Courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times
Published March 6, 2017
LAND O'LAKES — Richard Corcoran puffed on his cigar,
picked up a shotgun and blasted a clay pigeon out of the sky, and then
As the orange discs broke apart, the speaker of the Florida House reached
for another favorite weapon — his iPhone. In the woods of Pasco County, he
spoke in hushed tones about teaching Gov. Rick Scott a lesson about wasting
Riding a golf cart with two of his six
kids on a Friday afternoon, he was helping local Republicans
raise money while sharpening his aim.
Corcoran is the most unpredictable force in Florida politics
in decades. He's a fearless political marksman who uses
laws, rules, tweets, videos, lawsuits and sheer nerve to lay
waste to what he calls "a culture of corruption" in
Senators, judges, lobbyists, college presidents, teachers
and business owners are all among his targets — with none
bigger than Gov. Rick Scott.
Some can't stand him, but they can't ignore him. None should
be surprised about his agenda.
Six years ago, Corcoran and his allies wrote it down in a
plan called Blueprint Florida.
Years before Donald Trump crashed the scene with his
anti-establishment rhetoric, Blueprint Florida promised to
overhaul a system fixated on personal advancement.
That manifesto lives on with Corcoran, who is outraged by
the system that shaped him and now wants to tear it down as
he considers a populist campaign for governor.
Corcoran answers one of several calls on his iPhone
concerning state issues during a recent fundraiser barbecue for the
Pinellas County Republican Party. He discussed funding for both
Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida during this early February
The irony is not lost on his opponents. Ridiculed as a
"career politician" by the governor of his own party, he forges ahead.
Corcoran finds his prey in his war room — the speaker's office at the
Capitol in Tallahassee. On a recent afternoon, he marked up a Senate
proposal for flaws, shouting and underlining. He sipped a Diet Coke, popping
an Andes mint in his mouth and tossing an F-bomb at an enemy.
"I'm the most disruptive person," Corcoran said.
At least on this point, both his friends and enemies agree.
Richard Michael Corcoran was born in Toronto, where his father worked for
the U.S. State Department.
Both of his parents were World War II veterans and U.S. citizens. His father
was orphaned as a toddler and his mother, born to British parents, was
raised in boarding schools, lived on a tea plantation in India, and drove a
war ambulance during the London blitz.
Corcoran, who turns 52 later this month, is one of five children and has a
twin sister, Susan, who lives in Washington. He and his younger brother Mike
played doubles tennis at Hudson High in Pasco in the early 1980s.
Visiting the Capitol in those years, he spent a week as a messenger for Rep.
Ron Richmond, of Holiday, a Pasco fixture who ran the House Republican
office where Corcoran's sister Jackie worked.
"A bright kid. Very bright," Richmond recalled. "He was just so young. I had
no idea he was interested in politics."
After dropping out of the University of Florida, Corcoran got a degree at
Saint Leo, and studied law at Regent University, a Christian school in
Virginia founded by televangelist Pat Robertson. There, he met his future
wife, Anne, and they devoured books on history, religion and philosophy.
Married in 1994, the Corcorans and their six kids live in an upscale
subdivision in Land O'Lakes that has every modern amenity except one: No TV.
They home-schooled the children until four years ago when Anne founded
Classical Preparatory School, a charter school with a classic liberal arts
"The liberal arts provide the roots for learning things that fuel the mind
with the ability to grow, evolve and create," Anne Corcoran said.
With a fresh law degree and eager to start a family, Corcoran went to work
as a plaintiffs' lawyer at his brother Robert's firm in Crystal River, where
he argued cases and sued nursing homes on behalf of patients.
He was 25 years old when he helped his friend Paul Hawkes, a Republican, win
a Democratic-leaning House seat in Citrus County in 1990.
Corcoran set up town hall meetings and licked envelopes and paid attention
to details. Everyone who called — often retirees worried about changing
state bingo laws — got a personal reply on letterhead with a gold seal.
"He became a machine," Hawkes said.
Throughout the 1990s, Corcoran toiled behind the scenes as a Republican
operative and campaign strategist.
Yet as Republicans rose to power in the Capitol, he struggled to get into
the arena himself.
When Jeb Bush was elected governor in 1998, Corcoran ran for a House seat in
Citrus. Nancy Argenziano easily defeated him.
"He was a carpetbagger," recalled Gerry Mulligan, editor of the Citrus
Inside the GOP, however, Corcoran rose quickly.
House Speaker Dan Webster gave him a lucrative contract that included
rewriting lawmaking rules, and Speaker Tom Feeney made him a top consultant.
Marco Rubio, who is six years younger, especially shaped Corcoran. Over
dinner at a Chili's in Ocala, Rubio hired Corcoran to run his race for
After Rubio won and in 2006 became the youngest speaker in modern Florida
history, he made Corcoran his chief of staff and counsel at $175,000 a year.
That's more than what governors earn.
But the urge to hold office persisted.
When Argenziano left a Senate seat in 2007, Corcoran entered a special
election to replace her, but polls gave him no shot of beating Republican
Victory came on the third try in 2010 when he set his sights on a Pasco
House seat. In a three-way primary with no Democratic opponent, Corcoran won
with less than a majority, 43 percent. A total of 5,319 voters put him on
the path to power.
Corcoran won thanks in large part to his friend Mike Fasano, the Pasco tax
collector and a popular ex-legislator who came to the rescue after an
opponent called Corcoran a carpetbagger and opportunist who spent lavishly
with a Republican Party credit card.
Corcoran won his 2010 state House race thanks in large part to his friend
Mike Fasano, the Pasco tax collector and a popular ex-legislator who came to
the rescue after an opponent called Corcoran a carpetbagger.
"Richard would say, 'They hit me again. Can you do me a robo call?'" Fasano
"None of his elections turned out well till he went back to Pasco and Fasano
got him elected," Richmond said.
Corcoran agreed that having Fasano to vouch for him was the key.
"It's true," he said.
Winning a House seat in a summer primary gave Corcoran a head start and time
to nurture relationships with other incoming freshmen, the ones who would
help write the blueprint.
He raised money for them and received their pledges of support that he
needed to win a crowded race for speaker. He got to know their spouses,
He made numerous trips to Miami to bond with several Republican House
candidates over Cuban food, wine and cigars.
They didn't know him well yet, but he had instant credibility as an expert
strategist and Rubio's former chief of staff.
"He could 'talk Miami-Dade,'" said Rep. Jose Felix "Pepi" Diaz, R-Miami, an
early Corcoran supporter. "It's the way he carried himself, the experience
As Corcoran waited his turn to be speaker, he served as mentor to two men
who were later chosen to succeed him — Rep. Jose Oliva of Miami Lakes in
2018 and Rep. Chris Sprowls of Palm Harbor in 2020.
Both men fervently share Corcoran's vision. That ensures that his legacy
endures after he leaves office, such as his call for transparency in
spending and lobbying.
"He obviously has a big wish list," Anne Corcoran said in an email. "That's
why he spends so much time mentoring other members. He wants them to
continue this fight."
Two years before becoming speaker, Corcoran left a major mark in the House.
He led the crusade to prevent nearly 1 million Floridians from getting
health insurance by opposing Medicaid expansion, calling it a monopoly, an
inefficient subsidy to "the hospital-industrial complex."
He's earned a reputation as a bare-knuckled political brawler who uses words
A teachers' union is "evil" for opposing the expansion of school choice.
Tourism leaders scatter like "cockroaches" when he exposes their spending.
His colleagues are to blame for caving in to lobbyists.
"The enemy is us," he told House members the day he secured the speaker's
post. "Left to our own devices, all too often, we'll choose self-interest."
Corcoran's House allies see a principled and fearless conservative who wants
to cut spending, replace Medicaid with a private system, expand school
choice and restrain an activist judiciary.
His critics see a strategist laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial run.
Corcoran laughs it off as "crazy talk," asking how confronting powerful
interest groups is a winning strategy to get elected.
The back-and-forth between Corcoran and Scott feels like the stretch run of
a tight campaign. The House is producing slick videos that make Corcoran's
case of runaway spending. Scott's political committee launched a
counter-attack video accusing Corcoran of "fake news."
"It's a very sad time in politics," said Carol Dover, president of the
Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, a leader in the fight against
Corcoran's proposed cut to tourism marketing. "This should not be a
political game. This should be about the economic engine of Florida."
Facing Corcoran on stage before several hundred people in Palm Beach in late
February, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, jokingly handed him a pair of red
"I've been up there 22 years, and he has flat picked more fights with more
people than anybody I've ever seen before — some of them justified," Latvala
In Florida, a House speaker serves two years. Few people remember who had
the job three years ago (it was Republican Will Weatherford of Wesley
Corcoran talks often about his legacy and keeps tabs on the number of days
he's been in charge.
"Day 92," he told reporters during an interview last month.
In the space of a few weeks, he forced the ouster of the state's top tourism
official after exposing a secret $1 million contract with the rapper Pitbull;
demanded financial records from dozens of colleges and tourism boards;
pressured a judge to step down over sexist and racist remarks; refused to
pay $13 million in legal fees by a state agency whose director soon quit;
and sued the state lottery for allegedly spending money without legislative
His boldest move is to abolish Scott's sacred job-creation program,
Enterprise Florida, and dramatically cut the budget of Visit Florida, which
Their budgets amount to less than $200 million, a pittance. Far bigger
examples of potential waste, fraud and abuse, such as the prison and child
welfare systems, which spend $6 billion a year, have escaped Corcoran's
"Give me time," he said.
He's already won the enduring support of Americans for Prosperity, a group
funded by the billionaire Koch brothers that could be a fund-raising force
in the 2018 race for governor. Corcoran said he's met Charles and David Koch
on separate occasions.
Corcoran is a man of apparent contradictions.
He ushered in a new level of openness for budget projects and requires
lobbyists to disclose public contracts. But he refused to allow a
Times/Herald reporter to attend a recent caucus of dozens of House
Republicans — not the historic transparency he promised.
He's a critic of lawmakers who seek lucrative jobs who got one paying
$172,000 a year in a Tampa law firm, Broad & Cassel, in 2011 — the same year
he got elected speaker. Corcoran brought with him a client, the Pasco County
He's a conservative Republican with close ties to trial lawyers, a group
often more closely aligned with Democrats.
Corcoran is friends with John Morgan, the flamboyant personal injury lawyer
who championed the legalization of medical marijuana and who may run as a
Democrat for governor next year.
Corcoran said Trump, flaws and all, makes Morgan a more potent candidate —
even with political baggage.
"If you don't think John Morgan is viable, you didn't watch any of the last
election," said Corcoran.
Morgan showed up for a Capital Tiger Bay Club appearance in Tallahassee with
a stogie sticking out of a breast pocket of his jacket, saying he hoped to
find Corcoran there.
"Richard is doing a great job for Florida by shining a light on graft,"
Corcoran's criticism of the influence of lobbyists is unusual because his
old doubles partner, brother Mike, is a prominent lobbyist with clients that
include Coca-Cola, the Florida Aquarium and the Tampa Bay Bucs.
Yet just four days after he denounced the power of special interests in a
November speech to the House, Corcoran attended a University of
Florida-Florida State University football game and socialized in a
Tallahassee stadium sky box with lobbyists for U.S. Sugar and others.
Corcoran said the skybox visit was a party fund-raiser and his job is to
raise money to get conservatives elected, and that his criticism of
lobbyists — including his own brother by inference — is proof he can't be
"The party part of fund-raising is not pretty," Corcoran said.
At night, Corcoran lights a Melanio cigar, a gift from his protégé Jose
Oliva, who runs a family cigar business, and talks politics and policy with
a coterie of allies.
At cigar bars in Miami and Tallahassee or at The Capital Grille in Tampa,
they smoke, drink, laugh and argue.
The clique includes Reps. Manny Diaz of Hialeah and Michael Bileca and
Carlos Trujillo of Miami.
"He knows what he believes and he doesn't care if he's the last man
standing. That's unheard of in politics," Trujillo said.
But across the Capitol in the Senate, some see hypocrisy in Corcoran's zeal
to slash spending.
As the House's lead budget-writer, he signed off on a notorious 2015
spending spree when hundreds of millions of dollars for water projects,
sports academies and festivals sprang to life in a late-night meeting, after
a deal was cut in private.
"The biggest stuffing of the budget happened during the last two years,"
Latvala recalled. "And who was the chairman of the House Appropriations
Committee when that happened?"
The 2012 document that formed the basis for Corcoran's agenda, Blueprint
Florida, includes a series of "brutal facts" about politics, including this:
"Leadership is about service, not about advancing your own career."
Corcoran is walking a precarious political line by seriously considering
running for governor at the same time he's speaker.
Scott has aggressively attacked Corcoran's motives in their fight over jobs
and tourism money, an unprecedented case of a governor waging bitter
personal warfare against a legislative leader in his own party.
Corcoran said he'll make a decision after his last legislative session ends
in March 2018.
"I'm going to be the best darn speaker I can be," he said in an interview
with CBS4 Miami's Jim DeFede. After that, "I'll absolutely look at it."
By then, he'll be far behind his rivals in the most important measurement of
a candidate's strength: Money. But the billionaire Koch brothers can write
big checks to candidates.
Corcoran won't meaningfully change the Tallahassee culture if he doesn't
confront the power of money including the widespread practice of lawmakers
who have political committees that accept unlimited donations.
"Trust me," he said. "There will be a lot more reforms coming down the pike
that will deal with campaign world."
Corcoran does not compromise easily, not even with an old pal like Mike
Their relationship goes back decades when they played pickup basketball in
the Corcorans' yard in New Port Richey.
They had a major rift when serving together in the House in 2013 when Fasano
favored Medicaid expansion that would have extended coverage to about
800,000 uninsured Floridians.
Their friendship suffered for a time.
"If you don't go along with leadership in Tallahassee, you're doomed,"
Fasano was one of the few House Republicans who supported Medicaid
expansion, and Senate Republicans passed a version of it.
But Corcoran and most House Republicans wouldn't budge and it died in the
Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, the House Democratic leader, likes Corcoran, but
said he was wrong when he attacked the Florida Education Association, a
teachers' union, as "disgusting, repugnant and evil" on the day he became
speaker last fall.
"It was more than aggressive," Cruz said. "It was mean."
The question that consumes Florida's political world is how much Corcoran
Some see a plan by him to risk a government shutdown to dramatize that he's
right and his opponents are wrong. Insiders fear there may be no budget by
If that happens, summer school could end and state parks could be padlocked
on Fourth of July weekend.
"There's not much Richard Corcoran is afraid of. He's more likely to push it
to the limits," said Republican Sen. Tom Lee of Thonotosassa. "The place
where he plants his flag, he doesn't do it lightly, and he means what he
Corcoran said he won't compromise on his core principles, such as his demand
for early disclosure of all line-item projects lawmakers put in the budget.
"Bad compromise is when you're violating your principles that you know will
lead to a worse environment. There's nothing honorable about that," Corcoran
Fasano worries that his friend is just too stubborn for his own good and
that it could ruin his political future.
"You can't fight everyone," Fasano said.
Buried on Page 50 of the Blueprint Florida manifesto, is one answer to the
question of who will prevail — Corcoran or his growing legion of
It reads: "Ultimately, the people we serve will measure our success."