The lobbying team suited up to do battle this year to pass a single sentence into law to save the embattled tobacco industry millions of dollars is a virtual constellation of both new and old stars. All were selected for their unique ability to "enlighten" certain members.
Consider Ellyn Bogdanoff, the former Fort Lauderdale state senator who tried and failed to return to Tallahassee this year in a second hard-fought campaign. She is returning after all -- as a lobbyist for R.J. Reynolds' parent company, RAI Services.
Bogdanoff, a Republican, was recruited to challenge Democrat Sen. Maria Sachs by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, so he could secure enough votes to overtake Sen. Joe Negron for the 2016 Senate presidency. Latvala has a reputation for siding with the trial lawyers in tort reform battles of the past. After losing his ally, and accepting $50k from RAI for his political committee in October, is he still so aligned?
Then there is Chris Dorworth, the Lake Mary Republican and one-time House choice for speaker of the House. He lost his re-election bid in a bitter brawl to Democrat Mike Clelland in 2012. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli owes his accidental speakership to Dorworth's demise. But Dorworth has made a comeback too -- as lobbyist with the growing list of heavy weights for RAI Services.
Veteran mega lobbyist Ron Book says he is going to be the team leader for what appears to be the stable of 95 lobbyists for Big Tobacco -- more than one for every two legislators. Keith Teel, the Covington Burling partner and tobacco litagator, will be the main D.C. anchor.
Teel is known for having helped orchestrate the tobacco industry's push for tort reform across the country starting in 1995 -- a year after the landmark Engle class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of smokers. (A sidenote: Florida imposed the cap on punitive damages in 1999 as part of the tort reforms ushered in by the GOP-led legislature under Jeb Bush and the year the Engle verdict came down. Why has it taken this long to try to apply it to Engle? Is this the first year they have the votes?)
Then there are the lobbying counterweights hired by the trial bar. They are no lightweights, although considerably smaller in size. Michael Corcoran, the brother of powerful House Appropriations chair Rep. Richard Corcoran, and his partner, Jeff Johnston, have been hired by Citizens Against Tobacco, a 401c3 formed by a group of Engle plaintiffs, whose claims would be stifled by the proposed legislation.
It promises to be a stellar Tallahassee turf battle. "If we get this done, it's going to be a big fight,'' said Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, sponsor of the Senate bill. "I don't think it's going to be a breeze though. Nothing I do that affects lawyers ever is."
Here's the lobbying line-up as of Wednesday: