Conventional wisdom has it that government has lost its way. It’s out of touch and out of control. It has shut out the voices and concerns of everyday Americans. Democracy — or rather, taking the concerns of ordinary Americans into account in the democratic, lawmaking process — is a notion so farfetched as to be laughable.
But what if that weren’t true?
As a private citizen — a native Bostonian with a wife and three kids who seem to think I’m okay, a job I enjoy, and a rabid Red Sox fixation — I set off to see if I could have a say that made a difference.
And here’s the clincher: It actually worked. Really.
Here’s the setup: The state of Florida had in its law a rusty old provision that made it all but impossible for an insurance company that sold insurance abroad from having offices in Florida — even though it would not be selling insurance in the state. That law cost the state untold number of jobs and tax revenue for no apparent reason. Even Florida lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were perplexed as to how and why that initial law had come to be.
This meant American companies like mine that serve the Latin American market were barred from locating in Florida, the gateway to Latin America and home of some of the country’s highest-skilled bilingual workers.
Gov. Rick Scott, I knew from reading the papers, was keen to add jobs for Floridians. So was Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty. So was every lawmaker in the Florida Legislature.
So I hopped on a plane (well, lots of planes), knocked on their doors, and made my case. I explained that some simple changes to the old law would create jobs and new revenue for the state — all without spending a dime of government “stimulus.” I worked with staff and legislators on both sides of the aisle — Republican Reps. Bryan Nelson of Apopka, Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami, Sen. Garrett Richter of Naples and Democratic Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale among them — to create the few brief, sensible improvements, and a few months later, the Legislature included the idea in HB 1087. It took effect this month.
It’s a win-win situation: the state of Florida benefits from creating needed jobs for Floridians and growing the state’s tax base. American businesses selling products overseas, who have long wanted to put down roots in Florida, benefit as well. Already my business has signed a lease for office space in Miami, and is hiring a big handful of Floridians to staff it.
It’s rewarding to know that by taking some action, I played a role, however small, in helping cement Florida’s future role as a gateway to the fast-growing Latin American market.
I admit I can be a cynic about these things (c’mon, I’m from Boston), but even I felt inspired that a private citizen could improve his business, and help add jobs and revenue to a cash-strapped state, with just a little gumption and elbow grease. It’s a little like what it takes to build a successful business: You have to network everyone you can, find in-the-know locals who can share their insights and contacts, and make full use of interest and support from key government officials — once you’ve taken the time and effort to pitch your idea to them. If you just try to take some action, you may be surprised by how many people want to support a good idea.