The Florida Standard is proud to release the first-ever lobbyist rankings based solely on a survey of people that matter most: Top State government officials. These unbiased, not-for-sale rankings reveal the most effective lobbying advocates.
Over the past few weeks, we asked dozens of top government leaders to rank the 25 lobbyists they find most influential. These state officials were asked to consider the following questions when making their selections:
- Who is most likely to get you to pick up the phone?
- Who best understands and articulates the challenges facing their clients?
- Who provides creative solutions to problems?
- Who would you want to grab a drink with after work?
- Who is easy to work with?
- Who is genuine?
- Who over-plays their hand?
- Who is annoying?
- Who is willing to do anything for their client?
- Most importantly, who gets results?
In surveying Florida’s top government leaders, we focused on members of the Legislature, key legislative staff, executive agency heads, agency chiefs of staff, and senior staff from the office of the Governor.
These are their results. The true 2022 top 25 lobbyists of the year – not filtered, not tainted, not bought. Brought to you exclusively by The Florida Standard.
*** stay tuned – coming next, Florida’s Top Insurance Lobbyist rankings
Nick Iarossi co-founded CCC in 2003 and has worked on local, state, and federal government policy issues for over 20 years. Nick is considered the best in his field representing a diverse client base before Florida’s government including financial services, environmental, disaster management, gaming, retail, education, information technology and procurement.
Over the years, Nick lobbied to pass countless pieces of legislation on behalf of his clients and secured billions of dollars in legislative appropriations. Nick is often relied on by clients to assist on various public affairs aspects such as crisis management, message development, and political branding. Nick graduated from Florida State University with honors.
“Nick is the undisputed heavyweight champion of the Florida lobby corps,” said one senior administration official. “His genuine rapport with the top decision-makers in the Capitol has helped him deliver countless wins for his clients. This success is the result of decades of hard work, long nights, and an endless dedication to perfecting his craft.” One legislator described Nick as “the hardest working man in Tallahassee.” From his gym routine to his study and understanding of complex client issues, Nick exerts a discipline from which all can take a lesson. One official in the Governor’s office also explained that “by the time his issues reach us, they’ve typically already been worked out at a lower level. Nick doesn’t waste our time with problems that shouldn’t escalate to our level, that’s what makes him so good.” Nick takes the time to get to know everyone from agency heads to GC’s to program directors, and his range of issues is endless. That is what makes him so valuable. About the only time you’ll catch Nick outside of work is on the racetrack, where you’ll find him ripping through turns or pushing 160 mph down the back straight. With Nick, it’s pedal to the metal, full-throttle on the track and in the Capitol. It’s no surprise he’s atop the podium as Florida’s most influential lobbyist.”
Brian Ballard, President of Ballard Partners, is frequently recognized by national and state publications as one of the leading lobbyists in America. His accomplishments have spanned over 25 years and include legislative successes on hundreds of policy and funding initiatives in Florida and Washington, DC.
Among his public service to the state of Florida, Ballard served as Chief of Staff to former Governor Bob Martinez and as the Inaugural Chairman for the last three Republican governors – Charlie Crist, Rick Scott, and Ron DeSantis.
While most lobbyists have limited name recognition outside of Tallahassee, that’s not true for Brian Ballard. “The Ballard name carries significant weight in Florida,” according to one high-ranking legislative official. “Brian has a deep knowledge of the process that has been developed over years of careful and intentional attention to detail. His relationships run deep and he’s assembled a formidable team that can punch any issue into the end zone.” It’s this detail-oriented mindset that has turned Ballard Partners into a global practice.
“Brian is the ultimate professional, a true gentleman,” reported one elected official. “He knows the legislative process better than anyone, and if you ever need help he’s there for you.” “Brian is in another league,” said one agency head, “he obviously still knows Florida like the back of his hand, but his reach and influence now span the country.” But even though he’s giving personal advice to Presidents, Governors, Senators, and Fortune 500 CEO’s, he’s never to busy to take a call from a friend and give genuine, friendly advice. Though Brian comes in at #2, if we were polling for the top firm, Ballard Partners might just take the cake. The firm has reemerged as the Tallahassee powerhouse thanks to Brian, the next dude on this list, and a star-studded cast. Teamwork makes the dreamwork, keep it up Brian!
Adrian Lukis is a Partner at the government affairs firm Ballard Partners. Prior to joining Ballard, Adrian most recently served as Governor Ron DeSantis’ Chief of Staff. Adrian also served as the Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Senior Advisor to former Speaker of the Florida House Jose Oliva, Deputy Director of Agenda Development for the Republican Party of Florida, and held multiple roles as an attorney in the Florida House of Representatives.
Adrian received his Bachelor’s in Arts from Florida State University and Juris Doctor from the Florida State University College of Law. He resides in Tallahassee with his wife and two children.
There aren’t many who would give up the state’s top job in order to dedicate more time to their family. But that’s who Adrian is, and it’s why he is beloved by the Governor’s team, executive administration, members of Congress, and most all of state government. As the former Chief of Staff to Governor DeSantis, Adrian has earned the respect of government leaders across the state – on both sides of the aisle. One might also describe Adrian as the man who ended CoVid. If you were one of those working to protect the elderly, follow data, reopen a business, or move a company to the free state, there’s a pretty good chance you spent time talking to Adrian and he made it happen. Those who have worked with Adrian describe him as an “incredibly hard-working advocate, loyal friend, and all-around good guy.” He’s “the kind of person you want on your team.” One state Senator said Adrian is a “no BS straight shooter” who will “work tirelessly until he solves a problem.” Another stated that Adrian “isn’t much for the fanfare or schmoozing, he’s a humble guy who just gets things done!” When asked to describe Adrian in one word, the Governor’s current Chief of Staff didn’t pause before saying “principled.” Another common refrain used by executive agency leaders to describe Adrian: a good man and an even better friend. It didn’t take Mr. Lukis long to become one of Tallahassee’s heavy-hitting power brokers, and he didn’t lose his soul to do it!
Ron Book is the Founder, President and CEO of Ronald L. Book, P.A., a law firm specializing in government affairs. For decades, the firm has consistently been ranked in the top 5 lobbying firms in the state by the news media and those who follow Florida politics. Ron first came into the political world in the 1970’s, when he began working for the Florida Legislature.
Ron later served as Special Counsel to Florida Governor Bob Graham and as Director of the Administrative and Governmental Law Department for Sparber, Shevin, Shapo, Heilbronner & Book – one of Florida's most influential law firms – from 1977 to 1987.
Ron is a “grinder.” He never stops working, and he never gives up. That’s why Ron has more appropriations clients than any other lobbyist in town. During legislative session, you can often see Ron sitting in his office working into the wee hours of the morning, hours after most lobbyists have already hit the Governor’s Club and retired for the evening. One senior administration official described Ron as “a Tallahassee fixture.” Whether you’re Republican or Democrat, “if you need Ron he’s there.” Another senior state leader said “Ron will hunt you down until he gets what he wants, but (laughing) he’s always polite and patient.” No longer the only Book in town, Ron must enjoy having the company of his daughter, Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, when he’s away from his precious South Florida. A former college athlete and lover of sports, Ron’s client list looks way more fun than most others in town. If you weren’t cool enough to get invited to Miami’s F1 debut, you better befriend Ron before the next one. Keep grinding, Ron, and keep winning.
Will Rodriguez started his career in local government in 1998, served in the U.S. Navy and returned to service at the local level in 2008. After four years of working with Mayor De La Cruz at the City of Hialeah Gardens, a friend called and asked if he would be interested in going on a mission with him. Speaker Jose Oliva invested his time into this state and led the Florida House of Representatives with distinction.
Rodriguez was proud to be at his and the state’s service as Director of Finance for Speaker Richard Corcoran at House Campaigns, later leading the entire House Campaigns’ effort as director under Jose Oliva and ultimately as Speaker Oliva’s Senior Advisor in the Florida House of Representatives.
Senior officials from all branches of government love spending time with Will. “His number of wins for clients is only matched by his success (or lack thereof) on the golf course,” said one of the highest-ranking members of state government. Kidding aside, Will is universally described by government leaders as someone who is “easy to deal with, solves problems, and keeps you smiling at the end of a long day.” Will is thoughtful, funny, and “has a delicate touch on the challenging issues” said one agency chief of staff. Though he “doesn’t take life too seriously, that does not stop him from going to the mat for his clients,” said one EOG senior staffer. “If there’s one guy where you always take his calls, it’s Will. You almost forget it’s part of his job because you’re so excited to hear from him.” Well, it sounds like we could all take a lesson out of the Will Rodriguez playbook, because he just cracked the top 5. Somebody call Will and let him know about this honor, because he’s probably on hole 2 right now and won’t see it for a while.
Darrick McGhee, Sr. has over two decades of experience in state government, politics, and lobbying. He is currently the Chief Operating Officer for Johnson & Blanton, LLC, while also continuing the practice of lobbying. Prior to his current role, he served almost a decade-and-a-half in state government in senior roles under three consecutive governors. He received his formal education at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (FAMU), where he earned his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Religion (2000).
As a former agency leader and senior advisor to Governor Scott, Darrick understands the executive and legislative process and brings integrity and passion for public service to his lobbying role. When Darrick’s name was brought up on Plaza, responses were consistently along the lines of “Oh my gosh, I love him!” One senior staffer commented that “it seems like an oxymoron that one could be both a pastor and a lobbyist, but Darrick makes it work well.” Darrick certainly proves the point that one can be a successful advocate for outside interests without crossing lines and playing dirty. Not only does he maintain a great working relationship with administration leaders, but he also serves as a mentor and true friend to many in state government. We also hear he is “an integral participant in weekly bible studies with senior administration officials.” And while Darrick’s faith is clearly important to him, his overwhelming popularity among this Administration’s leaders tells us something about how they operate as well. Amen to that! Darrick, keep seeking first the kingdom, kicking butt for your clients, and leading us all in the right direction.
Scott Ross, Managing Partner at Capital City Consulting, was one of Governor DeSantis’ earliest supporters in his bid for the mansion. A graduate of Florida State University and Nova Southeastern University School of Law, Scott uses his subject matter expertise, political acumen, and legal knowledge to advise his clients on Florida’s complicated political landscape. Scott resides in Tallahassee with his wife Ashley and daughters Kendall (9) and Sara Kate (4).
Scott genuinely cares for the people, the policy, and the politics. According to one senior official, “Scott pushes to the limits for his clients, and when he can’t achieve what they’re seeking, he finds a creative alternative that’s better than what they wanted in the first place.” Though many have been given unofficial accolades for being skilled at 3D chess, nobody’s mastered the game quite like Scott Ross. The quintessential mad scientist, he’s already planned out the moves of all his pieces before you’ve even sat down at the table. But what makes Scott different is that to him the game is only as important as loyalty to friends and ensuring enough down-time for a good cigar. Scott’s got the vision and the intellect, but his greatest attribute? His sense of humor. A key state leader close to the Governor describes Scott as “pretty damn funny, but perhaps not as funny as he thinks he is!” Scott is a “family man who has his priorities straight.” He will go to great lengths to support his friends, and he’d rather do what is right than get ahead. And “when people need favors in Tallahassee, there’s nobody you’d rather help than someone like Scott who displays great moral character.”
Well, Scott, it sounds like you’d probably double your salary if you spent less time looking out for other people, but lucky #7 ain’t bad.
Slater Bayliss is a co-founding member of the Advocacy Group. A veteran of both Florida politics and policy-making, Slater has a reputation as an astute strategist and one of Monroe Street’s most credible and effective advocates. Slater got his start serving as the deputy policy director on Governor Jeb Bush’s 1998 gubernatorial campaign and went on to serve in Governor Bush’s administration.
Following his time in the governor’s office, Slater managed the only successful citizens' initiative campaign in the history of Florida to repeal a provision from the state constitution. His appointments by Senator Marco Rubio and Governor Ron DeSantis to both the Military Service Academy Nominating Commission and The Florida Prepaid College Board are indicative of the trust elected officials place in Slater.
A long-standing DeSantis administration official described Slater as unfailingly friendly, explaining that Slater “comes to meetings willing and able to pull out all the stops for his clients while remaining a consummate professional. There’s something to be said for the guys that have traveled with a gubernatorial candidate,” said another high-ranking official. “Whatever it takes, you get it done. Slater has kept that mindset in building what is arguably one of the more successful careers of any Midwestern transplant in Tallahassee. But Slater is more than just a successful lobbyist. He’s a successful father, husband and friend. He’s earned his spot on this list and a cold Bud Light or two as well.” Cheers, Slater. We certainly need more midwestern values in the Panhandle; thanks for setting the stage.
Heather L. Turnbull is managing partner of Rubin, Turnbull & Associates. She was elevated to that role in January of 2019 after serving in the firm since 2003. Turnbull brings a unique set of strengths to the firm’s clients, including her two decades of experience in Florida politics and government relations as well as her perspective as a licensed attorney.
Turnbull manages all of the firm’s operations within its three Florida offices in Tallahassee, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami, with responsibility for staff, clients, and overall strategy. She has overseen a significant expansion of the firm over the last several years, including an influx of new talent and resources to support the firm’s lobbying, fundraising, and political advisory services.
“Heather Turnbull forges strong relationships built on honesty and direct feedback,” said a tenured, senior agency official. “She gets back to her clients with a sense of urgency and operates with a deliberate strategy not common in Tallahassee. This places her clients in a great position, as Heather’s grit and drive results in long-term victories even amongst the occasional setbacks outside of her control.” When it comes to Heather, “nobody is more prepared,” said another top DeSantis administration official. “Every briefing on a policy issue or budget item comes with a thick folder stuffed with backup info, answers to tough questions, and the major pros associated with the item. She makes life easy for you, which is appreciated when time is scarce. There’s nobody else doing this.” Well, it sounds like those binders full of clients are getting a lot of attention, which is why you’ve broken into the top 10 as our leading lady. Keep making us proud, Heather.
Karl Rasmussen is a Senior Policy Advisor at Metz, Husband & Daughton, specializing in Environment, Insurance, Gaming, Health Care, Technology and Energy issues before the executive and legislative branches of state government. Prior to joining the private sector, Karl spent nearly a decade in government service, including time in the Executive Office of the Governor, where he served as the Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor Rick Scott.
Karl is someone who has a deep understanding of the policy issues for which he advocates, as well as the inner workings of the executive branch of government. As a prior Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor Scott, Karl knows how and when to push his issues for prime consideration. It might come as a surprise to some that Karl finds himself in the top 10, but not us. The surveys don’t lie– the Plaza team and executive branch leadership universally appreciate and respect Karl. They see him as “an honest broker who is always there to help, and who never makes an ask that would put you in an uncomfortable situation.”
Karl is “professional in all ways, never hostile or bothersome, and always pleasant to be around.” Most government leaders know better than to get a drink with a lobbyist, but you can let your guard down with Karl. According to one high-ranking executive agency staff, Karl is “genuine, well-rounded, and as good as they come; he can put business aside and just relax sometimes, and that makes him all the more likable to be around when you do need to talk shop.” An up-and-coming all-star who could sell ice to an eskimo with those blue eyes and smile, Karl looks to keep moving up this esteemed list.
Christy Daly Brodeur has served Florida’s youth and families for more than 20 years, culminating in her role as Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice. Christy continues to serve those with needs as a Partner at Ballard Partners. Her prior experience with at-risk youth might explain her easy demeanor, calm effectiveness in dealing with crisis, and passion for helping her clients find the perfect solutions.
Christy was appointed by Governor DeSantis to serve on the Board of Directors for the Florida Commission on Community Service and she currently chairs the Florida Gubernatorial Fellows program. She also serves on the board of the Florida Youth Foundation, Goodwill Industries-Big Bend, and Inspire of Central Florida – a non-profit organization that provides employment opportunities and life skills training for adults with developmental disabilities.
Those in government appreciate that as a former Agency Head, Christy understands how to manage clients and set expectations when working with state agencies. “She knows how to put wins on the board and give credit where it is due. Her intentional approach is refreshing in a climate that is customarily the opposite,” says one top-ranking executive official. “Put simply, Christy gets it. She is familiar with the inner-workings of state government and can relate to the dilemmas and decisions facing our senior officials.” She knows when to push, and when to let the process play out. All in all, Christy usually finds her way to a “yes!”
Jeff Hartley has been providing effective government relations services to clients and has been a fixture at the Capitol Complex for over 25 years. Jeff, as the majority shareholder and President of Smith Bryan & Myers, has helped grow the firm to become one of the most respected in Tallahassee. He has served as a liaison between the firm’s clients, House and Senate leadership, the Governor’s Office, and the Cabinet.
He has coordinated with advocacy groups and built strategic coalitions to successfully champion his clients’ legislative priorities. SBM’s diverse portfolio of issues ranges from regulated industries, workers’ compensation, and education to health care, local government, automotive industry, and corrections. Throughout his career, Jeff has developed a reputation for being a hardworking and knowledgeable advocate for his clients.
According to one elected official, “Jeff is someone who’s always going to get a return call.” And “you know he’s going to give it to you straight and not keep you on the phone all afternoon.” When you combine Jeff’s easy going approach with his long-standing relationships in town, it’s no coincidence that he’s a go-to-guy for some of the biggest corporations and players in Florida. A plaza staffer did report that “Jeff’s golf game could use a little work,” but we’ll chalk that up to his spending a little too much time in the office. Besides, who judges another man’s golf game anyhow! To sum it up, Jeff’s a good guy that doesn’t waste your time; for what more could you ask? Perhaps a chicken tender pub sub… we’ll be waiting, Jeff!
Chris Moya, a first generation American and native of Miami, has over a quarter century of experience working in and around the legislative and executive branches of government. He represents some of the largest companies in America like Deloitte, State Farm and Hard Rock Hotel and Casinos. He also prides himself on advising and mentoring some of the most disruptive companies like Carvana and the startup Lula Technologies.
The vast experience and unique ability to understand how policy can impact corporate bottom line led to Moya becoming the guy who “wrote the book” on lobbying for CEOs and executives to understand the policy process. With all the big name clients, Chris is probably best known for being the education reform expert, representing Step Up for Students and the Charter School movement in Florida. These two movements represent over one million parents in Florida.
“It should be noted that the most influential guy at a law firm has M.B.A. next to his name,” said one senior state official. “Chris’ omnipresence in the Capitol and sound political acumen create serious value for his clients and therefore his firm. I’m not the least bit surprised to see him on the list of Florida’s most influential lobbyists.” From education to gaming to insurance, his portfolio runs the gamut, which is great for any client. As an apparent gun enthusiast, we hope Chris is locked and loaded for the upcoming legislative session, because we hear this might just be the session where school choice and second amendment rights reach their greatest ebb.
Rachel Cone is Managing Partner at The Southern Group. Rachel grew up in Monroeville, Alabama, the sleepy little Southern town that Harper Lee used as her template for To Kill a Mockingbird. And like Scout Finch, the book’s tomboy protagonist, Monroeville seems to produce more than its fair share of women whose strength and resolve reside a scant millimeter below their melodious Southern drawls. Rachel quickly rose through the ranks of government in the City of Jacksonville and ultimately Governor Rick Scott’s administration, operating at the top levels of several agencies and the Governor’s Office.
As a lobbyist, she divides her time equally between the legislative and the executive branches where she’s known for drawing on her encyclopedic knowledge of government to marshal the most persuasive positions for her swiftly-growing list of clients.
“Rachel’s warmth and grace, combined with her fierce intellect and tenacity, make her a force to be reckoned with,” said one agency chief of staff. Her experience in state government, paired with life lessons that can only come from growing up in small-town Alabama, have molded her into the incredible leader and mother she is today. “Rachel is level-headed, down-to-earth, and gives the Tallahassee lobby corps a good name,” agreed a couple plaza-level leaders.” Chalk one up for the good guys (and gals!), as it’s always nice to see one of them win. Sweet home #14, Rachel is clearly a top lobbyist and for all the right reasons.
Ron LaFace’s lobbying experience includes assisting clients in shaping, enacting, or opposing legislation, navigating procurements, and developing or influencing agency policy through rulemaking and other executive branch intervention. Ron is a past President of Blue Key at the University of Florida, and he received his J.D. from the Florida State University. Ron has also been Florida Senate confirmed to the State’s Postsecondary Education Planning Commission.
Prior to and during law school, Ron worked at the Department of Education, which provided him a solid foundation for statewide public policy work. He specializes in the areas of education, insurance, financial services, construction, healthcare and human services, state licensing, transportation, taxes and appropriations.
“Ron has earned his place as a well-respected lobbyist because of how fiercely he advocates for his clients,” said one senior official at the Agency for Healthcare Administration. “But he also maintains a strong level of respect in government because he’ll never sell you a bill of goods.” A chief of staff at a different agency described how Ron is “one of the few lobbyists who doesn’t just serve as an escort for a meeting–he knows his clients’ issues better than they do, and his pitches sound like common sense.” And while many lobbyists are pegged to specialize in one branch of government, Ron seems to easily find his way into any room. Smart, articulate, and a lawyer, it sounds like the perfect recipe to keep his clients (and hopefully Nick) out of trouble.
Sydney Ridley is a Partner at The Southern Group. A seasoned veteran of both the political trail and the halls of the Capitol, Sydney Ridley’s track record for putting wins on the board is unrivaled. Widely known for her ability to navigate the state appropriations process, her clients consistently survive the gauntlet that is legislative session and the governor’s veto pen – largely because of her relationships and her unrelenting determination. Sydney is one of the most well-known and well-respected lobbyists in the process, and a force to be reckoned with for decades to come.
According to one agency chief of staff, Sydney is “no bullshit and straight to the point.” Others know her to be effective and a strategist, sharing that she knows when to ask for favors and when to figure it out on her own. According to a top state budget official, “Sydney Ridley is the kind of lobbyist you want on your side. Between her political savvy and relationships in both the corporate and government worlds, her ability to get to the bottom of an issue and carry it across the finish line is top-notch. As long as you can tolerate a regular conversation about South Tampa, golf, or the Gators (she actually went to the University of Virginia), Sydney is the person you want to talk to.” A rising star who punches above her weight class, Sydney’s got the instincts and execution to keep moving up this list.
Travis Blanton joined Johnson and Associates in 2002, which became Johnson & Blanton in 2005. His extensive experience in Florida government includes serving as the Chief of Staff for the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), which is responsible for administering Florida's $20 billion Medicaid program and regulating more than 19,000 health care facilities throughout the state. Travis has proudly proven to be successful, accurate, and efficient in implementing the firm's offered services. He has cultivated countless professional relationships over his years working in both the public and private sectors.
Travis’ professionalism and delivery on the subject-matter are second to none. And as a top-ranking Florida health care official reported, “Travis only brings you a problem when he’s able to present a well-thought-out solution, which is appreciated and far from the industry standard. His easy-going demeanor and sense of humor make meetings with him enjoyable, even on the most mundane of topics (see, e.g., medicaid, gross).” You will want to keep an eye on him when the top healthcare lobbyist rankings come out later this year. On a separate note, a senior official in the Governor’s office described Travis as “one of the few lobbyists who calls to just check in on how you’re doing, that’s rare.” Well shoot, maybe we all need to add Travis to our Christmas card list, because it sounds like he’s the kind of person who isn’t just there for the business. Cheers!
David Browning is a Partner at The Southern Group. No other lobbyist in town – or elected official for that matter – can argue against David Browning’s meteoric rise in Florida’s power sphere. Having cut his teeth as a top fundraiser to many politicians past and present, it is the base from which he draws his influence. He’s a fierce competitor who wins at all costs but abhors the spotlight and the credit.
Despite the austere exterior, David builds genuine and long-lasting relationships in a process that rewards transactional dealing and transitory stardom. A force of nature, he’s always grinding, constantly churning, keeping two steps ahead of the next big thing in Florida politics. Clients, colleagues, and friends who find themselves in his inner circle profit from his political savvy, smart counsel, unrelenting work ethic and (occasional) sense of humor.
Not only is David an advocate for his clients, but he also manages clients’ expectations as to what is realistically possible. “When his client is asking for something unreasonable, he helps them understand the process and the needs of the state,” said one senior elected official. “And he’s damn good at it.” And of course, when the client asks can be reasonably articulated, he executes with near perfection. The world of Florida politics can be tricky (at best) to navigate, and David possesses a unique skillset to manage up with his clients, setting expectations while continuously putting wins on the board. It’s not a surprise that he scores well amongst the state’s highest-level decision-makers.
Dean Cannon is the president and CEO of GrayRobinson. He has deep roots in legislative and executive branch lobbying, as well as in litigation, administrative law, regulatory, and appellate matters. An agile and affable leader, Dean guides the strategic direction of the firm through a collaborative approach while focusing on delivering exceptional service to clients and empowering the firm’s nearly 300 legal and lobbying professionals.
Respected and appreciated by clients and colleagues alike, Dean believes in the power of community as the driving force behind positive change. He served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2004 until 2012, where he was selected by his peers to become Speaker of the House for the 2010 to 2012 term and is credited with leading the Florida House effectively during a time of great economic and political turmoil. Dean represents several corporate clients, local governments, regional government entities, and local government-related associations. What makes Dean such a good lobbyist: he’s one of the few who was a presiding officer. That gives him deep insight into the process and its key players.
Now let’s get to the good stuff. Dean’s skill in the political arena is only matched by his great sense of humor, appreciation for good wine, and dedication as a father. A legend in Tallahassee, Dean is known for making his enemies cry in defeat one day, only to win over their loyalty and laughter the next. “Dean is a tough guy not to like,” said one agency head. “Schedules are jammed for people running the state, and there isn’t much time for socializing, but people always make time for Dean.” It’s hard to determine exactly what motivates Dean, business success, the thrill, or just good ol’ revenge. In any event, he makes it work.
Stephen Shiver is a sought-after advocate for corporate, private and non-profit organizations looking to engage the executive and legislative branches of Florida’s state government and top officials. As a founding partner of The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners, his client portfolio consists of Fortune 500 companies and spans a wide range of industries, including business, transportation, energy, education and healthcare. He’s trusted by officials in leadership positions, as well as his peers in the political process.
Shiver’s knowledge of public policy and ability to navigate the political process comes from experience working for state legislative leaders and the Republican Party of Florida. He has also worked with international organizations in Macedonia and Bosnia–Herzegovina to study emerging democracies and political parties. Stephen is a graduate of Florida State University with a degree in English and Business.
One of the state’s most senior and longest-serving officials said the following, “Stephen’s incredible work ethic paired with his dedication to clients sets him apart from the competition. He has experience in most every realm of state government and understands the intricacies of both the legislative and executive branch processes. But best of all, Stephen is an honest broker and you can take his word to the bank.” Chuh, ching, it sounds like Stephen’s effectiveness and influence take more than that to the bank.
Abby Vail is Managing Partner of Ballard Partners’ Tallahassee office and a member of the firm’s Financial Services Practice Group. Prior to joining Ballard Partners, Abby spent the majority of her career working in the financial services industry and most recently served as Chief of Staff to Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation. Previously she served as Vice President of External Affairs for an international health care company and as a Senior Cabinet Aide to Former Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. Abby resides in Tallahassee with her husband, Jason, and two amazing children.
“Not only is Abby’s command of the issues impressive, but she is a strong operator with an eye for detail. No matter how challenging the situation, Abby handles them all with poise and grace,” said a senior state official who has worked with Vail during both her time in government and now in her private sector capacity. In fact, so many state officials described her as operating with “beauty, style, and grace,” that one wonders if she should be in the running for Miss United States as well. Keep it up, Abby.
Will McKinley is President of PooleMcKinley, a Tallahassee-based government affairs firm he co-founded in 1993. PooleMcKinley represents an impressive and diverse number of clients, from emerging businesses to Fortune 1000 companies. The firm has been instrumental in nurturing Florida’s business climate and is consistently at the table during introduction, advocacy, and passage of landmark legislation advancing the entertainment, education, technology, gaming, transportation and healthcare industries.
Further, PooleMcKinley works with leadership in Florida’s executive branch, advocating for clients on issues relating to regulatory and procurement matters. Mr. McKinley is a graduate of Florida State University and lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Susie. They’re the proud parents of two children.
One very high-ranking state official described Will as “reliable, when you need him he is there.” Conversely, “when Will needs to track you down for an answer, he doesn’t stop until he gets it (not kidding, he will blow up your phone!).” Will’s clients know that he is always on top of things. According to one legislative leader, “Will would do anything for his clients, and when you look at some of the most successful companies and organizations over the last few years, a number of them are on his list. It’s not a surprise.” Will gets wide acclaim throughout the Capitol, but we did hear one criticism: “when the heck is that sports betting app getting turned back on?”
Eileen Stuart is a veteran powerbroker in Florida’s state capital, routinely delivering meaningful business wins across the spectrum of Florida’s most critical and innovative industries. Eileen maintains a broad government and public affairs practice, helping businesses navigate complex regulatory environments, secure key appropriations, and expand their footprint throughout the state while elevating brand and reputation. Prior to opening The Vogel Group’s Florida office in 2021, Eileen served as Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs for The Mosaic Company, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of mineral fertilizers. There she directed the industry’s policy and political engagement at the local, state, and federal levels.
Eileen also knows Florida government from within, having served in key government roles within the Executive Office of the Governor, the Florida Legislature, and various state agencies. As a Miami native and graduate of both The University of Florida and Florida State University College of Law, Eileen is Florida through and through.
One senior executive agency leader described Eileen as “a fierce fighter for her clients and their causes, particularly in the environmental world.” Eileen is a staunch advocate for her clients’ interests and is “determined to find out-of-the box solutions to meet their needs while working in partnership with state agencies. But what is most impressive is that at the end of the day, she always delivers.” Eileen is known for being “a bit feisty,” but that’s probably a must if you’re dealing with dense (and nuanced) environmental regulation.
James McFaddin is a Partner at The Southern Group. He’s a steady hand, a master advocate, and a trusted advisor. James has been crafting Florida’s health care and budget policy for more than two decades. Having worked both inside government and in industry, he has a 360-degree perspective on the regulations and rules that govern it. Representing some of the nation’s most trusted health care brands, James is relied on not only by his clients, but also by the government officials whom he lobbies. Where and when the business of healthcare and the power of politics and bureaucracy collide, James can be found there, designing and influencing the laws that shape one of the most important – and influential – industries in the state.
As described by a senior executive official who has helped lead no fewer than four state agencies, “James McFaddin is a consummate professional who advocates for each client as if he were in-house representation. He doesn’t run from problems, rather he presents solutions that positively impact his clients and the agencies that regulate them.” Solid and steady, that’s James McFaddin for you.
Carol Bracy has been an integral part of Ballard Partners for over fifteen years, providing a diverse client portfolio with political, strategic and policy direction before the Florida Legislature, Executive Branch, and Cabinet agencies. Prior to joining the firm in 2007, Carol served as Chief of Staff to Lieutenant Governor Toni Jennings. Carol’s professional experience also includes more than 10 years representing Florida’s 67 counties and their elected officials at the state and federal levels. Carol serves as a Board member and Secretary of the Alzheimer’s Project, Inc., a Tallahassee based non-profit organization dedicated to providing relief and respite for caregivers of persons suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease or other memory impairments.
A senior official in the Governor’s Office described Carol as “cool, calm and collected even in the most precarious situations. She comes to every meeting well-informed and with a deep understanding of the issue at hand.” Carol is a fan favorite in the healthcare regulatory world, and that’s why she rounds out the top 25.