Richard Corcoran Archives - SaintPetersBlog

Democrats have opportunity-in-crisis with Rick Scott education bill veto possibility

Winston Churchill once said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Democrats are starting to formulate a strategy for Bill Nelson’s upcoming Senate re-election effort — more likely than not facing Gov. Rick Scott.

Not one to waste a good opportunity, Nelson’s nascent campaign could receive a significant boost by way of a veto of the sweeping education bill assembled by lawmakers in the 2017 Legislative Session’s final hours.

The proposal (HB 7069) – a leading priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran – has been panned by educators, parents and labor unions, all calling for Scott to wield his veto pen.

Opponents decry both the bill and state budget, primarily for adding ‘just’ $24 in average per-student spending while moving $140 million to charter schools, described optimistically as “Schools of Hope.”

However, tucked away in the PreK-12 Conforming Bill is a political “poison pill” in the case of a veto; rewards for teacher performance, as much as $233 million in bonuses.

Teachers considered “Best and Brightest” could receive $6,000, those “highly effective” will get $1,200, and those considered “effective” could see a bonus of up to $800, based on available funds.

Scott, still stinging from the rebuke by lawmakers who severely cut his favored VISIT Florida and Enterprise Florida, could use his veto power to retaliate against projects near and dear to Speaker Corcoran.

Corcoran rallied throughout Session against the state’s business and tourism incentive programs, calling them “corporate welfare.”

Vetoing the reduced spending for VISIT and Enterprise Florida would be of little help since both programs would remain underfunded. Corcoran would not be unhappy if either one disappeared.

But a veto of HB 7069 would certainly do the trick, though not without a hefty political price.

Scott’s veto of teacher bonuses could hand Democrats an effective talking point for 2018. Just imagine the headlines: “Rick Scott denies bonuses for public school teachers.”

Such a move would certainly play well for Nelson and Democrats in attack mailers, TV ads and the like – each designed to inflict maximum political damage for Scott’s statewide campaign, should he choose to run.

Of course, this presents Scott with a classic Catch-22 scenario: damned if he vetoes, damned if he doesn’t.

So, as the deadline approaches, what remains is political calculus – finding the best way to mitigate any damage ahead of an all-but-certain Senate run.

And at least one option has a solid upside; it gives money to teachers, which is far from a bad thing.

Fate of program for disabled children rests with Rick Scott

Debby Dawson, who lives in southwest Florida, has a simple message to Gov. Rick Scott: The state’s existing scholarship program for disabled children is “life changing” and has helped her 7-year-old autistic son “develop by leaps and bounds.”

Dawson is part of a chorus of parents from around the state who have mounted a campaign through letters, emails and phone calls urging the Republican governor to sign a sweeping education bill that will soon come to his desk.

But that same bill has sparked an outpouring of an even larger negative reaction to Scott both directly and on social media.

School superintendents, the state’s teacher union, parent-teacher groups and Democrats have called on the governor to veto the bill. Even Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the leading Republican candidate for governor in 2018, called the legislation a “train wreck” on Tuesday and said Scott should take a “hard look” at vetoing the bill.

That’s because GOP legislators crafted the 300-page bill largely in secret, and included in it portions that would steer more state and local money to privately-run charter schools. The legislation (HB 7069) also mandates recess in elementary schools, expands virtual education courses to private and home schooled students, and tweaks Florida’s testing system.

Scott, who supported the creation of the scholarship program, has not yet said what he plans to do.

But if he vetoes the bill, however, he will wipe out an extra $30 million for the Gardiner Scholarship program that provides tuition, therapy and other services to roughly 8,000 disabled students. Legislators included $73 million in the state budget for scholarships, but those who operate the program say it is growing and they may not have enough money to serve everyone without the extra money. Additionally, legislators passed a separate bill that would expand those eligible for the program.

That’s why Dawson wrote Scott asking him to sign the bill. She said without the extra money her other son – who is about to turn 3-years-old – may not get a scholarship in the coming year.

“As a parent who has seen how life changing this grant is, and knowing my second child may not have the same opportunities as my oldest, it is heartbreaking, to say the least,” Dawson wrote in an email to a reporter. “This grant opens up doors for our children where the doors were once shut and locked tight.”

Legislative leaders have not given a detailed explanation on why they put the extra money for the scholarship program in the bill, which was not released publicly until two days before a final vote. Initially, the state Senate had more than $100 million in its budget for the program but then agreed to lower it during budget negotiations.

Sen. Jack Latvala, the budget chairman, said the decision to include the money in the bill and not the budget was at the urging of House Speaker Richard Corcoran. When asked Corcoran called it a “compromise” since the House did not include the higher amount in its initial budget.

Sen. Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat opposed to the bill, argued that legislative leaders crafted the legislation this way in order to make it harder for Scott to veto the bill.

“I was deeply disturbed that (the families of disabled children) were hijacked and used as pawns to mollify opposition to an otherwise bad bill,” Farmer said.

School choice advocates, including former Gov. Jeb Bush, are asking Scott to sign the bill. Former Senate President Andy Gardiner, who has a son with Down syndrome and helped create the program, said he hopes the “governor is mindful” that the bill isn’t just about charter schools and that many families will be affected by his decision.

Barbara Beasley, whose 9-year-old daughter receives a Gardiner scholarship, says it has dramatically improved her daughter’s life, but she said that “lawmakers sold us down the river with their backroom dealing on the education bill.” She said other parts of the legislation are detrimental to public schools and should be stopped.

“I beg Governor Scott to order lawmakers back to session to fix their mistakes, separate these items from the bad and push them through,” Beasley said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Eric Eisnaugle makes House departure official

Call him former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle now.

The Republican from Windermere announced his resignation would come on the last day of Florida’s Legislative Session to accept an appointment to Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeals, but delayed the actual departure until late last week.

With his now official resignation — spelled out in a letter last Thursday to Speaker Richard Corcoran — Eisnaugle officially opens the way for the Florida Division of Elections and Rick Scott to set dates for special elections in Florida’s House District 44, covering western Orange County.

Already that race has drawn five candidates: Republicans Dr. Usha Jain, John Newstreet, Bobby Olszewski, and Bruno Portigliatti; and Democrat Paul Chandler.

Eisnaugle asked Corcoran to leave the district office open so that the staff may continue to serve the district.

Drug Free America Foundation wants medical marijuana Special Session

The Drug Free America Foundation is adding its voice to those calling for a Special Session on Medical Marijuana Implementation, according to a Monday press release.

“It is critical that our leaders call a special session to complete the unfinished business of implementing Amendment 2,” said Calvina Fay, executive director of the Foundation. “Moreover, it is short-sighted to think that the lack of legislation to implement Amendment 2 will stop the marijuana industry from operating.”

Fay, among other examples, cited a recent cease and desist letter from the Department of Health to Trulieve, telling it to stop selling its whole-flower cannabis product meant for vaping that also could be broken down and smoked.

“These and other similar issues are all addressed in compromise legislation that died when members of the legislature could not come to an agreement on the number of dispensaries allowed for each licensee,” Fay added.

“It is imperative that our legislators come together, take action and not allow the marijuana industry to operate as it does in some states, with no regards to public health and safety.”

A Special Session could be called jointly by Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, but Negron has not yet made up his mind whether to convene lawmakers.

The regular 2017 Legislative Session ended earlier this month without agreement on a bill.

Ken Hagan doesn’t understand why Tallahassee Republicans seemingly ‘loathe’ local government’

Republicans in Tallahassee have left Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan scratching his head.

Plenty of city and county government officials have recently disparaged members of the Florida Legislature for passing a measure to expand the homestead exemption, which could ultimately deprive them of millions of dollars of revenues in the coming years.

As for Hagan, a lifelong Hillsborough County Republican, he doesn’t have that big of an issue with his fellow GOP state lawmakers over that matter.

But Hagan certainly does have a problem with killing Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private economic development organization slated to be completely defunded unless Gov. Rick Scott vetoes that bill in the next month.

Led by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the Florida House voted to defund Enterprise Florida, which offers tax incentives to lure businesses to the state, decrying it as corporate welfare.

Hagan has trouble understanding that attitude.

“Years ago, the conservative pro-business Republicans were always in favor, because it was job creation, (and) it was the more liberal side that made the case it was corporate welfare,” Hagan said Friday at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa. “Now it’s a 180.”

Hagan was speaking to about 50 people at the event, part of the Cafe Con Tampa series.

“Now you’ve got far right conservative Republicans saying this is corporate welfare and why are we doing this,” he said. “And I really don’t understand.”

More than ever, local city councils and county commission members up and down the state have criticized the GOP-led Legislature this spring for seemingly attacking the idea of “home rule,” including numerous attempts to take power away from local governments, and bring control back to Tallahassee.

In some cases, they were successful; others, not so much.

“It’s been my impression through the years that there are certain members of the Legislature … that really appear to loathe local government, and I don’t really quite understand that,” Hagan said.

Some Democrats say that they believe Tallahassee is biased against local governments, in part because they’re controlled by Democrats.

But that’s not universal throughout the state.

For years, the Hillsborough County Commission has been a dominantly conservative Republican board, and Hagan said it’s been as fiscally conservative “as any in the state. ”

“Yet it seems like some members, for whatever reason, think that local government just wastes money away, and I really don’t understand that.”

“I’m a fiscal conservative,” Hagan continued, “and it’s always been my opinion that conservatives believe in devolving power from the federal level to the state level to the local level, and some of their actions appear to be inconsistent with that core conservative philosophy.”

“I don’t understand where it’s coming from.”

The 49-year-old Carrollwood-based legislator sponsored a number of ordinances that have captured the attention of the public over the years. That includes this week’s ban on commercial puppy stores opening in the county, in an attempt to crack down on puppy mills.

Initially elected in 2002, he’s been re-elected four different times, serving in two separate districts; he’s hungry to stay involved in county politics, announcing last month he will run next year for the District 2 North Hillsborough. It’s a seat he previously held for eight years (2002-2010).

That’s prompted some grumbling from Democrats and Republicans such as Tom Lee, who say that it violates the spirit of term limits in the county which call for a maximum of two terms in one district.

But the fact is, Democrats haven’t been able to beat Hagan in five different elections to date.

One issue that the Legislature recently approved that has irked local lawmakers is the vote to expand the homestead exemption by another $25,000 on the November 2018 ballot.

County Administrator Mike Merrill said that could bring a financial hit of up to $36 million annually to the county, but Hagan doesn’t have an issue with it.

“Whenever we can offer our citizens property tax relief we should, but it’s going to require us to continue tightening our belt,” he said bluntly.

When it comes to tax incentives for luring Hollywood productions to the county, Hagan has been an unflagging champion of the concept.

However, because state lawmakers have declined to replenish that incentive program in recent years, Hollywood producers wanting to film in Tampa went to states like Louisiana or Georgia, as was the case of the recent Ben Affleck-directed “Live By Night.”

The producers of last summer’s “The Infiltrator” wanted to film extensively in the Tampa Bay area, but couldn’t because of the lack of a state incentive. Led by Hagan, the County contributed $250,000 to the producers to convince them to shoot some scenes here.

“When properly executed and we can show a return on investment, and you’re offering your incentives after the fact, after they’ve created the thresholds, it’s a sound investment and a strong return on investment,” he says.

Hagan believes the problem with incentives are when they are offered before a company actually meets the metrics such as how many jobs they will bring to the area. He remains hopeful that Tallahassee will change their policy on providing film subsidies, though that certainly won’t happen under the current regime.

Hagan has also been well known for championing sports to the region, and he’s been the number one cheerleader/strategist in trying to lure the cross-bay Tampa Bay Rays to Tampa.

Admitting to being frustrated about how long the process has gone on, Hagan sounded optimistic that the Rays would announce their choice of a stadium sometime in 2017, and hinted that it would be somewhere in the Ybor/Channelside area.

“I think that they will be able to come up with something special that’s going a long way toward transforming downtown, Channelside-Ybor area, where I don’t mind saying that it’s going to be in that geographical swath,” he said. “It’s going to go a long way toward transforming downtown Tampa and the entire Tampa Bay area.”

#2 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Richard Corcoran

Although Richard Corcoran was undoubtedly the most powerful man in Tallahassee this year, the House Speaker from Trinity comes in a surprising second in this year’s survey.

But nobody ruled the state capitol like Corcoran did this past spring, winning the battle (at least so far) with Gov. Rick Scott in gutting VISIT Florida and substantially downsizing Enterprise Florida under the mantra of “no more corporate welfare.”

Corcoran also made enemies out of local government officials who are already cutting back on their 2018 budgets after the House voted to put a constitutional amendment on next year’s ballot to increase the homestead exemption.

Addressing his House colleagues in November, Corcoran announced sweeping new transparency rules, including severe restrictions on lobbyists and demanding that any earmark in the state budget must come with its own standalone bill.

“If you can’t manage to convince even 1 of 120 House members to file your bill; if you can’t withstand a few weeks of public scrutiny; if you don’t have sufficient documentation to prove that the appropriation is legitimate — then you don’t deserve taxpayers’ money,” he said.

Later would come his jihad against “corporate welfare,” specifically in the public-private partnerships Enterprise Florida and VISIT Florida.

“Even though Richard has been in office for several years now, I truly believe he is only just beginning his political career,” says his friend, Pasco County Property Tax Collector Mike Fasano. “I have no doubt that Richard’s term as Speaker of the House is just the start of a long and successful career.”

Could that be a run for Senate or Governor in 2018? With another year left as House Speaker, Corcoran is as powerful as it gets in Tallahassee without already having those titles.

Corcoran was ranked No. 1 in the 2016 survey.

Joe Henderson’s Take

“I had him ranked No. 1 on my list, mostly because I think he is the most powerful politician in the state. He set off an earthquake in Tallahassee in his first year as House Speaker and his rout of Gov. Scott’s spending agenda was epic theatre. No question he made enemies along the way, but I don’t think he gives two hoots about that. Few people can ever say they changed the landscape the way Corcoran has. What’s next? Corcoran says he will either run for governor or not run at all. My guess is it will be the latter.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

Why Jack Latvala ranks ahead of Richard Corcoran on our list of Tampa Bay’s most powerful pols

SaintPetersBlog’s fifth annual ranking of Tampa Bay’s most powerful pols wraps up today with the (somewhat) surprising reveal that state Sen. Jack Latvala finished ahead of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

A dominant force in regional and state politics for decades, this is Latvala’s first time atop the list.

But how can this be? Isn’t the Speaker of the House more powerful than any individual state Senator?

Yes, of course, the Speaker is more powerful than any senator, including the Senate President. Besides the Governor, the Speaker is the most powerful person in state government.

What’s more, Corcoran is an especially powerful House Speaker. As the Tampa Bay Times’ Tim Nickens wrote last week, Corcoran dominated the 2017 Legislative Session more than any other lawmaker dominated a previous session since Dempsey Barron held the gavel.

But none of this makes Corcoran more powerful in Tampa Bay and that, I would presume, is why our panel gives Latvala the edge.

It’s important to keep in mind that this was a collective decision. The panel includes some of the smartest consultants, lobbyists and operatives in the Tampa Bay region. If anyone can judge who is more powerful between Corcoran and Latvala (which is like asking who is the better NBA player, LeBron James or Stephen Curry?), it’s our panel.

Talking with several panelists, here’s what Corcoran versus Latvala came down to — all politics is local.

While Corcoran can zero-fund Enterprise Florida, he doesn’t have the sway Latvala has in the city halls and regional planning offices of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco.

I’m sure the panelists weren’t suggesting that Corcoran doesn’t have influence with, say, the City of Clearwater or with the TBARTA board — Lord knows the Speaker could light a fire there if he wanted — it’s that the senior senator from Pinellas keeps a close eye on his backyard.

Another factor on some panelists’ minds was Latvala’s influence in local elections.

It’s certainly not what it once was, just as his recent track record across the state has not been good enough to make him Senate President, he’s much more of a force in local elections than Corcoran, who doesn’t really play in sub-legislative contests in Hillsborough or Pinellas.

We know Senator Latvala watches his ranking closely (he’ll occasionally refer to himself as “#4”), so congratulations to him for finally taking the top spot.

Still no decision from Joe Negron on special session on pot referendum

Senate President Joe Negron has yet to decide to join House Speaker Richard Corcoran in calling for a Special Session on medical marijuana implementation, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, is still “in the process of having discussions with senators in response to the memorandum he sent last Thursday,” Katie Betta said in an email. 

Negron had sought input from fellow senators after the 2017 Legislative Session ended without a bill to guide state Health regulators on the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment.

An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

A state law provides that the “President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, by joint proclamation duly filed with the Department of State, may convene the Legislature in special session.”

Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, last week called for a Special Session during WFLA-FM radio’s “The Morning Show with Preston Scott.”

“I do believe and support the notion that we should come back and address and finalize dealing with medical marijuana,” Corcoran told Scott. “Does that mean a special session?” Scott asked. “It would, absolutely,” Corcoran said.

Others chiming in on social media for a Special Session include Sens. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican; Dana Young, a Tampa Republican; Travis Hutson, an Elkton Republican; and Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who also penned the only “formal response” as of Friday.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham and Orlando trial attorney John Morgan have called for a session on medical marijuana, with Morgan doing so in a nearly nine-minute video on TwitterMorgan has been behind the amendment since it was first filed for 2014, when it failed to get enough votes.

#11 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Darryl Rouson

St. Petersburg-based Democrat Darryl Rouson barely advanced from the House to the Senate last year, defeating former state Rep. Ed Narain in the Hillsborough County-centric Senate District 19 race by just 75 votes.

Rouson proposed 31 bills before the session began, and as someone who has been known to work well with Republicans (sometimes too well, for some Democrats’ tastes) was listed as a co-sponsor on 20 other bills, many introduced by GOP members.

A pioneer of sorts, Rouson became the first African-American prosecutor in Pinellas County where he was also awarded the Florida Prosecutor Association Award in 1981. And in March, he was one of just a very few number of Democrats named by House Speaker Richard Corcoran to the Constitution Revision Commission.

A former Republican, Rouson has been known to tick off his Democratic colleagues on occasion with his voting record. This year he supported a broader homestead exemption bill that will go before the voters in 2018, despite the exhortations of local leaders that the proposal will compel Pinellas and St. Petersburg to have to cut back needed services and lay off workers.

Joe Henderson’s Take

“He represents a weirdly drawn Senate district that includes both Temple Terrace in north Hillsborough and Gulfport in south Pinellas. I like the fact that he cooperates with Republicans even though he is a Democrat rather than standing as a rigid ideologue. A lot of people in his party don’t share that opinion, but I think that cooperation is why he was one of a handful of Democrats named to the state constitutional review group. To have any sort of influence, you have to be in the room where things happen.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

In Tampa, Jay Fant says House ‘out of whack’ for zeroing out funding for Enterprise Florida

Jay Fant was back in Tampa Tuesday night, where he once again registered his disagreement with House Speaker Richard Corcoran over the House vote to zero out funding for Enterprise Florida.

The Jacksonville Republican state representative, speaking to the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee as he starts his campaign for attorney general, said he gets along very well with Corcoran, agreeing with him 90 percent of the time.

But Fant disagrees with the House’s “method of how they handled this budget in relation to the governor’s Enterprise Florida program.”

Enterprise Florida is the public-private state agency handling the state’s business recruitment efforts.

Gov. Rick Scott asked the Legislature for $85 million for Enterprise Florida before Session began earlier this year, but the budget passed by the House provides zero funding for the program.

The amount of money is less than 1/10th of one percent of the entire budget, Fant said, expressing amazement that the impasse could ultimately result in Scott vetoing the entire budget.

“If I sound critical of the House’s approach in this method, then I am,” Fant admitted. “We have education, health, transportation, many good programs that occur in our budget, and if we jeopardize it over a food fight over a meaningful smaller, legitimately debatable item, then I think we’re out of whack, and I think we need to come back and find a compromise, not jeopardize our funding from the state.”

Scott has not indicated if he will veto parts of the budget — or the entire thing. State lawmakers could override the governor’s vetoes in a special session. Republicans control both the House, where Republicans outnumber Democrats by 79-41, and the Senate, where the GOP is in control by a 24-15 margin.

Republicans control both the House, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 79-41, and the Senate, where the GOP is in control by a 24-15 margin.

Fant launched his candidacy for attorney general last week, and Tuesday’s appearance before the Hillsborough GOP group was his second visit in Tampa in the past week.

Also on Tuesday, Fant announced that he had asked retired U.S. Air Force Col. E.J. Otero to serve on his campaign as national security co-chair.

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