Tom Rooney Makes Sense for Florida CFO

By: Jeff Henderson | Posted: January 10, 2014 3:55 AM
Tom Rooney

Tom Rooney

Most eyes are on Tallahassee as Republicans ponder a replacement for Jeff Atwater to serve as state CFO. But there is one possible candidate who has been more tied to Washington in recent years -- Tom Rooney.

Some of the sharpest minds in Florida politics are insisting Rooney should not be ruled out as a possible candidate to replace Atwater and it makes sense if the congressman, who has said he misses Florida, wants to move up the political ladder. Congressmen like Bill McCollum, Connie Mack IV and Jim Davis have had problems moving up to hold either the governorship or a U.S. Senate seat. Holding a lower state office can often lead to a higher one. With Congress polling lower than cockroaches, Rooney might also want another office to use as his base before he sets his eyes on being governor or tries for a U.S. Senate seat.

The grandson of Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney, Tom Rooney, after graduating from college, worked for Connie Mack III’s Senate mail room. Rooney cites it as a formative experience which gave him insight into understanding the issues confronting everyday Floridians. After going to law school, Rooney joined the Army, served in the JAG Corps and taught classes at West Point. He returned to Florida and became an assistant attorney general.

Despite his pedigree and credentials, Rooney’s electoral career appeared stalled before it even started. He had no easy task in the Republican primary to challenge Democratic Congressman Tim Mahoney in 2008, but he defeated Gayle Harrell to secure the GOP’s nomination. For most of the campaign, Mahoney appeared headed to a victory over Rooney, but the incumbent was plagued with reports of extramarital affairs in the final weeks of the election, including one with a staffer who received more than $120,000 from him. Rooney won big, taking 60 percent in the general election while Mahoney finished with less than 40 percent of the vote. While Rooney switched from the Palm Beach area to being more in the center of the state, he has easily won two other terms to the House.

Rooney has been prominent on a number of different fronts during his time in Congress, including the War on Terror, environmental affairs, foreign policy and agriculture. He has become increasingly critical of Barack Obama. When Obama spoke in Jacksonville last summer, Rooney was one of the most vocal Republicans in Florida responding to the president.

With a growing profile, Rooney, who is only 43, could soon be facing opportunities if he wants to follow in the elder Mack’s footsteps or head to Tallahassee as governor. But, whatever his record in Congress and family ties, Rooney remains unknown in many parts of the state. A state Cabinet position -- be it CFO or attorney general -- could easily boost Rooney’s chances down the road for even higher office.

While Rooney certainly has the background to serve as Florida attorney general, that position won’t be open until 2018 (Republican Pam Bondi is already off and running for a second term). But CFO could be open in the days to come and an interim appointment or running in November would set the stage for Rooney’s future. With his brother Patrick serving in the House, Rooney could have better relations with the Legislature than other outsiders. Still, Rooney’s background is more legislative than managerial and more in the public sector than in the private sector.

Right now Rooney is one of a crowd. Florida has 27 congressmen and most of them are unknown outside their own districts. Serving as CFO could help Rooney win a place in the sun and give him a leg up on other ambitious Florida Republicans. Regardless of what he does in terms of the CFO post, Rooney is positioned to be a major player in Florida for years to come.

Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.


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