March 13, 2019

TALLAHASSEE— Tallahassee gets a taste of the islands Tuesday, March 19, as a sizable Monroe County crew heads to Florida Keys Day at the Florida capital.

“We’ve got a fantastic story to tell,” state Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, said last week. “Last year, we were still pretty much in recovery mode from Hurricane Irma. But we made it through Irma, and while we’ve still got challenges, life is pretty good.”

The annual Florida Keys Day launched by the Leadership Monroe County program more than a decade ago aims to update members of the Florida Legislature and state agency staff about issues of concern to the southernmost county.

And just to make sure people pay attention, a plentiful supply of fresh seafood and other Keys specialties are involved.

Estimates of about 100 Keys residents including elected officials, county and municipal staff and business people begin arriving March 18 to begin preparations for the main event: the “Florida Keys Day Seafood Celebration & Happy Hour” from 5 to 7 p.m. March 19.

“Conch chowder, fish dip, shrimp cocktail, conch salad, conch fritters, lionfish, mahi fingers, chicken wings and chocolate-covered key lime pie on a stick,” described event coordinator Erin Muir. “And it’s all free.”

Among the major local business contributors are Sundowners, Key Largo Fisheries, Islamorada Beer Company and Islamorada Distilling, Mangrove Mike’s Cafe and Catering, Island Home,Waste Management of the Florida Keys, and others. Mariners Hospital, Ocean Reef Club and Mote Marine Laboratory also serve as sponsors.

Held in the courtyard of the Florida State Capitol, the feast this year is expected to entice many of the top officials from the legislative leadership and new administration of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“We’re excited to have such a big bunch coming from the Keys,” Raschein said. “We’ve got to continually tell our story up here. There’s been a lot of change with a new House speaker, Senate president and new members in the legislature.”

State Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Dist. 39, serves as co-host with Raschein.

Other notables expected to attend Florida Keys Day include Nikki Fried, the first woman to serve as Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, and Noah Valenstein, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.

“We know it takes a lot of effort and expense to get to Tallahassee from the Keys, so we don’t want to waste anyone’s time,” Raschein said. “Our goal is always to make sure the trip is worthwhile.”

Before the 10th annual celebration, Monroe County representatives will fan out to speak with state officials on issues that range from funding for the Florida Keys Stewardship Act, workforce housing and property insurance to protecting Keys waters from lionfish and coral disease.

Leadership Monroe members Audra Hill Wallace, Jason Koler, Bobby Stoky and Daniel Samess have been regular participants in planning Florida Keys Day, along with Mike Forster, Kate DeLoach and Muir.

DEMA Dive-In Day

The Diving Equipment and Marketing Association, a leading underwater trade group, now holds its annual DEMA Dive-In-Day in Tallahassee in conjunction with Florida Keys Day.

DEMA’s international membership includes 65 Florida Keys businesses and organizations, group legislative liaison Bob Harris said.

“During the day, we kind of flood the Capitol. Divers are everywhere you look,” Harris said. “We talk about the impact of diving on Florida, economically and otherwise. We certainly welcome any of our Keys members to come join us but we know it’s a long trip.”

kwadlow@keysnews.com