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Gov. Rick Scott's biggest failure: Chief of Staff Steve MacNamara

Rick Scott’s biggest failure as governor has a name: Steve MacNamara.

An at-times ethically challenged Tallahassee insider, MacNamara was hired by the neophyte governor to avoid the very type of major embarrassment Scott suffered last week.

Last Tuesday at a Miami Freedom Tower event, Scott ceremonially signed a law cracking down on firms that do business in Cuba and Syria. But he then issued a letter that called the very law he signed unenforceable and unconstitutional because it infringes on foreign trade.

The about-face transformed Scott from Cuban exiles’ toast of the town into a suspected foe politically undermining their bill to help big business.

The Cuban-American Republican lawmakers at Scott’s side were blindsided by his letter. They wondered if his office was double dealing. Even the team supporting Attorney General Pam Bondi — Scott’s most-powerful and helpful elected ally in the state — is suspicious.

So the governor lost face with big political allies. His poll numbers remain dangerously low. But MacNamara gets to keep his $189,000 annual salary to keep Scott’s administration running smoothly.

“Clearly,” said U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, “the governor’s staff has not served him well and has really hurt him.”

The Rick Scott of 2010 could have predicted as much when he campaigned against Tallahassee insiders. But after a few rookie missteps, Scott last year hired MacNamara from the office of the Senate President, who incidentally had one of the most politically embarrassing years under MacNamara’s watch.

In the Senate, the AP reported Friday, MacNamara "helped steer a no-bid consulting contract worth $360,000 to a friend who now leads a task force rooting out state government waste."

Questions about MacNamara’s integrity go back a decade. In between his stints as staff chief to the Florida House Speaker in 1999 and 2000, MacNamara secretly worked out a lobbying gig to help persuade the state to reverse course and permit a cement plant on the scenic Ichetucknee River. More than two years later, the Commission on Ethics cleared him after another lobbyist and MacNamara ally changed his story.

Once on Scott’s team, MacNamara the insider got to work.

MacNamara walled off the governor from others, played agency heads against each other, hired loyalists at six-figure salaries (paying them more than women in the same jobs), forced out his rivals and helped out his buddies, according to a Herald/Times story Sunday. Tea partiers have expressed concern, noting the governor has vetoed less government spending — a favorite Tallahassee endeavor — when compared to Scott’s first year without MacNamara.

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