For a Better Florida: Florida Insider Poll predicts Richard Corcoran to dominate state politics for next two months

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, is expected to dominate the 2017 legislative session, according to a new Florida Insider Poll. [Scott Keeler | Tampa Bay Times]
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, is expected to dominate the 2017 legislative session, according to a new Florida Insider Poll. [Scott Keeler | Tampa Bay Times]
Published March 3, 2017

In any normal year, the governor is the most important elected official in Florida.

This is no normal year.

As we head into another legislative session, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran looms over virtually every other public official in the state.

In a Florida Insider Poll of nearly 180 of the state's most experienced and plugged-in political players, a whopping 71 percent predicted the 51-year-old Land O'Lakes Republican would dominate the session, while only 12 percent touted Gov. Rick Scott and 9 percent Florida Senate President Joe Negron of Stuart.

Given the overt animosity between Scott and Corcoran and with both men interested in running for statewide office in 2018, the Florida Insiders are highly pessimistic about what's in store.

"In over 30 years, I've never seen legislative leadership and the governor have a worse working relationship than the current lineup," a Democrat said. "They don't get along, have no problem taking their disagreements public and most of them are running for a higher office. Translation: Train wreck coming!"

"Unfortunately it appears the agenda is being driven by two things: personal political ambitions and large political contributions," said a Republican.

From another Republican: "Richard Corcoran is a master at taking up political space. That is exactly what he is doing, now, and will continue to do for the next two years. He will use every bit of the political space that he takes up to try to leverage the 2018 elections to his benefit. In other words, he will be doing a lot of grandstanding."

The Florida Insider Poll is a recurring, unscientific survey of campaign professionals, lobbyists, political fundraisers, academics and other experts on Florida politics. We allow participants — 107 Republicans, 60 Democrats and 12 registered to neither major party — to respond anonymously to encourage honest answers that otherwise might antagonize clients, colleagues or others in the process.

Asked to name the most important issues facing the state, by far the most common answers were economic development/improving wages and water quality/environmental protection. Less frequently mentioned issues were education, transportation/infrastructure and health care, particularly controlling its costs.

Only a handful mentioned the heavily lobbied, hot-button issues of gun rights, gambling and immigration.

Dozens of the Florida Insiders work directly or indirectly with legislators, but the overall picture they painted of Tallahassee was grim.

More than 7 in 10 said they do not expect state leaders to effectively address the most important issues facing Florida.

"We have gone from the golden age to the dark ages of the Florida Legislature," a Republican said. "I say that not because Republicans are in control, but because the quality of leadership has deteriorated, the House and Senate cannot work together, and the governor has no 'big ideas.' "

"The problem with having extreme supermajorities by any political party is that they forget who they are and where they came from," said another Republican, lamenting that Democrats lack the numbers to provide much of check on the GOP. "We should implement a mercy rule of 68 in the House and 25 in the Senate so the party in power keeps it real!"

From a Democrat: "Many of them are living in an alternative universe, divorced from the economic and health concerns of real people."

One Republican suggested the main players will be Corcoran and the lobbying corps.

"While Corcoran does seem to be battling certain of the special interests in Tallahassee, he is also showing us why the House speaker himself should be reined in a bit. There is very little freedom in the Florida House today, which can be shown by the near unanimous votes (except for the brave Joe Gruters) against Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida. With so little room for free thinking in the House, it makes Corcoran's battle against the special interests just seem like a way to make his own position all the stronger."

Even though 2017 is not an election year, many Florida Insiders think Corcoran's expected run for the Republican gubernatorial nomination (against Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam) and Scott's ambitions to run for U.S. Senate will make it harder to be productive.

"The easiest way to be king, is to go after the king. That concept is and will continue to fuel much of the Corcoran agenda against Scott," said one Republican. "Because of that reality, Putnam will need to figure out an angle to be relevant and keep up with Corcoran's publicity."

President Donald Trump is consuming most of the political oxygen in America today, but 56 of the Florida Insiders doubted Trump's election would influence the legislative session.

"The Florida Legislature is its own animal. It plays in its own sandbox and doesn't get influenced much by national politics," said a Republican.

"It will impact the politics and positioning as the less-imaginative members merely attempt to copy the bombast and style," another Republican fretted.

One sentiment repeated over and over by the Florida Insiders is that average Floridians don't realize how much the Legislature affects them.

"The Legislature affects every aspect of our lives from our taxes to how crowded the roads are," said a Democrat. "I wish voters realized how much they impact us on a daily basis."

Contact Adam C. Smith at Follow @adamsmithtimes.