It might seem like a luxury to be able to gobble up good public policy books as a legislative leader, given the hectic schedule. But make the time—and it might just change your state.
That’s what Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R) believes, and it’s what feeds his avid reading habit. Now he’s taking it one step further. The speaker’s new podcast, “Read, White and Blue,” features authors who have made him think and, often, influenced his public policy decisions. NCSL caught up with Sprowls after the first episode to ask about his goals for his podcast and his state.
You’ve created this unique podcast. Why?
I wanted to talk to authors of books who’ve written things that have had an influence on me, influenced a policy in Florida or the way that we approached a policy solution that might have been novel or new or bigger and better.
An interesting way to do that is to bring the authors on. Why are they approaching these complicated things differently? So often, you read something and it’s thought provoking, but it’s really difficult to translate into public policy solutions. And we’ve done that here in Florida. And I think this podcast is an opportunity for us to tell the story of who those people are, what those books were, what the thoughts contained them were and how we translated them into really innovative public policy.
How do you decide what to read?
It’s everything from individuals I interact with or conversations about a topic where someone says, “Oh, I read this great book about this.” Sometimes, I’ll read a book about a topic, and I’m not satiated yet on that topic. So I’ll research what are other good books (on the topic) and get those books.
When you’re engaged in the Legislature, it’s hard to sift through all the noise and really get to the thought leaders having a significant impact. This was one way for me to highlight their work, to say, “Hey, this is an individual who I’ve read, who’s done really some groundbreaking research on this particular topic or has this really cool idea. Let’s have a conversation about it.”
What do you hope people walk away with after listening to the podcast?
I hope they walk away curious. I get excited about talking to these authors because I’m genuinely curious about these problems, spotting the problem and then figuring out a way to do something about it. Take Todd Rose, for example—he’s the first episode. I read his first book, “End of Average,” and I thought, “Gosh, this has got such an applicability to K-12 education and to workforce.” Then he came out with “Dark Horse,” (which) is also applicable to … K-12 education and workforce. We have a workforce system in Florida and throughout the country that really isn’t designed to help people find meaningful work that’s going to sustain them and their family.
So we blew up the workforce system last session with the House Bill 1507, which is the largest rework of a workforce system of anyplace in the country. A lot of what we did there was influenced by the work of Todd Rose: the research that was done and his think tank (Populous) about how people view themselves, how they view the world, what’s important to them when it comes to looking for work. Florida then considered, “How do we align the incentive structure of government to meet that purpose?”
How do your love of reading, creation of this podcast and House leadership role intersect to advance the legislative institution?
Well, when you consume a lot of information—whether that’s through a book, a podcast, interacting with individuals—a couple things happen. You start to spot pattern recognition in a problem, which starts to give you an idea of where the pressure points are, where you need to spend a lot of your time. You’re really trying to zone in on a problem.
It gives you a framework to operate within and to determine your philosophy to approach the problem. What are the tools at my disposal? And how do I execute on those things to meet the needs of (my) state?
When you think about the future of Florida, what are the main challenges and opportunities ahead?
Our opportunities are sort of endless. We lead the nation in domestic migration … which creates opportunities for us in business and health care, tourism and innovation. There are challenges that come along with that. The more people that move here, the harder our roads get hit, the more strain we have on our education system, our health care system, our higher education system.
But the House has taken the approach of looking at the long game. So often, it’s difficult to take a 30-year view about where the state could be if you make the right choices. Florida’s been able to do that through the largest expansion of school choice in the history of the United States, changing our workforce system, approaching the challenges with our environment and making sure we’re prepared for things like coastal flooding and protecting the infrastructure of our state. We’ve been able to move the ball significantly because we were really thoughtful and engaged about the long-term impacts.
What other podcasts are in your queue? And what books are on your nightstand right now?
“The Ben Shapiro Show” is always in my queue. “American Optimist” with Joe Lonsdale too. On my nightstand, I’m about halfway through a book called “2034” (a novel by Elliot Ackerman and James G. Stavridis describing) a conflict between the United States and China. It’s fictional, but it’s by a former admiral about how that situation could evolve.
Download “Read, White and Blue” on your preferred podcast streaming service. New episodes released every Tuesday.
Stacy Householder is the director of NCSL’s Leaders and International programs. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.