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To drive his agenda, Scott now turns to lobbyists

After winning election as an outsider in 2010, Gov. Rick Scott initially refused to invite lobbyists into his Capitol office (only their clients). But in his first two years as Florida's chief executive, Scott has steadily developed a closer relationship with the people whose connections, clients and money are virtually impossible to ignore in state politics.

That relationship has just reached a new level, after Scott and chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth quietly invited some of the Capitol's most prominent lobbyists to the mansion over a couple of nights last week, where the governor made a strong pitch for the two prongs of his legislative agenda: a $2,500 across-the-board teacher pay raise and a $141 million sales tax break for manufacturers who buy equipment.

A partial list of the lobbyists invited to the mansion includes Paul Bradshaw, Brian Ballard, Ron Book, Dean Cannon, Steve Dial, Mercer Fearington, John French, Steve Metz, Guy Spearman, J.M. (Mac) Stipanovich, James Harold Thompson and Steve Uhlfelder.  

"The governor talked about his agenda and the focus on his top two priorities. 'Hey, look,' the governor said. 'These are my two priorities for the session, and then he provided the framework for those priorities,'" Hollingsworth said.

Unlike Scott's previous get-togethers with other interest groups -- teachers, a teacher union leader, school superintendents and college presidents -- the hour-long sessions with Capitol lobbyists were not publicized. They did not appear on Scott's official agenda, which would have sent reporters scurrying to the mansion. The meetings were held Feb. 4 and 5.

Hollingsworth -- who once employed lobbyists as an executive for the CSX Corp. -- said inviting lobbyists to the mansion was one element of a broader and deeper "engagement of all the folks who are impacted by the governor's policy agenda," and ensure that as many people as possible know exactly what Scott wants. It was described participants as a businesslike discussion with no wining and dining -- soft drinks only.

"There wasn't even a Saltine cracker served," Hollingsworth said. "This is part of a very broad effort to have the governor share his message and his priorities and the rationale for them as broadly and as widely as possible."

"He (Scott) is figuring it out," said lobbyist Book, who added it was common for form,er Democratic governors Reubin Askew and Bob Graham, who was Book's boss, to hold similar sessions. "It was very smart," Book said. "I think when you're solicitous of ideas, whatever the agenda, it makes a lot of sense."  

-- Steve Bousquet