Florida Governor Rick Scott promised that it wouldn’t be “business as usual” anymore in Tallahassee , and just over a month into his first term, Scott has hit the ground running.
Scott kicked off his new governorship with a pricey inaugural ball that prompted a firestorm of controversy as the bill allegedly reached upwards of 3 million dollars. The tab was paid by big donors, but even that came under question: at least $45,000 came from big-gaming interests including the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the Gulfstream Park Racing Association, and the Palm Beach Kennel Club, all groups that have concerns over upcoming bills that, if passed, would give Las Vegas-style casinos a piece of the Florida gaming pie. One of the state’s biggest employers, Office Depot, kicked in $25,000 to Scott’s inauguration ball, garnering criticism from whistleblower David Sherwin and others who see the donation as an effort to gain favor with the governor following years of fraudulent overcharging scandals by the office supply company. Office Depot ended up settling with the state of Florida and consumers for $4.5 million.
Although Scott had few comments concerning the donors or any potential conflicts of interest, he wasted no time firing Department of Management Services Secretary Linda South amid investigations linking the agency to a lack of oversight concerning the Office Depot overcharging scandal and its cost to taxpayers.
Further on Scott’s promise to hold government officials accountable, state offices got a thorough housecleaning. Juvenile Justice Secretary Frank Peterman and Lottery Secretary Leo DiBenigno were asked to leave, as well as Department of Community Affairs Secretary Tom Pelham, who jumped ship even before Scott’s transition, saying, “I would not have worked for Scott even a single day, even if I had been asked to stay.”
Also sent packing was the head of Florida’s Department of Health, Ana Viamonte Ros, who resigned in shame under criticism from Scott’s team for reckless six-figure spending and weekend getaways.
Scott’s made some appointments, too. Jack Miles, a former senior director at CIGNA, will lead the state’s Department of Management Services. Miles will have his hands full re-shaping the public image of the DMS following Linda South’s mismanagement of Office Depot’s overcharging of state purchasing contracts.
Department of Defense Veteran Doug Darling will be the deputy chief of staff and director of cabinet affairs, and Jesse Panuccio and C.B. Upton will be the new deputy general counsels to the governor. Scott hired Melinda Miguel to return to her old post as inspector general after she had previously been fired from the post by then-financial officer and gubernatorial opponent Alex Sink.
Unscathed by office politics, Scott also is taking aim at the state’s health and education policies. Recently, Scott appeared on Fox & Friends to support a Florida judge’s recent ruling that ObamaCare is unconstitutional. The new governor also vowed to close the state’s $3.6 billion deficit and make the state more attractive to businesses with tax incentives.
Scott didn’t forget about teachers, either. In a bold speech for the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s South Florida Economic Summit, Scott came out strongly against tenure for teachers. “Good teachers know they don’t need tenure. There is no reason to have it except to protect those that don’t perform as they should,” he stated, adding, “We need to require periodic testing of teachers in the subjects they teach. We also need to eliminate teacher tenure so that we can replace bad teachers.”
Scott later came after teachers again, calling for them to give 5% of their annual pay towards their pensions — although, as Scott points out, this is something that many other states already do. So much for business as usual.
(Don’t miss “Florida governor saves Florida taxpayers from a rail disaster,” at the Tatler.)