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In Tampa, Rick Scott feels the heat as the Gerald Bailey controversy grows

As more calls for an independent investigation regarding the sacking of former FDLE chief Gerald Bailey grow, Rick Scott tried to stay on message today during an appearance in Tampa.

After making an announcement regarding new funding for STEM education at Chromalloy, a global technology company located in Tampa’s Sabal Park just east from the Florida Fairgrounds, the governor was besieged by reporters anxious to delve deeper into the Bailey saga, perhaps the biggest scandal in Scott’s four-plus years in Tallahassee.

Bailey was the FDLE chief who suddenly resigned last month. But it wasn’t until Scott and the rest of the Florida Cabinet named Rick Swearingen to replace him last month that Bailey went public, denying that he had quit, and alleged that Scott’s staffers repeatedly asked him to cross the line and contribute to the governor’s re-election campaign, to participate in a discussion of Scott’s agenda, use state cars to ferry workers and delete questionable emails.

“Look, he did the right thing by stepping down. Rick Swearingen is going to do a good job. What I’ve done in this job is what I’ve done in the private sector: keep finding new people, find new energy, new ideas, I’m going to continue to do that.”

That apparently means getting rid of other high-ranking officials in state government. Responding to CFO Jeff Atwater yesterday, who wrote in a letter to the governor that “the residents of this state are owed a process that provides for complete transparency in the selection of Cabinet agency leadership,” Scott indicated that he’s looking to search for “new leadership” at the Office of Financial Regulation, the Department of Revenue, and Insurance Commissioner, a job that’s been held down for years by Kevin McCarthy.

Scott was then asked a question about how he would pay for his STEM plan.

The third question during the availability came from Fox-13’s Craig Patrick. He asked Scott if he or someone in his office had asked the FDLE to intercede in a money-laundering investigation of one of his donors. That is an allegation that Bailey made last weekend to the Tampa Bay Times, where he said that Scott had personally asked him if he could “bring in for a landing” an out-of-state investigation of a Miami businessman Scott wanted to appoint to a powerful state board. (Alhough Bailey would not name that man, the Times/Miami Herald reported that the FDLE had conducted two criminal backgrounds in recent years on Bernard Klepach, who was under consideration for a vacancy on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and had donated the maximum $25,000 to Scott’s first inauguration celebration in 2011.)

“Absolutely not,” Scott replied.

The fourth question was whether he was prepared to have a “big fight” over the FDLE.

“Rick Swearingen is doing a great job.”

This reporter then asked the governor why he had announced that Bailey had stepped down last month, when Bailey has now admitted that he was told to pack his bags and leave the FDLE?

“Jerry Bailey did the right thing by stepping down. He did the right thing by stepping down. What I’ve continued to do is look for new people, new energy, new ideas, the same thing you do in the private sector, to upgrade always the talent that you have.”

The governor was then escorted away from the press corps, and went on his way.

But the pressure is mounting. Today the watchdog group Integrity Florida called on federal authorities to investigate potential violations of the civil rights conspiracy statute by state government officials in Florida. And this morning the Miami Herald called on the Cabinet, the Legislature, and the U.S. Justice Department to also investigate the Bailey affair.

“If the political has turned into the criminal, it’s time for a criminal investigation,” the paper’s lead editorial said on Wednesday. “No elected official is above the law.”

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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