Peter Schorsch at Café con Tampa

by Joey deVilla on August 4, 2017

Café con Tampa is a weekly gathering where people interested in the issues that affect Tampa Bay and the world beyond meet to learn and share ideas with interesting, entertaining (and sometimes infuriating) guest speakers. It takes place every Friday between 8 and 9 a.m. in the wonderful setting of Oxford Exchange, a combination of restaurant, book store, gift shop, co-working space, design studio, event venue, and one of the best “third places” I’ve ever set foot in. It’s attended by an interesting audience that’s often a mix of movers and shakers from the worlds of arts, business, academia, and government, and put together by local hero Bill Carlson, President of the communciations agency Tucker/Hall. If you want to have interesting conversations with some of the area’s movers, shakers, and idea-makers (and enjoy Oxford Exchange’s delicious breakfast spread), you should attend!

Today’s speaker at Café con Tampa was Peter Schorsch, political consultant and political journalist, and publisher of SaintPetersblog and FloridaPolitics.com. I’m a regular reader of SaintPetersblog and an occasional reader of FloridaPolitics.com, and I also recall Schorsch’s name from that time he broke a Starbucks “pay it forward” line on the principle that it was a cynical marketing move on Starbucks’ part, and that participants were driven by guilt and the need to save face, rather than by a spirit of generosity. Since moving here, I’ve found Schorsch reliably informative and entertaining, so I made it a point to catch his presentation today.

Here are my annotated notes…

  • I have the best gig in Florida politics!
  • I get to take shots at every big name in the game from my comfortable vantage point in lovely St. Pete
  • I feel like a Robin Hood, taking money from Florida Power and and giving it to the readers
  • I’m more excited about my job right now than I’ve ever been!
  • I’m also proud of something I wrote recently, about Jack Latvala’s run for governor: “If there’s one mammal who has done more to bring dollars to north Pinellas’ economy than Winter the Dolphin, it’s state Senator Jack Latvala.”

Click the photo to see it at full size.

Click the photo to see it at full size.

  • “I am a walking conflict of interest,” since I report on political news and am consulted as a resource by politicians
  • I think SaintPetersblog’s coverage of St. Pete politics is second to none
  • We also help local political journalists — when the Tribune went down, we offered a lifeline
    • Some came aboard and stayed, some went, some still contributing
  • Our biggest recent political story was getting [Tampa Bay Lightning owner / local real estate magnate] Jeff Vinik on the record to say that he was one of the secret investors for the Tampa Bay Times
  • That goes to show that the Times, although it is pound-for-pound the best newspaper in the country, still faces the same conflicts of interest because of the money it accepts
  • The Weekly Planet and Creative Loafing once provided an alternative to the Tribune and Times, but now that role’s filled by St. Petersblog
  • You can’t dismiss me a just a blogger; I’m not always writing in my underwear. Well, maybe sometimes.
  • SaintPetersblog is a silly name, and Florida Politics is a much better one. Luckily, we were able to get the Floridapolitics.com domain when it went up for sale eBay. We got it for $18,000.
  • We’ve got great reporters like A.G. Gancarski and Scott Powers writing for us
  • We have the largest political reporting footprint in the state
  • We also have a magazine that’s pretty much the Teen Beat of Tallahassee; that is, it’s glossy photos of lobbyists. It may not be exciting to you, but the lobbyists are clamoring to be featured!
  • Our bread and butter is email — our Sunburn mailing list (SaintPetersblog’s daily political news summary)
    • Email may sound old-fashioned, but I think it’s the future of journalism

Click the photo to see it at full size.

  • 2018 will be busiest cycle ever for Florida politics
  • There are so many key races:
    • Governor
    • Agriculture Commissioner
    • CFO
    • Attorney General
  • There’s also the Constitution Revision Commission. [In 1968, Florida became the only state that allows for its state constitution to be revisited and changed through a regularly scheduled commission called the Constitution Revision Commission. They meet once every 20 years, and 2018 is the next such year, and they will review and approve proposals on constitutional topics that run the range fromgambling to education to redistricting to the courts, and the impact of those decisions will be felt for the next two decades.]
  • Many initiatives will be on the ballot, including:
  • Pay particular attention to the special elections: the people who win these often end up 8 years later in roles such as Speaker of the House
  • In 2018, the demographic changes that were predicted to help Florida Democrats will take their effect
  • The Democrats are recruiting better and better candidates, especially in South Florida
  • The Puerto Rico bankruptcy will also be a 2018 election issue
  • Orlando is a battleground unto itself
  • [Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives] Richard Corcoran got what he wanted last session and will go deeper into policy issues
    • You’re going to see him really make his move in the coming months
    • Over wine and cigars, he personally told me that he’s absolutely running for Governor
    • Any of the hemming and hawing you see will be just for show
    • By Easter, you’re going see his campaign signs on people’s yards
  • I’m excited to talk about Governor’s race! There are some good candidates out there.
    • There’s John Morgan, the “Hamlet of Hemp”, the 800 pound gorilla
    • [Bible-thumping yet bleeding-heart liberal businessman] Chris King: You’d be surprised — a lot of smart people around him, he has a great record in the private sector, and if you were to meet him in person and talk with him for a while, you would be thoroughly impressed by him

Click the photo to see it at full size.

  • I do love the Tampa Bay Times, but I also love beating up in them
  • My relationship with the Times is horribly acrimonious
  • Rick Baker told me: “They will not stop until they put you in jail.”
  • If you asked the Times who Public Enemy Number One is, I’m second after the Scientologists
  • I regret my bad relationship with them
  • When SaintPetersblog was just me, I had to set my hair on fire just to get attention, so I took shots at what I thought was the Times doing bad reporting
  • [Tampa Bay Times political editor] Adam Smith is like a cop itching for a fight — ready to put down the badge and go for it
  • Other local journalists see that we’re trying to help them and keep them employed
  • I like to say we run a halfway house for journalists
  • Outside of the Times, we maintain relationships with local journalists

Q&A

When you advise politicians, what company do you bill as?

  • “None of your damn business!”
  • Well, you can do some research and it wouldn’t be too hard to connect the dots
  • One of those companies is Extensive Enterprises Media (see the super-fun fact below!)
  • Anybody can advertise with us
  • We’ve beaten up on our mentors
  • None of our reporters will ever say that we’ve told them to lean one way or another
  • People know where I stand, but I don’t tell my reporters where to stand
  • I do try to get reporters to cover the things that the other outlets aren’t covering
    • For example, we write about underdogs
    • I like being the one result you find when you Google for the early days of big names who were once considered to be long shots

How do you deal with the big problems of journalism today, such as the war on truth and clickbait?

  • I think your question is better put as “How do you deal with fake news?”
  • We don’t do stories like “Charlie Crist put his finger in a light socket, click here to see what happened next!” but wow, from the money and readership that those stories would generate, it’s tempting
  • We choose to write stories about Florida politics that other people don’t cover
  • I compare myself to a chef with a couple of 3- and 4-star restaurants, as opposed to someone with a big chain of fast food joints
    • I take pride in being smaller, and producing higher quality
    • Think of it as the difference between Mise en Place and McDonald’s

How do you think Trump will affect the 2018 elections in Florida?

  • Florida is not very impacted by Trump politics yet
  • However, it clearly a hotbed a Trump support:
  • It became clear from that poll that showed that he could beat Jeb in Florida
  • What I find interesting is Adam Putnam veering right to be like Trump and doing things that are uncharacteristic for his middle-of-the-road approach like embracing the NRA
    • He’s doing this because he doesn’t want to be “Jeb 2.0”
    • He’s capitalizing on his opponents calling him an NRA sellout by actually selling an #nrasellout t-shirt on his site
    • Not really that guy; for most of his career, he’s been reliably center-right
    • The lesson he learned from Trump is that authenticity sells, even if you’re full of shit
  • Let me state it right now: Adam Putnam will not be governor
  • We forget there’s a big senate race, but it will be boring:
    • You’ve got a Democrat in his 70s and [Florida Governor and human-python hybrid] Rick Scott, the most on-message politician to climb out of a test tube
    • They will run an uninteresting campaign that will largely be a referendum on the Trump administration

In a story that you’re publishing about a politician, do you disclose that you’re advising them?

  • Voters and readers are so interested in the information that the conflicts of interest aren’t as big a deal
  • Will the Times put “Jeff Vinik is our secret sugar daddy” at the bottom of every story they write about him?
  • I frame myself as a managing editor, my job is to take my reporters’ defense and fight for them

What do you do if someone were to approach you with a story?

  • It would have to be in our wheelhouse — Florida politics
  • We’d love to be the go-to source for a story
  • We’re faster — on smaller stories, we’re a little more “shoot first, ask questions later”

Do you think that in the age of Trump, we’ll see more Rick Scotts — more self-financed candidates?

  • Perhaps Francis Rooney in Naples…he’s been all sorts of things: multimillionaire, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, and ran for Congress
  • Trump is so unique, he’s an oyster scarred by the New York tabloids
  • Trump is a product of the times

How do you think transportation issues will play out in Florida politics?

  • We’re leading the way in the race to legalize autonomous cars
  • Look at all the stories about driverless cars and semis
  • The trend towards Uber is anti-rail
  • Rail as a concept is not attractive to voters; it’s a 19th-century concept
  • Even when people decide to go with rail transit, there are implementation issues:
    • Consider the rail system in St. Pete — the city is divided along racial lines, with most black people living south of Central Avenue
    • But the rail cuts off at Central Avenue and doesn’t go south, where the people who need it most actually live
    • If you say you’re going to put a rail spike in one spot, 7 people will disagree because they have their own idea about where it should go
  • Who will be the advocate for a rail initiative?

Super-fun fact about Extensive Enterprises

As soon as Schorsch uttered the phrase “Extensive Enterprises”, my first thought was: As in the fake business that acts as a front for Cobra from the ’80s G.I. Joe animated series? And yes, that is the case. When Schorsch stated this, I was the only one in the room who laughed and clapped. Café con Tampa needs more geeks!

He even mentioned the names of the Crimson Twins, Tomax and Xamot, the two psychically-linked mirror-image twins who are both high-level Cobra operatives…

and the co-CEOs of Extensive Enterprises:

Here’s a G.I. Joe clip featuring the twins in business mode…

…and here’s a clip that’s got everything, including businesses buying politicians, the twins’ psychic link, and just all-round terrible eighties cartoon scripting:

(I’ll stop now before I shame myself any further.)

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