Scott Regime: Who's In, Who's Out?
Around the State
As Rick Scott takes the reins of Florida government, some longtime political players find themselves marginalized or cut out of the decision-making loop altogether.
Though Republicans swept to victory in November, the clout of high-ranking, veteran party members has diminished as the outsider-governor shakes up the tradition-bound GOP power base.
Meantime, the stock of business interests is rising, as Scott quickly froze government regulations and fills key administration positions with unconventional appointees.
Veering sharply away from the center-left orientation of Charlie Crist, the former health-care executive is building a team more attuned to Jeb Bush's sensibilities. Indeed, several of Scott's transition advisers are Bushites.
But millionaire Scott is not kissing the former governor's ring as he charts his own course in Tallahassee.
While retaining a few Crist holdovers -- including policy and budget director Jerry McDaniel, general counsel Erik Figlio and executive staff director Dianne Moulton -- Scott is putting his own stamp on the affairs of state.
Instead of bowing to Bush or maintaining the status quo, Scott is relying heavily on his own inner circle of advisers. And, given his business background and deep skepticism of government, Scott's sense of "grass-roots" support is far different than his immediate predecessor's.
Here is a look at who's in, who's out, and who is in political purgatory under the Scott regime.
THE "A-LIST" -- FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS
TEA PARTIES: Conservative grass-roots activists fueled Scott's insurgent campaign against Republican Party favorite Bill McCollum. With the exception of South Florida tea party activist Everett Wilkinson, who accompanied McCollum when the attorney general filed his candidacy papers and later heckled Scott in West Palm Beach, tea party groups coalesced behind Scott early in the primary. Signaling increased access, Scott issued personal Inauguration Day invitations to Punta Gorda tea partier Robin Stublen and First Coast tea party activist Billie Tucker.
LEGISLATIVE REBELS: A handful of Republican lawmakers bucked the party establishment early on when they supported Scott over McCollum. Lawmakers to watch: state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, and Reps. Mike Weinstein, R-Jacksonville; Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City; Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda; Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City; and Rachel Burgin, R-Tampa.
OUTSIDE INSIDERS: Two of Scott's closest and most trusted advisers come from out of state and outside government. His transition team was chaired by Enu Mainigi, a corporate attorney with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Williams & Connolly. Mary Anne Carter, Scott's "special policy adviser," hails from Tennessee. Both women were deeply involved in Scott's health-care career, with Carter heading his "Conservatives for Patient Rights" political action committee. Mike Prendergast, the governor's chief of staff, is a career military man whose "outsider status gives him the ability to evaluate and manage issues and agencies from a perspective untainted by the business-as-usual culture in Tallahassee,” Scott said in the statement. At $150,000 each, Carter and Prendergast join McDaniel as the highest paid staffers in Scott's office.
FREE ENTERPRISERS: Entrepreneurs seeking relief from government regulation have a soulmate in the Governor's Office. The insurance industry, after four years of socialistic (Citizens) policies under Crist, has particularly high hopes for a better business climate. Said one Florida insurer: "The industry is excited about the future under Governor Scott."
DEVELOPERS: The development industry gained a firm foothold as Scott appointed St. Joe executive Billy Buzzett to head the Department of Community Affairs, the agency assigned to manage state and local growth plans. In another telling choice, Scott tabbed shipyard executive Hershel Vinyard to lead the Department of Environmental Protection.
FAITH GROUPS: The socially conservative Scott and his lieutenant governor, Jennifer Carroll, aren't bashful about professing their Christian faith. Scott even held a separate, private prayer breakfast with Baptists on Inauguration Day. Still, Scott may test the allegiance of religious groups -- as well as Bush -- with his recent ruminations about considering Las Vegas resort-style casino gambling for Florida.
THE "B-LIST" -- ON PROBATION
GOP LEADERS: Though the governor is the putative head of the Republican Party of Florida, Scott remains an enigma, if not anathema, to many party chieftains. GOP leaders did eventually rally behind Scott in the general election, but in the first round big political money committees closely linked to Dean Cannon and Mike Haridopolos poured more than $800,000 into McCollum's campaign. Sen. Mike Fasano's "disappointment" at Scott's freeze on business regulations spoke volumes about a simmering ideological feud going forward.
CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: A key cog in the Republican Party establishment, the chamber was all in for McCollum. When the AG faltered, the chamber shifted to Scott. But tensions and suspicions remain.
GOOD OL' BOYS: Deal makers may find it tougher to raid the public purse with Scott wielding the veto pen. Example: Legislative support for the multibillion-dollar high-speed train project linking Orlando and Tampa, along with Central Florida's SunRail commuter line, could derail at the Governor's Office.
FLORIDA MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: Some of McCollum's biggest financial backers were health-care providers. Scott's background as a health-care executive doesn't necessarily help him with this group. If the FMA doesn't help to solve the Medicaid problem, it will show that the two sides still don't trust each other.
JEB BUSH: The former governor was firmly in McCollum's corner during the primary. With Bush raising his profile in Washington, the independent-minded Scott, who takes a much harder line on immigration, is keeping the GOP icon at a distance for now.
THE ENEMIES LIST -- IN OUTER DARKNESS
UNIONS: As Scott looks to cut state spending, public-employee unions and collective bargaining are on the chopping block. No. 1 foe is the Florida Education Association for its rabid opposition to Scott's call for school choice and academic reform initiatives.
TRIAL LAWYERS: The loudest cheers at Scott's inaugural address came when the tort-reforming governor declared: "We will not allow excessive lawsuits and predatory lawyers in search of deep pockets to strangle job creation."
ENVIRONMENTALISTS: Breaking a tradition that started in 1987, Scott is the first new governor who did not deliver a speech at the annual Everglades Coalition conference. Indeed, Scott didn't even attend last week's meeting. The governor's "Let's Get to Work" mantra has virtually drowned out any discussion of conservation efforts or even renewable energy projects.
RINOS: Republicans in Name Only will be called out as Scott sets the bar for conservative orthodoxy. With tea partiers and other hard-line conservatives gaining greater access to the Governor's Office, middle-of-the-roaders look like road kill.
"PROGRESSIVES": The Florida Progressive Alliance didn't endear itself to Scott when it chastised his executive orders freezing business regulations and requiring the use of E-Verify for screening state job applicants. After four years of backstroking with Charlie Crist, liberal-progressive groups are taking a more aggressive, partisan tack. Don't expect Scott to be intimidated.
MAINSTREAM MEDIA: See "Progressives" above.
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.