Republicans aren't playing nice in Tallahassee. Insults are flying at news conferences and in social media, but they aren't being hurled at the other side of the aisle. The rhetoric is being waged against fellow Republicans.
The GOP controls the Florida Legislature and the Governor's Office. Yet, instead of working in harmony, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott are using videos to criticize each other's policies.
Corcoran was first out of the gate. He wants to cut back the state’s support for private businesses.
His video showcases failed businesses - like a digital media company in Port St. Lucie that received the kind of state tax breaks that Scott has aggressively promoted.
Scott’s political action committee fired back with a Facebook video accusing Corcoran of being a career politician who delivers “fake news.”
The House has already approved a bill Corcoran supported to abolish Enterprise Florida, the public-private partnership that promotes economic development around the state.
The House also approved a bill that would restructure Visit Florida, the state’s tourism-marketing agency. The chamber is expected to approve far less funding for the agency than the governor requested.
In order for the cuts to happen, the Senate would have to pass similar proposals. After that, the legislation would go to the governor himself.
Gov. Scott has been touring the state, calling out fellow Republicans in their districts if they side with Corcoran. “What happens when 44 percent of the homes are underwater on their mortgage? That was the day I got elected in 2010. That’s where we were,” Scott told reporters. “Why in God’s green earth would anybody think we should go back to that?”
Scott is a former healthcare executive, and from the beginning he’s been promoting tax incentives for businesses to bring in more jobs.
“How can anybody say, ‘Oh this investment where we get a significant return, we don’t want to keep doing that.’ I mean, the only thing this could be would be politics,” Scott said. “You would never think this way in business.”
For Corcoran’s part, his gripe with Scott is about policy. Last month, he told the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau he would not go along with Scott’s plans for extra tax revenue from higher property values.
“That's a hell no. We are not raising property taxes to fund government waste, and we are not raising property taxes on property owners to give it to business owners,” Corcoran said. “That’s a non-starter. It's nonsensical.”
When Corcoran opened the legislative session this month, he told House members that a “robust, civil debate is a sign that our democracy is working.”
“Debate can get intense, especially when you’re dealing with people's lives,” Corcoran said. “But we can be passionate about these issues and never, ever, ever get personal.”
Mac Stipanovich, a long-time political consultant and Republican lobbyist in Tallahassee, says this level of bickering among top leaders in Florida is unprecedented.
“Corcoran reached out and stuck his finger into the most sensitive spot the governor has - which is economic incentives that allegedly create jobs,” Stipanovich says. “He couldn't have done anything else more provocative.”
Stipanovich says this is what happens when one party controls the whole government. The big disagreements happen within the party instead of between the two parties. He says it’s not that different from what’s happening in Washington.
“You have the Republicans in charge of both houses of Congress and a Republican in the White House, yet they are straining to bring forward a repeal and replace on Obamacare,” Stipanovich says.
Lawmakers will ultimately decide whether to give Scott any money for tax breaks to lure businesses. In turn, Scott can veto any bills lawmakers send him. He could even veto the whole budget if lawmakers don’t give him the funding he wants.
In Tallahassee circles, both men are said to have ambitions for higher office -- Scott for U.S. Senate, Corcoran for governor. So the outcome of this fight could determine who stays in the public eye for years to come.