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Don Gaetz likes Jimmy Patronis as CFO -- but really likes Tom Lee

Don GaetzFormer Senate President Don Gaetz joined the growing list of Republicans commending Public Service Commissioner Jimmy Patronis, whom the governor appointed today as the state's next Chief Financial Officer, replacing Jeff Atwater who is resigning to work in academia.

"He would be eminently qualified,'' Gaetz said Friday, reached after a fishing trip in Canada. He noted that he has known Patronis 10 years, that his son, Matt, was positioned to run against him in the state Senate seat Gaetz was vacating and that he sees Patronis' skills as a restaurant owner and manager helpful to being the man in charge of overseeing one of the state's most important agencies.

"He spent his entire life working and expanding and managing one of Florida's most successful small businesses,'' Gaetz said. "It's a very complex and very successful business. Jimmy has been pivotal in the expansion and success of the business."

But Gaetz has a unique perspective. Gaetz is business partners with the other likely candidate in the race, Democrat and former state senator and Yahoo executive Jeremy Ring but hints that he'd prefer another person -- who is not an announced candidate -- former Senate President Tom Lee. 

 "If the governor doesn't appoint Jimmy as a caretaker and chooses not to run -- even though Jeremy is a great friend of mine -- I would certainly be supporting Tom Lee,'' Gaetz said. 

He said he hasn't spoken to Lee, now a senator from Thonotosassa, who unsuccessfully ran against Democrat Alex Sink for the CFO job in 2006, about the job but would like him to consider it. 

"I've had the chance to see Tom operate as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and also as a highly successful business owner and I think Tom Lee would be an outstanding CFO,'' Gaetz said. "He has the experience, the maturity and understanding of how government should work That would make him a great CFO."

The job requires innovation and an ability to take the bureaucratic and political establishment -- particularly the lobbying interests that have an outsized-influence on the contracting process, Gaetz said.

Atwater tried to increase the financial accountability and oversight role of the department "but he hasn't gone as far as he would like to because he hasn't had enough support from the Legislature and governor to make the innovative changes that would result in more financial accountability and more smart contracting,'' Gaetz said. "And I think Tom Lee would be a perfect fit for that."

Read our stories on this here: Florida CFO: Flaws in contracts could be costing taxpayers millions of dollars

Atwater hopes to reform flawed contracting process by exposing it to sunlight

Cashing in on state contracts is a Florida growth industry