The 45 freshmen in the Florida House will cast their first big votes Friday, and they'll have to choose sides in the battle between House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott.
The question of whether to abolish Enterprise Florida and other state-run economic incentive programs is also about who has more clout with members -- Corcoran or the governor. The Senate shows little interest in this issue and Scott would veto it if it reached his desk, so the fight looks like a mostly symbolic test of Corcoran's clout. He wants an overwhelming House vote, above 80, the number needed to override a Scott veto, and because some of the 79 Republicans will vote against the bill, he needs Democrats, giving the outnumbered minority real clout early in the session (22 of 41 Democrats are new to the House).
Some Democratic freshmen had their arms twisted Thursday in "the bubble," a small private room at the back of the House chamber where Corcoran's budget-writer, Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami (in photo), was reminding them in not-so subtle terms how much this issue matters to Corcoran. On Day 3, it wasn't lost on anybody that Trujillo and Corcoran -- not Scott -- will decide which members' hometown spending projects find their way into the House budget and which ones won't.
"I don't think he's threatening or intimidating. I think it's really just giving them the information," Trujillo said of Corcoran. "But obviously, you tend to have a better relationship with those who are philosophically aligned with you than those who aren't."
"A lot of them are on the fence," Trujillo said. "Our goal on all very, very important policies is that if it does come back that it's veto-proof."
Some rookie Democrats have also been called to meetings with Scott or Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. Veteran Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, is a longstanding critic of Enterprise Florida who will vote for the bill, but said every conversation with a Republican begins with, "'Are you still with us? You solid?'" Said Jenne: "The freshman class is being pulled in two different directions. They're in an odd spot."
Freshman Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg, sounded like a "no" Thursday as he spoke of how economic incentives were critical to getting businesses to invest in inner-city St. Pete, where he served on City Council. But Newton could be headed to the bubble before Friday's vote. "I'm still up in the air," he said.