LIKE A BOSS!! What being a boss entails and why we need to step up to the plate
Andrew Reiss, he feeds Florida’s politicians like a boss. “Andrew’s Capitol Grill and Bar”, referred to as “Andrew’s” by its regulars, is just a stone’s throw away from the Capitol building. The menu at “Andrew’s” is as diverse as our great state and has amazing dishes named after some not-so-amazing politicians. When session is in, “Andy”, not only dominates the political power lunch, he opens his doors at 6am for a “legislators only” breakfast, and he and his staff also cater many off-site political events. No, this is not a restaurant review; it’s a sociological review. A review I did 8 years ago while working for Andrew Reiss, and it changed my life.
When you are studying Political Science at Florida State University, the chance to be a cog a few blocks up the road in Andy’s well oiled hospitality machine is a chance you don’t pass up and also one that doesn’t come easily. Andy made sure of this. He personally interviews and orally tests each one of his employees, not once, but always. The people he hires represent him and the empire he has built, and he keeps them in check. He is a boss. He is a success.
When I began working at “Andrew’s” I was a waitress. Every time I had a prominent politician at my table I did everything I could to try and listen in on their conversation. Usually, I was not impressed. However, It always struck me odd the way people viewed these politicians. These neighbors that we elected to be a representation of us. They were treated like royalty and looked at in awe by all the passers by; most of them likely had no clue whose presence they were even in. The politicians enjoyed it of course. After all, this is why most of them had these unfounded enormous egos. When they dined with the public, and fraternized with the common man, they would put on their public face and speak a lot of words that added up to nonsense. I know, because I was actually listening, waiting to hear someone say something of substance. As I waited, most people starred with a frozen grin on their face nodding their heads in agreement at nothing.
I worked hard at “Andrews” and eventually became “selected” by the boss, to work an important political gala. If I wanted to keep working these private events I not only had to do my job well, I had to make an impression on the hosts. These hosts (usually special interest groups) also had an image to uphold and a policy to sell and they wanted someone to work their events that would be outgoing enough to make the appropriate conversation with their guests (usually members of the legislature) but also someone who wouldn’t interfere with their agenda. So when given the chance to make an impression, I essentially lobbied the lobbyist. At the time, I had plans to be a lobbyist myself after I graduated, so I was elated when my tactics worked and I became a favorite of one of the elite groups. I was instructed to “look pretty and pour drinks”, to which I gladly complied knowing it would essentially give me a seat at the table (or behind the bar) at these behind the scenes meetings.
I always remembered that first and foremost, I was there working for “Andy”, and not for the host, and not for “we the people”. Andy was my boss, the lobbyist had their boss, and the members of the legislature had a boss as well. Their “boss”, was the collective of their constituents who gave them the job. I had to constantly remind myself of this because what I witnessed made it extremely hard for an outspoken, opinionated person to keep quiet. Not only did these lobbyists trash-talk the representatives and senators they were trying to persuade, but also when legislators were in attendance, they collectively spoke poorly of the constituents. Not only insulting their intelligence, but even things as shallow as a woman’s hair style or a man’s poorly tailored suit. Not all joined in, only ones who wished for their career to advance.
To watch this group of lobbyist and elected officials engage in this behavior was concerning to say the least. “Was this what kind of person I’ll become if I stay in this major? I listened as the lobbyist group masquerading as supporters of “Florida Farmers” spoke of what was nothing less than eliminating the true Florida farmer. They wanted to have all these Florida farmers work for them rather then themselves. I painfully listened as these lobbyist propagated to the legislators that the local farmers’ product wasn’t regulated properly and may be dangerous when consumed. The bill they were selling would “save the day” for these farmers and grow their businesses. The bill’s sponsor spoke of how this piece of legislation would help protect the health and safety of the people. Cheers erupted from the slightly intoxicated crowd. Being an avid supporter for property rights, deregulation and supporting local businesses, it took every ounce of self-control to not interrupt and inform the room that the favorite hors d’oeuvre of the evening was made with sausage from Bradley’s Farm 20 miles north of where we stood. I kept quiet that day, as I did many other days at similarly misguided meetings. “Andy was my boss” I would continually remind myself, and I was there to graciously mix libations for the misinformed audience, not to lobby against the very people I had won over by playing their game.
The more events of these I attended the more appalling the entire situation appeared. Not everyone fell into their trap and I kept telling myself that maybe across the street there was a similar event lobbying for the other side, the people’s side. I held on to hope. I wanted to work in politics, I wanted to change and influence public policy. Would doing so require me to sell my soul? I hoped not. I tried to limit the conversation I had with any of them even when spoken to. I didn’t want them to realize there was wolf in sheep’s clothing in the room. Most of the people hosting and attending these meetings had learned that I was studying political science, but I assumed at some point so were they, and I wondered when they stopped. Regardless, I continued on and I played the role that I was there to play. I cackled at their lame jokes, as I mixed their drinks and cleaned up their mess. They would say things to me like “if you keep up the hard work you may be sitting in this room one day” and I would smile and think to myself “I already am sitting in this room you egotistical tyrant”.
Towards the end of session I was offered an internship with the big bad special interest group. It was an invitation to get my foot in the door of the Good Ol’ Boys Club that I had learned was Florida politics. I was baffled since they had no clue what my opinions were , but I suppose it didn’t matter because experience would lead them to believe that if I were to have any opinions at all, they would be the opinions they told me to have.
As April came to an end I watched the good legislation die and the bad be approved, usually without even much discussion on the floor, and usually with many empty seats and absent representatives. Apathy wrapped itself around me and I was left with many questions and few answers. I coveted my job at “Andrew’s” and I worked hard and respected my boss in order to keep it. Why weren’t these legislators doing the same? What kind of boss allows their employees to behave this way? Certainly not Andrew Reiss, who celebrates this, as his 40th year of filling the bellies of Tallahassee. Maybe the legislature would be boasting 40 years of success if their bosses continually kept them in check.
I did not take the internship. I changed my major to social work to which I remained in for a year, until I had a professor take me aside one day to ask me what I was doing there. It was clear to him that I believed in policy and was an advocate for changing things at the macro level rather than the micro level so commonly focused on in social work. He knew of my background in political science and sociology and inquired as to why I left the College of Social Sciences to come to the College of Social Work. I explained to him what I had witnessed and told him I couldn’t be a part of something that seemed so broken. To which he replied, “Interesting, I saw you as the kind of person who wanted to fix what was broken”.
With that being said, I knew what I had to do. I went back to the College of Social Sciences where I belonged, finished my degree, and continued the fight I have been fighting all along. I took with me an important lesson I learned from the College of Social Work: When a job seems too large to tackle alone, rather then give up, get help. I applied that to politics and realized that with the help of many, we did not have to try and work within the confines of the broken system. We could deny their system all together and build a new one.
The people representing us at all levels of politics are not celebrities. People should feel equal to those representing them. Conversations with elected officials should be as easy for people to do as having a conversation with their mailman. Yes, I appreciate their public service, but treating them as royalty for so long, actually has them believing they are.
So what do we do now?
The power of suggestion seemed to have worked to get us to the place we are today, with politicians who view themselves as royal elite. Now it’s time we suggest the opposite. They must be presented with the message that being popular and having money no longer comes with envy of the masses. Money is only powerful where it can be used to buy power. We need to set the value the dollar has in politics by denying it as tender for our principles and by finding people to represent us in the political arena who agree. If we can’t find them, we become them. If the people polluting politics with their egos won’t step off their pedestals then we will knock them off by replacing them with true “representatives” and we will treat them just as we treat one another and we will expect them to do the same. They work for us. We hired them, we can fire them, and we will no longer sit back while they run the empires we build into the ground. We need to step up and run our government like a boss. They work for US, the PEOPLE, and we should not feel enamored by their presence. They should feel enamored by ours.