Scurry and speculation over open Cabinet seat grows
In Florida, there are few top tier elected positions available at the state level for ambitious pols. Until recently, the three Cabinet races locked up by incumbents promised to be a snoozer this election year for all but the very top of the ticket -- the governor's race.
Then chief financial officer Jeff Atwater announced he's ready to ditch his $129,000 state job for one that makes nearly three times the salary: president of Florida Atlantic University. The search committee on Monday picked Atwater, and former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux among 10 candidates to interview. If Atwater is named to the post, the governor could appoint a temporary replacement and open the door to politicians from both parties to scurry for the open seat.
Here's the latest line-up of who's considering the job should Atwater leave:
* Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee: "There are a lot of moves on that board before it before that happens and all of that is out of my control. If there’s a vacancy I would consider it."
* House Speaker Will Weatherford: “It's too early to speculate on a position that isn't even vacant,” spokesman Ryan Duffy said via email. “The Speaker is focused on preparing for the upcoming Session and has not given much thought on his next step beyond then.”
* Senate President Don Gaetz: “Several people have called with words of encouragement, but he is hesitant to weigh in on what is currently a hypothetical scenario,” Gaetz spokeswoman Katie Betta said via email. “Right now President Gaetz is focused on the three years left in his term in the Senate, and particularly this last session as Senate President.”
* State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who ran unsuccessfully for chief financial officer in 2006, said the decision should be left to the governor but that he felt he would make a good fit. “It’s a job that matches my skill set very well and my professional experience,” Lee said. The Brandon Republican has also been considered as a possible running mate for Scott this fall. Lee said he said he sees pros and cons to both jobs.
* State Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said he is interested but: “I’m holding back from making any kinds of big decisions like that until the situation becomes clear,” he said.
* State Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, who also applied for the FAU job but was rejected by the search committee, is also being heavily recruited for the post said Sen. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek. Waldman, who had been recruited to run against Atwater, said he is not interested in the post.
* Pat Neal, a developer and former legislator who was already making plans to run in 2018 told the News Service of Florida: "I'm running for CFO whether appointed or not." Neal, who served in the House from 1974 to 1978 and in the Senate from 1978 to 1986, said he would help bankroll his own campaign, but has the kind of political and financial experience that such candidates often don't have.
-- Mary Ellen Klas and Tia Mitchell