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Matt Corrigan is chair of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at the University of North Florida, where he has taught since 1995. Corrigan's interest in politics dates back to when he was 9 or 10 years old, watching the Water...
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Oct. 29, 201412:00 PM EST

Workspace: Corrigan is a political expert who teaches new generations

by: Marilyn Young

Matt Corrigan knows a lot about politics.

The chair of the University of North Florida’s Department of Political Science and Public Administration has long been considered an expert in the field.

He didn’t get that expertise as a candidate, though. Corrigan has run for office twice. He won once.

As a junior at Bishop Kenny High School, Corrigan lost the race for class treasurer. He doesn’t remember who beat him but he remembers why he won the next year.

His campaign speech from the school’s TV studio was simple: “I ran for this last year and you all chose not to elect me. So, I don’t want to be your treasurer.”

The reverse psychology worked.

“Everybody laughed and everybody voted me in,” he said.

Corrigan, 49, majored in government and international affairs at the University of Notre Dame.

He took a couple of side roads before getting back to politics.

Corrigan taught for a year at Sacred Heart Catholic School and was a substitute teacher for a while.

He went to law school for six months — what he calls his “$10,000 detour” — but decided he didn’t want to be a lawyer like his brother, Tim, who is now a federal judge.

Corrigan then got his master’s and a Ph.D from the University of Florida.

He started at UNF as a visiting professor in 1995.

Corrigan said, though it doesn’t happen every day, he likes the energy he gets from his students. And when he sees one of them is understanding what he’s teaching, it brings “tremendous satisfaction.”

Students today are more cynical than previous generations, he said, but it’s understandable. Over the past 20 years, they’ve seen a president impeached, the controversy in the 2000 election in Florida, the Iraq war and the Great Recession.

He uses current topics in his class, such as for this year’s senior seminar, where students are examining the medical marijuana issue, while taking a pro or con position.

His students also talk about issues such as the extreme negative advertising in the governor’s race between Gov. Rick Scott and Charlie Crist.

Corrigan understands what the consultants are doing. “I think they decided early on that both of their candidates had some baggage and so the strategy was to tear down the other person,” he said.

He and the students talk about how that negative tone demoralizes voters, though many of his students likely don’t see those ads. “This generation does not watch TV,” he said. “And if they do watch, they record and don’t watch commercials.”

Corrigan recently published his third book, “Conservative Hurricane: How Jeb Bush Remade Florida.”

He calls Bush the most powerful governor in Florida history.

Bush came in at a time when changes in the constitution gave the governor more power, Corrigan said. He put together an agenda, which the Republican Legislature passed, and he implemented it.

“You don’t see that much in politics,” Corrigan said.

It also didn’t hurt to have the Bush family name at that time, either.

Corrigan said both Crist and Scott, who followed Bush, “have been basically living in his shadow. Their governorships haven’t been as aggressive.”

And, if Bush runs for president, as is being widely speculated, whoever wins the governor’s race will be overshadowed by him again, Corrigan said.

At UNF, Corrigan is the founding faculty director of the Public Opinion Research Lab, which has performed more than $500,000 in funded research.

Corrigan also has been a sounding board for people who are considering running for office.

His first question is always about their stomach for putting their families through a campaign, especially when the opposition research can be harsh. After the quality candidates answer yes to that, “I want to encourage them because we need good people.”

There have people he hasn’t been as optimistic with about their chances. “I think I’ve given them something to think about,” he said.

The few who ran anyway usually didn’t win, he said.

Time with his family helps Corrigan get away from politics. His wife, Mary, “either isn’t interested or is smart enough not to talk about it when I get home,” he said.

The couple, who met at church, have two children –– John, 12, and Jane, 5. The family likes to hike in the state and city parks and go swimming.

Though his professional life has been dedicated to politics, Corrigan hasn’t really considered running for office during that time.

He’s seen what it can do to families. A campaign can be time- consuming, plus there’s the difficult task of having to ask for donations.

And, he said, “I see myself as moderate, and we live in a political system that wants a part R or hard D.”

His son, John, has shown some interest in politics, Corrigan said.

“He likes money, so he may be a Republican,” he laughed.

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Rapid-fire politics: Corrigan shares insights, strategy tips and legacies about politicians

Mayor Alvin Brown (Seeking second term)

• Has tremendous political skills like his mentor, Bill Clinton.

• “He came in and talked about fixing the budget and also developing Downtown. I think the jury is out on both of those issues,” Corrigan said.

• If he was advising Brown: Be specific on what he’s going to do over the next four years.

Lenny Curry (Mayoral candidate)

• The former head of the Republican Party of Florida understands politics and campaigns, but is untested as a candidate.

• Has proved he can raise money, with $1 million collected since June.

• Faces challenge of having to introduce himself and go after Brown at the same time. “Can he do both?” Corrigan asked.

Bill Bishop (Mayoral candidate)

• Hang in there and see what happens.

• “Lenny Curry is known in political circles but isn’t known as a candidate, so see how that goes,” he said.

Angela Corey (State attorney)

• “Tough prosecutor,” Corrigan said. “I think that’s her lead.”

• Has to realize there’s a “public nature to her job in terms of sharing information and things like that.”

• “Now whether a tough prosecutor wants to do that or not is another question,” he said.

John Delaney (Former mayor, now UNF president)

• Will be remembered “very favorably as mayor.”

• The 1990s were a great economic decade. He was mayor for part of that, having served from 1995-2003.

• “The Better Jacksonville Plan obviously did some great things for Downtown,” he said.

John Peyton (Former mayor)

• In many ways, he was given a difficult hand, Corrigan said. The economy started to go down. He had to figure out how to pay for the rest of the Better Jacksonville Plan projects. The pension issue was coming up.

• By comparison, he’s probably had a bit more success with the council than Brown has.

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