Panuccio says exit unrelated to his shaky Senate confirmation
One of Gov. Rick Scott's most trusted advisers, Jesse Panuccio, got a warm sendoff at the year's final Cabinet meeting Tuesday. As a memento, Scott gave the departing director of the Department of Economic Opportunity a U.S. flag that had flown over the state Capitol.
In a Times/Herald interview, Panuccio said his sudden resignation, announced Dec. 4, had nothing to do with the reality that his confirmation in the Senate was in trouble for the second year in a row. He would have lost his $141,000-a-year job if senators didn't confirm him in 2016.
"It's not related," Panuccio said. "Look, I know the politics of the moment are what you guys have to write about, but if you step back and think about people in public life, these jobs are high pressure. They're intense."
Panuccio had a series of tense exchanges with senators over job recruitment, unemployment fraud, and the troubled DEO benefits website, mostly on a budget subcommittee headed by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. He blasted Panuccio for "arrogance" at an October hearing and voted against his confirmation at a 2015 hearing.
Another panel member, Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said Panuccio "stonewalled us." No votes from those two along with opposition by three of the panel's four Democrats would likely have blocked Panuccio's path to confirmation, but he said it was largely the work of the capitol press corps in Tallahassee.
"Look," he said. "I know that in political press stories, you have to focus on conflict. When there's a policy disagreement, and maybe a back and forth, that may well just be good faith and part of the debate process. But that's what gets written about."
A Harvard Law School graduate, Panuccio has been rumored to be interested in a judicial appointment from Scott, which likely wouldn't be a problem. Panuccio also was Scott's legal counsel for two years before he took the DEO post in 2013.
"No, not right now. Not at this point in my career," Panuccio said when asked if he'll seek a judgeship. "But one day, who knows?" For now, he said, he's planning an extended vacation: "What I'd like to do is decompress for awhile and spend some time with my family ... I don't rule anything out."
Because of his closeness to Scott, Panuccio also will find his services in demand as a lobbyist, though any future clients would be wise to use him very strategically in the Senate for now.
Panuccio referred questions about his successor to Scott's office. Two names have emerged: Cissy Proctor, Panuccio's chief of staff, and her predecessor, Chad Poppell, who was DEO chief of staff before he became secretary at the Department of Management Services a year ago. Scott's office said Panuccio's replacement will be announced before Jan. 8, Panuccio's last day on the job. "Jesse will be missed," Scott said.