Thursday, February 22, 2018
Politics

For better or worse, social media will drive the agenda in Tallahassee

For better and worse, social media is reshaping the political agenda in Tallahassee in ways never seen before.

The session that begins March 7 is destined to be the most tweeted session ever, and the early signs don't bode well for harmony. (Add a hashtag, uh-oh).

Senate President Joe Negron sees a positive trend in the social media explosion, as people are more engaged in state government, tracking lawmakers' votes, watching debates and downloading information on their laptops and phones.

"The level of knowledge of the process is dramatically higher," Negron says.

But there's another side, and it spells serious trouble.

The ugliest, longest Twitter war in the state is between Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran as they swap insults and blast each other with brutal online videos.

Their back-and-forth has become increasingly caustic and personal. The impact is amplified as supporters of each man retweet their tweets and stir the pot with Facebook comments as news outlets give blow-by-blow coverage.

Corcoran has tweeted his way straight into Rick Scott's doghouse and he doesn't seem to mind one bit.

Scott has accused Corcoran of spreading "fake news," with a video dredging up a failed Enterprise Florida job deal that actually was hatched years before Scott took office.

Negron has little appetite for this, and he said so, in a meeting with Times/Herald reporters the other day.

"It's the same amount of conflict over issues. Not more, not less," Negron said. "The difference is social media, and a news media turnaround time that's now measured in minutes rather than hours or days."

But Negron can't ignore the social media clatter around him as news, opinion and half-truth all move faster than ever.

"In the old days," Negron said, "something would happen at 10 o'clock in the morning, and you'd talk about it at night. Now something happens at 10 o'clock and you're talking about it at 10:02, and then they want to know at 10:05, 'What did you do to respond?'"

Negron, 55, is a lawyer and a studious, policy-oriented legislator from Stuart who was writing budgets and voting on bills long before Twitter was a twinkle in President Donald Trump's eye.

The tougher and more complex the issue, the more eager Negron seems be to tackle it: insurance, higher education, courts, the budget. His legal training made him well-organized and not impulsive.

The Senate Negron leads is more deliberative than the House, by nature and tradition. The House is more reactive and impulsive, and term limits has made the contrast sharper.

It's in the Florida Senate's DNA to slow things down, which in 2017 will also mean shutting off the social media channel and getting off Twitter.

Negron has been around for awhile. He was in Tallahassee in the years when lobbyists and reporters lugged piles of paper around and when everyone trooped to the downtown news stand to buy even bigger stacks of Florida newspapers on Sunday morning (he still gets three daily papers delivered to his home).

Ask Negron a question and you'll get an answer. It might be on the long side, but it will be direct, detailed and substantive, and it won't be conducive to a 140-character tweet.

Anybody who has been in a Twitter war knows how quickly it can spiral out of control. But when the combatants are two of the most powerful people in state politics, it can make working together difficult — if not impossible.

Negron has little time for tweeting or posting his latest in-your-face political video on his Facebook account.

He'd rather read a staff analysis of a worker's comp bill.

"My heart's not in it," Negron said. "My heart is in notebooks."

Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] and follow @stevebousquet.

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