While Florida’s delegates to the Republican National Convention noshed on a Tuesday morning breakfast fit for a Hubert Mizell column — chicken & waffles, honestly cheesy grits, and cinnamon sticky buns — Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam extolled on the virtues of living under GOP rule in the Sunshine State.
“The economy was in the tank, and we had more and more regulations stacked onto one another,” he said. “We’re always one election away from that. That’s why these campaigns count, because Illinois and New York and even Ohio, as hard as they’re trying to dig out from the hole they’ve been put in—and, heaven knows, California—I mean, they’re lost causes.
“The unfunded pension liability in Illinois is bigger than the Florida budget, and the Florida budget is half the size of the New York budget, and you wonder why they’re in the mess they’re in,” he added.
On the other hand, Florida’s success is “because of a sustained, conservative approach to governing.”
Clearly, those words are a stump speech in the making. It’s widely expected that Putnam will run for Florida governor in 2018. Heck, he’s running already.
He’s raising money (almost $5 million worth). He’s hosting campaign rallies. He’s even airing campaign-esque videos.
The only things left to do before Putnam officially becomes a gubernatorial candidate is filing paperwork with the Division of Elections and printing bumper stickers.
Tuesday’s breakfast at the RNC was another opportunity for Putnam to move closer to the day when he files that paperwork. Everyone in attendance knew that; most there are supportive.
“It sort of laid the foundation of what his intentions are, as if everyone in Florida didn’t know,” Republican state Rep. Jeanette Nuñez of Miami told the Miami Herald’s Patricia Mazzei.
So, no, it’s not really a surprise to see Putnam begin to reveal his 2018 plans. But, it should be noted, Putnam’s not the only possible Florida gubernatorial contender in Cleveland right now.
Florida House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran is also in the Rock n’ Roll Capital Of The World, and increasingly it appears the Pasco County Republican is interested in a 2018 gubernatorial run.
Speaking with a variety of sources close to the tight-lipped Corcoran — including current and former lawmakers, key staffers, and prominent lobbyists who have all spoken directly with Corcoran about his political future — the incoming Speaker is not yet ruling out a run for the Governor’s Mansion.
Corcoran has not come close to saying that he would run, but he has made it clear he does not mind having his name included in the conversation.
As intelligent and talented a political operative as Corcoran is, one of the first questions that comes to mind when gaming out a possible candidacy is: In what lane would he run? Is there room for him in 2018?
There’s Putnam, who has already lined up so much of the GOP establishment. But there’s also former Speaker Will Weatherford, who is contemplating a 2018 bid.
There’s a host of Democrats, some with crossover appeal, who will throw their hats into the 2018 ring. And since this is Florida, you can count on two other types of candidates emerging in 2018: The surprise contenders who no one sees coming (à la Rick Scott) and the self-funding candidates who have no problem blowing $10-$20 million on a statewide campaign (see Jeff Greene, Carlos Beruff).
Somewhere in there, Corcoran has to find a lane to run in.
One possible scenario has Corcoran becoming a serious contender if he is able to clean the Augean Stables that are Tallahassee.
Once the ultimate insider, Corcoran has laid out an ambitious agenda to reform the way the Legislature does business.
“We must close the revolving door between the Legislature and the lobby corps,” Corcoran said at his designation speech. “We need to restore the distance between those who seek to influence the laws and those of us who make the laws.”
Corcoran, whose brother Michael is a prominent state lobbyist, called for a constitutional amendment banning “any state elected official from lobbying the legislative or executive branch for a period of six years.”
Corcoran also wants to toughen lobbyist registration rules by requiring lobbyists to specifically “disclose which bills, which amendments and which appropriations they are trying to influence.”
“Other states require such disclosure,” he said. “It’s time Florida does too.”
Corcoran said he will also push legislation “banning elected officials from taking jobs in government, unless elected by the people, for a period of six years after they leave office” and forbidding lawmakers from taking “a job while in office with any company or group that receives any funding from the state, directly or indirectly.”
Were Corcoran to accomplish all of this, he would have one of the most impressive legacies of any modern House Speaker.
Yet, therein lies the rub.
Florida’s political history is littered with the hopes and dreams of House Speakers and Senate Presidents who had their eyes on statewide office. Yes, a House Speaker can raise a boatload of money from the lobbyists whose livelihood depends on their thumbs up/thumbs down, but wouldn’t it be hypocritical for Corcoran to raise money for a gubernatorial bid from the lobby corps he hopes to rein in?
One former lawmaker with whom FloridaPolitics.com spoke suggested Corcoran is sacrificing “half of his agenda” by allowing others to speculate that he will run for governor in 2018.
Then again, former House Speaker Dean Cannon said if any legislative leader could make the leap to statewide office, it’s Corcoran.
“The sheer breadth of his intelligence and his deep background working at all levels of Florida government make the Speaker-designate instantly credible for a statewide run in 2018,” said Cannon, who said he will support Putnam for governor.
But these are ordinary concerns for ordinary leaders. Corcoran has shown himself to be something different.
He’s regarded as the most powerful incoming Speaker of the Republican era. His legislative lieutenants and political allies are the most loyal in The Process. Corcoran, even by the political adversaries he’s crushed, is regarded as brilliant and principled.
“If Richard were to consider one day running for governor, he will be one of the most qualified individuals to do so in recent years,” said Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano, who served with Corcoran in the Florida House and has been both a mentor and intellectual sounding board for years. “In addition to his legal and professional background, his personal humility and understanding of the human side of the political process have all equipped him for such a challenge.”
What’s attractive about Corcoran as a gubernatorial candidate, Fasano said, is that he’s not one to seek the spotlight, “instead he’s more concerned with solving a problem rather than getting publicity for doing so.”
If Corcoran really does want to run for governor, he will have to get over being so press-averse. As much as being self-effacing is a credit to his character, it may hinder him from winning higher office. And he also has a long way to go before he catches up with the well-laid plans of Adam Putnam.
Perhaps Corcoran should start by hosting breakfast for everyone.