When Florida legislators wrapped up their special session Friday, the Republican leaders who guide the state appeared happy and sounded happy.
But after so much finger-pointing, after Gov. Rick Scott using television ads and campaign-styled events to criticize GOP legislators for pushing what he called job-killing legislation, after Senate Republicans saying enough is enough....will the simmering feud that exploded dramatically into public view the last few months finally end?
To recap: The three-day special session successfully ended after the House, Senate and Scott crafted a deal that gave Scott some of his top budget priorities -full funding for Visit Florida, money for a new business economic development fund, money for repairs to the aging Lake Okeechobee dike. Legislators also boosted overall funding to the state's public schools by $215 million - or $100 more per student.
Senate President Joe Negron, who appeared ready to blow up the session after saying the Senate had gotten left out of the negotiations, got the House to agree to set aside $60 million in university projects that had been vetoed by Scott just days before. (Scott for his part says he will accept them now.)
House Speaker Richard Corcoran got....well....
Publicly he stated that he got an overhaul of the economic development system where there are no more "winners and losers" because the new $85 million fund created for Scott cannot go to one specific company. Corcoran contended that the new approach in Florida will be far-reaching and will prompt other states to overhaul their economic development efforts. That same bill put in place changes for both Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.
Of course the Legislature passed a bill during its regular session that also put in sweeping changes to Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida. Scott has said he will veto that bill, but he didn't say that until after Corcoran had pledged to put up more money for economic development efforts than the legislators did the regular session. The plain fact is if Scott had vetoed the initial bill passed by the Legislature then both Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida would have been completely dismantled for the coming year.
That has led to speculation - some of it suggested sort of by Negron - that part of the deal between Corcoran and Scott includes the governor signing a contentious education bill known as HB 7069. This bill is an amalgamation of education policy that was put together during private negotiations at the end of the session. It was included as a budget conforming bill, meaning it could not be amended by other legislators, and barely passed by just one vote in the Florida Senate.
This education legislation touches on everything from testing to recess to extra money for the state scholarship program that helps disabled children. But it also steers state and federal money to charter schools, which are public schools but are privately-run, including sometimes by for-profit management companies. School superintendents, school boards, and other advocacy groups have called for a veto. Those who support charters and vouchers have called for the governor to sign it.
Scott and Corcoran have both said publicly that the governor did not promise to sign it as part of the special session agreement.
When asked point blank if there were a "quid pro quo," Scott quickly retorted he was still "reviewing" the bill. Corcoran has only said that he is "optimistic" that the governor will sign the legislation.
Scott also publicly contended that House Republicans retreated during the special session because he had gone into their hometowns and publicly criticized them.
"If you saw what happened, I traveled the state...for five and six months. I went and sold it and explained to people that this is what’s going on in session,'' Scott said. "I think everybody came to the conclusion this was good for our state."
(Now, please note - just because Scott says he didn't promise to sign the bill does not mean that Scott's staff did not promise. Scott's new chief of staff Jackie Schutz Zeckman met personally with Corcoran's chief of staff amid the negotiations that led to the special session deal. Zeckman doesn't officially take over until July 1 - but outgoing chief of staff Kim McDougal made the decision for ethical reasons to wall herself off from special session items and other high-profile matters.)
So the question moving forward is this...if Scott does in fact sign the education bill - and the governor does in fact sign another high profile bill, SB 374 that is a top priority for Negron, it would theoretically put the relationship between all sides on a better foundation than it has been.
Remember, this GOP feud has been going on _ and building in intensity _ essentially since Scott got re-elected. Shortly after he was sworn into office for a second term Republicans blocked his pick to lead the Republican Party of Florida. Since then Scott for the most part stopped raising money for the party - which is controlled by Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, an ally of Corcoran.
The House and Senate had several meltdowns in 2015 as they bickered over Medicaid expansion and a way to end redistricting battles that were being fought in the courts. In 2016, led by Corcoran, the Legislature shredded much of Scott's agenda for that year. They rejected his ambitious deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Flash forward and Scott got a much better outcome during the special session than it appeared he was going to get this year. The governor talked about how he couldn't wait to go out across the state and "brag" about what happened.
But is there any longevity to it?
There are numerous examples that once someone gets sideways with Scott it's hard to get back in his good graces. (Consider the cold distance that separates Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Scott.)
Now of course next year is an election year - and there's a possibility that Scott, Corcoran and even Negron could be on the 2018 ballot. That could lead to a more amicable session and the prospect of everyone working hand-in-hand.
Let's not forget, however, the House-Senate relationship remains fragile. The night before the special session ended Negron went on a 30-minute plus lecture with the press where he expressed frustration that the Senate had stood alongside with Scott the last few months yet in the end it was Corcoran and Scott making amends and cutting the Senate out.
Corcoran himself over the weekend hinted things remain complicated.
He tweeted out that he was trying to explain his relationship with the Senate to his kids and he said "Taylor Swift nails it." He linked to a video of Swift singing "Out of the Woods" where she explains before performing it that that it was about a relationship where she constantly felt "anxiety" and was worrying about the "next roadblock."
The lyrics in the song include the lines: "We were built to fall apart/then fall back together...Are we out of the woods yet, are we out of the woods, are we in the clear?"
So what could cause things to fall apart?
There's a whole litany of them, including whether Scott decides to veto the higher education overhaul pushed by Negron, or if Corcoran pursues items that Scott doesn't want to be involved with during an election year.
Take for example the Constitution Revision Commission which has already seen a schism play out between Scott appointees and those appointed by legislative leaders.
What if Gov. Scott, while running for the U.S. Senate, is on the ballot at the same time there's a sweeping proposal to eliminate property taxes and increase sales taxes in its place. (This was a centerpiece of then-House Speaker Marco Rubio's tax reform proposals when Corcoran was his chief of staff. This proposal briefly popped up last year in the House.)
Scott is also taking on an increased national role - taking the helm of a Republican super PAC and assuming a leadership position with the Republican Governors Association - that could take up more of his time and focus away from state matters.
Then there's the dynamic in the Senate itself which at times seems fluid. The GOP caucus in that chamber is often divided and it's not always clear who is in the loop. Will Republican senators remain loyal to Negron as his power begins to ebb during his second session?
"Are we out of the woods yet, are we out of the woods, are we in the clear yet?"