House Speaker Richard Corcoran is at this moment in time the most powerful man in state politics. Depending on how next year shakes out, Corcoran could become even more powerful in 2019.
Styling himself as an anti-government reformer, Corcoran is also a political insider with few equals in the state – a seasoned pol who can play the game of hardball in a clubby legislature better than almost anyone.
What this makes him potentially is a more refined and seasoned version of Donald Trump – and perhaps someone who is able to tap into the anger among grassroots conservatives while using his power to advance an agenda of free market purity.
It is this later point – free market purity, that makes Corcoran especially dangerous even when compared to the current failed Governor Rick Scott who despite his reputation as a business-friendly conservative has kept an active role for state government in some arenas. Scott’s failures to effectively use government to stem the impact of climate change on our state or to improve higher education and bring better paying jobs to the state might pale in comparison to Corcoran who would double down on those failings of the Scott era while creating additional impediments to government activism in other areas.
Corcoran speaks and acts with supreme self-confidence and a missionary zeal. As a staffer and then a legislator he was able to use the levers of power effectively to push his agenda forward. As a potential chief executive of the state or US Senator he’d be one of the most formidable figures we’ve seen in this state during recent times. A protege’ in many ways of Paul Hawkes, who those of us who have followed Florida politics for a while remember less than fondly, Corcoran was shaped in many ways by Dan Webster and Marco Rubio – two different figures both temperamentally and philosophically, but both rock-ribbed conservatives. In fact, Corcoran appears to be a perfect cross of Webster’s evangelism and Rubio’s obsession with free markets.
How exactly would Corcoran govern? We’ve seen his quest for transparency and reform which is at least on the surface a positive thing that forces legislators and power players out of their comfort zones. This gives the House Speaker an authenticity that will appeal to grassroots conservatives as well as good government groups and those tired of the Tallahassee racket. But he’s also a fiscal conservative on the order of a Rubio or former House Speaker (and current FSU President) John Thrasher who believes in the free market – though it must be said Corcoran is purer and more intellectually honest than Thrasher was (for example Corcoran doesn’t preach about the free market while pushing tort reform an anti-free market policy in order to benefit GOP-aligned entities) and like Rubio knows how to formulate Reaganesqe rhetoric.
But free market rhetoric and an obsession with tearing down Government is usually a bad thing. Corcoran’s demonstrated attitude on Medicaid expansion in the past and this year toward Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida gives us real insight into how he will govern. While some might see the fight against the two state agencies he’s targeted in 2017 as well-placed populism which targets crony capitalism (which we all hate), it has to be said Corcoran is using the “Government picking winners and losers” line to advance a strict ideological agenda using poll-tested populist rhetoric.
Part of the function of state government is to promote Florida and to ensure we can compete in a national and global marketplace. Corcoran’s arguments about both agencies fail to take in the competitive position Florida is in vis a vis other states and tourist destinations. Rick Scott came to power as an ideologue and as Governor has mismanaged the state and used crony capitalism to benefit those around him – but Scott’s excesses should not be used to undermine his very strong points that our economy is largely dependent on government facilitation of tourism and new investment. The Speaker’s vision is to have an impotent state government and according to some people with knowledge of his internal governing style to seek retribution against his opponents much like Webster did as Speaker – and also Tom Feeney did when Hawkes was his chief of staff.
Corcoran might claim to be all about business but in reality gutting government support or regulation of business and promoting a socially conservative agenda is his end game. He’s also very likely to be able to take his message directly to the people successfully no matter how much Governor Scott and the majority of Republican officeholders, lobbyists and political consultants dislike him. That makes him the equal of Donald Trump, but since he less impulsive and more disciplined than the President he could be more formidable in an electoral sense – and facing a weak, almost irrelevant Democratic Party, the one way to stop Corcoran might be in the Republican Primary.
Governor Rick Scott has been terrible for this state, our people and our future. Denial of climate change and the further implementation of crony capitalism among other things have done irrevocable damage to Florida. But Governor Scott is suddenly looking a more reasoned dare I say statesmanlike Republican when compared to Corcoran. The Democrats might be in a position to take advantage of internal Republican fights but right now are helpless to do anything and are irrelevant on the state level.
Those concerned about our future need to be concerned about Corcoran – he’s a highly competent cross of Rick Scott and Donald Trump and was after all mentored by Paul Hawkes, Dan Webster and Marco Rubio. Corcoran is not only formidable, but he plays for keeps and that’s something this state probably cannot afford.