Legislature 2018: Agenda fest
With the governor's job up for grabs and two open Cabinet positions, a horde of legislators will be looking for angles to play.
NOTE: State Sen. Jack Latvala resigned from the Florida Senate on Dec. 20, 2017.
Last spring, Adam Putnam, the state’s agriculture commissioner and the leading candidate for governor this year, lobbied the Florida Legislature to pass a bill that would have reformed an obscure entity known as the “rural economic development initiative.”
The changes were relatively modest. The bill required certain agency heads to serve on the agency’s board of directors, rather than leaving the job to lower-level staffers. It wouldn’t have cost a dime to enact. But it was important to Putnam, a Polk County native who has made economic development of rural areas a focus of his tenure as ag commissioner — and a talking point of his campaign for governor.
Putnam’s bill was breezing along through the Florida Senate — it cleared three committees, all by unanimous votes — when it suddenly hit a roadblock in the House. An appropriations committee refused to give it a hearing, effectively killing the bill.
“It just didn’t go anywhere,” says Rep. Chuck Clemons (R-Gainesville), who sponsored the bill in the House on Putnam’s behalf. “Frankly, I didn’t get any sort of explanation as to why it wasn’t moving forward.”
But whispers around the Capitol attribute the roadblock to one person: House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land O’ Lakes), who is expected to run against Putnam this year in the Republican primary for governor — and who has little incentive to let Putnam score any kind of legislative wins.
“There are a lot of agendas in the Legislature,” Putnam says.
For his part, Corcoran says the bill never even bubbled up to his level — but if it had, he adds, he would have opposed it because “it’s just growing government and in essence a pathway for corporate welfare.”
It was, all things considered, a minor issue. But it offers a glimpse into the way competing electoral agendas influence the legislative session. That influence will be even more pronounced this session, an election year in which more than half a dozen legislators are running against each other for the governor’s job and two open Cabinet seats.
Corcoran remains the most powerful person in the Legislature. Beyond him, state Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres) and state Sen. Denise Grimsley (R-Sebring) are running for agriculture commissioner. Reps. Jay Fant (R-Jacksonville), Frank White (R-Pensacola) and Ross Spano (R-Dover) are running for attorney general. Sen. Tom Lee (R-Brandon), a former Senate president, has already hired a pollster and campaign manager for a likely campaign for Chief Financial Officer against Jimmy Patronis, who was appointed to the position earlier this year by Gov. Rick Scott. And then there’s Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater), who launched a campaign for governor late last year but now finds that bid on life-support following a series of sexual harassment allegations.