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Five Questions for Buddy Jacobs


THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, December 6, 2016......... With his trademark fedoras and Southern politesse, Buddy Jacobs has been an institution in the Florida Capitol for nearly five decades.

Jacobs has served as general counsel and lobbyist for the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association for 47 years, almost certainly making him the dean of the Capitol lobbying corps. Early in his career, he worked directly for the 4th Judicial Circuit prosecuting organized crime.

The always-dapper Jacobs earned his law degree from the University of Florida. For 32 years, Jacobs also served as counsel to the Trial Lawyers Section of The Florida Bar, representing it in the Florida Supreme Court and the state Legislature.

Jacobs, 73, moved to Fernandina Beach when he was an infant, and remains a resident of his hometown. During his 13-year tenure as Nassau County's attorney, Jacobs wrote the coastal county's first zoning code. He has received numerous awards for his historic preservation and restoration efforts.

The News Service of Florida has five questions for Arthur "Buddy" Jacobs.

Q: What advice do you have for up-and-coming lobbyists?

JACOBS: As the general counsel for the state attorneys of Florida, through the prosecuting attorneys association, lobbying is part of the service that my law firm renders. I have discovered over time, and I got this from a gentleman named Gordon Butler who helped start the League of Cities back in the late '50s, early '60s. His advice to me was whatever you do, don't talk in an elevator about anything important. Whenever you're in the bathroom, make sure whose feet those are under the stall and always, always tell the truth. Never, ever deceive anyone, staff or legislator, about the truth of whatever matter you're advocating for. Don't mislead anybody. You need to go over backwards to fully disclose issues and you need to tell an elected person and staff member the downside of what you're advocating as well as the upside. You hope that you can persuade them to vote for your issue because of the weight of the upside. But you need to disclose both. I also have learned over the years that anyone who tells you they have influence is right about that until they try to use it. I never, ever thought I had influence over anyone. All I have or wished to have is access, a chance to talk to you about my issue. And if you can agree, I appreciate it. If you can't, I understand. …There will always be a place for lobbyists. I think that being an advocate for a position is a noble calling. It's very important that people let themselves be heard. And people that do it every day have a set of skills that I think bode well for what they're advocating for. People that have the experience, over the years, hopefully they're humbled by it, because anybody that's not humbled in the lobbying process hasn't done very much of it.

(In some ways, lobbyists have been almost demonized by some leaders. Do you think that will have any impact on the profession?)

I'm not discouraged at all. There's never been a year when someone's said, "Isn't it wonderful that we have lobbyists." I've never heard that said. But by the same token, I think there is a mutual respect between elected people and the lobbying corps. We all have our function. The Legislature is the marketplace of ideas. It's important that each idea have its spokesperson or, at least, someone to advocate for those particular ideas. Now, they're not all going to be adopted. They're not all going to be accepted. But I think it's important that people be heard on the issues. And that can be, they can be heard by organized groups, or by individuals who represent those groups. I am not discouraged at all. I have seen it go in different ways over the years. But I have enjoyed the leadership's looking at it this year, as they have in past years. They're trying to make the system better. They're trying to make it more transparent, as far as who you represent and what you're there about. No one should be fearful of those kinds of disclosures.

Q: You've been around since Florida used Old Sparky to execute prisoners. A lot has changed regarding the death penalty since you began your career, and the state is facing another significant change after the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the law that your group advocated this spring is unconstitutional because it does not require unanimous jury recommendations. Would you share your historical perspective on the death penalty?

JACOBS: In my position as general counsel for the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, I have for 47 years represented the now-1,800 assistant state attorneys and the 20 elected state attorneys. My duties are to assist them in the U.S. Supreme Court, the state Supreme Court, all the courts of appeal and circuit courts in Florida, plus the Legislature. I remember back in the '60s I was a prosecutor in the 4th Judicial Circuit and I ended up prosecuting folks that were hired to kill people. Back in that era, there was a case, Furman v. Georgia, which found the death penalty in its application to be unconstitutional. They (the U.S. Supreme Court) said that jurors were too compassionate so the judge needed to be involved in the sentencing. So, to show that the death penalty is a deterrent --- which I strongly believe --- I had the general counsel to the governor take a deposition of one of the people I had prosecuted, who was hired to kill people --- in other words he would kill people and be paid for it, he was a hit man --- in his deposition he said that he didn't understand why people were mad at him because he was just in Florida doing business, and without the death penalty he could do more business because it wasn't as much of a business risk. But with the death penalty, it was a business risk and he had to charge more money and didn't get as much business. He was sentenced to 25 years to life because of the hiatus of the death penalty in Florida. When I took that deposition and read it to various committees, that was perhaps one of the reasons we were able to reinstate the death penalty with the sentencing scheme that we had up until the Hurst case (a major U.S. Supreme Court decision in January). So, Hurst came down and said that the judge should not be that involved in the process and the jurors ought to be more involved. It's a total reversal of where we were back in Furman. It's been interesting to watch that dynamic over time as it has manifested itself.

(Where do you think we're headed? Do you think the court is eventually going to do away with the death penalty?)

Well, the Supreme Court of the United States has not gone that far, and the Supreme Court of Florida has not gone that far. What the Supreme Court of Florida said, and the Supreme Court of the United States did not say, is the recommendation for the sentence of death has to be unanimous. So we know that's there, and we'll probably have to make some minor adjustments to the law we passed last year to make it 12-0.

Q: If leaders in the House and Senate asked your advice going into the next legislative session, what would it be?

JACOBS: I think it's time to … I value state employees. I value people who work, whether they're elected or not elected. I think everyone who works for the state, in my experience, most of all of the people I've come into contact who are state employees really have the best interest of the state at heart. It's been a decade --- this year it will be 11 years --- since we've had an overall pay raise for state employees. I think we undervalue them. We need to value people who work for the state. Generally, people who work for the state make less money than people in the private sector. A lot of them work for the state because they want to make a difference. They want to be a servant and try to make things better. Yet, without having a pay raise over a decade, it really is not a good message to send to people who are dedicated in support of the things that the state does for its citizens.

Q: After nearly five decades of lobbying, what do you view as your biggest accomplishment and your biggest disappointment?

JACOBS: I think perhaps the biggest accomplishment is survival. I'm still here. As far as disappointment, I really don't have disappointments. I'm a very optimistic person. I always believe in the best of people. I think that everyone has something good about them. I even have some good things about me. I've never felt like it's been a failure. Like all people in all walks of life and all occupations, we've had highs and lows. I've certainly had personal highs and lows over time, but overall, looking back --- I'm really not looking back very much. I'm still looking forward. I look forward to, as long as I have my health and as long as my clients have faith in me, to continue going forward. It's an exciting career. It's an excellent career. You feel like some days you do contribute to making a difference, and you do contribute, on some days. You feel like you're making lives better for other people as you go forward. I have never thought of anything in the realm of, "what's a failure." I'm reminded often of Thomas Alva Edison, when asked by someone from the press upon his 14,000th failed experiment. He said, “Sir, aren't you discouraged? This is 14,000 ways this hasn't been done yet." And Edison said, "That's what it is. It's just 14,000 ways it can't be done, but the next one, it will be done." So I'm looking forward to this coming year and the years after that, as long as people have faith in me to get a job done. And I'm very excited about the upcoming session.

Q: Your hats are a trademark. When did you start wearing them, and is there a particular reason?

JACOBS: Well, I've worn hats for about 40 years. The primary reason is I don't have any hair. They are not an accessory for me. They're a necessity. I had an ill-spent youth as a lifeguard at the beach. For four summers, I sat in a chair and baked myself with the great sunblock of iodine and baby oil. So, rather than keep sending a dermatologist to Europe every year, I have been wearing hats. And a person with my particular haircut, you get cold in the winter and you get too much sun in the summer. So hats are an excellent thing for me to wear. They're part of my wardrobe.