As the Florida House prepares to demolish the foundation of Gov. Rick Scott's job-creation agenda, tourism leaders have a chance to show off their marketing skills to the political world Wednesday. The stage is a 1 p.m. meeting of the 15-member House Careers & Competition Subcommittee, which is expected to pass a bill eliminating Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida and mothballing nearly two dozen economic incentive programs.
Local tourism groups were blitzing members during Super Bowl Sunday, hoping to assemble an invasion of up to 1,000 people in an effort to defeat a top priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes.
Not since Johnnie Byrd of Plant City in 2003 has a Florida legislative leader stirred so much controversy so early in his term. But Corcoran is determined to win this round.
"Help us produce 25,000 tweets, emails, phone calls and Facebook messages to EACH member," reads a blast email from Robert Skrob, executive director of the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations. "Be there by 12 noon so Rep. Corcoran's shills from Americans for Prosperity can't get into the room, much less find a seat (emphasis added). Work with our crackerjack PR team at CoreMessage to get talking points and your people booked on talk radio (and) television ... so the story after Wednesday's meeting is about the fight for jobs for Floridians instead of Corcoran's 'alternative truth' one-liners."
Other tourism executives are putting heat on individual lawmakers. A target is Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast (left), chosen by Corcoran to manage the incentives bill. A retired Navy commander who fought in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan, he represents a coastal district south of Jacksonville full of Mom-and-Pop businesses that depend on tourists drawn by the marketing efforts of Visit Florida that Corcoran has targeted for elimination.
Kurt Allen of Marineland, the iconic dolphin adventure site in St. Augustine, wrote Renner: "The tourism industry is outraged that our political leaders would make a move so detrimental to the state, local constituents and our way of life. When I was told that the bill is being sponsored by you, I had to ask a second time."
Renner said Visit Florida's "recurring problems" and "embarrassing moments" need to be put under control. He told the Times/Herald: "We don't need to be spending money on incentives when we have so many unmet needs in our state." Certain of the bill's passage, he said: "We'll have a good vote."