Most of Gov. Ron DeSantis‘s picks for various jobs were uncontroversial, but two prominent names were considered and approved separately at the insistence of the Democratic caucus.
Surgeon General nominee Scott Rivkees, who would also serve as the Florida Department of Health Secretary, was approved 31-9 after serving in an unconfirmed capacity for more than a year.
Rivkees faced scrutiny and tough questions in committee hearings, where concerns about a history of sexually suggestive comments and his intention to continue working at the University of Florida pushed some Democrats into opposition.
As well, Rivkees wrote a memoir documenting the surprisingly bawdy world at a previous hospital where he worked, describing “break-room sex, drug abuse and a long list of … women moving in and out of the physician’s life.”
He also faced more-recent questions about why the Department of Health initially failed to disclose coronavirus testing information to the public.
“I’m glad it (the confirmation vote) happened. Obviously, we need it to happen. He’s been working non-stop on this and we need to keep going forward. So I thank the Senate for doing that,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis, who selected Rivkees last year.
The Senate had previously demurred on making it official.
Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez noted Democratic concerns about his lack of public health experience, even after having given him a “shot.”
Sen. Kevin Rader contended “his resume screams that he’s not an expert in public health administration,” fundamentally disqualifying him statutorily.
“I don’t think he knows what to do,” Rader said, in response to the coronavirus issue.
Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Democrat, broke from the caucus position.
“This is not the time to change teams,” he said in an endorsement of Rivkees.
“It would send a terrible message out of this chamber back to our districts that right now, near the peak of anxiety, that this legislature doesn’t have faith in the surgeon general,” Pizzo said. “Because it’s not going to help our districts at this point.”
Sen. Gayle Harrell, a Martin County Republican, extolled Rivkees’ public health background, his “take control” attitude, and his “calm cool leadership.”
Ryan Petty was voted up 23-16 on party lines for a post on the State Board of Education.
Petty has been active on education and safety issues since the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Petty’s 14-year-old daughter, Alaina, was one of the 17 people killed by the shooter.
After the attack, the Florida Legislature passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act (SB 7026), which set up a commission to study the causes of the shooting and recommend safety improvements in Florida schools.
Petty was appointed to the commission, serving alongside sheriffs, lawmakers and other members of the community.
Petty also ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Broward County School Board in the months after the attack.
Sen. Perry Thurston, a Broward Democrat, denoted Petty’s “insulting, sarcastic, demeaning remarks about blacks, Jews, Hispanics, Muslims, the LGBTQ community … over and over again.”
A third pulled appointee, Ronald Howse of the St. Johns River Water Management Board, was approved 24-15 without debate.
Content from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.