There's no part of Gov. Rick Scott's job more heavily criticized during his seven years in office than the friends and supporters he's appointed to leadership posts, generally as a lucrative prize for loyalty.
I seldom complained. They might have been square pegs in round holes, but I always figured there was some hope -- for the most part, they were intelligent, exercised reasonably good judgment and had achieved some measure of success somewhere in their careers. They were capable of learning on the job.
Melbourne Republican Ritch Workman on the other hand, just appointed to replace Ronald A. Brisé on the Public Service Commission, is none of the above. Even the early favor he supposedly did for Gov. Scott carrying the water on pension reform ultimately crumbled like a stale biscuit.
What was the governor thinking?
It isn't so much the things Workman, 44, did while he served in the Florida House ... although, let's face it:
-- He did try to bring back "dwarf tossing," an act that became a sensation in bars and taverns before it was banned in 1989 and is legal in none of the other 49 states. ("I'm on a quest to seek and destroy unnecessary burdens on the freedom and liberties of people," Workman said in November 2011. ") In the end he apparently had a change of heart, because less than six months later he let the proposed repeal die.
-- He did make headlines when his name was discovered on the client list of Ashley Madison in 2011. It provided weeks of salacious headlines in the Capital press -- Ashley Madison's "Life is short, have an affair" advertising being code for "we're your place for extramarital relationships." Never mind that Workman had divorced, and was single at the time he signed up, and insisted the site never actually hooked him up. The story created a major distraction from the real legislative business of the day and made him a laughingstock.
-- He did sponsor an effort to forbid judges from considering marital infidelity when deciding how much alimony a spouse deserves in a divorce settlement. A revised version of the bill would have put a cap on alimony payments and eliminated lifetime alimony rewards. Women across the state protested; nevertheless, Workman continued to flog it as "pro-family." It took a pair of Scott vetoes to put those bills where they belonged.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli -- also from Brevard County -- singlehandedly tried to recreate Workman, give him some heft -- turn him from a lightweight without portfolio into a statesman who might discover greatness within himself. Crisafulli appointed Workman chairman of the Rules Committee -- probably the most important committee along with Appropriations in the chamber. Unfortunately, Workman didn't entirely get it. For example, he remained a part-time Uber driver, which some -- including Florida taxicab companies -- considered a conflict of interest when the state was wrestling with contentious rules for app-based transportation services.
While unimpressive and, frankly, disruptive, the things Workman sponsored are nothing like as disappointing and disqualifying as the things he didn't do or hasn't the credentials to attempt.
The first term he ran for his House seat, he beat Democrat Amy Tidd largely by convincing conservatives he was going to get an Arizona-style immigration bill passed. But it was an empty promise. His immigration bill went nowhere. Legislators at the time said he meant well but didn't have a clue how to make it happen.
Looking back, it's difficult to find a single accomplishment of his own making -- not something just to curry favor with the speaker or the governor, but something aimed simply at making life in Florida better for Floridians. Show me just one.
True, Workman was the governor's man when he oversaw the House version of a $500 million cut to taxes and fees in 2014. The package featured a rollback in vehicle registration fees. But the registration rollback wasn't his, it was the governor's, and it was widely considered the lightest of Gov. Scott's "heavy lifts" that legislative session. As one lobbyist quipped, "I think the sergeant-at-arms could've got us lower registration fees, that's how easy it was."
Workman's constituents apparently didn't buy Crisafulli's new and improved Ritch. "Rules Committee chairman" might have done the trick to get Workman on board as director of business development at Keiser University -- universities want people who know how to connect with Tallahassee. But in 2016 a fancy title at Keiser wasn't enough to help him win election to the state Senate. He lost to a fellow state representative, Debbie Mayfield.
Workman's creds besides Keiser:
- He has a bachelor’s degree from Appalachian State University.
- He served in the Florida House from 2008-2016.
- He served in the Florida Army National Guard.
- He worked as an Uber driver.
Note: no utility industry experience.
Utility regulation is highly technical and requires people who have knowledge of what they’re doing.
Remember, the PSC is supposed to safeguard consumers from unjustifiably high utility rates. It has developed a reputation for cozying up to the companies it regulates. Sadly, Workman's appointment gives that theory more credence.
Scott selected Workman from a short list of 14 PSC candidates forwarded by a nominating council -- a council made up mostly of governor's and legislators' appointees. The 14 who survived included a sitting legislator and four former legislators. It's no secret legislators salivate over PSC posts, and why wouldn't they? The attraction isn't just the $131,000-a-year salary. It's also because the deal includes a generous padding of the pension credits they earn for their part-time service in the Florida House or Senate.
Not that I haven't been wrong about the governor's appointments in the past. I booed (in writing) the selection of Pete Antonacci to head the South Florida Water Management District. Antonacci turned out to be one of the strongest and clearest-thinking SFWMD chief executives I've seen in more than two decades. Everglades restoration and other water projects are on schedule, he supports his staff, the district's business is proactively transparent. But Antonacci had a long resume of successes by the time he got to SFWMD. His resume showed he was results-oriented, well-focused and a quick study. He had the tools to lean into the job.
Again, Workman has none of the above. He will not step up. He will not surprise and amaze. He will be exactly what we expect. On Jan. 1 and for at least the next four years, Florida energy consumers will have one less watchdog in the house.