Lobbyist Yolanda Cash Jackson has been involved in the legislative process across three decades. She has represented a wide range of clients, from non-profits and charities to businesses deep in into industry wars.
One of the Capitol’s relatively few African-American women lobbyists, Jackson currently represents clients as diverse as Bethune-Cookman University, Gulf Power, AT&T and more than a dozen municipalities. She also is a “double Gator” University of Florida and UF Law graduate.
Question: What inspired you to get involved in state government?
Jackson: Just knowing that you could effectuate change, whether good or bad, through a process that allows you to use all of your skills and know-how was appealing to me.
Ultimately, lots of factors went into it. It gave me an alternative to practicing law, which I had done but did not really enjoy. I also had friends who were elected to office in Miami-Dade County, and it was exciting to be able to assist them and help further their goals of making real changes. Lastly, I didn’t know anyone who looked like me who had done it before.
Question: You’ve studied and been involved with redistricting issues since the 1990s. What’s your take on how Florida has progressed in this area?
Jackson: I think so much of redistricting, at the end of the day, relies on the candidates. If you have good candidates, they win. If you have bad candidates, they lose hopefully. I’ve seen the process work on both sides but I think at the end of the day after the lines are drawn, it’s up to the candidates and the voters.
Nonetheless, there still are some concerns that I see. As the state becomes more and more diverse, the elected bodies should reflect that. I’ve had a chance to research the role of women in politics, and we still have a disproportionately low number of them in office despite more than 50 percent of eligible voters being women. Yet in Tallahassee instead of bills to expand access to voting you have, arguably, efforts to restrict it and a refusal to restore the rights of felons besides the redistricting questions. I think these issues all combine to create an elected body in the statehouse that does not reflect the population. They’re all intertwined, it’s all interrelated.
Question: What do you make of the public antagonism between the House and Senate this year?
Jackson: I think it’s still early, that would be my only comment [laughter]. I mean let’s face it, every year they find a way to allow everyone to go home. The question is when. The governor, House, and Senate are each doing what they think is best in their own minds for the state of Florida. Before we face any constitutional deadlines or that sort of thing, I believe they will come to an agreement. It happens every time.
Question: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask the classic parlor game question: Do you expect a special session this year?
Jackson: History shows that in odd-numbered years when there’s no election coming up, we are here for as long as we need to be. That would be my answer — we’ll be here for as long as we need to be.
Question: Have you seen progress in terms of access and representation in the legislative process for average citizens since you started participating?
Jackson: I think that the level of access has been good in Florida generally. When I compare it to working in other states where you can’t even get in the door oftentimes — and maybe this is due to Sunshine Laws — here, any citizen can come up and get a meeting with their legislator. You don’t have to be anything special.
Certainly, lobbyists have access, but that’s all they have. For most elected officials, constituents usually trump lobbyists. I think as time goes on, new members will see that more and more. Lobbyists can lead them to think they control things, but they really don’t. That has not changed. Members listen to their constituents because they know that’s ultimately where their power lies.