Rock breaks scissors, but scissors cuts paper, which, of course, covers rock.
Neither Rick Scott nor Richard Corcoran nor Joe Negron knew they were playing a game of Rochambeau when they were making their appointments to the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), but the way the final picks played out, they may as well have.
The CRC meets every 20 years to review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document. It has convened twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this is the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans, virtually ensuring it will propose more conservative changes than previous panels.
Scott’s selections—just by the sheer fact that he had 6 more picks than either of the two legislative leaders—could trump Corcoran’s and Negron’s choices.
But if ideological allies join forces, they could overwhelm the Governor’s slate. That is, unless some of Scott’s appointees create a bloc with some of Corcoran’s or Negron’s commissioners.
Rock breaks scissors. Scissors cuts paper. Paper covers rock.
Also sure to play roles are automatic appointee Pam Bondi (because she holds the office of Attorney General), and Chief Justice Jorge Labarga‘s three very capable choices.
Of the three state leaders, it was, not surprisingly, Corcoran who made the boldest selections (although one pick is all but unjustifiable except for political reasons).
Corcoran understands the enormous potential the CRC has to shape the direction of the state for two decades, and his picks reflect that.
Of Negron’s nine picks, former Senate President Don Gaetz and former Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith are the most notable. Undoubtedly, the great orator Gaetz will be one of the most listened-to voices on the CRC.
Yet, for the most part, Negron’s selections were greeted with shrugged shoulders by most of the capital crowd. ‘Who?’ was asked more than once as the names were read out.
Scott, as is his nature, tapped mostly loyalists for the Commission. He also made a disastrous decision by selecting Carlos Beruff as the Chair of the CRC. That is, unless Scott’s not really interested in having the Commission accomplish much.
So now that all 37 Commissioners have been identified and Jeff Woodburn has been tapped as Executive Director, here are things I think I think about these selections.
— Again, Beruff chairing the Commission will likely end in disaster. Yes, he is a capable man with an extensive CV marked by numerous selections to blue ribbon panels. But all of that came before he decided to run for U.S. Senate. Now, he’s seen as the guy who was hoodwinked by his political consultants into spending millions of dollars of his own money so he could finish just ahead of the margin of error. He’s also been exposed as a far-right ideologue who makes Marie Le Pen look soft on immigration. Even if he builds consensus and can get a majority of the alphas on the commission to propose amendments to the constitution, Beruff is one of the last people you’d want campaigning for passage of the initiatives. Sandy D’Alemberte or Dexter Douglass he ain’t.
— With Beruff as Chair and other Scott loyalists, including Tim Cerio and Brecht Heuchan, on board, the unnamed 38th member of the Commission is Scott’s former Chief of Staff, Melissa Sellers.
— If you are Joanne McCall, the president of the Florida Education Association, and you see this list, you should be panicking. A near supermajority of these Commissioners, from The Foundation for Excellence in Education’s Patricia Levesque to Democrat state Sen. Darryl Rouson, are school choice advocates. And they’d like nothing more than to see the repeal of the 132-year-old Blaine Amendment, which says state funds may not go to support religious institutions. Of course, an initiative to do just that was rejected by Florida voters in 2012. Still, with Marva Johnson, Pam Stewart, Erika Donalds, Sherry Plymale, and so many other proponents of greater choice for students, you can expect the CRC to spend considerable time on education issues.
— In addition to education issues, expect the CRC to focus on overhauling the redistricting process created by the Fair Districts amendments, adding a (tie-breaking) member to the Florida Cabinet and strengthening private property rights.
— Going back to the boldness of Corcoran’s selections, the ultimate power play was rewarding Tom Lee with a spot on the CRC. With that pick, he’s not playing checkers. He’s not playing chess. He’s playing three-dimensional chess. The move makes it clear that he has a powerful ally in Negron’s own house, even if he’s not in leadership. Clearly, all of the Cabernet the two men enjoyed while serving as their respective chamber’s appropriations chairs led to a strong relationship.
— If there’s a downside to Lee being picked by Corcoran to serve on the CRC, it’s that he probably just took him out of the running to be appointed by Scott as Chief Financial Officer. With tensions running as high as they are between Scott and Corcoran, there’s no way the Governor puts somebody now perceived as one of the Speaker’s allies on the Cabinet.
— Arthenia Joyner probably won’t win many big votes while serving on the CRC, but she gets a microphone and a soapbox to talk about the liberal issues she cares most about. Same goes for Sen. Smith. As for the other Democratic state Senator on the panel — Rouson — that guy is the Swiss Army Knife of appointees because he does so much: He’s African American (check!) He’s a Democrat (check!) He’s from Tampa Bay (check!) But, and certainly this did not escape Corcoran, Rouson is an outspoken proponent of school choice and charter schools. During his Senate campaign, Rouson benefitted from the support of the Florida Children’s Federation, the political arm of the Florida movement for private school tuition vouchers.
— Legislators know how to build coalitions. That’s why you should expect Jose Felix Diaz and Jeanette Nunez to star while on the CRC. For Diaz, it’s also a chance to audition before a statewide audience in the event he wants to run for Attorney General in 2018.
— It should not be overlooked that there are some really smart, good folks on this Commission. Heuchan, Rich Newsome (one of the Speaker’s best friends and one of the best trial lawyers in the state), Jimmy Patronis … each have the potential to be consensus builders on this board.
— If there is one pick by any of the leaders that is meeting with derision, it’s Corcoran’s selection of John Stemberger, the self-appointed leader of Florida’s religious right. It’s not just progressives, like Equality Florida and state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who have a problem with Stemberger serving on the CRC, but also a rash of Republicans and conservatives who, albeit privately, think poorly of Stemberger. His selection by Corcoran is being described as a sop to the right wing of the GOP in the event Corcoran runs for Governor in 2018.
— Won’t it be interesting to see what Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco does on a statewide stage? I know many people who are hoping he does another press conference like this:
Proposals approved by the CRC will move forward as ballot issues in the November 2018 general election. The amendments need 60 percent of the vote to become part of the state Constitution.
In 1998, eight of the nine ballot proposals advanced by the Commission were approved by voters, although they only required a majority vote at that time.