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Day 182: Hear a Supreme Court argument

2 Jul

This is truly one of those “only in Tallahassee” things to do. The Florida Supreme Court is in downtown Tallahassee and regularly hears arguments on cases before them. They are open to the public, free to attend and pretty entertaining. You can find out when the oral arguments are by checking this website. When you walk in to the Supreme Court, you will be confronted with an X-ray machine and metal detector. I was asked to turn in my phones but not my laptop. After successfully passing through the detector, you cross a rotunda and enter the main courtroom. It has simple benches for spectators and desks closer to where the justices sit for the attorneys arguing their cases. The room wasn’t very crowded and it was easy to find a seat. One thing that struck me about the experience is how frozen in time it seemed. There was no indication around me that we lived in a very technologically savvy time. No one (but me) brought laptops. They attorneys just used a few simple notes and most spoke extemporaneously. You do get a sense of how the justices differ from one another, by their demeanor and questions they ask. They aren’t just judicial robots, each has their own personality that comes through. One nice thing about oral arguments is they are blessedly brief. Each side was given about 20 minutes, though they were allowed to go over a bit. There are other amenities to the Supreme Court building, such as a nice law library. Overall, it’s a really neat way to participate in history as it unfolds and I suspect would be a good learning opportunity for older children.

Address: 500 South Duval Street


Day 82: Tour the Historic Capitol Museum

24 Mar

The white-columned historic old Capitol that sits in front of the new, modern 22-story Capitol building is a popular destination for tourists. The old Capitol has been restored to its 1902 version and is also a museum of Florida’s political history. Admission is free, though donations are encouraged. Each room is devoted to a different part of Florida politics, whether it’s the history of Florida’s governors, or a display of the more recent history of the 2000 presidential recall that focused so much national attention on Florida. There’s lots of cool memorabilia, from old desks to the clothing our old politicos wore. Museum officials have kept intact the rooms that used to house the Supreme Court and the House and Senate chambers. Interestingly, more tourists (and even locals) visit the old Capitol than the new, which instead of showcasing history is making it. If you want to read more about the new Capitol and why it was built, check out my Tallahassee Magazine article.

Day 81: Laugh at the press skits

23 Mar

(Nearly) every year in March, members of the Tallahassee media who cover the Florida Governor, Cabinet and Legislature put on a skit poking fun of the politicos they cover. It’s open to anyone who buys a ticket, but the audience tends to be people who work at the Capitol or work with media and the politicians themselves. As a card-carrying member of the media, I have participated in the skits in the past and can testify to the hard work that goes into putting it on. But because the people crafting press skits have nearly zero background in stage production, singing or acting, don’t expect Broadway. It helps to have a basic understanding of some of the issues the Legislature is grappling with and the recent gaffes of Florida politicians. Some of the best parts of skits are the videos. Usually the Governor and the Senate and House of Representatives will produce skit videos poking fun at themselves. I get a kick out of it because you get to see normally straight-faced politicians cut up.

Address: The press skits are typically held at the Moon. Located at 1105 East Lafayette

Day 77: Watch a legislative debate

18 Mar

As the state Capitol, Tallahassee offers a good many things that other cities in Florida don’t. One of those things is the ability to watch the legislative process. On most weekdays in March and April, any member of the public can trot on down to the Capitol building and watch lawmakers debate bills in the House and Senate chambers. It’s completely free and open to the public. But there are a few things you should know in advance. One, you will have to go through a metal detector to enter the Capitol. (But no removing of shoes or invasive pat-down). Two, it helps to go to the House and Senate websites in advance and look at their calendars. That will tell you when they are in session, and when they are meeting in committees. Three, don’t count on great food. The Capitol cafeteria is so-so and often crowded. Four, don’t even bother looking for free parking unless you’re willing to take a hike. Try Kleman Plaza instead. In my opinion, the best time to go would be in April, when lawmakers spend long hours debating bills on the House and Senate floors. And if you ask certain men who have been around the process awhile, they’ll tell you it’s also a good time to oogle the pretty women, called “closer girls,” who linger around each chamber near the end of the 60-day legislative session.

Address: 400 South Monroe, The Capitol

Day 62: Tour the governor’s mansion

3 Mar

The governor’s mansion sits a few blocks from the Capitol on Adams Street. The only indication this historic home is anything special is the fact that the road is blocked off in front of it, which I heard happened after Sept. 11. The brick home has Corinthian columns and is made to look historic but was actually built in 1956. The 1907 version was dismantled and considered a fire hazard. Tours of the mansion aren’t easy to come by, but they are free. The mansion has a very short “tour season,” from March to May and for a few weeks in December. Other times of the year tours are available by appointment only. The tour consists of most of the downstairs rooms, which includes the entry hall, dining room, a sitting room, library, guest room and “Florida room,” or an enclosed porch. All of the furniture in the home is from the 18th or early 19th century, with a few replicas. Each governor is allowed to include his or her own family pictures and make decisions on the art work, but the furniture stays the same. Even the library books, I learned, were chosen for them. They are all books from Florida authors or about Florida. The guest room was the most interesting to me because of its two tiny twin beds. If a couple stayed there, as the former President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara did, they stayed in separate beds. One interesting fact I learned was that the mansion employs a florist, who keeps fresh flowers in each room. We were surprised when the First Lady, Ann Scott, popped into the tour to say hello and shake our hands. The tour ended after about 45 minutes.

Address: 700 North Adams Street

Day 40: Attend a Village Square debate

9 Feb

It seemed too good to be true. I could watch a former Florida governor debate state economic policy with the current minority leader of the Florida House of Representatives. I am referring to a recent evening forum that brought together Bob Martinez, a Tampa Republican who held the governorship in the late 1980s, and House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders, who is a former top state budget writer when Democrats were in charge of the Legislature. Held at FSU’s College of Law and hosted by The Village Square and the LeRoy Collins Institute, the forum was free to attend and drew a roomful of college students and a few local political celebrities. The Village Square is a non-profit organization whose aim is to encourage more civilized discussions about political topics.  The group hosts political forums several times a year, typically bringing in experts on the subject matter at hand and allowing audience questions. Saunders and Martinez engaged in polite banter and avoided specific suggestions for cutting the state budget. Of interest to me: both of these well-known partisans resisted political attacks and punditry…for most of the night

Day 6: Check out the view from the 22nd floor of the Capitol

6 Jan

Tallahassee’s Capitol is a modern tower built in the 1970s. It remains the tallest building in the city and, thankfully, has kept its top floor open to the public. Almost any weekday, visitors can take an elevator up to the 22nd floor to check out the stunning views of the city and surrounding countryside. On a clear day, you can see into Georgia on the north and almost to the Gulf of Mexico on the south. You can observe the entire Florida State University campus on your west and count the church spires that emerge from treetops throughout the city. If you’re looking for an unusual, and free (!), date spot or an inexpensive place to amuse children for an afternoon, try the 22nd floor.

Address: 400 South Monroe Street