Miami Lakes Republican Jose Oliva called for civility among lawmakers as he vowed to continue his party’s push for limited government after being formally elected Tuesday to serve as House speaker for the next two years.
Oliva, the first speaker from Miami-Dade County since now-U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio held the post for the 2007 and 2008 sessions, maintained that after this year’s contentious elections, ideas and ideology outweigh party label.
“I stand before you as a Hispanic speaker of the Florida House” Rubio told reporters. “I know what our party represents, and during my entire time in the Florida House I have not abided by the type of partisanship that sets one person against the other because of what jersey they are wearing. I decide if I’m with someone based on their ideas and ideology.”
Oliva was formally elected as speaker during a one-day organization session in which Bradenton Republican Bill Galvano also became Senate president. They will hold the powerful posts during the 2019 and 2020 legislative session.
Speaking to lawmakers, Oliva briefly outlined goals for the House that include continuing to open school choice for parents, protecting natural resources such as water and wildlife and reducing state and local regulations, which he said will help raise wages and lower housing costs.
“If affordable housing is important in your part of the state, speak out against costly planning and zoning decisions and the arbitrary use of impact fees for revenue,” Oliva said. “If we are truly committed to raising wages, we must challenge the endless taking of hard-earned wages through taxes, fees, surcharges, assessments and the like. If you want people to have more, begin by taking less.”
He noted lawmakers should expect to see a $90 billion budget out of the House in 2019, of which health care will consume about half. Oliva said adding more money won’t help. Meanwhile, he indicated a desire to maintain and build the state’s roads, public works and infrastructure.
While Oliva gave broad outlines, new House Minority Leader Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, was more pointed Tuesday about issues for the 2019 legislative session, which will begin March 5.
McGhee said, in part, lawmakers should push to expand Medicaid for about 800,000 people in Florida; teacher salaries should be “at least be $50,000 per year;” and the state needs a workforce act that protects members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. McGhee also claimed the diversity label for his party, noting the House Democratic caucus includes 23 women, 21 African-Americans, and three openly gay members.
“We will push Florida forward,” McGhee said. “We will demand accountability on this floor.”
Oliva takes over a House in which the Republicans hold a 73-47 advantage, despite Democrats gaining a net six seats since the 2016 elections.
Oliva’s ascension, years in coming, came about two hours after the state Elections Canvassing Commission certified the results of the Nov. 6 elections. Oliva described the election cycle as “spirited and contentious.”
After the organization session, Oliva said the House needs to look at the state’s election laws, primarily because Palm Beach and Broward counties “damaged” the trust of voters.
Oliva, a 46-year-old cigar-company executive, was first elected to the House in a 2011 special election. His parents fled Cuba in 1964.
Monday night, when formally chosen by Republicans as their nominee to become speaker, Oliva noted he’s the second non-white person to hold the post, joining Rubio. Oliva marks that distinction as a sign of diversity for the party of Lincoln.
“Our party gets painted with a brush that is just inaccurate,” Oliva said. “You hear that we’re not an inclusive party. You hear that we’re a party of old white men. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. But if you repeat something long enough people tend to believe it.”
Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican who nominated Oliva for speaker on Tuesday, described Oliva as having a steady hand in helping guide the family cigar business, while appearing as a mix of actors Desi Arnaz and Cary Grant. He said that could have made Oliva the first Cuban-American James Bond.
“Jose, you may never be a world-renowned super spy, but you are the embodiment of the American dream,” Sprowls said.
This story was updated at 3:45 p.m. with new information.