Suddenly Rick Scott is even more powerful.
As if running the third largest state in America weren’t enough, now the two term Republican governor gets an unprecedented chance to appoint a cabinet member with zero input from the Florida Legislature.
There are three elected members (Chief Financial Officer, Attorney General and Agriculture Commissioner) that serve on the Cabinet with Scott. The constitution envisioned those officials would be a check on Scott, assuring more oversight on land purchases, legal matters and agency appointments. But last week the elected Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater announced he is resigning to take a position at Florida Atlantic University. Now, it is up to Scott to appoint Atwater’s successor.
The choice for Scott comes down to what he values most. He could pick someone with political calculation about who could help him most if he does decide to run for the U.S. Senate in 2018 as has been speculated. Or he could settle on simply having a loyal confidant who would offer little drama at cabinet meetings. Or he could simply reward a close ally to give them an invaluable head start in running for CFO in 2018.
So who fits into those categories? Here’s a list of key contenders for the position and why or why they won’t get it.
Lenny Curry, Jacksonville Mayor
Pro: Curry is the former Republican Party of Florida chairman and is the mayor of the city with the largest population in Florida. He’s also from a county - Duval - that is a must win for Republicans to win statewide. He is also a CPA.
Con: Curry won the mayor’s race less than 2 years ago and has a term that runs until 2019. He would have to take a major pay cut from his $174,000 a year in Jacksonville to about $130,000 for CFO.
Tom Grady, a former state representative
Pro: He’s from Naples and is good friends with Scott who lives nearby. He was interim president of Citizens Property Insurance, important experience given the CFO overseas property insurance issues in the state.
Con: Grady’s short tenure at Citizens was beset with controversy related to travel expenses and hiring decisions. He was passed over for the full time position in 2012.
Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Lieutenant Governor
Pro: Scott has already vetted the Miami Republican once and appointed him to be his running mate for his 2014 election. Lopez-Cantera is from Miami-Dade and would give Scott a chance to appoint someone with a Cuban heritage to a key role, something that could help him win votes in Miami-Dade in 2018.
Con: Put kindly, Lopez-Cantera has been lightly used as lieutenant governor. Scott rarely holds events with his running mate. Also, does Scott want to look for a third lieutenant governor in six years?
Pat Neal, land developer
Pro: A wealthy friend and consistent donor to Scott’s past campaigns. He’s served on Rick Scott’s transition team and was board member of Florida TaxWatch who would be well aligned with Scott.
Con: Neal is a former state senator who was in office in the late 1970s and early 1980s as a Democrat. Also, Neal declared last year that he was no longer interested in running for CFO, a position he said he was publicly interested in back in 2014 when Atwater first considered leaving the position.
Joe Gruters, State Representative
Pro: Loyalist for Scott. The Sarasota Republican Party chairman has already been appointed by Scott in the past to the Florida State University Board of Trustees and has vociferously defended the Governor’s positions in the Florida House. Gruters is a certified public accountant.
Con: Picking Gruters would mean losing a big supporter in the House. And Gruters isn’t quite a political outsider, given he’s been the vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida, has run the Sarasota Republican Party for years, and has three times run for the Florida Legislature.
Teresa Jacobs, Orange County Mayor
Pro: Jacobs is a two term mayor for a county that is a critical piece of the Interstate 4 corridor. Jacobs has publicly defended Scott's response to the Pulse night club shootings and frequently appeared with the governor during the days and weeks after the tragedy.
Con: Jacobs still has nearly two years remaining on her term as mayor and would have to take pay cut from $156,000 a year to less than $130,000.
Tom Lee, State Senator
Pro: The former Senate President has already expressed interest in running for the position in 2018 and Scott could give him a headstart on any potential primary opponents by picking Lee.
Con: Lee has been part of the Florida Legislature for a long time and was budget chairman for the Senate last year when Scott did not get the tax cuts he asked for or the business incentives he sought.