Fabiola Santiago

This lawmaker’s campaign ad is stoking fear of immigrants. One catch: he’s Canadian-born

Political ad raises eyebrows in Florida

Actors portray the shooting of a young woman in this ad from Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s political action committee, Watchdog PAC.
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Actors portray the shooting of a young woman in this ad from Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s political action committee, Watchdog PAC.

There’s that moment when you’re trying to figure out what kind of man would stoop to fear-mongering and race-baiting in the most sickening way in a campaign ad — like Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran has done — and you come upon this fact: He was born in Canada.

Why is it relevant?

It’s not something the rising politician wants known. He hides it from nearly every biography I encountered. His life story begins with his growing up in Pasco County, north of Tampa, from the age of 11. His spokesman, who sends me weekly press releases, wouldn’t answer my request seeking information.

A self-loather out to convince nativists that he belongs is a thing to behold.

Think U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in Texas, born in Canada of an American mother and Cuban father, during the presidential campaign. Think U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, who has abandoned any shred of leadership on immigration in a quest for political capital. Corcoran was his chief of staff when Rubio was state House speaker.

Chances are, Florida voter, that you don’t much know Corcoran, first elected in 2010. But you should.

Florida Legislature (2)
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, pounds the gavel to start the first day of legislative session on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Tallahassee. Steve Cannon AP

He’s led the Florida Legislature’s attack on public education to benefit his and other legislators’ private interests. He blocked Medicaid expansion. And he’s now dead set on legislating to crack down on undocumented immigrants even though that is a federal matter. And he’s likely to succeed because political cowardice runs rampant in this state. His bill, HB 9, forbidding sanctuary cities — that don’t even exist in Florida as such — has shamelessly passed the Republican-dominated House with the support of Miami’s Cuban Americans.

The Republican from Land O’Lakes has big ambitions of the gubernatorial kind and he doesn’t care if he turns Florida into a cesspool of anti-immigrant hatred on the way to the governor’s mansion.

Oh, you’ll get to know him.

Corcoran knows that anti-immigrant rhetoric and xenophobe-baiting tactics gave rise and voice to a loud voter base and shaped a platform for Donald Trump, elected him president against all odds, and by God, he’s going there, too.

No matter how nasty, no matter how hurtful, no matter how distasteful.

And the campaign ad he has just released is all that — and more.

The ad exploits the 2015 case of a California woman, Kate Steinle, brought to national fame by Trump after she died in San Francisco when the gun an undocumented and homeless immigrant was holding fired. The man was recently acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges because the jury — based on evidence that the bullet from the gun he had found ricocheted before it struck her — believed that he didn’t intentionally kill her.

All of it is heartbreaking for a family that not only lost a daughter, but in the aftermath has had to endure the endless politicization of her death.

And now, it’s Corcoran’s turn.

On a campaign video released Monday, Corcoran claims in an alarmist tone that Steinle “was gunned down.”

It’s simply untrue.

But despicably so, his Watchdog PAC ad re-enacts his simplistic view of the San Francisco killing on a Florida suburban street, with a dark-haired hooded man stalking and shooting a red-haired teenager minding her cellphone.

“This could have happened to any family, anywhere,” Corcoran says. “Incredibly, some Tallahassee politicians want to make Florida a sanctuary state.”

That Florida was founded by Spaniards, is home to the oldest city in the United States, and has a long history and heritage of multiculturalism — and that it is dependent on international tourism for its economic health — is of no concern to Corcoran.

He is, after all, catering to the lowest denominator of humanity: Those who don’t care about their fellow humans. Those who blame all of their disappointments in life on The Other, The Foreigner, The Latest Arrival.

And maybe he’s trying to convince himself that he really, really belongs here.

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