Weekly Roundup: Two Guys Hitting the Highway
Around the State
State officials -- and protesters camped out on the first floor of the Capitol trying to get their attention -- are making sure that the normally sluggish Tallahassee summer isn’t, at least for reporters.
Florida universities Chancellor Frank Brogan and state Rep. Mike Fasano are bidding bye-bye to Tallahassee, adding to the list of job openings in the capital.
The man with the million-dollar smile, Brogan, announced he’s headed to Pennsylvania, and he’s taking almost that much cash, thanks to state taxpayers, with him. His departure comes less than a week after Education Commissioner Tony Bennett abruptly resigned, leaving the state’s top two schools spots vacant.
The sit-in outside Scott’s office rolled into its third week, with rapper Talib Kweli joining the slumber party Thursday.
Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting gave the demonstrators a larger, if unwilling, audience, to hear their complaints. Scott and the Cabinet didn’t address any of the Dream Defenders' concerns, but they did sign off on a year-long excavation for human remains at a closed Panhandle reform school.
After four years as the state’s top university official, Brogan will head up the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education starting Oct. 1. Brogan’s five-year contract with the Florida Board of Governors would have expired in September 2014, and his participation in the state’s deferred retirement system, or DROP, was set to run out in August 2015.
“I really felt as though I would be looking for opportunities over the final year,” Brogan told reporters during a conference call Wednesday. “But I didn’t know one would appear so quickly.”
Brogan’s getting a nearly $30,000 haircut with his new $327,500 salary in the Keystone State. But that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what he’ll be taking with him. Brogan will receive a $622,109.45 lump sum payout when he officially separates from the state next month. And he’ll rake in more than $16,000 a month -- $192,000 a year -- in other state pension benefits.
Brogan started as a schoolteacher in Stuart and served as Martin County schools superintendent before winning election as the state education commissioner in 1994. Four years later, he ran alongside Gov. Jeb Bush as lieutenant governor, a job he held through the next election. He left the first floor of the Capitol in 2002 to become president of Florida Atlantic University. Brogan stayed at the Boca Raton school until the BOG hired him as chancellor in 2009.
Capitol insiders may best remember Brogan for his role in the press skits as Jeb Bush’s court jester. On a Segway.
No word yet on who Brogan’s successor will be, but we know it won’t be Senate President Don Gaetz. The Panama City News-Herald reported that Gaetz, a former Okaloosa County schools superintendent, told a local Rotary Club he didn’t want that job or the education commissioner spot.
FASANO IN THE REAR VIEW:
Mike Fasano’s up-and-down career as a state lawmaker has presumably come to an end, at least for now. First elected to the Legislature in 1994, the New Port Richey Republican spent eight years in the House followed by a decade in the Senate before returning to the House last year. Scott tapped Fasano, 55, as Pasco County property appraiser to replace Mike Olson, a Democrat who died in June.
Fasano, a one-time hard-core conservative and ardent supporter of Charlie Crist, became a thorn-in-the-side to the GOP in both chambers, frequently defying leadership and openly criticizing his Republican colleagues -- including Scott -- on pocketbook issues including property insurance and utility rates.
“#Best #Appointment #Ever,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, tweeted after Tuesday’s announcement.
Last year, Fasano incurred the wrath of then-Senate President Mike Haridopolos for helping to kill a massive prison privatization proposal. Haridopolos stripped him of a powerful post as chairman of the Criminal Justice Budget Committee, but Fasano didn’t back away from his anti-privatization crusade.
Siding with Democrats this year, Fasano publicly chastised House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, for failing to go along with an expansion of the Medicaid program.
Fasano also pointed the finger at Scott for failing to convince lawmakers to expand Medicaid and clashed with the governor over Scott’s initial opposition to a prescription-drug monitoring program and the state’s failure to fund it.
“Here’s what you like about Senator Fasano,” Scott said Tuesday when reporters asked him about the appointment. “He’s passionate. He cares about our state and he cares about his constituents. He’s going to be very customer-oriented.”
Fasano, who for years ended every conversation with “God bless,” frequently targeted insurers, especially the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp., for high premiums and inadequate coverage, including problems with sinkhole coverage in his district.
Fasano’s recent discord with GOP leaders was a shift from his early career when the party loyalist helped Gov. Jeb Bush push through the elimination of the intangibles tax.
“It’s been almost 20 years and the Florida Legislature has changed,” Fasano said Tuesday. “Or Mike Fasano has changed, or maybe it’s a combination of the two.”
Fasano’s at-times harsh criticism was also in conflict with the aura he generated inside his softly-lit Capitol offices, where the strains of classical music constantly played in the background.
CABINET APPROVES DOZIER EXCAVATIONS:
Scott and the Florida Cabinet put an end to a dispute over the excavation of the remains of boys who died at a former Panhandle reform school, signing off on a year-long dig at the shuttered Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.
Attorney General Pam Bondi led the charge to allow University of South Florida researchers to dig for reportedly unaccounted-for bodies of boys who died between 1900 and 1952 at the school after Secretary of State Ken Detzner refused the researchers' request for a permit, saying he lacked the authority to approve it.
“We’re not exactly sure what happened there, but we know it wasn’t good,” Bondi said. “We have to look at our history … We have to go back, we know there are unmarked graves currently on that property that deserve a proper burial. It’s the right thing to do.”
As a handful of former residents of the school looked on Tuesday, Scott and the Cabinet OK’d a land-use agreement with the Department of Environmental Protection. Some local officials had urged Scott to deny USF’s request to continue the excavation, saying the publicity would be bad for local tourism.
Robert Strayley, 66, was among the people who attended the Cabinet meeting. He said he was sent to the school after running away repeatedly from his Tampa home, and recalled the beatings he and other youngsters received during his 10-month stay that started in 1963.
“This is a historic moment for Florida because they reached into a past for Florida that was so dark that nobody wants to talk about it,” he said.
Lawmakers included $190,000 in this year’s state budget to cover the cost of the research, determine the causes of death, identify remains, locate potential family members and cover the costs for re-interment.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Florida Chancellor Frank Brogan leaves his position for a similar spot in Pennsylvania after four years as head of the state university system.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "Good luck Rep. Fasano! I’m going to mail you a ‘Let’s get to work’ bumper sticker." -- Tweet by Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, after learning that Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, would be leaving the Florida House because Gov. Rick Scott appointed him as Pasco County tax collector.