You can tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps.
And you can tell a lot about a town by what the people who control it think is acceptable conduct.
Come the case of Gov. Rick Scott, who has needed more on-the-job training than a bear in a ballet troupe.
He came into office believing he could simply tell people what to do and they would jump. That he could treat state employees and welfare recipients with contempt. That he could transform Florida’s gorgeous state parks into profit centers. That he could cut more than a billion dollars from the state education budget and then fail to restore all of it and claim with a straight face that he had put more money in the schools.
The people who are really in charge—the Legislature and the Republican party—began to squirm. Were they looking out for the public?
They were reading Scott’s poll numbers and wondering if the public’s breathtaking dislike of him would rub off on them. And their egos were getting bruised because he was trying to boss them around, too.
Enter Steve MacNamara, the new chief of staff dispatched to save Scott from himself and keep the Republicans happy. MacNamara started out giving the governor fashion tips. Take off the suit, MacNamara said. Put on a polo shirt.
The governor must have then dozed off. For MacNamara soon went to town, driving out top state officials, installing his own favorites, making sure nobody got to Scott except by passing through him, looking for a new job on state time, and lest we forget, redoing his own office.
MacNamara had been chief of staff to both former state House speaker John Thrasher and Senate president Mike Haridopolos. Only La-Z-Boys are cozier. It turned out that while MacNamara was working for the Senate president, he steered a $5.5-million contract to the business partner of a close friend and made sure a $360,000 no-bid contract went to another friend.
Did anybody in the Legislature make a peep about Scott’s ethically-challenged hire?
The governor who once vowed to have lobbyists crying in their cocktails suddenly sounded as though he was standing in a school yard. He complained that the press was being mean to the poor boy—a boy pulling down $189,000 a year.
The story ended last Saturday, when MacNamara resigned. Scott has hired a new chief of staff. Perhaps this one—Adam Hollingsworth from Jacksonville—will take the governor aside and give him some more helpful hints on leadership, now that a Tea Party dictatorship and old-fashioned corruption have failed.
In the meantime, if you were looking for a moral to this story, you will be disappointed. There is only this: the more things change in Tallahassee, the more they stay the same.
Mary Jo Melone, former columnist with the Tampa Bay Times, is a writer in Tampa.
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