Fort Myers Republican John Albion is arguing Gov. Ron DeSantis took bad advice filling a Lee County Commission vacancy.
A candidate himself for Lee County Commission District 5, Albion said it was not necessary to step in before voters had their say.
“There is not a logical reason it was done,” Albion said. “There is nothing happening before Aug. 23 that would have required that seat be filled before Aug. 23.”
DeSantis last week appointed former Boston Red Sox player Mike Greenwell to fill a vacancy left by the death of longtime County Commissioner Frank Mann. Greenwell will serve through November, when a Special Election will be held concurrent with the regular state election to decide who serves out the remaining two years of Mann’s term.
Greenwell, Albion and conservation activist Joseph Gambino all filed for the Republican Primary.
Albion stressed that he strongly supports DeSantis’ re-election, but feels the decision to issue any appointment now was “inappropriate and unfortunate.”
“I don’t blame the Governor except to the extent he got influenced by people around him,” he said. “I absolutely believe Dane Eagle influenced him.”
Eagle, Secretary of the Department of Economic Opportunity, previously served part of Lee County in the Florida House. He in 2019 recommended DeSantis appoint Ray Sandelli for a previous vacancy on the Lee County Commission, a decision made about three months after the death of Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker. Sandelli won election in 2020 to a full four-year term.
Albion suggested Eagle again used his influence to get a friend elected. Greenwell has long operated businesses in Lee County, including Gator Mike’s, an amusement park in Cape Coral in Eagle’s old House district.
“I and many others believe Mike Greenwell is the best choice for the vacant Lee County Commission seat,” Eagle said. “However, Governor DeSantis makes his own decisions and does not make appointments lightly; he did his own research and came to the same conclusion.”
Florida Politics also reached out to Greenwell for comment.
“I’m disappointed but I don’t blame the Governor,” Albion said. “I think he was misled. And if you look at everyone who he is endorsing or who is retiring in the area, everyone is tied to one campaign manager.”
That’s a swipe at Terry Miller, the campaign manager for Greenwell. He also manages the campaign for Kevin Karnes, who was just appointed as Lee County Clerk of Court following the retirement of Linda Doggett.
Miller, for his part, said he holds no power of who the Governor chooses. He noted Karnes served under Doggett and made a natural choice for an appointment. Karnes faces Liza King in an open Republican Primary in August.
“I really hate to go on record to dispel that myth, but if I’m being honest, I have zero influence over the Governor,” Miller said. “But my people are oftentimes the most qualified and get the appointments. Mike Greenwell has a strong business background, while John Albion was a Lee County Commissioner 20 years ago. The Governor is looking forward and not backward.”
He also suggested there may be sour grapes at play. “I wonder if he (Albion) had been offered an appointment, if he would have declined,” he said.
But Albion expressed frustration there was no process to even apply, and that he did not know of the Governor seeking out applications. That’s something the Governor’s Office disputes.
“Under Florida law, the governor has the authority to fill vacancies with appointees of his choosing. There is no set time frame in the statute,” said DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw. “The governor exercised his constitutional authority to make an appointment to fill the Lee County Commission vacancy.”
She noted that Greenwell sent in an application for the appointment to the seat, whereas Albion did not.
Albion also criticized recent maneuvering around a state Senate post in the area where most expected Sen. Ray Rodrigues, an Estero Republican, to seek re-election, but in the middle of qualifying week, DeSantis announced he was endorsing Jonathan Martin for the post.
Rodrigues is believed to be DeSantis’ favorite for the next Chancellor of the Florida University System. Miller ran Rodrigues’ last campaign for Senate, and was hired by Martin, who only faces a write-in opponent.
“It has all curtailed essentially the openness of the election process,” Albion said. “It makes people less trusting of the process. I’m not a fan of business being done this way.”