol under these challenging conditions.

For decades, Broward County held a two-day lobbying blitz in the Capitol. But this year, with the Capitol largely off-limits, it's an all-day Zoom call instead.

"Hello, Broward County!" Senate Democratic Leader Gary Farmer offered greetings to more than a hundred people watching online. "Obviously, this is not your ordinary session," Farmer said. "The fact of the matter is, our legislative process goes on and things are being decided."

A lot of things are being decided by the Republican-dominated Legislature, and most are unpopular in Broward -- the state's most liberal county. A parade of local leaders discussed what they are most worried about.

The county's new Supervisor of Elections, Joe Scott, voiced alarm over changes to election laws such as abolishing vote-by-mail drop boxes. About 243,000 Broward voters dropped their ballots at drop boxes at one of nearly two dozen early voting sites last November. For many, it brought peace of mind because they did not worry if their ballot would get mailed on time.

"So it's really important for people to have that option to actually drop the ballot directly to the Supervisor of Elections, and for a big county like Broward, it's just not an option to say that those 240,000 people are going to come through our office," Scott said. "We need to provide those drop boxes."

Broward Day chairman Candice Ericks, a lobbyist from Fort Lauderdale, kept the virtual program moving all afternoon. Senate President Wilton Simpson, speaking from his Capitol office, also addressed the Broward group and could not resist a humorous jab at the county for its mask mandate.

"Do we have to wear a mask, even though it's virtual? This is Broward County I'm talking to. I want to make sure it's OK not to have a mask on even though it's virtual," Simpson said.

Broward's legislative priorities include school safety measures in a continued response to the Parkland school tragedy three years ago. The coastal county also supports efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change and opposes efforts to override local government home rule.

Steve Bousquet has covered state government and politics for three decades at the Sun Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. He was the Times' Tallahassee bureau chief from 2005 to 2018 and has also covered city and county politics in Broward County. He has a master's degree in U.S. history from Florida State.