I called Ron Schultz to talk about booze. (More on that later.) But by the time we had wandered on to other subjects, it was apparent that the most sobering realization about his first 10 months in Tallahassee had more to do with perspective than pina coladas.
"I have 30 years in local government," said the former property appraiser in Citrus and Pinellas counties. But since being elected to the Florida House of Representatives in a special election last June, Schultz said he is "perceiving a fundamental difference between local and state governments."
The difference is that "in local government, we talked about the 'needs of voters.' In Tallahassee it is about the 'needs of taxpayers,' " Schultz said.
That distinction may be subtle to the casual observer, but Schultz, as he is wont to do, dissects it by pointing out that "voters" and "taxpayers" are just not the same.
"These are not identical groups, and this explains a lot of what I have perceived over the years about the disconnect between state and local governments," said Schultz, a Republican from Homosassa who represents House District 43. That's all of Citrus County and part of three other counties, including a chunk of Hernando County north of State Road 50 from Brookridge to Weeki Wachee.
"I've never understood why there was a difference in perspective. But now that I am (in Tallahassee) & and listening to the words people use, I hear a different emphasis," he said.
Does Schultz prefer one mind-set to the other?
"It's not a matter of preference. That's like asking if you prefer being male or female. It's just a difference in perspective. I'm sure there are ways it is better, and ways it is not," he said. "But that's the hook. It goes (toward) explaining why there are people in Tallahassee who do not believe people in local government are being reasonable, and vice versa."
Has Schultz been surprised by the influence wielded by lobbyists and special interests in Tallahassee. "No," he said, "but the more I'm watching, the more I'm seeing that if you're a big taxpayer, you have more votes up here." Schultz said he counters that pressure by making sure he talks to lobbyists "from both sides."
I don't doubt that Schultz seeks both sides of an issue; he's curious and analytical that way. But I sure hope he also is listening to the people who don't have the time or resources to hang around all day at the Capitol twisting arms and throwing around money, and who don't see any difference at all between a voter and a taxpayer.
• • •
Speaking of twisting arms, here is the aforementioned low-down on Schultz's bill about the elbow-bending biz.
Schultz is House sponsor of Sen. Jim King's bill (SB2864 and HB 951), which attempts to clarify how the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation polices the importation, sale and transportation of alcoholic beverages.
"You see," Schultz explained, "booze is regulated on a three-tier system: retailers, distributors and manufacturers. The rules are different for each (tier)." Turns out, the DBPR has administrative control over only breweries and distilleries operating in Florida, Schultz said. His bill would "broaden the definition of manufacturer, for administrative purposes, to everybody who imports or ships, putting them all in the same compartments," he said. It also regulates the licensing of vendors and the transportation of said beverages.
Should Joe Six-Pack care about this bill? "Not at all," Schultz said, and it won't raise the purchase price of his favorite beverage or increase or decrease availability. But it might affect the products' placement in the store.
"There have been rumors," Schultz said, "and they are only rumors, that some importers were trying to influence retailers" about the display of their products.
"I guess that in the grocery business shelf (space) makes a real difference," Schultz said. "No one will admit that, but everyone agrees this bill should be passed."
Everyone but the importers, perhaps.
"Anheuser-Busch had a definite interest," Schultz said, citing the involvement of lobbyist Gene McGee, whom he described as a "local star" in Tallahassee.
"But Sen. King's done all the heavy lifting on this one," Schultz said. "I think it's going through & clean and unencumbered."
What's this? No bottleneck in the House? No chance of being canned in the Senate? No legislator popping his cork in protest?
That may be good news for those who prefer their Florida-produced spirits to have a certain marketing edge, but it could ferment resentment from importers who oppose added regulation.
Jeff Webb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6123.