Gov. Rick Scott is considering appointing Public Service Commissioner Jimmy Patronis to be Florida's next chief financial officer, the Herald/Times has learned. CFO Jeff Atwater will resign June 30, so the governor must fill the powerful elected Cabinet post within 15 days.
Patronis, 45, of Panama City, is a former Republican state House member who was one of Scott's earliest and most loyal supporters, and he already has been richly rewarded by Scott for his support. The governor appointed Patronis to the five-member PSC in January 2015 and to the Constitution Revision Commission in March.
Atwater's successor will serve through the 2018 election when voters will elect a CFO for a four-year term. Patronis has never run statewide but has a gregarious personality and would benefit from Scott's extensive network of supporters and is known as a fiercely proud alumnus of Florida State University, where he received a political science degree. He hails from a prominent Bay County family that owns a dining landmark, Captain Anderson's restaurant in Panama City. The venue was the scene of a Scott re-election rally in 2014 featuring New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
When Scott was an unknown outsider running for governor in 2010, Patronis opened doors for him in Northwest Florida, and several Scott campaign events took place at the restaurant. As a lawmaker, Patronis was a reliable vote in support of business and he angered environmentalists with his support of bills they viewed as hostile to the environment, such as a 2013 measure that streamlined permitting for Florida natural gas pipelines that originate in other states.
Patronis did not respond to three requests for comment. The Times/Herald asked Scott's office to refute this story if it was inaccurate, and Scott's communications director, John Tupps, provided this statement: "No decisions have been made. We will have an announcement soon."
Atwater's departure for a high-level post at Florida Atlantic University gives Scott a rare opportunity to appoint a loyal ally to a powerful post. Scott's search has been unusually quiet. Two others mentioned in speculation are Rep. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, and former Sen. Pat Neal, a prominent Bradenton-area real estate developer. Former Democratic Sen. Jeremy Ring of Parkland is the only candidate running for CFO in 2018.