Capitol Family Feuds Go Way Back

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran have been feuding, and it’s not the first time a governor and legislative leaders of the same party have hurled insults at each other.

More than three decades ago, some high-ranking Democrats pilloried then-Gov. Bob Graham as “the wimp” — or, even worse, “Gov. Jell-O” — as a result of heated skirmishes over state spending. The intraparty kerfuffle occurred when Democrats controlled the Legislature and the governor’s mansion.

With Republicans in charge in 2017, the epithets may be different, but the sentiments are the same.

Scott, with the deep pockets of his “Let’s Get to Work” political committee, has targeted Republican incumbents with robo-calls and rallies intended to drum up support for state spending on economic incentives and tourism marketing. Corcoran, backed by his House lieutenants, has ripped such spending as “corporate welfare.”

Scott is in the middle of his second term, in contrast with Graham, who got sideways with fellow Democrats during his first term in the governor’s office.

Ron Book, who worked as an aide to Graham, is now one of the Capitol’s most-influential lobbyists. The current intraparty animosity between Scott and the House is similar to Book’s experiences as a freshly minted politico back in the day, but ratcheted up a notch.

“I think it is different when you have the level of discord with a presiding officer and your chief executive,” Book said in a recent interview. “But you’ve got to believe that everybody has the best intentions and will find a way to extend an olive branch to one another in order to reach a budget accord, at a minimum.”

Scott, as governor, has the ability to threaten vetoes of legislation — and budget items — dear to his opponents.

The late Gov. Reubin Askew, beloved in Democratic circles but known as a bare-knuckles deal-maker, earned a reputation for calling wayward lawmakers into his office and staring at them across a desk that was cleared of everything but the bills that were important to them.

The implicit veto threat is something that Scott also wields as he heads into lame-duck status with just two legislative sessions left in his tenure.

Since Scott took office as an outsider in 2011, observers have speculated that the governor would veto an entire budget as a way of flexing his executive authority.

“Gov. Scott is right and correct to threaten to veto the budget if he doesn’t get his priorities funded,” lobbyist Jim Eaton, another former Graham aide, said.

Scott hasn’t done that so far, but with the battle lines drawn with the House, the possibility remains more potent than ever.

“Governors need to know how to use the power that they’ve been given within the constitutional scheme. The Legislature, obviously, has a role to play too. But the governor needs to learn how to get what he wants done and what he thinks is a priority of the state and maybe occasionally accede to the wishes of the speaker or the (Senate) president or the other members,” Eaton said.

Graham, it might be noted, got re-elected as governor in 1982 and then was elected to three terms in the U.S. Senate. Scott is widely expected to run for U.S. Senate next year as he prepares to finish his second term in the governor’s office.

PICK A STUDY, ANY STUDY

Senate President Joe Negron’s $2.4 billion plan to build a 60,000-acre reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee — to protect waterways in his East Coast district and on the state’s West Coast — will create more than 39,000 jobs and result in $20 billion in economic benefits.

Or it will cost 4,000 jobs and negatively impact the state’s economy to the tune of $700 million — above the costs to buy the land and create the reservoir, which is opposed by farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area, along with many residents and politicians south of the lake.

Dueling studies are the latest strategies in a contentious debate over Negron’s proposal for the legislative session that starts Tuesday.

The Everglades Foundation — a key backer of Negron’s proposal (SB 10 and HB 761) introduced a study this week overseen by Clemson University professor-emeritus Michael Maloney.

The study estimated that 60,000 acres of cultivated land in the Everglades Agricultural Area account for 90 farming jobs, while each $1 million spent on construction would lead to about 20 jobs. It found that the “South Reservoir is clearly a project with benefits vastly outweighing costs.”

The study pointed to increased real-estate values along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, based on having cleaner waterways. The basic idea of Negron’s plan is to move polluted lake discharges into a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee instead of into the estuaries.

Meanwhile, sugar farmers, who oppose the land deal, were quick to claim Maloney’s study relies on “fake science” and “fake economics.”

About a week earlier, The James Madison Institute, a Tallahassee think tank, also took issue with Negron’s approach.

The institute rolled out a study Feb. 23 arguing the reservoir would drain the region of jobs, while lowering household incomes and eroding the business climate.

“The current land purchase proposal would have significant, ongoing and negative impacts on surrounding towns such as Belle Glade, South Bay, Clewiston and Pahokee,” said institute senior fellow Dr. J. Antonio Villamil, founder and principal of the Washington Economics Group, which conducted that study. “All of these towns will experience significant loss of employment opportunities and shuttered businesses within and around the proposed purchase.”

TWEET OF THE WEEK: “Interesting. @FLGovScott is more popular than the Legislature.” — Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, (@JackLatvala) after the release of a University of North Florida poll.

The News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam and Jim Turner contributed to this report.

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