Gov. Rick Scott is not a professional politician, so the idea of horse-trading with state legislators is awkward for him, especially when it involves groveling for votes from fellow Republicans.
So Scott hired a skilled horse-trader, Steve MacNamara, as his chief of staff. But when MacNamara tried a game of give-and-take with the Senate on prison privatization, it failed miserably with the dean of the Legislature, Republican Sen. Dennis Jones of Seminole. The result left MacNamara angry at Jones, a politician he has known for decades.
"Apparently it's a one-way street. I was disappointed," MacNamara says. "Horse-trading is part of the process. He was not willing to listen and not willing to trade."
Jones wanted a couple of favors from the governor, and Scott said sure.
The senator wanted his son Rod reappointed to the state Board of Chiropractic Medicine, and Scott did it. Jones also wanted some people reappointed to the board of trustees for St. Petersburg College, where he works, and Scott chose two of the four people Jones favored, Deveron Gibbons and Ken Burke.
Now it was Scott's turn to ask Jones for help. The governor and MacNamara desperately needed Jones' vote for one of Scott's legislative priorities: SB 2038, privatizing dozens of prisons in South Florida.
Jones was a big opponent of privatization — he called it "a kick in the teeth" to state workers who haven't had a pay raise in five years — but MacNamara also knew that Scott had done favors for Jones.
"That's the reason I went to Dennis Jones, because Dennis Jones had come to us," MacNamara says. "The governor was, 'Gosh, we did him a favor, maybe he'll do us a favor.' "
It was horse-trading time, but Jones was not about to play political games with privatizing Florida's prisons. He cast his vote as part of a bipartisan majority that killed privatization on a 21-19 Senate floor vote on Feb. 14.
Jones said he was upset that MacNamara wanted him to come to the governor's office an hour before the privatization bill was to be debated on the Senate floor. He said it would be a waste of time to hear the pitch.
"I would stand by that again today," says Jones, who strongly opposed past efforts to privatize the state lottery and Alligator Alley, the toll road that crosses the Everglades.
Jones has a long memory. He said that last year, Scott vetoed some of his line-item projects and the first he learned of it was when he read it in the newspaper.
"I would agree it's a two-way street," Jones says. "But I would say we've been back and forth."
MacNamara says it's frustrating to see a Republican governor blown off by a Republican senator.
"Rick Scott is not a career politician," MacNamara says. "He believes that friends should at least listen to friends."
The session is in its final days, and Jones opposes another bill Scott supports: SB 1718, the "parent trigger" bill that allows parents to take over failing schools and turn them into charter schools.
"I'll probably get called down to the governor's office again," Jones said. "Probably won't go again."
Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.