TALLAHASSEE — The fight for the Republican nomination for governor may have a tumultuous impact on the 2018 legislative session.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who is an announced candidate for governor, used an Associated Press pre-session event Thursday to lash out at House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican who is expected to run.
Latvala accused Corcoran of pushing a “politically motivated” legislative agenda designed to “weaken” the Senate.
Latvala cited Corcoran’s initial effort in the 2017 session to eliminate Enterprise Florida, a business-recruitment agency, and Visit Florida, a tourism-marketing agency, along with 18 other economic-development programs.
Latvala said he had never heard complaints about those programs, which were supported by the Senate and Gov. Rick Scott, until the House speaker announced his opposition.
Corcoran questioned the effectiveness of tourism spending along with some Visit Florida contracts, including an agreement with the Miami hip-hop artist Pitbull. Corcoran labeled government-funded business incentives as “corporate welfare.”
The Legislature eventually approved a reduced budget for Enterprise Florida and made other changes in the programs.
“It was just a dramatic thing. And I think it was politically motivated,” Latvala said. “And I think a lot of what they do down there is politically motivated.”
Asked to respond to Latvala’s comments, Fred Piccolo, a spokesman for Corcoran, declined to comment. Corcoran did not appear at the AP event.
During the appearance, Latvala also questioned a new House bill scheduled to be discussed next week in the House Ways & Means Committee. The bill is a proposed constitutional amendment that would require a “super-majority” two-thirds vote by the House and Senate for future tax or fee increases. Scott supports the proposal.
Latvala said Corcoran and Scott have enough appointees on the Constitution Revision Commission, which is considering a similar proposal, to put the issue before voters in the 2018 general election without going through the Legislature.
“Why is it necessary to have a legislative fight over an amendment to limit tax increases in the future, unless it’s to get some press or get some recognition for the legislators involved?” Latvala asked.
Latvala also questioned a number of recent resignations by House members, including some who had opposed Corcoran’s efforts to reduce tourism-marketing and economic-development funding. He said some Republican members faced retaliation from House leaders for their votes.
“I know why in a couple of cases,” Latvala said about the resignations. “It’s because of the atmosphere internally in the House is not that great.”
“It’s a reign, I won’t say a reign, a reign of terror would be the wrong word,” he added. “There is not a good feeling by many, many members of the House about the control that is exercised on them.”
Latvala and other senators took umbrage at Corcoran’s recent comments that the Senate did not take an aggressive stance against former Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat who resigned last week after disclosures about an affair with a lobbyist, and instead created a “wall of silence.”
Latvala said “situations very similar to Clemens” have happened in the House. “We’re all human,” he said. “We all make mistakes.”
Animosity between the House speaker and the Senate’s budget leader may not bode well in the 2018 session, which begins in January, as lawmakers face a difficult budget year. The budget has been impacted by hurricane spending and projections that state revenue will fall short of critical needs.
“I am convinced that a lot of what is going on is an organized effort to tear down the Senate prior to session and make us weak so that we have a hard time standing up on the issues we care about,” Latvala said.
Senate Democratic leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens said he expects the Republican gubernatorial candidates to use the 2018 session to improve their standing with GOP voters.
“I really think it’s going to add a layer of people trying to tack to the right,” Braynon said. “All of sudden we will see these crazy right-wing bills that don’t have anything to with what the majority of Floridians want, but have to do with what folks want in the Republican primary.”
Braynon said lawmakers should be debating issues like whether privatization programs are working in the state juvenile-justice system.
“I don’t know that we need to work on more gun laws,” Braynon said. “We need to look at the things that are affecting everyday Floridians. Those are the things they expect us to be dealing with, not petty fights about who is more right-wing than the other.”
Latvala faces Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the Aug. 28 Republican primary for governor. Corcoran and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., are also considered likely contenders in the race to replace the term-limited Scott.
U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Winter Park businessman Chris King and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine are running in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary for governor.
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