Peter Schorsch: Five big stories in Tallahassee last week

Another year passes, and another Rick Scott Chief of Staff is out the door.

The Governor’s office announced last week that Kim McDougal will succeed Melissa Sellers in the top staff position, making McDougal Scott’s fifth CoS in six years.

Which makes us wonder: Where are they now?

Mike Prendergast, a retired Army colonel, moved over to become Executive Director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, where he remains today.

Steve MacNamara, “the only person in Florida history to serve as chief of staff to the House Speaker, Senate President and Governor,” is now associate professor of communication at Florida State University, according to his bio. He specializes in “mass media law issues and political communications and strategies.”

Until recently, Adam Hollingsworth had been an elder at City Church in Tallahassee, but his page was removed from the church website as of last week and he could not be reached by telephone.

Sellers’ plans aren’t clear, other than she is said to be leaving “for the private sector.”

Now, here the top five stories from last week:

  1. New boss in town — Scott announced that Sellers, his Chief of Staff and one-time communications guru, is stepping down to strike out on her own. Her last day is April 1. Lest you think it’s all part of an elaborate April Fool’s joke, Scott announced that McDougal would fill the role beginning April 2.

Also of note: General Counsel Timothy Cerio is also leaving on April 1.

  1. Vetoed — Who says government moves slowly? The Legislature sent Scott the fiscal year 2016-17 budget on March 17. Hours later — no really, just a few hours later — Scott signed the budget and issued his vetoes. The reason for the speedy action? Scott took the unusual step of issuing preemptive vetoes. He vetoed $256 million from the $82 billion budget.
  2. A Gaetz free zone — There won’t be a Gaetz in the Florida Senate in 2017. Matt Gaetz announced he’s dropping his bid to replace his father, Sen. Don Gaetz, deciding instead to run for U.S. Congress. The Fort Walton Beach Republican is vying to replace Rep. Jeff Miller. His decision to run for Congress could hand the race over to his opponent, George Gainer.
  3. It’s a law — Forgive Scott if he doesn’t shake your hand this weekend. He probably has a hand cramp. Scott signed 102 bills into law this week. He signed measuresto create a syringe exchange pilot program in Miami-Dade County, to expand medical marijuana to the terminally ill and to further restrict abortion providers.
  4. A Trump mistake — A 2013 donation to a political committee backing Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi was a mistake, said aides to Republican front-runner Donald Trump. The Donald J. Trump Foundation donated $25,000 to the pro-Bondi group. Just one, tiny problem. Federal rules prohibit charities from helping candidates. Making matter worse, the group didn’t list the gift to “And Justice for All” in its IRS filings that year. Instead, The Washington Postreported the group said it gave to an unrelated group called Justice for All. Whoops.

Earlier in March, we had Sunshine Week in the Sunshine State.

The First Amendment Foundation celebrated its annual Sunshine Week from March 13 through March 18. According to the Florida First Amendment Foundation, the week-long event coincides with James Madison’s birthday and National Freedom of Information Day on March 16.

The national initiative is meant to educate the public on the importance of transparent government.

During Sunshine Week, media organizations explored how easily — or in some cases difficult — it is to get public records in Florida. The Tampa Bay Times-Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau found that Scott produced no text messages, and he discourages his staff from texting. The Associated Press looked into the costs of getting records from law enforcement agencies.

Its no secret that Kim McDougal is an education guru.

Her master’s and doctorate degrees are from Florida State University College of Education. She spent time working for Gov. Jeb Bush, who was passionate about improving the state’s education system.

So it should come as no surprise that McDougal may have played a role smoothing relations between Common Core opponents and Scott.

Last week, Associated Press reporter Gary Fineout tweeted that while McDougal was working for Scott’s re-election campaign, she met “one on one with anti-Common Core groups.” Fineout said McDougal “brokered peace with anti-Common Core crowd during the 2014 re-election.”

One more thing about McDougal.

Scott’s decision to appoint the 53-year-old Tallahassee resident as his Chief of Staff was applauded by several Capitol watchers and lawmakers.

“This selection is not a surprise to me at all,” said Darrick McGhee, vice president of government relations at Johnson & Blanton. “She’s smart, cordial and she’s definitely willing to meet with anyone. She knows state government very well.”

“An exceptional appointment by the Governor,” proclaimed Sen. Jack Latvala on Twitter and Facebook.


Peter Schorsch is a new media publisher and political consultant based in St. Petersburg, Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.   

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


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