The Schorsch governing theory of Florida politics — Part 1 – Florida Politics

The Schorsch governing theory of Florida politics — Part 1

Once the hanky dropped on the 2013 Legislative Session, my family headed to St. Augustine Beach to recuperate from the 60 days of working in that pressure cooker.

Michelle and I had been married for just over a year and our daughter, Ella Joyce, was only months old. Our business was just starting to take off. It was an exciting time.

For whatever reason, we thought it would be interesting to complicate our lives by Michelle running for a state House seat.

The Republican Party of Florida was looking for a candidate to challenge Dwight Dudley, a one-term incumbent who was not particularly well-liked in Tallahassee and was considered vulnerable in a non-presidential election cycle.

Michelle would have been the perfect challenger to Dudley. She’s a moderate Republican woman with strong connections to the Tampa Bay area and a reputation for loyalty and deeply-held convictions. That she had worked as a special adviser to then-Gov. Charlie Crist (and was based out of the USF St. Pete campus) only made her more attractive as a potential candidate.

For a moment, Michelle was excited by the idea, so we took the temperature of some of our friends in the political process. All of them thought Michelle would be a strong candidate. However, one friend informed us that incoming leadership of the House was recruiting another potential candidate they thought could win in a walk.

We spoke with then Speaker-designate Steve Crisafulli and, indeed, the GOP was hoping that Bill Young Jr., son of the local legend C.W. “Bill” Young, would enter the race. It’s probably best if Michelle stands down, Crisafulli told us.

Fortunately for our family, that’s exactly what Michelle did, although she said then that it was a mistake to think Young would beat Dudley.

She was right, of course, about that: Billy Young turned out to be a very bad candidate. In fact, he’s one of the very few candidates for office I’ve ever met who gained weight, rather than lost it, on the campaign trail (an indication he was not opening enough time walking door-to-door.)

Michelle and I talked a lot about our future that week in St. Augustine. A point I made then to her was that as busy as the 2014 and 2016 election cycles would be for us (and, Jesus, had they been busier than we could have ever imagined), the 2018 election cycle would actually be even more chaotic.

What I predicted then is only more accurate today. It is already shaping up to be the busiest election cycle in Florida’s modern history. Busier even than 1994, when Jeb Bush emerged from a brutal gubernatorial primary to eventually lose to Lawton Chiles.

As it stands now, here’s the rundown:

— A competitive race for the U.S.  Senate likely pitting Democrat Bill Nelson against Republican Rick Scott.

— A wide-open race for the Governor’s Mansion, with competitive primaries on both sides of the ballot.

— Three competitive statewide races for spots on Florida’s Cabinet: Agriculture Commissioner, CFO and Attorney General.

— Four statewide voter initiatives.

— As many as a dozen constitutional questions put on the ballot by the once-every-twenty-years Constitutional Revision Commission.

— More competitive congressional and state legislative races than at any point since Republicans took over the state in the mid-1990s.

The ballot this November will take the average Floridian twenty to thirty minutes to read and complete.

And that’s what we know about today.

As has been said many times, Florida is the Chinatown of politics. Forget about trying to understand it.

But if you run a political website titled “Florida Politics,” this is a wonderful time to be alive.

Our site’s traffic was busier last week than all but one other week in our history. Last month was busier than any other month in our history. This month looks like it will be busier than last month. And there’s no reason to think next month won’t be busier than this month.

And yet … what happens in December 2018? The campaigns will be over. The 2019 Legislative Session will be months away. The presidential campaign, while talked about daily, won’t be for real for almost another year.

Won’t feast turn to famine?

No.

And not just because the average bear is more interested in politics than in half-a-century.

This is the first part of the Schorsch governing theory of Florida politics.

It all starts to go back to normal today.

Gov. Scott signed the $88 billion fiscal plan sent to him Wednesday. He is now officially a lame duck.

Don’t get me wrong, Scott still has enormous power. And it’s not out of the range of possibilities that the Legislature will be called into Special Session for some sort of crisis.

But, for the most part, the sun has begun to set on Rick Scott’s time in Tallahassee. And with that, everything will start to change.

Because none of the seven candidates expected to run for Florida governor can write a $72 million check to buy the Governor’s Mansion, as Scott did in 2010, the four pillars of political life in Florida will now begin rebuilding their stature in the state.

The lobby corps, the news media (as enervated as it is), the fundraising community, and the political parties should see their influence return in the coming months and next four years.

Lobbyists have been of little use to Scott because they were against him in 2010 and he’s never really forgotten that. Only a handful of big-name lobbyists have had access to Scott himself: Brian Ballard, Nick Iarossi, Fred Karlinsky, Bill Rubin, among a few others.

Most governmental affairs firms have relied on a strategy of focusing on the Legislature while staying under the radar during the gubernatorial veto period. Some firms — Southern Strategy Group, GrayRobinson — have succeeded in their efforts to lobby the executive branch, but, for the most part, this is an administration that has been indifferent to Adams Street.

Before today, the lobby corps would have been unwilling to choose sides in the upcoming gubernatorial race, especially with Richard Corcoran looming as a possible candidate. But the smart firms will start making more significant investments in the candidates so that they are in on the ground floor with who they think will win.

Some firms will win, some will lose, but at least the game is being played again. Scott didn’t even roll out the ball.

The media has been kept at arm’s length by Scott ever since his early communications director, Brian Burgess, positioned velvet ropes between the Governor and the Capitol Press Corps. If Scott didn’t need the lobby corps, he needed the press corps even less.

The math was simple: He could write a check larger than the amount of earned media written against him. Also, the Governor’s Office made two smart decisions. One, it prioritized interactions with TV reporters, preferably those who were not plugged in enough to ask difficult questions, and two, it created a reverb chamber with the wire services.

By this I mean, most major announcements by the Scott administration were funneled to the Associated Press (which can’t editorialize the way Florida Politics, POLITICO, or the Times/Herald can and do). It is, in turn, relied on by many TV stations for their state government content. Once a TV station aired the AP version, the Governor’s Office would push out an ICYMI press release touting the story.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Don’t believe me. Consider this: Point to the one process story written about the Scott administration that details how the Governor makes a decision. You probably can’t. Because this is one of the most leak-proof administrations ANYWHERE IN THE COUNTRY. Donald Trump would give away Ivanka if he could have a White House that operates in the quiet way Scott’s office has.

More double-negative evidence: Point to the feature about anyone in Scott’s administration that includes an on-the-record response from the person profiled. Floridians knew/know virtually nothing about the chiefs of staff, key advisers, etc. who are in Scott’s orbit.

Because none of the seven gubernatorial candidates can’t rely just on paid media to get their message out, they have to create earned media. This instantly makes the press, specifically the Capitol Press Corps and other political journalists, relevant again.

Instead of being kept in the dark, as most journalists have been during the last seven years, now outreach to most favored reporters and bloggers is again part of the communications strategy. What Marc Caputo, Matt Dixon, David Smiley, myself, and others say about the gubernatorial and other races is more important than it was under Scott. A takedown in the press becomes fodder for fundraising emails and digital videos.

Speaking of fundraising emails, get ready to be inundated with them.

Not that you weren’t already, but none of the candidates running for Governor can self-finance in a way that allows them to bypass the need for small donors.

Under Scott, a meeting with him cost an interest group at least $50,000. Only a handful of Floridians or companies can afford that. But Putnam, Gillum, Graham, Levine, etc. are already touting the support they are receiving from donors who can only afford to write checks for $25 or $50.

Whereas Scott was only interested in receiving a $500,000 check from a utility company, almost all of the candidates running in 2018, whether it be for governor or state House, would be happy to receive a check for $500 or $1,000. This returns power to the fundraisers who specialized in bundling, say, 30 checks from a group of local professionals. The entire campaign finance system reverts to pre-2010 levels without Scott and his checkbook.

This brings me to my final point: Look for the return of the political parties.

No, they’ll never be as powerful as they were 20 years ago, but they certainly won’t do any worse than they have the last eight years. Especially the Republican Party of Florida, which has been so neglected by Scott that there are constant rumors that the party can barely make payroll.

Whoever wins their party’s nomination this fall will need the parties if they want to win the general. They will need the activists. They will need the party’s imprimatur. That shifts power back to the Republicans’ Blaise Ingoglia, the Democrats’ Terrie Rizzo, and the party chairs who will follow them.

I wanted to roll out this theory on the Ides of March because Scott’s tenure reminds me of a line from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”

“Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world like Colossus, and we petty men walk under his huge legs and peep about.”

Scott, armed with his checkbook, has bestridden Tallahassee like Colossus, while we petty men and women have walked under his indifferent legs and peeped about.

With Scott’s exit, it’s time again for all of those in The Process to, as Cassius told Brutus, be masters of our own fates.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, Florida Politics, Orlando Rising and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also publisher of the quarterly INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, SaintPetersBlog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.
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