Florida’s House Democrats are sometimes an unruly bunch. Reduced to virtual super-minority status since 2000 (the Democrats have never held more than 44 seats in the 120 member House since the 2000 election) the old V.O. Key adage about Florida Democrats “every man (or women) for himself (or themselves),” applies.
When Tom Feeney and Johnnie Byrd ran the House with dictatorial aims, Democrats perhaps closer to a time when they had served in the majority didn’t cave so freely and easily to a bully. But Feeney got his way with some Democrats – several voted for a Republican redistricting plan in 2002 and a few more sided with Feeney against their own leader Rep. Lois Frankel when she led a walkout of the House over tax reform. Byrd was almost universally disliked in and around the capitol and it was easy for Democrats to stay strong and oppose him.
Richard Corcoran represents an even larger threat to the state and its institutions than Feeney or Byrd did. The self-proclaimed free market purist who talks like a populist but acts like an authoritarian (sound familiar?) has the sort of potential statewide traction and funding sources that Byrd, Feeney, Dan Webster, etc lacked once leaving the Speaker’s Chair. He also represents a real threat to the vision of an active government promoting Florida’s interests. While Governor Rick Scott has been an almost unprecedented failure in office, he represents currently a much softer and responsible landing spot for our state than does Corcoran.
Last week several House Democrats voted with Corcoran on his two pet ideas – the defunding of Enterprise Florida and an effort to make Visit Florida “more accountable,” but what that legislation would actually do is make the agency less nimble and competitive in Florida’s fight to attract tourists versus foreign locales with state-sponsored tourism bureaus who spend bigger money than we do.
The support these dangerous pieces of legislation got from Democratic members of the House I will admit absolutely stunned me and left me ill at ease with a party whose almost two decade irrelevance in state government has essentially made its elected officials free agents willing to do deals with the likes of Corcoran. All week I have tried to rationalize why Democrats would vote with Speaker Corcoran. If a House Democrat wants to write an op-ed explaining their vote(s), we’ll be happy to publish it. In the meantime, here are my theories to explain this phenomena of the Corcoran Democrat.
- Some Democratic House members feel a solidarity with the chamber’s leadership in a fight against the Senate.
- Some Democratic House members loathe Governor Rick Scott so deeply that they are committed to fighting him at every turn and making alliances with those who oppose him. Scott’s battle with Speaker Corcoran is the political battle of the Governor’s career, so some Democrats feel the need to build a coalition. This makes a certain degree of sense as personality-driven politics now defines Florida’s Democrats rather than values-based or issues-based thinking.
- Some Democrats are really free market conservatives that don’t believe government has a role in regulating or working with business or promoting the state to stimulate our number one economic driver tourism. I must say as a progressive this is disappointing, because I believe in an activist and active government, but perhaps since the Democrats claim to be a big tent party, adherents to Reaganomics and Tea Party thinking are more prevalent than originally thought.
- Some Democratic House members are simply self-interested preservationists. Aligning with Corcoran even as he sets out to gut state government and do the bidding of the most ideologically-driven business interests in this country makes you friends in the clubby house, especially in an era where Corcoran and his allies are not know for leniency toward those who defy them.
I’ll reiterate here that I believe despite six years of ineffectual leadership, crony capitalism and general buffoonery, Governor Scott is 100% correct in his description of the damage the House leadership would do if the Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida legislation somehow became law. Scott has learned in office that Florida’s state government is tool to enhance our economy, our standing abroad and as a mechanism to create jobs. The fact that Scott has done such a poor job steering our Government should not take away from the valid points he’s making publicly and the danger posed by the Corcoran-backed agency-killing proposals that now have passed the House. I also applaud the Governor for taking the fight to the districts of the Republican House members who have shown such blatant disregard for the future and welfare of our state. Again, I would personally welcome explanations from those Democrats who have a different perspective and have backed Corcoran’s agenda. Consider this an open forum and we would love to get some feedback.