Richard Corcoran assumed the speakership of the Florida House during its organizational session Tuesday, promising a new era of good government enforced by unprecedentedly stringent ethics rules and controls on lobbyists.
“Good government isn’t a process; it’s a struggle for its leaders to do the right thing,” Corcoran said. “We have to put aside the rhetorical devices and political tricks and look out for the people. We have to govern selflessly and we have to tell the truth.”
The House adopted the new rules without debate.
Before Corcoran’s remarks, the House engaged in traditional organizational session pageantry. In small groups, newly elected members stood in the well of the House and took their oaths of office — 26 of them. Re-elected members then took their feet en masse to reaffirm their own oaths.
There for the occasion were numerous former House members, including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a former House speaker. Gov. Rick Scott came up to the Fourth Floor for the occasion. Justice Rick Polston crossed the street from the Florida Supreme Court.
The usual arrays of bouquets were mostly absent from members’ desks — Corcoran had discouraged that practice. But — in another tradition — members’ families crowded into seats lining the chamber and in the gallery overhead. Members wore red or blue roses in their jacket lapels, depending on their political bent.
When it came time to vote for speaker, fellow party members placed both Corcoran’s name and that of Democratic leader Janet Cruz in nomination. But Cruz moved to dispense with a vote and urged Corcoran’s election unanimously, and the House agreed. He ascended to the speaker’s podium, where Polston swore him in as speaker. He will serve through 2018.
Addressing the House, Corcoran said his reform platform is sorely needed, pointing to the “primal scream” from voters on Election Day.
“Somehow, we were all surprised. But we shouldn’t have been,” Corcoran said in prepared remarks. “We talked about this over a year ago at our designation ceremony. What said then, the voters yelled on Election Day — ‘the enemy is us.’ ”
He spoke of an age-old struggle between the governed and those who govern. “We have to govern selflessly, and we have to tell the truth.”
The truth, Corcoran said, is that too much legislation is written by lobbyists, who “see themselves as the power brokers of this process.”
“On the rare occasion we are able to push through the horde of lobbyists and special interests, and do something really, really meaningful, they just regroup. They openly brag about waiting us out, and then they come back — one statute, one exemption, one appropriation at a time, and undo all that we did,” he said.
“We can make this a moment of greatness, and push back and tell the people of this state of Florida that we will fix their broken system, and that we can turn it into something that is true and good and beautiful. “
It begins, Corcoran said, with the “aggressive and transformative” new House rules prohibiting lobbyist favors to lawmakers, including free airplane rides, and extends the ban on lobbying by former House members to six years.
“It all ends, and it all ends today,” he said.
Plus budget rules requiring earmarks to be submitted in bill form, sponsored by a House member, and not as last-minute amendments. Last year, he said, the House identified $2.3 billion in such projects.
The bipartisan rules changes are the “strongest in the nation,” Corcoran said. The people will know “who’s pushing and playing” for such earmarks, he said.
“And for those of you who find this rule to be too burdensome, here’s my message: if you can’t get one single member out of 120 to file your bill; if you can’t withstand just a few weeks of public scrutiny; and if you can’t give detailed information on why that project is worthy, then you don’t deserve taxpayers’ money.”
Corcoran bragged about cutting off “corporate welfare” during the last session and promised more of the same — even at the risk of confrontation internally, with the Senate and with Scott, whose jobs programs emphasizes priming the pump for new and growing businesses.
Corcoran argued for school choice, urging Democratic members to tell the Florida Education Association to withdraw a lawsuit challenging Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program.
“They are literally trying to destroy the lives of 100,000 children. Most of them are minorities and all of them are poor. It flies in the face of common sense and it defies every single study. It’s downright evil,” Corcoran said.
“I know that’s a strong word,” he continued, but compared the situation to letting children drown for lack of educational opportunity.
He called for Washington to let Florida take the lead on health care reform. “Let us show the rest of the nation — let us show Washington, D.C. — how well we can do,” he said.
He decried what he sees as judges who put “power above principles.”
“We need judges who will respect the Constitution and separation of powers. Who will resist the temptation to turn themselves into some unelected super-legislature. The problem with holding the same office for in essence life, is you start to think that office is far, far, far less important than the person in it — which is why we need 12-year term limits on judges, so we can have a healthy judicial branch.”
“Members, we are only one-half of one legislature in one state. So a lot of people have said to me that this is far, far, far beyond our dreams. But that will not stop us. The special interests will not stop us. The mainstream media will not stop us. Our own party leaders will not stop us. We will fight.”
Finally, Corcoran harkened back to a book he’d loved as a child, the tales of King Arthur.
“I remember being just a little boy, mesmerized by those stories: This idea of a group of knights, working side by side, none greater than the other, and all willing to die for something greater than themselves. Could leaders really work that way? Could the world really be like that?”
Two House members were excused from the Organization Session: Shevrin Jones, a West Park Democrat, who’s recovering from back surgery; and Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat, whose wife is expecting.