Peter Schorsch: It’s time for Scott’s new chief of staff to turn on the charm

She’d outpester any pest

Drive a hornet from its nest

She could throw a whirling dervish out of whirl

She is gentle! She is wild!

She’s a riddle! She’s a child!

She’s a headache! She’s an angel!

She’s a girl!

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

For whatever reason, that Rodgers and Hammerstein ditty, “How do you solve a problem like Maria” popped into my head after a lobbyist client wondered aloud how to deal with Melissa Sellers, the 32-year-old, recently installed Chief of Staff to Florida Gov. Rick Scott. My advice is the same I have been giving to all of my other clients, as well as political associates and even some friends who are state employees: Stay off of her radar screen.

Because, let’s face it, there’s no solving a problem like Melissa.

She’s one week in and she’s got the entire apparatus of state government under her thumb. Actually, as we reported in late August, Sellers has been running Rick Scottworld for a while now. What’s changed — and the changes have been dramatic — is the roster of agency heads and high-level aides, all to bleach out any stain of (in retrospect, nice guy) former Chief of Staff Adam Hollingsworth’s tenure.

Never under the same governor has there been so much turnover (or turmoil) going into the second term. A source told me last week that more than 30 replacement hires have been made in the Governor’s Office.

The single criterion for new hires is that they are Friends of Melissa (FoM). The single criterion for terminating someone is that the person had some sort of relationship, no matter how attenuated, with Hollingsworth.

Hollingsworth was shown the door with such little fanfare or respect that it reminds one of the infanticide that occurs in wild horse populations. The new alpha males will seek out and kill the progeny of the old alpha males. In Hollingsworth’s case, all he received for his service is a two-sentence “thank you” buried in the press release announcing Sellers’ promotion.

And it wasn’t just Hollingsworth who has been purged. It’s also much of the old guard.

The only major holdovers are general counsel Peter Antonacci, who is to Scott what Tom Hagen was to Michael Corleone, and Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! guy Gray Swoope. The rest have been subject to a Soviet-style purge. Some are sent away. Others are sent to the gulag (the Department of Children and Families) to live out their lives in a warren of cubicles. Geoff Becker is now out there, along with other pariahs like former Cabinet Affairs Director Marc Slager.

By the way, has anyone seen or heard from former Deputy Chief of Staff Rachel Cone since she was shown the door?

Remember, these were people who supported and advanced the Scott agenda. One has to wonder if some of these supporters would have been better off had Charlie Crist been elected. Or if Sellers had not left Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s orbit to shore up what was then a fledgling Scott administration/campaign. Sellers’ appointment as COS completes “a rapid rise to prominence that began when Scott hired her to be his chief spokeswoman a little more than two years ago,” notes the Tampa Bay Times Steve Bousquet.

The chief of staff regulates access to the governor, oversees hiring and promotions and speaks with the Governor’s authority in dealing with the three elected Cabinet members, agency heads and the Legislature.

The Naples Daily News‘ Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, rather courageously, put her head into the mouth of the lion on Sunday by writing the first profile of Sellers since she was named COS. I say “courageously” because Sellers is not exactly known for her embrace of the Fourth Estate.

In 2008, the Gambit, a New Orleans alternative paper, said Sellers had “become Public Enemy No. 1 to many reporters at media outlets big and small,” reports Buzzacco-Foerster. The paper also reported two news organizations — the Louisiana State University Daily Reveille student newspaper and the Republican leaning political website Bayou Buzz — called for her resignation because she was unresponsive. Of course, being unresponsive to the media pretty much makes you Employee of the Month in Rick Scott’s administration.

Now that Buzzacco-Foerster has published a profile of Sellers that was headlined “New chief of staff quick with both her smile and middle finger,” I wonder which response the reporter will get the next time she sees Sellers.

I almost sympathize with Sellers. She’s in her early 30s and is fiercely loyal to Scott.

Ambitious, aggressive, up-and-coming women in the political process are often portrayed in a harsh light, while ambitious, aggressive, up-and-coming men in the political process are often encouraged to be more alpha-y.

However, Sellers, and by extension Scott, cannot govern through fear for very long. To get the most out of the Executive Office of the Governor, the guillotine has to be put into storage sooner rather later.

In other words, Sellers needs to show more smile and less middle finger.

Peter Schorsch is a political consultant and new media publisher based in St. Petersburg. 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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