Joe Henderson – Page 6 – Florida Politics

Joe Henderson

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.

Joe Henderson: Donald Trump’s missed opportunity in State of the Union

Your opinion of President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union speech probably hinges on whether you like him or not. This isn’t about that. It’s about something much more basic — the chance to change the narrative about his presidency.

He had an opportunity to make a splash about what’s happening with Puerto Rico, and he didn’t take advantage.

After all, did anyone else find it curious that he pledged his love and support for the people of Puerto Rico on the same day NPR reported that FEMA will end hurricane food and water shipments to that American island?

This is a direct quote from the president’s speech: “To everyone still recovering in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, California, and everywhere else — we are with you, we love you, and we will pull through together.”

Nice words. Now, tell that to the estimated 20 percent of the island that is without fresh water.

Both of Florida’s U.S. senators denounced the decision.

Democrat Bill Nelson said he was “absolutely shocked” and called it a “travesty.”

Republican Marco Rubio added, “At the end of the day, here’s the bottom line: Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory. It is the responsibility of the United States. These are United States citizens.”

Many Florida congressional members signed a bipartisan letter asking that aid be continued.

So, about that whole thing the president said to Puerto Rico about how “we love you” and we’ll be there with you, what’s the deal?

You know what would have been a real headline-grabbing moment for the president?

He could have taken that stage to announce, “You know, I saw that today about FEMA and Puerto Rico. That was a bad decision. People are still suffering, and I am hereby issuing a presidential executive order that the aid be immediately restored and continued until the island is back to 100 percent.”

I have to believe that would have brought everyone in the house to their feet and Trump would have been praised from all sources this morning.

He may indeed do that, eventually. Given the backlash, it’s hard to believe FEMA’s edict will stand.

I’m just saying that if the president wanted to make his speech one that would have been talked about forever, there was his chance. Chalk it up to a giant missed opportunity.

Joe Henderson: Richard Corcoran TV ad is indecent

Man, that Richard Corcoran TV ad sure is scary.

It shows a sinister-looking Latino man, wearing a hoodie (because all bad people wear hoodies), passing a happy, smiling woman on the street in broad daylight.

He pulls a gun for no reason and fires. The terrified woman is killed, and the message is clear: We need to pass tougher gun control laws to prevent horrific acts like this in the future.

Well done sir. It really makes you think. We have to get a handle on this.

Oh, wait … that wasn’t it?

Of course not.

Corcoran’s ad, released by his Watchdog PAC, is a dog whistle to those inclined to be suspicious at best of anyone who doesn’t look like them. To drive home that point, the PAC is spending $95,000 to have the ad air on Fox News.

The ad, titled Preventable, focuses on the shooting death of Kate Steinle of San Francisco.

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, an illegal immigrant who had been deported to Mexico five times, was arrested for the shooting. A jury acquitted him of murder, buying the defense argument that he found the gun and it went off by accident.

He was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and now faces federal charges in connection with the crime.

No one will argue against the idea that Zarate should not have been in this country. Corcoran, though, is using this as a rallying cry against Florida cities – including Tampa – that don’t crack down on illegal immigration.

It’s a legitimate issue, but this ad isn’t just politics as usual. It’s indecent. In tying that to the San Francisco case, Corcoran – who is pondering a run later this year for governor – makes it sound like every undocumented immigrant is running around with a handgun waiting to blow an innocent, law-abiding citizen away.

A statement released by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum denounced the ad.

Speaker Corcoran’s race-baiting ad is everything that’s wrong with politics today,” it read. “In the age of Trump, Corcoran is vilifying immigrants.”

Following to its logical conclusion, of course, is the underlying principle of sanctuary opponents – round ‘em up, ship ‘em out.

Corcoran already made sanctuary cities a central theme for his last term as Speaker, including pushing HB9 – a bill that would come down hard on local officials who don’t cooperate with immigration crackdowns.

The ACLU has attacked that as racist. Corcoran fired back.

So it goes.

I don’t doubt Corcoran sincerely believes cities that defy immigration laws, even if it means tearing families apart who have been in this country for decades, are wrong.

That’s a legitimate position to hold.

But ads like the one he just lent his name to?

Implying that every undocumented immigrant is a threat to murder you or a loved one?


Joe Henderson: Rick Wilson is shrill, tough, profane — and needed

I loved the profile by Alex Leary in Sunday’s Tampa Bay Times about Republican commentator and thorny bush Rick Wilson, whose daily Twitter rampages against President Donald Trump have made him a must-follow.

A lot of people must agree with that last statement. Wilson’s Twitter feed has 296,000 followers.

He is personal, fearless, on point, profane, borderline savage, uncouth and immensely entertaining when it comes to his assessment of Trump’s performance, either in the Twittersphere or as a columnist for The Daily Beast.

Well, good — that is, if his fellow conservatives are listening.

Denouncing Trump so loudly, so often, becomes just howling at the moon unless principled members of his party can execute a course correction. Republicans need to be on a path where honor matters more than tax cuts and border walls. It puts people like Wilson and principled conservatives in danger of becoming modern-day Cassandras — the mythical prophet whose warnings of disaster were ignored.

The GOP departure from reason that gave us Trump is not likely to be reversed even if Democrats clean up in the midterms. Republican senators denounce Trump when there is no other choice, but they cave when it comes time to vote.

Influential evangelical religious leaders like Franklin Graham are curiously tolerant of the president’s personal failings, even telling Fox & Friends recently, “I find this refreshing to have a president who’s not afraid to say Jesus, he’s not afraid to have prayers where people end in the name of Jesus … We’ve never had this, not in my lifetime, and he defends the Christian faith more than any president in my lifetime.“

Oh? Graham is 65 years old. That means he was alive when Jimmy Carter was president. That’s the same Jimmy Carter who presidency was judged a failure but whose status as a human being and a love-in-action Christian is beyond reproach.

That’s what I mean about a party that has lost its bearings, despite warnings from people like Rick Wilson. To put it in a way Franklin Graham might relate, the party mortgaged its soul in exchange for policies conservatives embrace.

It’s how people like Roy Moore, Joe Arpaio and Steve Bannon become prominent faces of Republican politics.

It’s how chanting “lock her up, lock her up” about a prominent Democrat became a rallying cry at the Republican National Convention in 2016.

It’s how Trump supporters can overlook the parallel between that and last weekend’s violent arrest in Moscow of Alexei Navalny, who was considered a serious challenger to President Vladimir Putin — Trump’s BFF — in the upcoming Russian election before he was mysteriously disqualified as a candidate.

Some Trump supporters probably wouldn’t mind seeing the same thing happen to Rick Wilson, judging by some of the correspondence he receives. And that’s really the problem.

Wilson’s taunts remind us that this is America and we don’t all have to agree. Maybe we even shouldn’t agree. Like his Twitter feed, this country is messy, complicated, and more than a little rude at times.

The profile made the point that Wilson, gasp, actually has friends who are Democrats. We used to be able to exist like that and still get along without checking all the ideological boxes. I miss those days.

Joe Henderson: Labor unions should be wary of HB 25

Labor unions exist for a basic reason. Workers in some (not all) professions have learned the hard way not to trust their corporate bosses to do the right thing.

Often, they need the leverage a union gives to achieve a living wage, decent working conditions, health care, and, if necessary, severance benefits.

So, I don’t blame unions for being skeptical of the latest attempt in the Legislature to chip away at their bargaining power.

As Mitch Perry of Florida Politics reported, HB 25 – the brainchild of Longwood Republican Rep. Scott Plakon – would decertify public service unions if dues-paying membership falls below 50 percent of the workforce.

Union leaders, predictably, condemned the move as another attack on their organizations. They say it’s thinly veiled union busting. They are correct.

I feel safe in saying unions aren’t popular with the majority of business owners or Republican lawmakers in this state.

Gee, I wonder why?

When I started working at the late, great Tampa Tribune in 1974, it was made abundantly clear that our Media General corporate masters in Richmond, Va. HATED unions. I remember a rumor, never confirmed, that they would shut down the Trib if we ever tried to organize a local chapter of the national newspaper guild.

This is a good time to mention the Trib, like most big-city daily newspapers of the day, made about 30 percent annual profit. As one editor said during one of the periodic financial crackdowns ordered by Richmond, “A lot of people up there are living in nice, big houses thanks to the work that was done here at the Tribune.”

Workers in other parts of the paper like the back shop and press room were represented by unions, but not the newsroom. The Trib in those days had an unwritten understanding with reporters that if you worked more than 40 hours in a week, which happened a lot, they wouldn’t hassle you for comp time – which could amount to multiple days.

The system technically was against the law.

Every now and then though, somebody would complain about not receiving overtime, and we’d get a memo saying all work had to be completed in a 40-hour week. It was routinely ignored.

Later, some editors decided to follow the letter of the law, rebelled against allowing comp time, and wouldn’t approve overtime.

It was a mess.

Reporters being who they are usually just groaned and did what was necessary to get the job done while those same bosses looked the other way. So much for that extra make-good time.

Later, when we were bought by the private equity group Revolution Capital, people just disappeared – fired without notice, and given just two weeks of severance pay no matter how long they had worked there.

Vacation days were reduced. Wages were randomly cut across the board. Mandatory furlough days were imposed, although one publisher had the gall to suggest that some of us didn’t have to take those days – in essence, he wanted us to work for free.

So yeah, I think it would have been nice to have had some bargaining clout that would have allowed us to say more than, “Yes sir, may I have another?”

Every time I hear someone like Scott Plakon offer something like this proposed bill, all I can think of are those bosses and executives who seem to think employees should just be grateful to have a job at all.

Well sir, the reverse is true. Companies should be grateful to have employees who are honest, hard-working, and get the job done right. The least that should be done is to treat those workers with proper respect.

Sometimes, they need some clout to make sure that happens.

Joe Henderson: Save us from spring forward, fall back

The ritual of spring forward, fall back has always seemed stupid to me. Just settle on a single time schedule and stick with it — daylight saving, Eastern Standard, whatever.

The bouncing back and forth every few months is a pain in the neck, not to mention disorienting. You have to change all the clocks and watches in your house, car, and wherever. Schedules and sleep patterns get disrupted during the changeovers, and for what?

That’s why I’m hopeful about a ploy from state Sen. Greg Steube to get Florida united under Eastern Standard Time, and then to observe daylight saving time all year.

He attached an amendment to SB 585 to bring the western part of Florida, which is currently in the Central time zone, in line with the rest of the state.

He is right about the confusion that can result from someone in Jacksonville trying to do business with someone in Pensacola, since the cities are in the same state but different time zones. We need a consistent way of telling the time.

I know the arguments against daylight saving — particularly the one that says school kids can have to wait in the dark for their morning bus.

Objection noted.

That’s why I wouldn’t raise a hissy fit if we just stuck with standard time. I’d prefer to stay under daylight saving, but it’s no big deal either way.

As with most things, there have been a lot of studies that reach contradictory conclusions about which time-keeping system is best.

The website Smart Asset reported one study said daylight savings cost the nation $1.7 billion annually, partly because we spend time doing things like changing clocks than instead of something more productive, like watching Property Brothers or something.

Other studies put the actual cost much lower.

I couldn’t care less about the cost estimates. That’s all accounting gobbledygook anyway.

How about we make the change just because it seems like the thing to do?

Danny McAuliffe reported for Florida Politics that Steube got the idea during a trip to his barber shop, which is where all great ideas are hatched. Patrons talked about how changing back and forth between time standards messes with school kids.

Well, it can be confusing.

I’ll also admit that those first few days when we “fall back” and it gets dark around 5 p.m. are really depressing. That’s not we need in the Sunshine State.

If this gets past the Legislature, it will take an act of Congress to make the change official. Could be a problem, since Congress doesn’t ever seem to figuratively know the time of the day, let alone how to come together and pass a common-sense change.

We can hope though.

In the meantime, set your alarms for March 11.

That’s when daylight saving time begins again.

Spring forward. With any luck, maybe we won’t have to fall back again.

Joe Henderson: Bill Nelson’s vote wasn’t surrender on DACA

It is a popular story line to excoriate Senate Democrats, including Florida’s Bill Nelson, for caving in to Mitch McConnell and Republicans to end the government shutdown.

Those angered by the compromise that ended the stalemate for at least three weeks say Republicans can’t be trusted to find a fair solution for so-called Dreamers – the children of immigrants who came to America illegally.

Dreamers, for the most part, know nothing but life in this country, but immigration hawks want to kick them out anyway.

It’s a moral issue. It’s a cause worth fighting for Democrats – or for people with a conscience, for that matter.

But take a deep breath. The fight isn’t over.

Ten Senate Democrats face re-election battles in November in states Donald Trump won in 2016 – Nelson among them. The fact that nine of those senators, including Nelson, voted to accept the short-term compromise to re-open the government ought to speak loudly about what a majority of voters want.

The same insanity that forced Republicans into extreme positions in order to satisfy the almighty “base” is infecting Democrats from the left.

No wonder mainstream Americans keep tuning out politics, because so much of what comes out of Washington is shrill rhetoric that has almost nothing to do with the daily lives of most citizens.

So, Republicans “win” this battle because Democrats didn’t stand on principle and keep thousands of government workers at home while being accused of caring more for illegal immigrants than the military?


Three weeks from now, I think there is a real good chance they’ll padlock the government doors again.

I think some Republicans are driven by such blind zeal on immigration that they are more than happy to deport thousands of Dreamers without regard to compassion or common sense, and that’s how they will approach a “solution” to this issue – everybody out!

At that point, Nelson, facing a tough re-election fight against likely challenger Gov. Rick Scott, can say he tried in the name of fairness to find a workable path to citizenship for these people, but Republicans just want to round ‘em all up and ship ‘em out – so it’s time to plant the flag.

I think Americans in the middle would size that up and agree, and we would steam merrily toward the mid-term elections.

There are still millions more people in the middle than on the fringe of either major party, and the 2016 election proved that – albeit in a warped way. Somehow, Donald Trump duped many in the middle that he was their guy.

OK, so he fooled everyone. These things can be corrected.

The majority of Florida voters live in the middle – voting sometimes for Democrats, sometimes for Republicans. They can believe in guns and charity. They don’t look at every immigrant as a threat. They want jobs, but not at the expense of clean air and water.

They believe in the quaint notion of working together and, when necessary, compromise. Nelson and the other Democratic senators who voted to temporarily end the shutdown can’t win without them.

The base doesn’t like to hear that, but it happens to be true.

Joe Henderson: Lots of blame in Washington shutdown game

Choosing a side to root for in the now-perpetual dysfunction in Washington is a fool’s errand, unless you count the workers and military impacted by this latest government shutdown. I’m pulling for them.

Leaders say they’re trying to find a solution to get everyone back to work and it looks like a short-term fix is in the works, but even if they do it probably won’t be long until we’re back at the brink.

To the people in both major parties, workers are collateral damage – pawns to be exploited in the blame game. Both sides have lost their freaking minds and are equally culpable in the nonsense we see unfolding daily.

They’re all wrong, every one of them.

Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Paul Ryan: #youtoo.

Donald Trump, Mike Pence, every senator and U.S. representative who parrots talking points and votes the party line: #youtoo. The Trump-endorsed ad released over the weekend trying to say Democrats who don’t support his immigration enforcement tactics are complicit in any murder done by an illegal immigrant is just disgusting.

To the huge campaign donors for both parties who expect nothing less than total victory in exchange for their cash: #youtoo.

To the hardliners who cheer the deportation of people like Jorge Garcia, who was 10 years old when brought to America from Mexico by his parents: #youtoo.

They must feel great that a man who is married with two children and tried legal paths to citizenship has been sent to a country that must seem as foreign to him as compassion and common sense does to these deportation zealots.

Of course, they’re whipped into a frenzy by conspiracy idiots like Alex Jones (#especiallyyoutoo), who have convinced them that anyone who doesn’t look or talk like them will be breaking down their back door once the sun sets.

How hard would be it be for McConnell and Schumer to settle this over a glass of good Kentucky bourbon?

Republicans: You get enhanced border security, but we’ll do it the right way. We’re not going to spend billions on a wall that the bad guys would just tunnel under or fly over. After all, didn’t drug kingpin El Chapo Guzman tunnel his way out of a prison in Mexico?

We’ll use drones, satellites, hire more security people to patrol the border, and it will be more effective and cost less than a stupid thousand-mile wall.

Democrats: You get DACA, because it’s morally repugnant to think deporting someone who was brought here as a child when their parents entered illegally will make America safer.

But we’ll require enhanced background checks to see if you’re pals with someone from ISIS. If so, you’re out. If not, you get to stay forever.

See how simple this is?

That’s the problem. Washington doesn’t want simple, commonsense solutions, and that’s how we got here. Everyone figures the game plan now is we get everything, you get nothing.

I guess we should have expected this. Trump won the hearts and minds of millions by promising essentially an all-out assault on reason, and that is one promise he has fulfilled.

It really goes back further, though. When Barack Obama became president, McConnell did everything in his power to stop the machinery of government. And we remember how much the far right hated Bill Clinton.

So, Democrats – now on the defensive – are playing by the same rules, and things are so screwed up the nation basically thinks they’re all crazy.

They are.

Who is responsible for this mess? Pick the name of most any lawmaker who rode to Washington on a white horse, promising good things in return for your vote but delivered this.

Write down their name and add #youtoo.

You will be correct.

Charlie Crist ‘deeply concerned’ about USF unification bill

The controversial proposal in the Legislature to combine the three campuses of the University of South Florida has drawn the ire of U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg.

In a letter to Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Crist said he is “deeply concerned” over the bill offered by state Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican. It would bring the campuses in St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee under control of the main USF campus in Tampa.

It also would phase out separate accreditation for each school, which supporters of the St. Petersburg campus argue would reduce that school’s prestige and independence.

“As you know, USFSP worked for many years in its quest for autonomy, achieving this status in 2006. Since that time, USFSP’s enrollment, performance, and fundraising have steadily increased and the institution is on course to become a nationally recognized university in its own right,” Crist wrote. “Further, an independent USFSP is a major point of pride for USFSP alumni, the student body, and the St. Petersburg community.

“I am deeply concerned with the proposal to revoke USFSP’s autonomy. The lack of public input or rigorous study for such a far-reaching, disruptive proposal is also very troubling. At minimum, this issue requires greater analysis, and USFSP students, faculty, administrators and the St. Petersburg community deserve adequate opportunity to have their voices heard on this issue. Unless or until that occurs, I request that further consideration of any proposal affecting USFSP’s autonomy be put on hold.”

In a separate statement, Crist questioned the lack of “appropriate public input” and says the bill is “not in the best interests of the student body.”

Joe Henderson: Legislature move on USF could leave St. Pete rattled


That sound you heard emanating from the western side of the Tampa Bay area wasn’t a sonic blast, or the exhaust fumes from an unidentified flying object.

But if you’re still searching for answers to why your windows rattled this morning, check out the University of South Florida St. Petersburg – or, as that campus likes to call itself, USFSP.

Officials and faculty are no doubt still pondering how their life will different if a move in the Florida Legislature to combine USF’s three branches – Tampa, St. Pete, and Sarasota-Manatee – into one big single university is successful.

So what, you ask?

So, here’s what: goodbye relative autonomy for the smaller schools and hello to a new identity of being simply a branch off the giant USF main tree in Tampa. And if you don’t know how much they would hate that in St. Pete and Sarasota-Manatee, then you don’t understand university politics.

USFSP has a history of going rogue against the authority of the Mother Ship on Fowler Avenue in Tampa. The short version is this: the good educators in St. Pete don’t want to be a branch on anyone’s tree. They have wanted to be a separate entity, making their decisions.

With the blessing of the Legislature in the 1990s, that’s kind of what they got after faculty and officials in St. Pete complained about being disrespected by the larger campus in Tampa.

There were limitations to that independence, as now-former USFSP regional chancellor Sophia Wisniewska learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

She was fired by USF President Judy Genshaft for essentially dereliction of duty when she left town during the storm but tried to imply that she was on the job protecting students and the campus.

“Your conduct created an intolerable safety risk to our students and the USFSP community,” is how Genshaft phrased it.

St. Pete got the message: You still belong to me.

Not long after that, the St. Pete campus lost one its main defenders when powerful state Sen. Jack Latvala resigned after being caught up in a sex scandal that swirls today.

Latvala fiercely fought for the autonomy of USFSP while in office, and officials in Tampa were concerned that he might try to break off the St. Pete campus altogether – following the model by former state Sen. JD Alexander who hijacked the USF campus in Polk County to create Florida Polytechnic University.

Tampa officials were concerned Latvala might try to include the prestigious USF College of Marine Science in a hostile takeover. The college, while located on the St. Pete campus, has been under full control of Tampa and is a cash cow in terms of generating donations.

With Latvala gone, though, the relative silence coming from Tampa after Tuesday’s news that Rep. Chris Sprowls filed a bill that would combine the campuses indicates Genshaft probably is smiling quietly.

For what it’s worth, Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican, is a USF graduate.

Without Latvala to break knees and lead the opposition, the odds that this consolidation happens would seem to be greatly increased. Sprowls told the Tampa Bay Times that everyone should be happy about this because, “It’s an opportunity for St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee to have a pre-eminent university in their community. I think, naturally, it will have them rising together as opposed to being separate limbs.”

I doubt seriously that’s how USFSP is looking at this.

It goes back to the long regional rivalry between Tampa and St. Pete, and the complaint from the west side of the Bay that Tampa gets everything.

That’s not as true as it used to be. In this case though, it might the best way to describe what might happen.

Richard Corcoran: 2017 Florida Politician of the Year

Richard Corcoran apologized as he slid into his seat on the outdoor patio at The Capital Grille, an upscale eatery at Tampa’s swank International Mall. He was running a little late and battling a head cold.

Corcoran passed on his usual glass of red wine. Instead, he opted for chilled Fiji bottled water.

Our waiter smiled, welcomed him back by his name, said it was good to see him again and left to fetch the water. And things were going smoothly as I threw out questions to the Florida House Speaker and — he didn’t know this at the time — Florida Politics 2017 Politician Of The Year.

Corcoran, a Republican from Land O’Lakes, discussed policies he will pursue when his second and final term as Speaker begins in January.

Basically, if you liked his performance in 2017, you will love it in 2018.

And if you didn’t, well, buckle up.

His agenda will include continued battles for tax reform, immigration reform, regulatory reform, and, as always, an emphasis on transforming the way students receive their education.

“Hopefully, it will be the same (as last Session),” he said. “Hopefully it’s just as disruptive and just as transformative.”

We won’t learn whether he plans to formally enter the 2018 race for Governor until after the Session, but if you’re looking for clues, consider this statement: “I do things a little unconventionally, but we’re still raising money” for a possible campaign.

He talked with an obvious love for the values his parents instilled in him. He swapped stories about his friends, including Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco. He spoke of his faith, which is deep and central to his being. He said Gov. Rick Scott “has done a great job.”

“We’re now No. 1 in fiscal health. That’s an amazing stat, to be the third-largest state in the union and No. 1 in fiscal health,” Corcoran said. “If you look at all the other large states — California, New York, Pennsylvania — they’re all at the bottom five. The closest (big state) to us is Texas, and they’re like No. 27 or 26.

“For us to be No. 1 in fiscal health says something. That’s a focus on creating an atmosphere that the small businesses can go out there and create jobs. It’s about deregulation, tax cuts, and getting out of their way.”

But about 25 minutes into a 40-minute give-and-take, I asked if he wishes he could take back the widely referenced remark that the Florida public school teachers union is evil.

I think he had been waiting for that one. He sat straight up in his chair, his voice rising, arms waving; even through a raspy, congestion-clogged voice, you could tell the question touched a nerve.

“I didn’t say that,” he said, eyes narrowing. “Go back and listen to the tape.”

I did go back and listen, and it’s true. Corcoran did not call the union evil, although a quick Google search reveals a string of stories with headlines saying he did.

Corcoran’s statement then was that the union’s lawsuit to stop his ambitious plan to expand Florida’s education voucher program for low-performing schools was “evil.” If successful, he believed the suit would keep primarily low-income, minority students trapped in an education system that was failing them.

He didn’t back off then. He isn’t backing off now.

“Does the teacher’s union want to be honest? Do the Democrats want to be honest? Does anyone want to debate me, anytime, anywhere in this whole state, on that lawsuit? No!” he said.

“Does Andrew Gillum (want to debate)? No! Does Gwen Graham? No! None of ‘em. I’ll do it any place, anytime, anywhere. Instead, they just go around saying, ‘Richard Corcoran said teachers were evil.’ No, that’s a lie. They say, ‘Richard Corcoran said the teacher’s union is evil.’ No, that’s a lie.

“What Richard Corcoran said, for the whole world to hear, in a very public setting, was that a lawsuit that takes the most underprivileged, underserved children and takes them out of a failing school and puts them into a school that gives them a 40 percent greater chance of going to college, and you file a lawsuit to end that program, that is evil.”

That exchange captures the essence of Richard Corcoran, as explained by people who know him best.

He is master of details, fiery and unapologetic when he believes he is right, and on a mission to turn the status quo into rubble.

Away from the office, he loves Florida Gators basketball and Tampa Bay Buccaneers football. He is all about family. He is a loyal friend and a relentless foe, but if you have earned his respect, he can easily separate the personal side from professional.

Take Janet Cruz, for instance.

As House Minority Leader, Cruz is a liberal Democrat and was outspoken at her belief that Corcoran’s education overhaul — his cherished House Bill 7069 that passed last spring — was an unwarranted attack on public schools.

But even though she said then she was “shocked” at Corcoran’s remarks, the two get along well.

“Janet is a great person. We’ve sat right there and smoked cigars together,” Corcoran said, pointing to an outdoor spot.

Cruz confirmed that.

“The Speaker and I have always had a good relationship that I believe we were able to build over our shared love and dedication for our families. Although we rarely agree on policy, his door has always been open, and even when we argue, I know that there will never be any hard feelings because of the mutual respect we have for one another,” she said.

“Richard is genuine in his beliefs, as I am in mine, and I know that when we walk off the floor for the last time after this session, we will depart as we arrived — as friends.”

This is the Richard Corcoran his supporters expected to get when he was elected to the Florida House in 2010 after two previous campaigns for a seat ended in defeat.

“I had more doubt that Richard would get elected to the Legislature than that he would take over a leadership position there,” said close friend Paul Hawkes, who has served as both a state representative and chief judge of the state’s 1st District Court of Appeal.

“Gov. (Jeb) Bush used to say that some guys run to be, and so guys run to do. To be a doer means you upset people. You can never change the status quo without upsetting some people. I always thought Richard would want to run and would run.”

Go back to the words he used to forecast his plans for 2018: disruptive and transformative. They are central to everything about his idea of governing.

“If you have an idea you want to get in front of Richard and you want him to embrace it, show him how it upsets the status quo,” Nocco said. “If it’s a new way to look at the problem and this is how we can change things, he’ll embrace it wholeheartedly.”

That was the essence of Corcoran’s bare-knuckles fight to win approval for his Schools of Hope program. It provided $140 million, or up to $2,000 per student, for expanded programs at struggling public schools in low-income areas.

It also authorized money for state-approved charter operators to open new schools within 5 miles of those at-risk public schools. Corcoran said the program gives parents the chance to opt out of a failing school, but critics say it is a drain on already-strapped public-school budgets.

It was the most divisive issue in the last Legislative Session as state public-school teachers flooded Tallahassee with protests. Corcoran, whose wife, Anne, helped found and operate the Classical Prep charter school as a volunteer, was resolute that offering alternatives is a better way.

“He is determined. He gets an idea in his head (if you will), and he is determined to fulfill that idea, that dream. That’s extremely impressive. He’s very competitive. He doesn’t like to lose,” said Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano, Corcoran’s neighbor and a former state legislator.

“He is one who will do whatever it takes to win a battle — ethically, morally and legally, but he’ll do what it takes to win what he thinks is right.”

I shared that quote with Corcoran, and he nodded in agreement.

“Truth is objective and noble. If there is an objective and noble truth, you pursue it,” he said. “That’s why a lot of speeches I give are about truth and justice. That’s from Socrates. He’s got tons of good lines. He gave one that said show me who’s teaching your kids and I’ll show you the future.”

Corcoran is all about the future, even if — or maybe especially if — that means turning the present on its ear. Controversy doesn’t scare him, and tough fights don’t intimidate him. Being the Speaker gives him the chance to craft a future for Florida he believes will be better than what was here before.

To get there, he will bloody your nose if need be. He knows how to work a room or twist an arm. He knows what he wants and will try to win over opponents with a righteous, confident argument. If that doesn’t work, he knows how the system works and what it takes to win.

No hard feelings, though. When the battle is over, sit down. Have a cigar. Have a glass of wine.

“I’m a nice guy,” he said. “I really am.”

It’s not personal. It’s about a vision, and Richard Corcoran is confident that he has the right one for Florida.

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