Florida’s new House Speaker wants to reduce government, health care spending

New House Speaker José Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, says he's no fan of compromise.
 Left  to Right: New Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva, R- Miami Lakes, waves to the crowd after he was sworn in in the Florida House, Tuesday, November 20, 2018. He is with his daughters Celeste and Sabrina, and his wife Jeanne.
SCOTT KEELER | Times Left to Right: New Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva, R- Miami Lakes, waves to the crowd after he was sworn in in the Florida House, Tuesday, November 20, 2018. He is with his daughters Celeste and Sabrina, and his wife Jeanne.
Published Nov. 20, 2018|Updated Nov. 20, 2018

TALLAHASSEE — New Florida House Speaker José Oliva urged members to exercise more "restraint" in governing as he officially took over leadership of the Legislature's lower chamber Tuesday, signaling what he said would be a focus on less regulation and curbing a ballooning healthcare budget.

Tuesday's organization session elevating the cigar czar from Miami Lakes was largely a formality, long after House Republicans had chosen him last year to lead the chamber if they retained their majority. Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, was also officially tapped Tuesday to lead the Florida Senate.

Among the congratulatory flowers dotting some members' desks as lawmakers were newly sworn into both chambers, Oliva was notably brief, calling "to remove the countless and unnecessary barriers to prosperity, to opportunity and to freedom."

He told members he had left each of them a journal on their desks, which he hoped would document "your triumphs, your challenges and your struggles. Above all, I hope that it will tell of your restraint."

"If you have come here to seek healthcare access and affordability, if that is your main concern, use your power to lift the government-granted monopolies and the market-restricting regulations which have led to widespread price gouging of our citizens and has placed an untenable burden on our state," he said, repeating his frequent criticism of the "hospital-industrial complex."

"If you have come here to ensure every child receives the best education possible, remove the restrictions that stole the futures of generations of our poorest children by forcing them to go to failing schools. Members, the parents are the taxpayers, the children are their children. Use your power to get out of the way of their choice."

Oliva, 45, came to office in a special, off-year election in 2011 that helped position him to succeed Richard Corcoran, the former speaker who presided over Tuesday's proceedings. After Oliva joined the House, he quickly became one of Corcoran's trusted allies, which helped House Republicans last October select Oliva to become Corcoran's successor.

As he was sworn in, dozens of family members from South Florida were watching from the gallery upstairs, including his mother Carmen, moved to tears.

Oliva takes control of a firm Republican majority in the House, though Democrats made small gains in this year's election and now count 47 members in the 120-seat chamber.

Rep. Kionne McGhee of Miami was formally tapped to lead Democrats in the House while Sen. Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville will lead the minority caucus in the Senate.

Oliva sought to strike an inclusive tone Tuesday calling on members to "turn our attention to governing together" after a bitterly-fought midterm. He also distinguished between "petty" partisanship and an "intellectual" partisanship when he addressed the House Republican Caucus on Monday afternoon.

"If we allow ourselves to be told that we must learn to compromise, we will end up in an ideological mush in the center," he said.

In remarks to reporters, Oliva doubled down on decreasing healthcare spending, showing flashes of an unyielding posture likely to clash with the more moderate Senate next year.

In 2011, the year he was elected, "healthcare was 33 percent of our budget; that was pretty alarming back then. This year it'll be 48," Oliva said on the House floor after the session concluded. "Adding more money to that won't help."

He added he had regularly told Galvano: "This isn't a priority that I chose to make my priority. This is the state's priority. It's taking up our entire budget."

But Oliva reiterated he hopes to make changes to the provider side of the healthcare system and declined to provide specifics on curbing Medicaid eligibility, which he and Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis have long opposed expanding.

When Galvano was sworn in as the chamber's president Tuesday, he was praised by colleagues as a collaborator who "can see things from different perspectives." Galvano also cast himself as a "facilitator" for individual senators. "I will not judge the success of this Senate by the success of my personal agenda," he promised. "We will write the agenda together."

Tuesday's organization session also signaled the arrival of the executive branch's new guard. Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis and Lt. Gov.-elect Jeannette Nunez, the former speaker pro tempore of the House, attended both sessions, as did incoming Attorney General Ashley Moody, re-elected CFO Jimmy Patronis and lone Democrat Nikki Fried, who prevailed by the narrowest of margins against Republican Matt Caldwell to become the commissioner of agriculture and consumer services.

DeSantis will officially become governor Jan. 8, when he and the rest of the Cabinet are inaugurated. The legislative session begins March 5.