The demonstrators who have been appearing outside Sen. Marco Rubio's office on Tuesdays, and say they plan to continue doing so, are in many cases involved in a grass roots liberal movement called "Indivisible."
It started with an Internet document called the "Indivisible Guide," written by former congressional staffers. The guide seeks to tell citizens the best way to influence their congressional representatives — how to act at town hall meetings, deal with the media, and make letters and calls effective.
The guide is modeled after the tea party movement that pushed the Republican Party to the right in the early 2000's, and like the tea party, most of its followers haven't previously been involved in politics.
The movement's website lists more than a dozen affiliated groups springing up in the Tampa Bay area, most since the 2016 election. A South Tampa group's kickoff meeting two weeks ago drew 130 attendees, organizers said.
"It's an action I felt compelled to take in the aftermath of the presidential election," said college teacher Michael Broache, who founded another Tampa-based group that drew about 35 to a meeting Sunday.
New Port Richey social worker Donna Bradley, who started a group there with about 71 members, said her group will seek to influence Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, on health care. Bradley said she was inspired partly by the social media-enabled 2011 protests in Egypt.
"Never did I think we'd have to do the same thing in this country, but we do," she said.
Several of those involved said they didn't want their names used. They're worried about internet trolls and harassment.
Dems see surge in signups
Hillsborough County Democratic Party Chairwoman Ione Townsend credits backlash against the November election results and the Trump administration with a surge of sign-ups for new party precinct representatives.
A party meeting Tuesday drew 250 attendees and standing room only at the party's Children's Board office meeting space. Afterward, Townsend said she expects the number of precinct reps to go as high as 180 after dropping to about 70 during reorganization late last year.
"It's very clear there's been a surge of mobilization of citizens all over this country who are upset about his election and what it represents, about (Trump's) executive orders and appointments," she said.
Townsend said she has enlisted Ed Narain, former state House member and unsuccessful candidate for state Senate in November, as the county party's political adviser, a volunteer position.
Republicans say they're also surging
Meanwhile, local Republicans, who have long been better organized in Hillsborough, say they're also seeing a surge in interest, apparently motivated by the 2016 election.
"We've experienced the same thing they're experiencing — a wakeup call," said county Chairman Deborah Tamargo. She said the party has 220 precinct representatives and likely will go close to 270 after its next meeting.
Young files craft beer distribution bill
As expected, state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, has filed legislation taking the next step to boost the craft beer industry, this time by allowing the smallest and newest brewers to distribute their own products without having to sell through a distributor as the law now requires.
Young's measure would apply only to those who make 7,000 kegs a year or less — Cigar City, by comparison, makes around 200,000 — and would allow them to distribute only kegs, not bottles or cans.
But it would help new brewers create local awareness of their products, said Michael Beard of 81 Bay Brewing Co.
"You would be able to build your brand; you don't have to sign away your brand to a distributor," Beard said.
Young said 50 to 80 Florida breweries could qualify, and called the proposal "a win-win."
"It allows the brewer to use sweat equity to build up a following, so the distributor is interested in carrying the product," she said. "When they're this small, they aren't on the distributor's radar."
But Florida beer distributors are likely to oppose it, possibly meaning yet another beer battle brewing in this year's legislative session. They favor the existing "three-tier" system requiring all alcoholic beverages to be sold through distributors, which they consider an anti-monopoly and pro-temperance measure.
"I think we have a problem with it," said Mitch Rubin of the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association. "It creates an unlevel playing field and it largely circumvents the 2015 compromise," meaning legislation that allowed craft brewers to sell their own products only in "tasting rooms."
Contact William March at [email protected]