Richard Corcoran, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, and the idea of reforming Tallahassee

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Before Augustus and Marc Antony and before Julius Caesar and Spartacus and everyone else you can barely remember from Latin class, there was Lucius Cornelius Sulla, a dictator who was a master of the eternal city a generation before all of that “Et tu, Brute” stuff.

Sulla’s infamy is borne because he was the first Roman general to march his armies into Rome. No Roman before him had ever crossed the city limits – the pomoerium or sacred boundary – with his army.

In 88 B.C., this was a big freakin’ deal.

Yet what’s truly remarkable about Sulla is that after seizing Rome (twice), winning the First Mithridatic War, and restoring patrician rule over the city, the dictator retired to his country villa near Puteoli to be with his wife and lover. There he wrote his memoirs and then died, possibly from chronic alcohol abuse.

To put it another way, arguably the most powerful figure in the time period between Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar laid down his power after winning it in the most brutal fashion.

This brings me to Florida House Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran.

The Republican lawmaker is obviously not a Roman dictator, but like Sulla he has made a long climb up the cursus honorum of Florida politics to soon become speaker of the Florida House. This march hasn’t exactly been brutal, but it hasn’t been easy, either.

And what Corcoran is now proposing – with his call for dramatic reforms to the revolving door of state politics – is the modern day, political equivalent of marching his troops on Rome.

“The enemy is us,” Corcoran said last week in his designation speech.

Sulla’s epitaph reads: “No friend ever served me, and no enemy ever wronged me, whom I have not repaid in full.”

Friends and enemies. Dictatorship and reform. To Corcoran and Sulla, these concepts work hand-in-hand with each other.

Just as it took a dictator such as Sulla, so intimately familiar with the corrupting influence of power, to restore the republican (small r) ideals that had been destroyed by years of civil war in Rome, so too will it take Corcoran, also intimately familiar with the corrupting influence of power, to restore the Republican (large R) ideals upon which the GOP majority was built.

To switch classic civilization metaphors from Rome to Greece, the Augean stables can only be cleaned out by someone as powerful and as familiar with power as Corcoran.

Of course, if you ask many lobbyists and Adams Street’ers, they welcome such reforms.

Corcoran says he wants to make it so a lawmaker cannot lobby until they are six years removed from office. Bring it on, say many lobbyists.

Think about it this way. When NBA Commissioner David Stern ruled that high schoolers could not jump directly to the professional league without a year in the college or developmental ranks, there was no one happier than the veteran players. Constrict the basketball talent pool and the existing talent becomes more valuable. Constrict the pool of people allowed to lobby and the existing lobby corps becomes more valuable.

Of course, most of Corcoran’s reforms should be examined with skepticism now that we know how previous “reform” efforts have failed.

Gift ban? It probably has done some good, but its also partially to blame for the corrosive, nonfunctioning nature of state politics.

Term limits? They gutted the institutional knowledge of the Legislature and titled the balance of power to the mega-lobbying firms.

Lobbying compensation reports? Intended to shame the lobbying firms, they’re now used as bragging points in Adams Street power rankings.

Again, Corcoran’s call for reforms reminds me of Sulla, who invaded Rome in order to restore the Republic. Because in the end, Sulla set the precedent for Caesar’s dictatorship, and the eventual end of the Republic under Augustus.

What might Corcoran’s reforms, if enacted, do to Tallahassee?

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.