Florida Sen. Jason Pizzo considers himself the “biggest no-bulls—t person in the Florida state legislature.” He’s spent the past two weeks on the road to prove it.
A group of 30 UF students gathered in the Reitz Student Union Friday for a meet-and-greet coordinated between Pizzo and UF College Democrats. Gainesville was the sixth city on Pizzo’s 12-stop Campus Conversations Tour, which he undertook to understand youth political apathy, he said.
Halfway through the meeting, Pizzo was joined by fellow Florida legislator Sen. Tina Polsky, who was visiting campus to see her son, a UF student, for parent’s weekend.
“I’m not one of the smartest people in the room anymore,” Pizzo said when Polsky walked in.
Pizzo and Polsky are both Democrats whose constituency includes parts of Broward County. Pizzo also oversees parts of Miami-Dade, while Polsky’s district includes Palm Beach.
After asking for the names and hometowns of each attendee, Pizzo launched into a discussion of youth political activism.
Most young people can name the U.S. president but not the mayor of their hometown or their district’s senator, Pizzo said.
To prove his point, he handed out hundred-dollar bills to the handful of students who raised their hands with the name of their senator.
When people don’t know their state and local leaders, those politicians don’t have to care about issues that will help their constituents — like property insurance, infrastructure and sanitary sewer lines, Pizzo said.
Pizzo connects lack of involvement with local politics among young people to a lack of community in neighborhoods compared to his and his parent’s generations, he said.
“You all know who the president is, you all know what big national issues — now geopolitical international issues — are,” he said. “But you don’t know your freaking neighbor who lives two doors down.”
When the conversation moved to Senate proceedings, Polsky expressed frustration that pressure to fall into party lines leads Republicans to support legislation they don’t fully understand or agree with.
“No bills come to them that aren’t going to pass,” she said. “They only put bills forward that their members can vote ‘yes’ on, so they don’t even have to read the bills.”
Pizzo voiced irritation not just with the Senate Republicans, but with other Democrats — like Nikki Fried, who he doesn’t think is doing a good job as Florida Democratic Party chair, he said.
“Nikki Fried got really pissed at me last week — she texted, ‘Are you fucking kidding me’ to my cell phone,” he said. ”Because I asked the secretary of the Department of Corrections, in the last six years … how many Cabinet members have visited a prison?”
Fried visited a prison on Aug. 10, 2022, only after Pizzo urged her to do so a week before her card would expire before her election, he said.
“We can't say that everybody is so sanctified and they're in sainthood just because they have the same letter, “D,” at the end of their name,” he said.
Attendees of the event appreciated Polsky and Pizzo’s honesty and direct calls to action.
“For the first time, I’m able to leave a meeting like this and be like, ‘You know what, I know exactly what [to do],’” said Sabrina Briceno, a UF senior and the president of UF College Democrats.
The next stop on Pizzo’s tour will be Tallahassee Community College Nov. 7.
Contact Zoey Thomas at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @zoeythomas39
Zoey Thomas is a second-year media production, management and technology major, reporting for the metro desk. Other than writing, her passions include sweet potatoes, Agatha Christie and long-distance running.