Courtesy of The Miami Herald
September 18, 2015
On Wednesday, GOP House members will elect their 2016
speaker. Corcoran and others have a ‘manifesto’ in which they promise
reform. The Republican from Pasco County promises big changes to
legislative process. He is far from being a household name in Florida
and yet he will command one of the three most powerful positions in
state government with the ability to control every piece of legislation
— from how much money goes to public schools to whether the working poor
have access to affordable health care.
|Rep. Richard Corcoran, from Land
O’Lakes in Pasco County, will be designated speaker of the
Florida House on Wednesday for the two-year term beginning
in November 2016. He will be formally elected by his GOP
peers to a job that comes with prestige and enormous power
over the 120-member chamber dominated by Republicans.
Behind the governor, only one other person has as much clout
as the House speaker.But that job, Senate president, is
being bitterly contested by Republicans Joe Negron of Stuart
and Jack Latvala of Clearwater and may not be settled until
after the 2016 election.
As a former legislative aide and legal adviser to three
former speakers and Gov. Rick Scott, Corcoran brings with
him more than 25 years of legislative experience, a network
of loyalists,an allegiance with the governor, and an agenda
determined to shake up what he considers the “corrupting”
influences of Tallahassee.
Working behind the scenes since he won enough pledges to be
named speaker of his incoming class in 2010, Corcoran and
the 28 members of his class have developed a white paper he
calls “The Manifesto.” In it, they outline a plan to blow up
the top-down process of House leadership that has allowed
special interests to drive a wedge between lawmakers.
Rep. Richard Coccoran, R-Land O’Lakes, speaks
about the House budget concerning health care during a legislative
session, Wednesday, April 1, 2015, in Tallahassee.
Working behind the scenes since he won enough pledges
to be named speaker of his incoming class in 2010, Corcoran and the 28
members of his class have developed a white paper he calls “The
Manifesto.” In it, they outline a plan to blow up the top-down process
of House leadership that has allowed special interests to drive a wedge
“The special interests are the biggest cowards in this process,’’
Corcoran told the Herald/Times. “They split up the herd and go after the
weak ones, and they’ll even go after the big ones if they think they
His goal, he says, is to dismantle the lobbyist-influenced hierarchy of
legislative leadership by delegating and sharing power with members in a
way that “gives all legislators equal footing,” empowers committee
chairs to set the agenda, and tasks legislators with the responsibility
of pushing their initiatives.
Corcoran was a deputy staffer in the office of former Speaker Dan
Webster the last time the House process was reformed to increase the
role of members and reduce the clout of outside interests. But Webster,
now a congressman from Winter Garden, warns “it’s very difficult,” and
when he did it Republicans were not used to being in power as they are
Like Webster, Corcoran is ideologically conservative, but he was elected
to office in a tea party wave that has divided his party and the
GOP-controlled Legislature. Whether he can succeed in reforming the
process while adhering to his principles is an open question.
“With the vector that he’s on, Richard Corcoran is going to be the most
powerful speaker in Florida’s modern day history,” said Rep. Mark
Pafford, House Democratic leader from West Palm Beach. “But his success
will be judged by how well he works with his [more moderate]
counterparts in the Senate, and right now it’s gridlock —
Corcoran, 50, has been preparing for this job for nearly three decades.
He graduated from St. Leo University in Pasco County in 1989 and went to
work for former Rep. John Renke, a Republican from New Port Richey who
was destined to be minority leader of the House when he was defeated.
He returned as a legislative aide for his long-time friend, Paul Hawkes,
and spent time running Mike Fasano’s 1994 House campaign. He earned his
law degree at Pat Robertson’s Regent University and in 1996 started
working for Webster.
In 1998, Corcoran ran and lost his first House race to Nancy Argenziano,
then served as outside counsel for former House Speaker Tom Feeney in
2002, and returned as chief of staff to former House Speaker Marco Rubio
Rather than stay in that job, however, Corcoran took a risk. Counting on
Argenziano, then a state senator, to be appointed to the Public Service
Commission, he left his $175,000 a year job as Rubio’s chief of staff to
prepare for a state Senate campaign. He ultimately dropped out rather
than face Rep. Charlie Dean, a former Citrus County sheriff.
Corcoran kept his hand in politics, consulting and running a Crystal
River mail service company, when he was hired by Scott to do legal work
for Solantic, Scott’s chain of health care clinics.
In 2010, while campaigning for his House race, Corcoran won enough
pledges to become designated as House speaker by defeating Reps. Matt
Gaetz, R-Shalimar, and Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula.
In his speech to the Republican caucus Wednesday, Corcoran will outline
his plans to “flatten” the power pyramid.
“That process is pushing the consulting class and the lobbying class to
the bench,” he said. The reforms will serve “as the runway to land great
In an affront to the insiders who capitalize on access to the
appropriations suite, Corcoran’s manifesto calls for bringing
transparency to the shadowy budget process. As chairman of the House
Appropriations Committee, he began requiring all members to put their
name on every project they requested this year, but the process fell
apart in the final budget negotiations with the Senate.
Corcoran also wants to end the process that allows each class of
freshmen representatives to pledge support for a House speaker years
before they have been tested — the very same process he used to win his
And, buoyed by his close friendship with Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes,
who is designed to succeed him in 2018 as House speaker, Corcoran is
determined to have his reforms remain in place after he leaves and to
shame Republicans in the Senate to follow suit.
“When you lead by example and you have your facts in order, people tend
to be willing to follow,” Oliva said.
Corcoran says he will not tell fellow Republicans what to believe but
“there is an absolute litmus test.”
“If you’re going to run as a Republican, be true to Republican ideals.
Don’t lie to voters,” he said last week. “You ought to research your
issues and vote for what is best for your community and your state
regardless of the consequences.”
Presiding officers in the Florida Legislature are elected by a
democratic vote but they operate with autocratic authority, executing
control over nearly all aspects of legislative life — from parking
places and staff salaries, to which bills get heard and when. Different
presiding officers have different styles but the process allows them to
completely control the agenda, and the outcome — if they choose.
“The pyramid of power is so sharp that the rank and file members can’t
even get close to it. They are ignored. They are threatened — not
directly but indirectly,” said Fasano, who spent 19 years in the
Legislature, most recently in the House, before being appointed Pasco
County Tax Collector by Scott.
Fasano. who was in the House in 1996 when Webster was elected as the
first Republican speaker in 100 years, recalled how Webster “empowered
every member.” He allowed committee chairs to set the agenda and
everyone — even low-ranking Democrats — to get a bill up for a floor
vote, Fasano said.
“If Richard Corcoran is able to do what Dan Webster did by flattening
the pyramid of power, then God bless him because he’ll be successful,”
Webster banned night meetings and last-minute amendments, required the
most important bills be heard first, and ended the final day of session
by 6 p.m. to put a halt to the “intentional train wreck” that was used
“to control the power.”
“It worked,” Webster recalled last week. “Nobody in the Capitol could
believe it” when he and then-Senate President Toni Jennings adjourned at
6 p.m. with all the important work done. Lobbyists applauded and
then-Gov. Lawton Chiles greeted them “with napkins over his arm” as they
drank orange juice in the Capitol rotunda.
The reforms Webster ushered into the House have been whittled away but
Corcoran can succeed, he said. Corcoran will have to understand that
“power and principle cannot co-exist,” that ideas must advance based on
merit and principle, and both Republicans and Democrats have to abandon
the notion “that the leader can never lose.”
Fasano warned that declaring war on special interest turf battles in the
era of big money politics will also be challenging for Corcoran, whose
brother Michael is among the top lobbyists in Tallahassee.
“What is Richard doing right now?” Fasano asked last week. “He’s raising
money, millions of dollars” from corporations and their lobbyists.
As head of the election effort for House Republicans in 2016, Corcoran
acknowledged that he is raising millions, mostly through the Republican
Party of Florida. But he and his team of loyalists deny campaign cash
will play a role in the House’s agenda.
“Add up all the healthcare money I’ve raised, all the gaming money and
look at my voting record,” said Corcoran, a vocal opponent of gambling
and using federal money for Medicaid expansion. “Not one single penny
will make a difference in how I vote.”
Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, one of Corcoran’s early supporters,
argues that “one of the biggest fallacies in this process is, if you
commit, [special interests] will raise money for you,” he said. “If you
commit to doing what you should do, the money will come either way.”
Not everyone is as optimistic.
Latvala who accused House members of following leaders “like lemmings”
when they ended session three days early in disagreement over health
care funding, also warns of Corcoran’s “rigid ideology” and refusal to
Oliva responds that he and Corcoran believe not all compromise is good,
especially when it leads to “a further erosion of what you’re trying to
Pafford, the Democratic leader, said that while Corcoran has “shown a
spirit of leadership and independence,” the test will come when he does
more than “throw his critics a bone.”
“We are all struggling to have a real seat at the table and have a fair
shot,” Pafford said. “True power for Richard will be permitting not only
the open dialogue but the open vote.”