The Capitol Press Corps got its first scolding, albeit a gentle one, from Richard Corcoran last week.
The new House Speaker was repeatedly asked during a news conference about how Senate President Joe Negron‘s priorities during the coming legislative session might conflict with his own.
“You people are so conditioned and trained. But so are we — I don’t fault you,” he said after the House’s Organization Session.
“There are 160 legislators. We’ve got to move past, ‘this is a speaker’s priority; this is a Senate president’s priority.’ They ought to be corporate priorities of both chambers.”
The old way of doing things — powerful legislative leaders imposing their will on the Senate and House — is over as far as Corcoran is concerned.
And everybody — his members, the Senate, lobbyists, the press — is going to have to learn that.
When asked whether he could support Negron’s goal of boosting higher education funding, Corcoran objected: “We are trying to transform and move away from a top-down system in the House.”
Corcoran appointed committee chairs, but wants to let them chose committee members and subcommittee chairs, and let all of them decide upon priorities together.
Does even he know what this system will produce?
“You never do,” Corcoran replied. “There’s not a single person in the history of the Legislature who can predict what it’s going to look like come May, whatever it is, at this point in time.
“I’m encouraged, though. I think there is a vast difference between the House and the Senate. We are very, very conservative. You can see that just in the rules, and how it’s going to play out over the next two years.”
He did allow that “Sen. Negron … has always behaved, in my opinion, as a great statesman. He’s a great communicator. That’s why he’s Senate president.”
To Corcoran, there are “good” compromises, in which parties accept less than they’d hoped for in the normal run of governing.
“Bad compromise is when you’re violating your principles that you know — you know — will lead to a worse environment, a worse Legislature, a worse outcome in education, a worse outcome in health care,” he said.
“If you’re just going to capitulate to the special interests and the mainstream media and all the powers that be because you’re afraid or somehow it’s not worth the fight, there’s nothing honorable about that. And there’s nothing dogmatic about that.”
Corcoran intends his ethics reforms as a cudgel to enforce good behavior. He hopes they will provide data points with which to embarrass wayward lobbyists and public officials.
“Hopefully, coming soon is the Top 10 list of everything you can imagine,” he said. “Top 10 biggest spenders. Top 10 lobbyists who got taxpayer money. Top 10 county commissioners who let lobbyists do their jobs because they stink. All of that’s coming soon.”
Consider what he said about the Florida Education Association over its legal challenge to the state’s tax-credit scholarships, which steer poor kids into private schools: “evil,” “disgusting,” “repugnant,” and yes, even “crazy-ass.”
The teachers union later tweeted from its official account “we invite @richardcorcoran to have a serious & civil discussion about all of our students’ needs.” FEA president Joanne McCall also personally tweeted, “Slamming us in a speech is one thing, solving problems is another.”
“Feel free to call me,” she added, even listing her phone number.
At the press conference, Corcoran said that “any way we can force more innovating, more risk taking, more competition in our education environment, all the studies suggest that’s what gives you a better outcome with students.”
He added: “If you guys have studies that suggest that kind of competition produces worse results, then we’ll certainly evaluate those studies. But they don’t exist.”
Yet he insisted his “rhetoric is not against anybody.”
“My rhetoric is not against lobbyists; my rhetoric is not against members; my rhetoric is not against the union,” he said. “My rhetoric is for the truth. And that’s a knowable thing. That’s an objective thing. And then you fight for the truth.
“If you don’t, why are you even in the process?”