The outcome of this year’s Florida Legislature session may depend largely on a 51-year-old firebrand attorney with a deep conservative streak and a love for cigars and the band U2.
New House Speaker Richard Corcoran has taken on rapper Pitbull, gotten in a knock-down fight with fellow Republican Gov. Rick Scott and vowed to keep legislators in session for months if he doesn’t get his way on property taxes.
He has an ambitious agenda for the 60-day session that starts next week, which also includes term limits for Florida’s most senior judges and throwing out some of the state’s regulations on health care providers. While at one time he lashed out at then-candidate Donald Trump, Corcoran has adopted the president’s populist tone in vowing to fight a “culture of corruption” in a town where Republicans have held sway for nearly 20 years.
Corcoran is unapologetic for his combative ways.
“I think certainly in the political arena, that the hardest thing, in my opinion, that determines a person’s character is what a man does when everyone is looking and you know you are going to go against the grain,” he said last month at a Tallahassee private school appearance.
Corcoran has flummoxed fellow Republicans and stirred speculation he’s more interested in grabbing headlines in anticipation of a potential run for governor in 2018. Corcoran has declined to discuss future political plans.
“Richard is not a political opportunist, he’s never been one,” said Mike Fasano, the Pasco County tax collector and a former legislator who met Corcoran nearly 35 years ago when he was a teenager helping out on local legislative campaigns. “He’s trying to accomplish what he truly believes in.”
Born in Toronto, Corcoran moved to Florida when he was 11. At a young age, he became enamored of conservative thinkers such as author William F. Buckley Jr., and drops names of philosophers like Locke, Hobbes and Rousseau in his speeches. He earned a law degree from Regent University, the school established by evangelist Pat Robertson.
Corcoran works at a well-established law firm and once did legal work for Scott before either was elected. But most of his career has been in politics, including as a legislative aide and chief-of-staff for then-Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, when he helped write Rubio’s blueprint entitled “100 Ideas for Florida’s Future.”
After two unsuccessful runs for the Legislature, Corcoran finally got elected to a Pasco County House seat in 2010. He quickly rose through the ranks and secured enough pledges to become speaker.
He pushed to have the Florida House reject billions in federal aid available under President Barack Obama‘s health care overhaul. During a floor speech now famous in Tallahassee, Corcoran made it clear during a standoff with Senate Republicans over Medicaid expansion that the House would never go along.
“They want us to come to the dance? We’re not dancing. We’re not dancing this session. We’re not dancing next session. We’re not dancing next summer – we’re not dancing,” Corcoran said.
Since he became speaker in November, Corcoran sued to force Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, to reveal how much it paid to Pitbull to promote the state. Corcoran then pushed legislation to scrap the state organization that uses incentives to lure companies to the state. Those moves have angered Scott, whose political committee labeled Corcoran a “career politician.”
Corcoran has put both Scott and Senate Republicans on notice he will not go along with a plan to use a hike in property values – which trigger higher tax payments – to boost funding on schools. Yet at the same time, Corcoran has hinted at his own ambitious plans for education, which will likely mean more money for charter schools. Corcoran’s wife, Anne, founded a charter school. They have six children, and met while attending law school.
Corcoran is a maze of seeming contradictions.
He has railed against the influence of lobbyists, banning them from texting or emailing legislators during committee meetings. Yet his own brother, Michael, is a long-time lobbyist. While at times he sounds stern, he can quickly run off a stream of sarcastic comments and jokes.
“Every day Gov. Scott and I get together and take long walks in the park together,” he quipped recently.
Yet despite harsh treatment leveled at him by the governor, Corcoran says he remains grateful that Scott once hired him, adding: “If Gov. Scott poked me in the chest or whatever, I would take it 10 out of 10 times.”
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.