The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

Protecting the Judicial Branch, One Message at a Time

September/October, 2018 Featured Article

Before most Floridians had even thought about the words “constitution revision commission” strung together in a single sentence, The Florida Bar was hard at work preparing for the state’s once-every-20-years, top-to-bottom review of the Florida Constitution.

The Bar’s goal: safeguard Florida’s judiciary from attack by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), a body whose members were appointed by leaders of the branches of state government.

The CRC is empowered to place proposed constitutional amendments directly on the ballot, as is Florida’s Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, without review by any branch. As the state’s guardian of the professionalism, ethics, and skills of Florida lawyers, the Bar mobilized in recognition of the CRC’s potential impact on the judicial branch.

A key part of the Bar’s strategy came into place when it engaged a Tallahassee-based statewide public affairs communications firm to work with staff to develop a statewide public education program about the CRC process. The objectives of this initiative were to educate voters on the CRC’s purpose and process, encourage participation in that process, and position the Bar as a credible and nonpartisan source of important information for Floridians.

With this direction the agency, Sachs Media Group, first conducted research, uncovering valuable insights that led to the development of “Protect Florida Democracy: Our Constitution. Our Rights. Our Courts.” This, in turn, led to the creation of a multi-pronged public education campaign that exceeded even the most optimistic projections. A steering committee of Bar leaders, staff, and advisers met weekly to implement the program.

The initiative utilized a wide range of tactics, from traditional press conferences and media events (including a program launch featuring actor portrayals of Alexander Hamilton and Frederick Douglass) and extensive social media to videos and a speakers’ bureau. The Bar distributed almost 100,000 copies of a voters’ guide in English and Spanish, educating the public about the CRC process and encouraging citizen involvement.

Significantly, the campaign also developed the highly interactive and informational, a website that served as the hub for all of the Bar’s public messaging materials about the CRC. The site provided visitors important information about the constitution revision process and vital civic lessons, and will continue to provide that information through the November 6 election.

These tactics, and many others, all focused on the main objective of ensuring that Florida voters recognized and fully appreciated the importance of an independent judiciary. From videos to guest newspaper commentaries to radio interviews, messaging drove home the point that voters should be wary of any CRC proposal that threatened the delicate balance of powers that lies at the heart of our system of government.

Of course, all of these tactics would mean little if they failed to resonate with their target audience. On this score, the Bar’s efforts were tremendously successful.

The website was so popular that the 440,467 microsite visits over the seven-month active campaign period was more than triple the Bar’s initial goal. Public polling at the beginning of the initiative, and then again near the conclusion, showed that public awareness of the CRC had doubled, in significant part due to the Bar’s public education campaign. This suggests that among Florida’s 12.9 million registered voters, almost 1.3 million of them became newly aware of the role of the CRC over the course of the initiative.

In the end, none of the eight proposals approved for the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission adversely alters the balance of power between our three co-equal branches of government.

Florida will not see another Constitution Revision Commission convene for another 20 years. When it does, The Florida Bar will be able to look back proudly at the past year to see an effective template for how to conduct an informative and educational public awareness program that helps produce the desired result.