EDITOR’S NOTE: Andy is a Tampa-area political operative and well-versed in local and state politics. He’s also a USF alum with outstanding taste in apparel at sporting events.
Almost all of you reading this participated in USF pulling the alarm for alums and the Tampa Bay community to reach out to the Florida Legislature on Saturday morning on the fight to reach preeminence (link to USF website with more information here). Luckily, I have plenty of Tallahassee and local political experience, and had the ability to watch the Florida Channel all afternoon Monday.
USF lost this round of the fight when the Legislature voted for the change in metrics, but USF will probably gain preeminence in the next 2-3 years.
I’ve been asked by several to review and recap what happened with USF’s fight for preeminence metrics at the end of Florida legislative session.
This process was fundamentally unfair, with a change that only hurt USF.
There is an argument that USF should have seen this coming... but the way this went down goes against how the legislative process is supposed to work. It was a late change, slipped in at 4:30 p.m. on the last day of the session by the presiding officers, with no opportunity for public testimony or for other members of the Legislature to amend the bill.
I have no idea if the rumors about another university pushing this to block USF are true. I absolutely believe this is possible, I just personally have not been shown the evidence. FWIW, they deny inolvement.
Senator Tom Lee (R-Thonotosassa) spoke out the strongest on the Senate side against the flawed process. He said on the floor of the Senate that he was “embarrassed” by what had happened and “I hope we learn from this, take a look at our process and make sure these policy changes are done in public.” Lee found out about the policy change on Saturday, when a friend and former member of the USF Board of Trustees reached out to ask what the Senate had done.
Tampa Bay Legislative Delegation is as Split as the Crowds at Tampa Bay Sporting Events
Although the late policy change to hurt USF was not their doing, the two men that were charged with publicly answering the questions and defending the last minute policy change to their fellow legislators were both from the Tampa Bay area. Senate Higher Education Appropriations Chairman Bill Galvano (R-Manatee, district includes southern Hillsborough) and House Higher Education Appropriations Chairman Larry Ahern (R-Pinellas, and running for a seat on the Pinellas County Commission in 2018) standing at front of their respective chambers defending this sent the weekend dream of the Tampa Bay legislative delegation standing together to fight this up in smoke early in the day.
Ahern seemed to not know the issue well when questioned on the House floor. He mostly stuck to reading his talking points from Senate leadership into the microphone. Galvano knew the issue better, and he admitted during questioning it was not part of the committee process.
Full Appropriations Committee Chairman Senator Latvala (R-Pinellas) took a moment to point out USF had $57 million in this year’s budget and that we might be missing the forest for the trees. He is correct in that it is a very strong year for USF, but it really is as much about the principle of joining the top tier preeminent universities and goalposts being moved in an unfair process as the money. (But trust me, the money is nice.)
USF’s Call to Action Was Good Practice For Later
The first public notice of a problem was Saturday morning. The Tampa Bay community went from 0 to 100 to defend USF. From Friend to All Bulls and Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Chairman Mike Griffin bringing the fire, to Mayor Buckhorn raising the issue Monday, plus thousands of USF supporters all over Florida reaching out to their legislators over the weekend, USF’s voice was strong and loud.
This reaction is great news. It lets everyone know there is a demand to support and protect USF’s academic and economic reputation in the Tampa Bay community. If there is an issue next legislative session USF needs to activate on, the base and system is there to launch an immediate, all-out campaign to protect our alma mater.
There was one major problem: On the 48 hour campaign for the preeminence metric, it was always too late.
Conforming bills set policy to align with the budget and cannot be amended, only receive an up or down vote. There were talks over the weekend to see if something could be done, but this year’s legislative session was already in overtime set to end Monday at midnight. This made even the pipe dream of changing it impossible.
- Senator Dana Young (R-Tampa) got to point out on the floor of the Senate that President Joe Negron committed to work with USF over the summer on a “path to preeminence.” This being said publicly is good, as it allows USF’s team and alums to hold the Senate President to it. She also stated the Tampa Bay community may not have understood the legislative process, which was unfortunate, but her publicly saying the Senate President committed to work with USF outweighs the bad.
- As almost all legislators in support of the change pointed out, USF received $57 million in this year’s budget. That is good.
- Having various Tampa Bay area legislators openly supporting/defending this change. Ahern and Galvano are at the top of the list here.
- The fact that the metric did pass through the Legislature. pushing USF away when we had almost achieved preeminence.
So….What Do We Do Now?
The great thing about legislative changes is they can be changed again. The 2018 legislative session starts in January next year. I imagine changing the metric back will be a top priority of USF’s lobbying team. The public outcry will help, but keeping it up will help even more. If you see your legislator at a meeting, at Publix, at a park, or wherever, tell them you are still mad about what happened to USF and want it changed back.
When I was an aide, we would catch hell but rarely get a thank you. It goes a long way. Here are some of the legislators who spoke out today or asked questions on behalf of USF. Take a moment, tweet them or email them and say thank you.
Senator Tom Lee
Some of the strongest criticism of the last second change that hurt USF. Said he was embarrassed by the way the change was made. Twitter: @TomLeeFL
Senator Darryl Rouson
Asked pointed questions on the policy change on the Senate floor. @darrylrouson
Rep. Janet Cruz
House minority leader. Some of the most animated criticism on the House floor about the change. Top quote: “My hometown, my university was CHEATED.” @RepJanetCruz
Rep. Wengay Newton
Top quote: “What happened to USF behind closed doors was criminal.” @NewtFL
Rep. Shawn Harrison
One of the more well-known Bulls in the Florida Legislature and a regular at USF Alumni Association events. “The Bull Nation is upset and so am I.” He also mentioned Senate President Negron’s commitment to working with USF to “find a path to preeminence.” @Shawnfor63
Rep. Jackie Toledo
Brief remarks: mentioned USF changed her life, gave her a full scholarship when her family could not afford it. @ToledoForTampa