John Thrasher as Scott's No. 2? 'Not going to speculate on that'
It has been nearly eight months since Jennifer Carroll resigned as Florida lieutenant governor, and Gov. Rick Scott appears to be in no hurry to name her replacement. But speculation persists that Scott and his top aide have quietly settled on state Sen. John Thrasher of St. Augustine as his new partner, and Thrasher won't completely rule out his interest.
"I'm not going to speculate on that. I'm happy being a senator," Thrasher said Monday. About the chatter that he's Scott's No. 1 choice, he said: "It's all news to me ... I don't know where the speculation's coming from. Nobody has directly contacted me from the governor's office."
As chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, Thrasher wields plenty of power in the state Capitol. But within a year, control of the Senate will shift to Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who last year survived an attempted coup by Thrasher to keep his grip on the presidency. It would surprise nobody if Gardiner has someone other than Thrasher in mind for the agenda-setting Rules chairmanship.
Scott's chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, told The Buzz Friday that it would be "not true" to report that Thrasher's selection is imminent. Scott's office said nothing has changed as of Monday. The governor's office dismissed the notion that Scott may want to announce his choice by Friday, just before leaving for a week-long trade mission to Japan, and in an effort to steal the spotlight from Charlie Crist's candidacy announcement next Monday.
Thrasher has the respect not only of Scott, but especially Hollingsworth, a close friend who's in charge of the search. Thrasher also is a consummate deal-maker and effective fund-raiser who played a pivotal role in orchestrating the ouster of former state GOP chairman Jim Greer, who was Crist's hand-picked choice for party chairman.
But Thrasher, 69, a multimillionaire who lives in St. Augustine, would not help Scott expand his base: he's a safe establishment pick who would appease centrists and help Scott govern, as opposed to enhancing his re-election prospects.
After leaving office, Thrasher made millions as a super-lobbyist with Southern Strategy Group, making him an easy mark as a symbol of all that's wrong with Tallahassee and its revolving door culture.
Thrasher's past controversies also will be gleefully recycled by Scott's critics, too. He was twice punished for ethics violations and oversaw a $6 million refurbishing of the House chamber when he was speaker (1998-2000), but that's ancient news.
If he's about to be picked as Scott's running mate, Thrasher said, it's news to him. "I think the Florida Senate is really a fun place to be," he said. "That's where I am now, and that's where I think I'm going to be happy staying."
Now, the plot thickens: Thrasher's departure from the Senate would open his seat and demand a special election, so it could alter the balance of power for control of the chamber in the 2016-18 term, when Republicans Jack Latvala and Joe Negron are both seeking the presidency. (Thrasher is aligned with Negron).
The first reporter to publicly float Thrasher as a plausible L.G. was the Times' Adam C. Smith, in late August. Scott has to choose someone sooner or later. He's being advised by Republican allies to choose an L.G. soon or wait until next May, after the 2014 legislative session ends, by which time the campaign will be heating up.