If the last week offered the turning point of the 2017 Legislative Session — Senate President Joe Negron‘s scaling back his Everglades reservoir proposal — it also offered an uncharacteristic moment of hubris for House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
At a media availability on Thursday, the Land O’ Lakes Republican pushed back against a reporter’s question about special interests who draft bills, and whether leadership pressures committee chairs to hear those bills.
“All I hear from you guys is ‘OK, you guys have done more than any other Legislature in the history of mankind (on) transparency and openness … but you forgot this one,’ ” Corcoran said.
“Really, what you ought to say is thank you. We’ve made your lives a heck of a lot easier. You guys have not even had access to all of the documents and all of the information if it wasn’t for us filing lawsuits and dragging people who take taxpayer money up here before committees and browbeating them (about) what they’re spending money on. And the only thing you guys come and tell us is, ‘you forgot this group.’ “
That last part — “what you ought to say is thank you” — is the kind of cringe-worthy statement you’d expect from a Johnnie Byrd. Even if he thought this kind of thing before, Corcoran has been smart enough not to say it aloud. In fact, up until Thursday, he had been playing the Capitol Press Corps and the rest of the state’s political media (this writer included) like a fiddle. Corcoran has offered the press just the right amount of righteous indignation mixed with pragmatic politics, good quotes and timely scoops.
But Thursday’s “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” moment left several reporters scratching their heads, as if they realized they were only props in an elaborate play directed by the House Speaker.
What’s worse than what Corcoran said is the absolute inflexibility he and the House are displaying in their gamesmanship with the Senate. The House is allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. And in doing so, Richard Corcoran‘s Florida House is in danger of becoming the Freedom Caucus of Tallahassee.
Negron dramatically re-works his top priority, the Everglades reservoir proposal, and how does Corcoran and Co. react? By complaining about the small amount of bonding involved in the financing of the plan, as if matters to a single voter whether the Senate pays cash or uses a credit card at the gas pump.
The courts and bureaucrats are essentially deciding the framework for the state’s gaming industry and what is the House’s position as it enters conference with the Senate? Opposition to the slots expansion approved by local referendums, while also opposing most of the Senate’s other thinking on the issue.
Enterprise Florida? Blow it up, say the political Jesuits in the House. Hospitals and Medicaid? Cut ’em off, says the House while asking them for information on how much they’re spending to lobby. Judges and the courts? Neuter them, says the legislative branch.
And on and on and on. The only aspect of Florida government pure enough to pass the House’s litmus test is its own budget, which they will tell you is not weighed down with all of those pesky amendments like the Senate’s spending proposal.
None of this is to say that Richard Corcoran is wrong on the merits of these issues. Or that he should abandon his long-held principles.
However, for the first five weeks of the Legislative Session, his side was setting the agenda, if not winning. He should consolidate those wins by reaching out to Negron over the Easter holiday, extending a few olive branches, and getting out of town on time.
Mr. Speaker, you’ve already won. Do not be so principled that you now snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.