Joe Henderson: A more important debate for Richard Corcoran to have - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: A more important debate for Richard Corcoran to have

As much as I’m anticipating the Great Debate next Tuesday between House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Tallahassee Mayor (and gubernatorial candidate) Andrew Gillum, there is another showdown I would like to see more.

A faceoff between Corcoran and Florida Education Association president Joanne McCall could be one of the great confrontations in state political history.

I’m serious.

And you know what? I’ll bet both of them would jump at the chance to go eyeball-to-eyeball and talking-point-to-talking-point over the future of public education in our state.

The public would be the clear winner – especially given the widespread expectation Corcoran will be a candidate for governor later this year.

I sat with Corcoran last November for a lengthy chat about his vision for Florida, and he got really worked up when the subject of education came up. He believes he is 100 percent correct to settle for nothing less than a major overhaul in the way our children – particularly the most vulnerable – are prepared for adulthood.

If I remember correctly, and I do, he also said flatly that he will be happy to debate anyone from the opposite side of the education fence anytime, anyplace, and anywhere.

OK then. How about we get this party started right after Gillum and Corcoran finish their showdown on immigration and sanctuary cities next Tuesday?

McCall certainly sounds like she would be up for the fight. Her organization represents teachers throughout the state and just opened a campaign demanding that Republican lawmakers stand up to Corcoran and his cherished HB 7055 – his latest move to change public education.

A mailer targeting select Republicans calls the bill a “monstrosity” and questions whether party members have the guts to stand up to Corcoran and vote against passage.

“Don’t be a coward,” the ad admonishes.

Of course, Corcoran has his own ad going these days – a TV spot where a hooded Latino man shoots a white woman to death. Corcoran says we have to confront sanctuary cities and illegal immigration. The ad has been denounced as racist and incendiary.

He and Gillum will settle that issue face to face.

But when that’s done, I have no doubt the Speaker will have enough gas left in the tank to confront his harshest critics on education and let the chips fall where they will.

Corcoran pushed changes to public education last year through the Legislature that left many teachers furious while public school money was diverted to charter schools. Now he is back for more, so it benefits everyone to air this matter thoroughly from the viewpoints of the people closest to it.

It’s just my opinion, but there is no greater issue in the state right now than these education reforms or attacks – depending on your point of view. Hundreds of thousands of people will be affected daily by what is decided, much more than the impact of the sanctuary city fright fest.

The lines are drawn. Corcoran has said he would willing to have this debate. People need the chance to hear both sides.

Let’s do it.

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.
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