Humanizing the Debate

Guest Correspondence

Our last Meet the Minds luncheon with Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran sold out in four days. It sold out quickly for many reasons, including the state controversy over Enterprise Florida, Visit Florida and business incentives.

It was easy to vilify the Speaker if you disagreed with him. The sound bites and back-and-forth barbs in the press between Governor Rick Scott and Speaker Corcoran has become a weekly occurrence which now includes professionally produced videos. We watch it all like a TV show and remove ourselves from the real-life implications. Some of the controversy has even bled down to the local level here in Sarasota County.

I have my own opinion about incentives, as does The Argus Foundation. We have a pragmatic approach. We believe that incentives play an important role in today’s marketplace of state and local business attraction competition. We also believe that a system that creates certainty and accountability is important. 

I followed the Tallahassee conversation closely as the implications on the local level are big. In my mind, I had myself admittedly scoffed the position of the Speaker and shook my head with each news article. 

Then, I had a by-chance meeting with Speaker Corcoran in an unusual setting. While visiting my sister in Wesley Chapel, we took the kids to a nearby family fun center to play laser tag. It was there where I met the Speaker with his lovely wife and very beautiful family. 

I greeted him, shook his hand and thanked him for his service. He was incredibly polite despite being out with his family. He later introduced me to his sweet wife and we chatted. I was amazed at how generous he was with his time while our kids played laser tag. Quite frankly, he was just a very nice guy.

I learned something that day and it changed my view about state politics and what I read. Despite having held elected office myself and facing the same scrutiny on a much smaller local level, I bought into what I was reading and it was not an accurate picture.

I decided it would be good for our community to learn the same and Speaker Corcoran was kind enough to agree to come speak. The Meet the Minds turned out exactly as I hoped, a civil dialogue and a deeper understanding of the positions of various sides. The position holders were humanized. The questions, especially the questions by Sarasota’s own passionate economic development advocate Enterprise Florida Board Member Jesse Biter, were informative and the answers showed the Speaker’s devotion to our state. 

The conversation provided for a deeper understanding of the people who took positions on those issues. I am proud of Sarasota for generously welcoming the Speaker whether they agreed with him or not and I commend Speaker Corcoran for coming to the hotbed of this debate, informing us, and sharing his thoughts. 

Thoughtful, deeper, informative, and civil debate is alive and well, and it is happening at The Argus Foundation.

Christine Robinson is executive director of The Argus Foundation.

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