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With website, social media, all signs point to Richard Corcoran running for governor

House Speaker Richard Corcoran may not be saying whether he is running for Florida governor.

But with some high-profile personnel, a new website and more assertive online presence — as the old Magic 8-Ball says — all signs point to yes.

While the Land O’Lakes Republican is reluctant to telegraph political intentions, holding back from undue publicity, some things suggest a candidacy is on the horizon.

One hint came this week with the debut of RichardCorcoran.com, a well-produced website supporting Watchdog PAC, the vehicle for promoting conservative reform that may (or may not) become the foundation for a governor’s race.

Designed by Washington D.C.-based Go Big Media, the award-winning digital marketing firm, RichardCorcoran.com checks all the boxes for a political candidate: an “extensive, first-person bio,” and several “issue pages” highlighting Corcoran’s conservative benchmarks — immigration, taxes, spending, education, and government accountability.

Another clue is a renewed social media effort, including a revamped Facebook page with campaign-style videos and images, which quickly doubled its followers over the past month.

In addition to the website and online efforts, Corcoran also brought on a winning team of former Donald Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio and Jamestown Associates to handle media. In 2016, Jamestown was the primary media firm producing TV spots for Trump.

And the biggest sign is the hire of Taylor Budowich, Watchdog’s newly appointed communication head.

As executive director and national spokesperson for Tea Party Express, Budowich led the nation’s largest Tea Party PAC and was the driving force behind the Tea Party’s State of the Union responses for 2012-16 — presented by notable conservatives like Rand Paul and Mike Lee, as well as former Florida Congressman Curt Clawson.

Corcoran may be coy about the Governor’s Mansion — waiting until after the 2018 Legislative Session to reveal his plans — but by laying the groundwork with a serious campaign team and robust online visibility, it is hard to imagine anything but.

New poll finds Democrats’ 6-point advantage in generic governor’s race

Without naming a specific candidate, a new poll finds Democrats have a six-point advantage in the 2018 Florida governor’s race.

Conducted by SEA Polling & Strategic Design, a Tampa-based firm known for Democratic polling, the poll was taken Aug. 13-17 with live callers, 30 percent cellphones, and bilingual interviewers.

“With big names lining up to run for governor on both sides, we decided to take a more legislative approach to see how the race for governor is setting up by asking which party candidate for governor was the respondent more likely to support,” SEA pollster Thomas Eldon stated in a memo announcing some of the results.

“Despite a conservative midterm model giving Republicans a plus-two turnout advantage (41 percent Republican/39 percent Democrat/20 percent no party affiliation), the results favored the Democrat by six with peak intensity separation also at six.”

The poll found the Democratic strength lays with women and Hispanics, in Central Florida and South Florida; Republicans continue to hold solid advantages among white voters and in the Florida Panhandle.

Democrats also held a five-point advantage over Republicans among independents. However, independent voters were much less likely than partisans to make a pick. Almost 45 percent did not choose a party candidate, Eldon noted.

Women voters gave the generic Democratic gubernatorial candidate a 15-point advantage over the Republican, and among working women, the lead rose to 19 points. Hispanic voters gave a Democratic choice a 16-point advantage.

“With Democrats holding a significant margin among Hispanics, Hispanic turnout in 2018 is pivotal to secure a clear path to victory,” Eldon wrote.

The poll was released through Christian Ulvert‘s Edge Communications, which is working with  Philip Levine, the Miami Beach Mayor who is posturing as a Democratic candidate for governor, though he has neither announced nor filed for candidacy. Without disclosing whom, Ulvert said the poll was commissioned by an individual, but said it was not Levine nor anyone associated with his campaign.

Leading candidates for governor include Democrats Gwen Graham, Chris King, and Andrew Gillum, and Republicans Adam Putnam and Jack Latvala. Democrat John Morgan and Republicans Richard Corcoran and Ron DeSantis also are positioning for possible runs.

Campaign cash from utilities? ‘I’ll accept it,’ Richard Corcoran says

While GOP gubernatorial rivals Jack Latvala and Adam Putnam feud over campaign contributions from investor-owned utilities, Richard Corcoran is watching from the sidelines.

As reported by FloridaPolitics last week, Agriculture Commissioner Putnam’s political committee has received nearly $800,000 from the utilities, and another $1.8 million to political committees that may have been re-directed to him.

Latvala, a Clearwater state senator, last month said he would no longer accept political contributions from the power companies, saying they should spend their money on improving power grid infrastructure following the outages after Hurricane Irma barreled through the state.

Corcoran, the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, said Wednesday that he has accepted campaign contributions from the investor-owned utilities in the past, and he hopes to in the future.

“I’ve accepted in the past, as has Senator Latvala, and I’ll accept it in the future,” he said to reporters following a news conference in Tampa. “And my record speaks for itself in fighting for consumers in utility fights.”

Corcoran added that he’ll take contributions from virtually any group.

“My point to anybody is, anybody can donate to my campaign for the most part. I’m Richard Corcoran, this is what I stand for, and that’s what I’m going to fight for. And if you don’t like it, don’t donate.”

On another issue, the speaker said Gov. Rick Scott won’t have to worry about a bill funding an airplane for the next governor.

Scott, who is term-limited next year, ended the practice when he became governor in 2011, saying that it was a waste of taxpayer money as he had the funds to afford his own personal plane. Scott sidestepped reporters’ questions about it after this week’s Cabinet meeting.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a plane in the House budget, I can assure you of that,” said Corcoran, who also is term-limited next year—and may declare his own run for governor after the 2018 Legislative Session.

Darryl Rouson files constitutional amendment extending lobbying ban

State Sen. and Constitution Revision Commissioner Darryl Rouson has filed a proposed constitutional amendment extending the state’s lobbying ban on former lawmakers and other elected officials from two to six years.

The amendment language was posted late Wednesday on the commission’s website.

The extended ban, however, would apply only “to those individuals who were members of the legislature or who were statewide elected officers at any time after November 6, 2018.”

If added to the state constitution, a 6-year lobbying ban would be the longest in the nation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But it previously has raised constitutional concerns over free speech and restraint of trade among critics.

Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, is one of GOP House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s nine appointees to the commission, which convenes every 20 years to review and suggest changes to Florida’s governing document.

Rouson was elected to the Senate last year after serving in the House of Representatives from 2008-16.

Extending the lobbying ban has been a priority of Corcoran’s since his September 2015 designation speech.

That was when Corcoran, whose brother Michael is a prominent lobbyist, first called for a constitutional amendment banning “any state elected official from lobbying the legislative or executive branch for a period of six years.”

“We must close the revolving door between the Legislature and the lobby corps,” Corcoran said. “We need to restore the distance between those who seek to influence the laws and those of us who make the laws.”

Corcoran had once singled out healthcare lobbyists in Tallahassee during closing remarks on the budget, calling them “Gucci-loafing, shoe-wearing special interest powers.”

He later rewrote the House Rules to say that a “lobbyist who was a member of the Legislature at any time after November 8, 2016, may not lobby the House for a period of 6 years following vacation of office as a member of the Legislature.”

This past Legislative Session, the House passed an lobbying-ban extension bill (HB 7003) by a 110-3 vote. It too would have applied “only to those individuals who were members of the Legislature after November 8, 2016, or who were statewide elected officers after November 8, 2016.”

The measure later died in the Senate.

Larry Metz, the Yalaha Republican who chairs the House’s Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, has said he thought a longer ban would withstand legal attack because it addresses only paid lobbying.

The commission can place amendments directly on the 2018 statewide ballot, but they still must be OK’d by 60 percent of voters to be added to Florida’s constitution.

Richard Corcoran: ‘We’re done with talking heads,’ Congress must OK Trump’s tax cuts

House Speaker Richard Corcoran joined other GOP lawmakers for a meeting Wednesday with business owners in Tampa, during which he delivered a stern message to Congress: Get behind Donald Trump and his proposed tax cuts.

“The time to act is now,” the Land O’Lakes Republican said at a downtown Tampa news conference. “We’re done with sound bite politics. We’re done with talking heads. What we need is for those guys to get into a room and pass meaningful tax reform.”

The plan (as currently outlined) would cut the top personal income tax rate; eliminate estate taxes (which presently only tax estates worth at least $5.5 million); kill the alternative minimum tax, and slashes rates on pass-through income. While Democrats predictably turned up noses to the proposal when it was unveiled last month, Senate Republicans have also objected to the proposed plan.

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker indicated he would not vote for any bill that significantly adds to the deficit.

“With realistic growth projections, it cannot produce a deficit,” Corker said. “There is no way in hell I’m voting for it.”

“I will not vote for the budget unless it keeps within the spending caps,” Rand Paul said Tuesday.

In a conversation earlier in the day with Trump, the Kentucky senator told the president, who is a fellow Republican: “I’m all in. I want to be supportive. I’m a ‘yes’ vote. But we have to obey our own rules.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin argues that robust growth, fueled by tax cuts, will actually pay down the national debt by $1 trillion.

However, that’s not what the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center says, contending the Trump tax cut plan would cut revenues to the U.S. Treasury by $5.6 trillion over 20 years.

Corcoran doesn’t agree, saying those calculations are through  “static” scoring — as opposed to “dynamic” scoring, which doesn’t make room for higher growth rates that bring in more revenue.

“Read any economist, any foundation, out there,” he said. “They’re predicting in the first five years, this could lead to  3.2 percent growth rate, which is an additional $2.5 trillion in revenues over ten years. So that more than pays for the tax plan.”

Not every foundation is saying that, however.

The nonpartisan balanced-budget advocacy group Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget believes the cuts will not be self-financing.

In a paper produced earlier this month, the Washington-based group argued the economy “would need to grow by $5 to $6 for every $1 of tax cuts,” to avoid adding to the deficit.

They also said that past tax cuts in 1981 and the early 2000s “have led to widening budget deficits and lower revenue, not the reverse as some claim.”

Corcoran also pushed back on the premise that the Trump tax cut plan rewards the wealthy at the expense of the middle class. The Speaker noted a provision in the plan to double the standard deduction for the majority of taxpayers who don’t take deductions. He also said an increase in the Child Tax Credit (CTC) would be a huge benefit for the middle class.

Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, Marco Rubio said flatly that the Trump tax cut plan wouldn’t pass without a “significant” increase in the CTC.

Joining Corcoran at the event were state Rep. Neil Combee of Polk County and Tampa-area Reps. Jackie Toledo and Shawn Harrison, touting that the economies of Tampa Bay and the state were flourishing “based on good, solid conservative pro-business values and policies.”

It was a similar message Corcoran attempted to drive home to Congress, urging them to look at Florida as a laboratory of democracy to be emulated when it comes to fiscal health.

“When you cut 75 taxes over seven years, totaling $7 billion,” he said. “When you get rid of 5,000 regulations, what happens? You become the number one state in the entire union for fiscal health. You become the number four state for tax simplicity.”

Pulling back the curtain on “Families for Better Care”

Since the dawn of time, trial lawyers and medical groups have been at war, locked in a battle over legislation to give one an advantage over the other.

Nearly everyone in The Process knows this, and it’s not likely to change anytime soon.

What’s not widely known are the direct ties between certain so-called “patient advocacy groups” and trial lawyers with dollar signs in their eyes, looking to capitalize on potentially lucrative opportunities.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, all this has bubbled back to the surface. There are lots of conversations on what could have been done better — in fact, House Speaker Richard Corcoran created a select committee to investigate how the state and private sectors can be better prepared for the next major storm.

The poster child for what went wrong during Irma was the preventable tragedy of 14 elderly residents who died at the Hollywood Hills Nursing Center. Lawyers on both sides will thrash through what happened, but just about everyone can agree there were significant mistakes made.

One isolated catastrophe does not mean the state must step in and set up regulation after regulation that would affect each of the 600+ nursing homes in Florida — not when the tragedy was confined to one home.

Yet even before the hurricane debris is off the streets, attorneys and lawmakers were hard at work trying to ride the media wave to pass legislation that would change the dynamic between nursing homes and trial attorneys.

There are entire law firms that focus solely on nursing home-related cases. Some of those cases are absolutely warranted as the Hollywood Hills case appears to be. But oftentimes the cases are clearly attempting to reap a huge payday and rack up high-dollar legal fees.

One of the groups purporting to “advocate for quality nursing home care” goes by the upbeat name Families for Better Care. Brian Lee, who previously headed Florida’s long-term care ombudsman program, leads the group.

Lee’s seemingly independent organization is advocating for more regulations and restrictions on nursing homes — and possibly changes to tort law — to make it easier to sue these homes.

It turns out, he has a good reason. Law firms make up a very significant portion of the contributions to Lee’s group.

For instance, from 2011 to 2015, Tampa-based law firm Wilkes & McHugh — whose website touts its experience suing nursing homes — gave more than a half-million dollars to Families for Better Care. That number doesn’t even include contributions from the last couple years.

In an interview with Sunshine State News in 2014, Lee described his relationship with the law firm: “I have to admit, we wouldn’t be able to exist without Wilkes & McHugh.”

While the folks at Wilkes & McHugh might explain it away as simply supporting a good cause, the reality is that Families for Better Care will almost certainly be a vocal advocate for legislation benefiting trial attorneys — particularly firms making a living by suing nursing homes and assisted living facilities statewide.

From now through Sine die in (hopefully) March, lawmakers need to take a close look at nursing home regulations. Things like requiring generators — with a reasonable timeline for implementation — seem like a good idea. But legislative leaders need to use a scalpel to modify the laws we already have on the books, not a hatchet to wipe away years and years of well-reasoned policies.

Regardless, as this issue — with its limitless “proposed solutions” — makes its way through the legislative process, follow the money and keep an eye out for groups purporting to be on the side of the consumer.

It’s entirely possible they’re really just looking to score a big payday for a handful of law firms.

 

interim Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister

Chad Chronister boasts bipartisan backing in fundraiser invite

Chad Chronister is looking to shed the “interim” tag in front of his title as Hillsborough County Sheriff next year, and a peek at the host committee he’s wrangled for his Oct. 25 campaign kickoff shows his support is both far reaching and bipartisan.

Chronister has been with the office since 1992 and was a colonel before the retirement of longtime lawman David Gee earlier this year, which vaulted him into the leadership role. He filed for election to the office a day after he was sworn in as interim sheriff.

The run for sheriff is Chronister’s first campaign, though the invite for his upcoming fundraiser has more names than many seasoned politicians – it fills up nearly a whole page of legal size paper and includes well over 200 names.

Among his supporters are both sides of the courtroom in State Attorney Andrew Warren and Hillsborough County Public Defender Julie Holt.

Chronister, a Republican, also has politicians from both sides of the political spectrum flocking to support his fledgling campaign.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat, and former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, the current favorite to succeed him, also made the list alongside House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Sens. Dana Young and Tom Lee as well as County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, all Republicans.

The throng of supporters will gather at The Italian Club at 1731 E 7th Ave. in Ybor City to get the sitting sheriff’s campaign off the ground. The event starts at 5:30 p.m. and runs for two hours.

So far, Chronister’s only competition is no-party candidate Juan Rivera. The election will be held in November 2018.

The full invitation is below.

Bob Cortes heads for Puerto Rico on relief mission organized through speaker’s office

State Rep. Bob Cortes went to Puerto Rico Monday to oversee a disaster relief effort arranged by Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and coordinated by him and other members of the Seminole County Legislative Caucus.

Cortes, a Republican from Altamonte Springs, is overseeing delivery of about four tons of supplies headed for the hard-hit eastern part of the island commonwealth.

Puerto Rico is his family home, where he still has numerous family members struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria’s devastation. On Monday Cortes expressed hope to get supplies through to some of the 3.5 million people who lost so much, most still without power, many without running water, and all struggling.

He also expects to meet with officials there, possibly including Gov. Ricardo Rossello, to talk about future cooperative efforts between Florida and Puerto Rico.

“We want to make sure what we do here will set the tone for the future as we try to help,” Cortes said by phone from San Juan.

This effort, he said, was arranged through conversations between Corcoran and Puerto Rico House Speaker Carlos Johnny Méndez.

Seminole County’s Legislative Caucus of Cortes, state Sen. Dave Simmons, and state Reps. Scott Plakon, and Jason Brodeur worked with the Orlando Sanford International Airport, Allegiant Airlines and the Course of Action Foundation to make it happen.

“I’m so proud to be part of this effort to do our part in helping our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico who continue to suffer in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria,” Cortes stated in a news release issued by his office. “Everyone has worked tirelessly to coordinate this project.”

Richard Corcoran says ‘enough is enough’ in new video

Call it the House of Representatives’ Greatest Hits – so far.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran took to YouTube Monday to highlight his chamber’s work in last week’s first legislative committee week.

An enthusiastic Corcoran, sporting a blue blazer-no tie look, sat in front of a bookcase stuffed with Florida Statute books, a miniature Liberty Bell, and an “It CAN Be Done” sign.

“We hit the ground running,” he said, jabbing his finger in the air. He’s also considering a 2018 run for governor, to be decided after the Legislative Session that runs Jan. 8-March 9. Corcoran is term-limited in the House next year.

The Land O’Lakes Republican’s highlights, mostly populist favorites, included:

— The Public Integrity and Ethics Committee‘s approving subpoenas to Tallahassee-based MAT Media and its owner, Pat RobertsVISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency, signed a contract with the company to produce a fishing show and a cooking show with celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.

“We had a contractor who took $14 million of taxpayer money and he refuses to let us know what he did with it,” Corcoran said. “If he misspent one single penny … we’re going to hold him to account.”

— The Government Accountability Committee‘s clearing of a bill to shut down any possibility of public money for privately-owned stadiums.

That’s “corporate welfare, so the billionaire owners can have you pay for their stadiums,” Corcoran said. “We’ll have that bill ready for the floor in January.”

— The Commerce Committee‘s approval of a occupational deregulation bill so “everybody can get their qualifications, pay minimal fees, and get out there in the workforce … We say, ‘enough is enough.’ ”

Other bills he mentioned include killing red-light cameras “just so some people can make money,” and his priority ‘Hope Scholarships’ measure.

“Principled conservatives … talk less, and we get more done,” he added.

 

Sweeping measure addresses prescription pills

Doctors would be limited to prescribing seven days’ worth of opioids for patients with acute pain and would have to check a statewide database before ordering most prescription pain medications, under a proposal filed Friday in the state House.

The 114-page bill, sponsored by House Commerce Chairman Jim Boyd, a Bradenton Republican, incorporates proposals put forward by Gov. Rick Scott aimed at curbing the opioid epidemic that has engulfed the state.

Scott’s office issued a news release Friday announcing the filing of the measure, an indication of the importance of what will be one of the most pressing issues for the Legislature during the session that begins in January.

“Families across our state are struggling with pain and loss inflicted by the national opioid epidemic and today I am proud that Senator Benacquisto and Representative Boyd are filing important legislation to help combat this terrible crisis,” Scott said in the release. Senate Rules Chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, is expected to file a companion measure to Boyd’s bill.

The proposal (HB 21) would limit doctors to writing prescriptions for three days’ worth of opioids, such as highly addictive oxycodone, unless the practitioner decides a seven-day prescription is “medically necessary to treat the patient’s pain as an acute medical condition.”

For the week-long supply, physicians would have to document the patient’s “acute medical condition and lack of alternative treatment options to justify deviation” from the three-day limit.

Some doctors, especially those who work in emergency rooms, have balked at a three-day limit and the requirement for documentation, which they say would take away time from patients.

Critics of a three-day limit also say that prescription-drug restrictions, while possibly stopping new patients from becoming addicted, won’t do anything to address the growing number of overdoses on heroin and fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid often mixed with heroin.

“In the emergency department, we see four to five overdoses a day,” Aaron Wohl, an emergency doctor in Lee County, told the Senate Health Policy Committee this week. “They’re not any using (prescription) medications. They’re using fentanyl and heroin.”

The limits are grounded in research that shows patients who took powerful pain medications for the first time had a higher chance of developing dependencies with longer prescriptions.

For example, new patients with a three-day prescription have a 3 percent chance of becoming addicted, compared to patients with a 30-day prescription, who have a 30 percent chance.

But Scott and his administration have indicated that the governor is open to increasing the three-day limit.

“The goal is to have a conversation and get everybody involved so as we go through this legislative session we have a bill that passes that is going to work to deal with the crisis,” Scott told doctors at a Florida Medical Association opioid summit in Tampa last week, after speaking about the prescription restrictions.

Shortly after Scott spoke, John Bryant, assistant secretary for substance abuse and mental health at the Department of Children and Families, expanded on the governor’s comments, saying Scott was offering an opportunity for doctors to “get it in a way that you think is something less than harsh.”

“We had this discussion in our shop and find that there are a lot of reasons … why three days may be more of a constraint than an aid at this point,” Bryant said.

The bill also includes a controversial component that would require doctors to look up patients on a prescription drug database, called the prescription drug monitoring program. The program has been aimed at keeping patients from getting multiple prescriptions for pain medications from different doctors.

Scott’s push to expand the use of the program is a dramatic departure from where he stood when he took office in 2011.

Then, the governor called for a repeal of the database, known as the PDMP. He reversed his opposition to it as Attorney General Pam Bondi lobbied heavily for the program to curb prescription-drug abuse.

State law now requires pharmacists to check the database before they fill prescriptions for controlled substances, but doctors are not required to consult it.

Many doctors and other health-care providers complain that the system is slow, difficult to use and takes too much time.

Even the state’s surgeon general admitted the database needs work.

“I have heard from many users that our current system is not that user-friendly,” Surgeon General Celeste Philip, who serves as secretary of the Florida Department of Health, told the doctors at last week’s meeting.

Philip said the department is working on updating the system and the revamped program “will be a lot less work.”

Law enforcement officials such as Bondi and some treatment providers view the PDMP as a critical tool.

Mary Lynn Ulrey, a nurse practitioner and CEO of Tampa-based Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office, called the plan released Friday “the beginning of the beginning.”

“I do think the problem is on multi-levels. If people can’t get prescription drugs for pain management, they will turn to other drugs, like heroin. So, it’s a start,” Ulrey told The News Service of Florida in a telephone interview. “I am glad to see discussion around the bill. I’m hopeful that they’re paying attention. They know it’s a crisis. And they’re trying to do something.”

The proposal would also require pharmacists to check photo identification of patients before handing over controlled substances. A Senate panel heard complaints this week about patients who use aliases as a way of avoiding being tracked in the PDMP.

The bill drew praise from Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson, the president of the Florida Sheriffs Association, who noted that Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’ Lakes, were also quoted in Scott’s news release Friday.

“I think that tells you that they understand what we’re all dealing with here. It’s that serious,” he said.

Republished with permission of The News Service of Florida.

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