If there’s one thing about Florida politics that is utterly predictable, it’s the utterly unpredictable nature of Florida politics. Many pundits have labeled Donald Trump’s success – nationally and here in Florida – as a political anomaly. But is it? Voters have tired of the status quo. The electorate seems to prefer any candidate who promises to shake up the political system. And so volatility in politics has become the norm. And it didn’t start with Donald Trump. I’m not even sure it started in 2010 with Rick Scott, nor am I sure that it matters where it started.
What matters is where things are headed next. Which is what this column is all about: making a few political predictions beyond the obvious – and then, 12 months from now, looking back at how awfully wrong I was. I just read a few news reports from 2009 and 2010, and trust me, they’d be embarrassingly bad if we could fault reporters for their inability to actually see the future.
What follows are predictions based on the best available information we have as of January 4th, 2017:
Charlie Crist isn’t running for governor in 2018 – Nancy Smith’s column earlier this week claimed a source with an “above-average track record” who told her that “Representative Governor Crist” (as he prefers to be called) was already plotting a return to Florida’s governor’s mansion by contacting “monied associates” and “advisors with access.”
Here’s the deal with that: he’s not running for governor in 2018. Representative Governor Crist always been lured by the glitz and glamor of Washington D.C., as evidenced by the fact that he literally abandoned the governor’s mansion back in 2010 – even though he had a second term in office virtually locked up – and he traded it away for a chance at the open U.S. Senate seat. Now, he’s back on the gravy train as a member of Congress, where fundraising is now easier by several orders of magnitude than before, when he was in political exile. He’s got a big staff, a support organization, and the political machinery in place to do whatever he wants. And what he wants is to not be stuck in Tallahassee.
Does Representative Governor Crist yearn for a more lofty position than back-bencher status in an out-of-power party? Of course. But there will be plenty of opportunities down the road for him, so there’s no sense in flushing everything down the drain a third time.
Adam Putnam won’t be Bill McCollum – Oh, sure, there are the obvious similarities: like McCollum in 2009, Putnam is the obvious frontrunner for the GOP nomination. Like McCollum in 2009, Putnam has spent time in Congress, and, like McCollum, has cast plenty of votes that opponents will be sure to punish him for. But there’s one thing Putnam has going for him that Bill McCollum didn’t have: the example of Bill McCollum.
Putnam’s team is smart – if a bit overly cautious – and they are well aware of the whispering going on in Tallahassee comparing the 2010 cycle to how things are shaping up for 2018. They are aware of the similarities, they are aware of McCollum’s mistakes, and they are aware of just how radically different the 2017-2018 cycle will be compared with how things were in 2009-2010. For one thing, Putnam has more cash on hand in his political committee at the beginning of 2017 than McCollum had raised by the end of 2009. For another thing, Bill McCollum had already lost two previous statewide elections prior to losing the primary to Scott in 2010, a feat that Adam Putnam can’t mathematically duplicate until at least 2024, and only then if he tries really hard.
Going in, Putnam, on paper at least, looks much, much stronger as a candidate than McCollum ever did. And in practice, avoiding the pitfalls of a McCollum candidacy will be easier too. Conventional wisdom in 2009 held that there simply wasn’t anyone out there capable of challenging McCollum’s candidacy. Then-Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson even graciously bowed out of the way to “clear the field” for McCollum to make a full-tilt run at the governor’s mansion in early 2009.
Because there is always the possibility of a late-entering self-funder (similar to Rick Scott), or the chance some other candidate jumps in and catches fire for any number of reasons, Putnam knows he’s got his work cut out for him. And he’s not going to make the same blunders McCollum made – most notably taking his right flank for granted – the most salient example is McCollum’s decision to go soft on the 2010 Arizona immigration law at the most critical point in the primary. McCollum later flip-flopped and even filed a lawsuit against Obama in support of the Arizona law after seeing the horrific political fallout in the form of plummeting poll numbers. But the damage was done and he never recovered.
Putnam isn’t going to take anything for granted, nor should he. And he’s better funded, better informed, and better equipped as a candidate than McCollum ever was.
Gwen Graham and John Morgan will negotiate a deal – both are media darlings, neither wants to engage in the sort of trench warfare necessary for one of them to emerge as the Democratic nominee for Florida governor in 2018. If Morgan is serious about running, it may boil down to whether or not Graham can raise enough money to compete. If she can’t, she bows out. But if Morgan isn’t fully committed, and Graham has raised enough money to give herself a fighting chance, expect Morgan to extract some sort of concession from Graham before announcing that he’s not running after all. Ultimately, I predict Graham will announce this year, while Morgan rides the wave of speculation, watching how Graham fares in the early going, and keeps his powder dry until making a decision in early 2018.
Bill Posey will announce his retirement from Congress – This is pure speculation on my part based on nothing more than rumor-mongering. Posey is 68 years old, and in 2014, the Sunshine State News reported he was showing no sign of slowing down. Still, he’s been in politics since Jimmy Carter was president, and after a while, people just get tired of the game. He’s now been in Congress since the end of 2008, so by now he’s seen it all. He’ll finish out this last term, enjoying the complete Republican dominance in Washington, and then check out amid the mid-term uncertainty that sure to come. If that happens, expect Mike Haridopolos to be the early frontrunner to replace him.
Ron DeSantis will make some noise in 2017 – DeSantis has a killer resume, and solid conservative street-cred, but if he wants to make a breakout move beyond the First Coast / Space Coast’s 6th Congressional District, he’s got a lot of work to do. And without Barack Obama as a whipping boy, DeSantis is going to have to get creative, either with legislation or with opposition to something. He launched a bid for US Senate, but was wise and quick to abort when Rubio jumped back into the contest. Expect bigger things out of him in the coming year.
Todd Wilcox will run for…something…maybe even US Senate – Like DeSantis, Todd Wilcox has a fantastic resume, with one notable improvement over DeSantis: he’s not yet served in public office. As with DeSantis, Wilcox also ran for Senate and aborted shortly after it became clear that Rubio would defend his seat. He lives in the Orlando area, and he’s clearly not given up on the political arena, as we reported last year. Rumors abound that Rick Scott is planning to run for Senate. I’m not sure how that might affect Wilcox’s plans. Given the mood of the electorate, it’s conceivable that a geniune outsider, as Wilcox truly is, could have an edge on someone like Scott, who, after eight years in power, can no longer legitimately lay claim to that title. And, yeah, Wilcox has just enough of a personal fortune to make him viable in the early going, though he’ll definitely need to raise a lot more if he wants to win.
Rick Scott won’t announce a run for Senate in 2017 – Scott has mastered the art of the talking point, and he can easily push off questions about his political future until the week before the filing deadline in the spring of 2018. Political prudence dictates he must do this anyway, if he plans to get anything at all in the next two legislative sessions. Unlike House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Scott has to propose two more state budgets before the next election cycle, an exercise fraught with political peril. There’s nothing to be gained by making it widely known that he has ambitions beyond the governor’s office. It didn’t work out so well for Charlie Crist in 2009, after all.
Pepi Diaz will gear up for a run as Attorney General of Florida – If Pam Bondi takes a gig inside the Trump Administration, rumors are swirling that he has the inside track on being appointed as Bondi’s replacement by Governor Rick Scott. But there’s also a chance Bondi stays put. If that happens, expect Diaz to take a good hard look at running for her seat when she steps aside due to term limits.
Strapped for funds, some Florida newspapers will strike a syndication deal with Peter Schorch’s FloridaPolitics.com – Schorsch’s content occasionally gets picked up by print newspapers around the state. But prominent newspapers keep cutting back on political coverage – in part because much of it is redundant regurgitation of big stories. Why task bureau reporters like Tia Mitchell, and Gray Rohrer, and, oh yeah, Mary Ellen Klas to write the same story about the governor’s latest judicial appointee when the AP already has you covered? Oh, so did News Service of Florida. And of course, , Florida Politics had it covered. I could have covered it at The Capitolist too. I know about half a dozen of the people in the press conference – including the governor, his staff, and a pair of Justice Lawson’s friends with him that day – on a first name basis. I didn’t write because I knew there’d be at least six different versions of the story already out there and I wouldn’t be bringing any sort of fresh perspective to the story, even with those friendships.
And that begs the question: are those other perspectives really adding value? I say no. They are a colossal waste of newspaper resources, especially at papers that already have a syndication deal in place (I’m looking at you, Miami Herald). If I were calling the shots at the Herald, instead of tasking elite reporters like Mary Ellen Klas with a routine story like this, she’d be digging into longer-form research pieces that differentiate the Herald’s political coverage from that of other outlets.
While some people in Tallahassee (the press corps included) can’t get past the fact that Schorsch’s operation started as a blog, it has long since evolved away from that. He employs a number of experienced political reporters and he gives them free reign over the beats they cover. He produces more free content than most of the rest of the capital press corps combined. And it’s effective, too. His coverage and scrutiny on Steven Auger’s management of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation led to his resignation. It’s not the first time Schorsch or his team can lay claim to a political scalp.
If he can find a way to make the price competitive, he may give other syndication models a run for their money. And a little competition is a good thing, especially in an industry that – as I just pointed out above – still hasn’t figured out the best way to deploy their ever-dwindling resources.