If new education commissioner Richard Corcoran wasn't knee-deep in enemies before Monday, he sure is fire-ant bait now.
All of a sudden lefties are charging out of the thicket, predicting a public-education apocalypse in Florida. It's a way of deriding the former school choice-committed House speaker they never could control and the like-minded governor-elect who recommended him.
It's all nonsense, of course.
As a public school product himself, who firmly believes students come first, Corcoran, 53, isn't about to abandon traditional K-12 public school students. He told the Board of Education that appointed him unanimously Monday, to the complete satisfaction of even his toughest interrogator, Palm City lawyer and businessman Michael Olenick.
He admitted his first priority as commissioner would be to mirror policies outlined in DeSantis' gubernatorial campaign. They include expanding vocational and technical programs, curriculum improvements, revising education standards and making sure 80 percent of education funding is spent in classrooms.
But he spoke eloquently about improving the future for Florida's children and preparing students for the real world. Frankly, it was refreshing.
“I think that wherever we can expand choice, as Gov. DeSantis has said, and it’s forensically proven to be an uplifting, tremendous outcome for the children, we’ll say it today. We’ll say it tomorrow. We’ll say it forever,” Corcoran said. “The whole focus is on giving every single child the opportunity at a world-class education. They deserve no less.”
The bottom line here is, Dems are simply afraid of the man whose nickname once was Genghis Khan. These days he's still a bulldog, he proved as House speaker he doesn't scare, doesn't easily let go of that bone. And he warms to the spotlight. Most frightening of all to his detractors -- he really does believe in the conservative principles he espouses.
Certainly Corcoran knows he's in for a fight, but he strikes me as ready for it. He clearly believes he has something to prove, and not just to Florida.
You watch, mainstream media will be over him like speckles on a brook trout every change he makes, every proposal he submits, every test result to emerge, every potential conflict of interest no matter how trumped-up. In truth, why not? That's their job.
As long as the scrutiny is fair and balanced. (You will forgive me, I hope, if I don't hold my breath. The mainstreamers used a sledgehammer on Rick Scott for the past eight years and it's still fresh in my mind. Corcoran might want to brace for similar treatment.)
His army of detractors have been stewing over this appointment for more than a week, imploring the Board to be deliberative, launch a national search for an education leader.
In truth, I don't think Floridians' hearts were in that suggestion. I also remember years ago in Martin County, when The Stuart News editorialized mightily to change our elected superintendent to an appointed one. At least three times over two decades the choice was on the ballot. The idea was to get a larger, more professional pool to choose from. But every time voters told us what to do with our search. Turns out citizens overwhelmingly want the devil they know.
But have a look at this sample of brickbats that came Corcoran's way Monday:
Terrie Rizzo, Florida Democratic Party chair: "No one has done more to hurt Florida's public schools while serving in the Florida Legislature than Richard Corcoran. His legacy consists of demonizing educators, and giving money to unaccountable, for-profit charter schools, including one that is run by his wife. As Education Commissioner he will continue his mission of destroying our public school system. His appointment as Education Commissioner is a disservice to our children and all Floridians."
Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida: "... Even if the Board ultimately agreed with Governor-elect Ron DeSantis' recommendation for the post of Commissioner of Education -- which they clearly did -- the Board still had a duty to the children and parents of Florida: to conduct a thorough search for qualified candidates from around the state and country, as they have done in the past. Few things are as important as the education of our children. Unfortunately, the circumstances surrounding this appointment do nothing to alleviate the concerns of everyday Floridians that this is simply, 'politics as usual.' All the same, we look forward to meeting and working with Commissioner Corcoran to work on public education policy that will benefit all Floridians."
Gwen Graham, former congresswoman and gubernatorial candidate who ran second in the 2018 primary, speaking to reporter Dara Kam: "... Now, what we’ve got, and it’s so sad to me, and I just keep going back to Richard Corcoran’s ... selection as commissioner of education. It’s very painful for me. It’s not personal. I know Richard Corcoran. I believe that he ideologically 100 percent believes in what he believes in. I just happen to believe he’s wrong. Of all that’s happened since Nov. 6 that’s been difficult for me, it’s been that selection."
Freshman Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orange County, in a letter to Education Board members Monday: “With all due respect, Mr. Corcoran has no professional background in education beyond his intentional efforts to privatize our state’s public education system. ... He also supports the arming of our teachers, a risky policy option that has been rejected by local school boards across the state.”
Many of Florida's mainstream media editorialized before Monday's vote -- by example, The Sun-Sentinel on Dec. 6: "... DeSantis has made clear that his priority is not traditional public schools, even though they educate 90 percent of students in the public system. During his campaign, he didn’t visit public schools. He visited a private Jewish school and touted corporate tax vouchers. A Wall Street Journal analysis concluded that DeSantis’ support for vouchers pulled enough African-American voters from Andrew Gillum to tip the election."
Land O' Lakes lawyer Corcoran also had his supporters Monday morning, all of whom described him as an effective leader able to collaborate on policy issues with different stakeholders. Members of the business community, such as the Council of 100 and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, called Corcoran a skillful negotiator capable of bridging partisan divides.
Chamber CEO Mark Wilson admitted he and Corcoran haven't always agreed on policy, especially about tax incentives to spur economic development. The Chamber valued Enterprise Florida, Corcoran wanted to kill it.
“But," said Wilson, "we have violently agreed that education and quality workforce are the best economic development tools that Florida can invest in" -- and with that he told the Board he was giving Corcoran a hearty endorsement.
After the Board of Education vote, the governor-elect -- the orchestra conductor -- splashed out a congratulatory tweet: “Richard will be a bold leader committed to the success of students, parents, and teachers.”
At least to some degree, the fate of the men who came close to opposing each other in the GOP primary, DeSantis and Corcoran, now are inextricably linked.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith