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No. 15 on the list of Florida Politicians of the Decade: José Oliva

Oliva had already been a de facto speaker as his predecessor’s right hand.

Florida House Speaker José Oliva is serving his second year as the top member of the Florida House of Representatives, but he has been in power since long before he was handed the gavel.

Inside Tallahassee, there is no disputing that Oliva was his predecessor’s right hand. Former Speaker Richard Corcoran might have had the gavel during his years of the speakership, but Oliva was right by his side pursuing and supporting Corcoran’s priorities including legislation that clamped down on big government, including what Democrats criticized as an onslaught of attacks on home rule.

Oliver also helped Corcoran support legislation to block new taxes and programs the two saw as corporate welfare.

Taking the gavel from his mentor, Oliva vowed to continue Corcoran’s policies.

Among those he tackled in the 2019 Legislative Session was scaling back on the state’s Certificate of Need program that requires health care institutions to obtain an endorsement from the state for new facilities, a program Oliva saw as government waste.

“José is definitely right up there with Corcoran. He’s not as interested in the politics as in the philosophy of politics,” said Tallahassee lobbyist Gus Corbella. “He is very clearheaded and a staunch conservative.”

Corbella described Oliva’s leadership as “meteoric in the House.”

“And interesting, he has a bent that is more toward Libertarian and I think he exercises that pretty freely. He’s one of the strongest House Speakers we’ve seen in a long time and has been masterful in driving through a very lengthy agenda in his first year,” Corbella said.

Oliva has also expressed little interest in seeking higher office, which puts him in a unique position as Speaker.

Oliva’s emphasis on hospitals crept into late 2019 when he put his thumb on the scales for Moffitt Cancer Center and any other medical research that might be implicated in a recent spate of examples of China exploiting American innovation.

Moffitt’s CEO, Alan List, as well as another top-level executive and two researchers, resigned under pressure after an internal investigation unveiled connections to China. Oliva swiftly condemned the appearance of scandal and called for increased investigations.

Oliva is also leaving his mark on the Legislature by grooming Rep. Chris Sprowls as his successor as Speaker of the House.

As with any elected official, Oliva is not without controversy. He took heat in February over a reference to a pregnant woman as a “host body.” Oliva made the comment a total of five times during a television interview on a Miami network.

Oliva swiftly addressed the backlash with an apology saying it was intended as language to keep the conversation dispassionate, but that clearly his words had the opposite effect.

“I apologize for having caused offense, my aim was the contrary,” he said, according to a Huffington Post article from the time.

Oliva represents the 110th District including parts of north Miami-Dade County. He has served since 2011.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at Janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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