Earlier this month I had the pleasure of visiting our state capitol to spend a week with Representative David Richardson – and after returning home I wanted to share with you how proud I am of him and how PROUD we should all be of Florida’s first elected openly gay lawmaker.
Last year, while we were in the trenches fighting for the possibility of making history in electing the first openly gay lawmaker, we knew that his victory would only be the starting line. Simultaneously, we campaigned for the candidate while preparing for the lawmaker. The plan was simple – know who you are, know who you aren’t, and make friends. We knew we were not sending a long-time gay rights activist to Tallahassee, a hostile environment for a gay freshman in the minority party, instead we knew we were sending a self-made, businessman and philanthropist who happens to be gay. I’m here to tell you the strategy is working.
Know who you are
We knew that David’s business credentials would make for good committee assignments. Good committee assignments are key in Tallahassee and as a freshman Democrat he stood little to no chance of getting good committees. David immediately began meeting with leadership and sharing with them how his specialized business skills would help both Democrats and Republicans. David’s experience as a forensic accountant become our message as we worked behind the scenes to make sure the right people knew about him. Our work paid off and David was assigned to three appropriation subcommittees – these are considered the most powerful committees because they deal directly with the money. Our state has a 70+ billion dollar budget and deciding who gets that money is up to the lawmakers on the Senate and House Appropriations Committees – and David was on three of them!
It hasn’t taken him long, he is already advocating for money to go to important programs in his district and throughout Miami-Dade County. While I was in his office, he and the staff were hard at work researching 15-20 social service programs in Miami-Dade County providing healthcare to poor people. One of those programs was a Hialeah-based organization that could potentially provide housing for homeless LGBTQ youth.
Know who you aren’t
I happen to go up to the Capitol during Dade Days, a constituent driven visit by nearly 300 people who are stakeholders in Miami-Dade on a wide array of issues. The week is a combination of 9-5 lobbying and visits with lawmakers, and the evenings were filled with social events and opportunities to get to know our elected officials outside of the office. David wanted to welcome the Dade Days Delegation and hosted a Stone Crab Reception in his apartment. Nearly 100 people came throughout the evening and what was most impressive was the number of Democrat AND Republican lawmakers who showed. Tallahassee is pretty partisan and the parties mostly stick to themselves, to see Republicans and ranking Democrat Senators in David’s apartment spoke more to the respect he is building on both sides of the aisle.
He’s not this hyper-partisan activist that is in your face or throwing bombs at anything that remotely looks like opposition. That is not who he is and he knows it, instead he’s looking for opportunities to bring Republicans and Democrats together. He’s more interested in getting things done for all Floridians rather than one party over the other and people on both sides of the aisles are recognizing the same thing.
On my last night, David and I went out for dinner and while we were dining a Republican colleague of his approached the table. He was asking about a bill that he needed assistance on. I overheard him tell David, “since you’re the only one that understands any of this stuff, how about we work together…” David introduced us, as is his custom, because he wants to make sure SAVE is making friends as well. I asked him how Representative Richardson was doing. He looked at me and said, “you ought to be proud of this guy, he’s smart and he’s building a reputation as a serious lawmaker – you guys will get your rights because of him.” I had my usual first thought of how funny it is when lawmakers assume I’m gay, but immediately after that this overwhelming sense of pride and fulfillment came over me. It is a feeling I want to share with you and have you know that our guy is getting the job done.
More often than not, Representative Richardson is the smartest guy in the room, but acting like the smartest guy in the room is not a good way to make friends. Each day he wakes up thinking about how his work today will get us one step closer to employment protections or hospital visitation rights. He was made for this job and we should consider ourselves lucky to have him fighting for our rights by knowing who he is, knowing who he isn’t, and making friends.