Rush of Appointments as Crist Prepares to Leave
Around the State
In the dying days of his term, Gov. Charlie Crist has made a number of key appointments that will shape the future of the Sunshine State for years to come -- in fact, 14 already this week.
With Rich Nugent headed to the U.S. Congress to take the place of retiring U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, Crist announced Tuesday that veteran law enforcer Al Nienhuis will serve as Hernando County sheriff until Jan. 7, 2013.
“Al’s 15 years as a dedicated law enforcement officer have given him the experience and skills he needs to honorably serve the people of Hernando County,” said Crist. “The leadership he has shown as an undersheriff for nearly a decade has prepared him to serve as one of the top law enforcement officers in our state.”
Nienhuis has served in law enforcement since 1985 and as undersheriff of Pasco County since 2001. He beat out a field that had nine other candidates including Assistant State Attorney Don Barbee; Peter Federico, who is a detective with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office; Mike Maurer, who served as Nugent’s operations chief; Eddie McConnell of the Groveland Police Department; former Tampa policeman Scot Middleton, who is now with the Tampa Tribune as operations manager; former Socialist presidential candidate and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brian Moore; former Port St. Lucie policeman and businessman Nicolas Piccinich; Michael “Rick” Singer of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; and former Pasco County police officer Bobby Sullivan, who is now heading up Public Safety at St. Leo University. Nugent had recommended Maurer to replace him.
Nienhuis is known for his frugality. "We've provided very, very good law enforcement at a very reasonable cost to the citizens," he said in a TV interview. "We are very fiscally responsible in Pasco."
Nienhuis said he remembers where it all started: in the mid-80s with the Florida Marine Patrol.
He spent more than 10 years in the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco.
The governor also rewarded key supporters, naming two of his backers to the board of Enterprise Florida on Tuesday. Crist chose Marty Fiorentino of Ponte Vedra and Scott Peelan of Winter Park, two very prominent fund-raisers, to serve on the board until July 2014. The future of Enterprise Florida, a private-public partnership focusing on economic development, remains in doubt as incoming Gov. Rick Scott’s team has been critical of dividing efforts between that organization and the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development.
Crist also named Katie Patronis, a real estate broker, to the board of trustees of Gulf Coast Community College where her husband, Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, studied restaurant management. The Senate needs to confirm the new appointment. Rep. Patronis, who backed Crist over former House Speaker Marco Rubio in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate election before the governor left the GOP, represents all of Gulf County and parts of Bay and Franklin counties.
The governor also named four appointees to the Florida Housing Commission to serve until 2014 pending Senate approval; an appointee to the South Broward Hospital District Board of Commissioners who will serve until 2013; a Broward County Housing Authority appointment, which expires in 2014; and four members of the Florida Technology, Research and Scholarship Board who will serve until 2014.
As Crist prepares to leave Tallahassee, a new poll found that his popularity, which took a hit during his campaign for the U.S. Senate with no party affiliation, is on the rebound.
While 2010 did not go the way Crist had hoped, a new poll from Public Policy Polling (PPP), a firm with connections to nationally prominent Democrats, revealed that he generally retains the backing of Floridians as he leaves office. The poll found Crist kept the approval of 50 percent of Floridians while 39 percent did not approve of his performance in office.
Tom Jensen of PPP pondered the governor’s future on his blog.
“Crist may have a political future, but if he does it's in the Democratic Party,” noted Jensen. “Thirty-five percent of voters in the state say they would definitely not vote for him in a campaign somewhere down the road. But 26 percent say they definitely would and 36 percent are at least open to the possibility. Any thought that he might try to go back to being a Republican can probably be put aside by the fact that 50 percent of GOP voters say they would never vote for Crist ever again -- that's a pretty brutal starting point in a primary contest.
“That leaves the options of going the independent route again -- which he presumably saw the perils of this year -- or just becoming a Democrat,” continued Jensen. “Twenty-seven percent of Democrats say they'd definitely vote for Crist in a future campaign and 43 percent are open to it with only 25 percent ruling out the possibility. So that's where his best chances in the future lie and wouldn't a Crist-Scott contest in 2014 be fascinating ... although Crist's odd choice to run for the Senate this year would suggest that maybe being governor wasn't his cup of tea.”
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