Sunshine State News
“Winners and Losers: Reflecting on Players in the 2015 Florida Legislature”
May 4, 2015
By  Kevin Derby and Nancy SmithWho wouldda thunk it? A couple of gentlemanly, almost passive leaders like Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli end up taking a wood splitter to each other and the 2015 Legislature, leaving bills like kindling, dead on the floor.In many ways, a case could be made for declaring everybody who had anything to do with the session a loser. Certainly few of the major players in either party look good to nearly 20 million Floridians, who don’t entirely understand what happened and want to know what will become of some very major bills that died.But there are a few groups and individuals who won or lost more than others in the dysfunctional process of the last couple of weeks. Tradition compels us to play the drama out by declaring our list here.These were all Republicans at the heart of the meltdown, remember — party faithful with no intention of letting a display of independence get in the way of their grip on the Florida Legislature. Watch how fast they’re able to call on their recuperative powers and sweep bad feelings under the rug.Expect 2015, with a special session ahead, to hold more surprises — perhaps of a more pleasant nature.Without further ado, here in no particular order is Sunshine State News’ list of session winners and losers:WINNERSAmericans for Prosperity (AFP). This conservative group irked plenty of Republicans with its high-profile opposition to Medicaid expansion as well as a proposal for tax breaks for the entertainment industry. Chris Hudson, AFP’s point man in Florida, was in overdrive this session in Tallahassee, sending out mailers and running ads. While AFP will have to remain engaged in the special session, the group scored some wins in the regular session.The trial lawyers. The Florida Justice Association and the plaintiffs’ trial lawyers won big this session as tort reform, once again, made little headway despite what should have been a favorable political climate. Defeating an effort to lower claims damages for insurers, opponents of legal reform showed they remain powerful in Tallahassee despite overwhelming Republican majorities in both chambers with supposedly pro-business majorities.James Madison Institute (JMI). Few opponents of Medicaid expansion offered the clear and concise reasons against it that this free-market think tank provided. Bob McClure and his team showed once again why they are a force to be reckoned with. Nobody in Tallahassee provides the ammunition against big government that JMI doesRep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes. The incoming House speaker and current chair of the Appropriations Committee drew a line in the sand on Medicaid expansion and held the Republican majority together behind him despite pressure from the Senate. Corcoran took a gamble by heading to the House floor to reiterate his opposition to Medicaid expansion, which would have blown up in his face had his troops deserted him. When he takes the gavel after the 2016 election, Corcoran’s on track to become one of the most powerful House speakers Tallahassee has seen in recent years.Florida hospitals and the groups that represent them. Hospitals in the Sunshine State successfully convinced the Senate and many in the media that, to stay in business, they need the $1.5 billion federal Low Income Pool (LIP) program money. The LIP program has supplemented hospital payments since its inception to take care of low-income patients. Never mind that all but a handful of Florida hospitals are profit machines. Hospital administrators, their lobbyists and public relations firms got behind the hospital push to accept Medicaid and find a way to re-create LIP. Expect to see them back again during the special session.LOSERS
Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon. The Senate Appropriations chairman tangled consistently with Corcoran over much of the agenda and angered conservatives by being front and center in support of Medicaid expansion. President Andy Gardiner had little choice but to go with Lee in Appropriations — he certainly couldn’t go with Joe Negron — but the former Senate president’s talents might be best used somewhere else in the chamber. Lee also spent too much time talking with the media. If Gardiner is ready to pull Lee and go to the bullpen, few know the appropriations and budget process as well Denise Grimsley.Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar. This rising Republican was having a good session until the House adjourned and he posted a tweet responding to Senate Democrats wanting the Supreme Court to get the House back in Tallahassee. Even Republicans were calling out Gaetz’s insults to Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, as insulting while Democrats were insisting it was racially motivated. Gaetz is usually one of the leading politicians when it comes to handling social media, but he came off as immature, tone-deaf and idiotic. This was a major blunder for someone who has his eye on running for higher office.House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach. Pafford chose party over chamber when he rallied House Democrats to stand against Speaker Steve Crisafulli’s adjournment. Nine years ago Minority Leader Dan Gelber didn’t do that when he was at odds with Speaker Marco Rubio over a property taxes issue. Gelber disagreed vehemently with the speaker on substantive policy but supported him on process and procedure. Each chamber has its traditional role: the House is the architect of ideas and the Senate constructs those ideas into a workable product. They are very separate bodies. Pafford’s political posturing weakened the fabric of the institution. In Abraham Lincoln’s words, “… A House divided against itself cannot stand.” By siding against his House “family,” Pafford proved himself a better political tool than a leader for his chamber.Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. What a disaster. Gardiner brought some unity to the often divided Senate but promptly burned his bridges with Gov. Rick Scott and the House by bringing up Medicaid expansion too late. Still relatively young, Gardiner has nowhere to go once he faces term limits in 2016 and conservatives will certainly give him trouble in the primary if he seeks another office. Gardiner might have made Florida’s hospitals, one of which he happens to work for, happy during the past session but he has his two main partners in governing Florida against him headed into the special session and next year.House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island. We put the speaker in the “loser” category reluctantly. His decision to adjourn the House three days early was courageous and a matter of conscience. He acted against an arrogant and sometimes pompous Senate leadership corps that, out of the blue, insisted on passing Medicaid expansion — something the House largely opposes — before passing a budget. The problem for Crisafulli will come when Adam Putnam leaves office. Crisafulli, with solid ag credentials, was widely considered the Republicans’ best hope for a commissioner of agriculture candidate in 2018. Presiding over a broken legislative session in 2015, no matter what the reason, will be a tough scar to wear.Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg. One of the shrewdest legislators in Tallahassee, Latvala was relegated to the sidelines for much of the final weeks of the regular session. That’s not a good place for a masterful horse-trader like Latvala to be, especially as he tries to catch Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, to become the next Senate president. There wasn’t much he could do about it — in fact, nothing much he could do, period — but Latvala needed more of the spotlight to gain ground, something the battle with the House did not grant him.
Rep. Frank Artilles, R-Miami. More a sideshow than a lawmaker, Artilles was not a major player, just a representative worthy of note. At the start of session, Artilles promised Everglades advocates he would help heighten awareness and get funding for eradication of the estimated 300,000 Burmese pythons in the ‘glades. He didn’t. What he did do, however, is get a good laugh on late-night comedy shows for his “Single-Sex Public Facilities” bill, which would have made it illegal for any transgender citizen to use a single-sex restroom that doesn’t match his or her gender at birth. He also got a good laugh among the Capitol press corps for punching a college student at Clyde and Costello’s bar, down the street from the Capitol, then proclaiming his innocence by puffing out his chest: “If I had hit somebody, they’d be in the hospital,” he told the media.POST SCRIPTWe haven’t forgotten Gov. Rick Scott, who is definitely not the big loser some claim.Consider the governor’s dead-on-the-floor tax cut package more of an induced coma. Don’t bet against it: There’s still the budget special session to go, and if you believe miracles can happen, believe in this one.During the last two months the wily Scott may have been playing the LIP/Medicaid expansion debate closer to the vest than he’s given credit for. He understands the health-care industry like few others in Tallahassee, and he’s forming something he calls the Commission on Healthcare and Hospital Funding to move the issue forward. In many ways the House-Senate dramatics that brought the regular session to an early end might have played into his hands exactly as he intended. And when it’s all over, Scott could  — we don’t say will, but he could — emerge as the biggest winner of all.Article: