Lenny Curry vs. Pat Neal for Florida CFO
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Manatee County developer Pat Neal, in that order, are widely seen as Rick Scott's most likely picks for Chief Financial Officer -- a stepping stone away from governor -- after Republican Jeff Atwater steps down after the legislative session ends (knock on wood) in a couple weeks. Yes, state Rep. and Sarasota GOP Chairman Joe Gruters and others are still in the mix, but Curry and Neal are the most common predictions we hear from folks in Rick Scott world.
Whom would you choose if you were Rick Scott, preparing to embark on a tough U.S. Senate campaign in 2018? Clearly Scott not only wants someone who won't cause problems for him on the Florida Cabinet but also someone sharing the ballot who will help him come election time. Let's consider the plusses and minuses.
Curry pros: A telegenic 46 years old, Curry offers a more youthful and vigorous image than the energetic, but 68-year-old Neal. The mayor is poised to enact the kind of significant pension reform -- effectively doing away with pensions for new employeers - that had eluded conservatives in Tallahassee. The former GOP Chairman has connections with grass roots activists across Florida. Curry, who met today with the governor, has been a formidable fundraiser in donor-rich northeast Florida, breaking records and raising about $7 million for his 2015 mayoral campaign, 2016 pension reform ballot initiative, and other political activities. His internal polling shows 70 percent of Jacksonville voters approve of his performance.
Curry cons: Less than two years after winning office, he's ready to leave?? Curry has wisely downplayed the possibility of a CFO appointment, but Republicans put a great deal of toil, time, and treasure into unseating a Democratic mayor of Jacksonville to see their rookie mayor aim for a promotion less than two years after taking office and six years before he is term-limited. Yes, Curry was an accountant but having a resume dominated by being chief GOP party hack and then mayor for half a term is not ideal.
Neal pros: The developer of some 12,000 homes 80 communities along the Gulf Coast, Neal is the sort of enormously successful CEO Scott tends to admire most -- and was an early and generous supporter of Scott's campaigns. Neal is also well known and respected among business elites throughout Florida. Most important of all, he is capable of spending tens of millions of dollars of his own money to help Republicans up and down the ballot in 2018.
Neal cons: Scott likes to sniff about "political insiders," and Neal is no political outsider. He served in the Florida House from 1974 through 1978 and in the Florida Senate from 1978 through 1986 and led the Florida Christian Coalition. Neal supported Charlie Crist for U.S. Senate over Marco Rubio attended a fundraising reception for then-independent U.S. Senate candidate Charlie Crist, but says he actively supported Republican nominee Rubio inthat 2010 general election. He was a Wharton Business Schoolmate of Donald Trump, whom Neal has described as a big time jerk. That could be a little awkward for big time Trump fan Scott, altough distancing Republicans from the president also might be helpful in 2018. Scott allies also speculate that Neal might be less submissive to the governor than Curry should disagreements arise on the cabinet.
Last point: Scott has plenty of options for CFO; Curry and Neal just happen to be the ones we hear most about. Don't be surprised if someone completely off our radar gets the nod.