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Despite a tight lid, picture of Gov.-elect Scott's administration emerges

Gov.-elect Rick Scott is introduced before the start of the Ford 400 auto race on Sunday in Homestead. Scott has taken few questions from the Florida media since his victory speech.

Associated Press

Gov.-elect Rick Scott is introduced before the start of the Ford 400 auto race on Sunday in Homestead. Scott has taken few questions from the Florida media since his victory speech.

TALLAHASSEE — Palace intrigue surrounds Rick Scott as he prepares to take control of the governor's office.

A virtual unknown when he announced his campaign in April, Scott has established few relationships in the state's political circles since winning the election.

"I will always have more in common with you than with any politician," the governor-elect said in a private speech to the state's business leaders Thursday.

Scott is soliciting cash for his inauguration from special interests and "Tallahassee insiders" he eschewed on the campaign trail, offering them VIP treatment in return for $25,000 contributions. He also wants them to pay for a "jobs tour" being planned for December.

But Scott was 3,000 miles away when the Legislature was sworn in last week and has taken few questions from Florida media since his victory speech. Few lobbyists know him, prompting jokes about where they can find his campaign bumper stickers.

"He's going to keep Tallahassee on its toes," said Enu Mainigi, a Washington lawyer heading Scott's transition team.

Despite the tight lid, a picture is starting to emerge of what Scott's administration might look like.

• • •

To turn his campaign promises into state policy, Scott has assembled an 86-member transition team with more appointments to come.

He has hired a New York-based search firm, the Gerson Group, to help find agency heads and directors with private-sector experience.

Scott packed his budget transition team with conservative economists and recruited loyalists from his former hospital chain to help streamline the state's health care spending.

And while Scott's policy team migrates to transition offices in Tallahassee, where a portrait of primary opponent Attorney General Bill McCollum hangs in the lobby, they're considering the budget savings from consolidating agencies.

Scott's political advisers, meanwhile, are debating which candidate to support as the new head of the Republican Party of Florida. The state party's 257-member executive committee, which includes Scott and 10 of his yet-to-be named appointments, will vote Jan. 15 on a new chairman.

The anticipation for Scott's arrival is to be expected.

Scott, 57, is the first Floridian since Francis Philip Fleming in 1888 to be elected governor in his first campaign for public office. He's just the second to win with less than 50 percent of the vote.

Scott has taken meetings with Gov. Charlie Crist and House Speaker Dean Cannon. He watched Florida State University's football team play Clemson along with Senate President Mike Haridopolos and their wives.

He's introducing himself to national political leaders, attending the Republican Governors Association meeting in San Diego and the National Governors Association meeting in Colorado Springs last week.

And Scott plans to hit the road in December to spend several days highlighting Florida businesses that have created jobs or been burdened by state regulation.

• • •

Scott's outsider status was an asset in the election, but starting from scratch in state politics has translated into some stumbles on the transition.

Chris Knight was let go from the team after the Times/Herald asked about his qualifications. Knight was forced to resign from the Florida Highway Patrol in 2007 after falsifying a memo and using it to justify the firing of a commander. The state eventually paid $525,000 to end a lawsuit filed by the commander.

"Col. Knight had a long and distinguished law enforcement career," Scott spokesman Brian Burgess said. "Due to the circumstances of his departure from the Florida Highway Patrol and the demands on members of the transition advisory committee, we mutually agreed to depart ways."

Scott's point man on public safety issues is Pasco County Sheriff Bob White, who has appealed to Crist and the Florida Cabinet for help in his fight with county commissioners to increase his department's $85.5 million budget.

Scott has blamed special interests and party insiders for wasteful spending in state government, but he put lobbyists Wayne Watters and Margaret Duggar and state party fundraiser Dr. Akshay Desai on his health care team.

Heading the budget team is Donna Arduin, well known in conservative economic circles for her opposition to taxes on wealth. She earned $180,000 in five months on Scott's campaign for writing his jobs plan.

Arduin was former Gov. Jeb Bush's first budget director. After working in a similar role for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, she returned to Florida in 2007 to write then-House Speaker Marco Rubio's plan to increase state sales taxes and eliminate property taxes.

Heading the transition team on health issues is another former Bush acolyte, Alan Levine. Now a vice president with Health Management Associates, a Naples-based operator of 58 hospitals in 15 states, he was most recently health secretary under Gov. Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, where he helped reduce the Department of Health and Hospitals' work force by 25 percent.

Levine oversaw Florida's Medicaid program when the federal government gave the state a waiver in 2005 to overhaul the huge health insurance program.

Lawmakers are now looking at ways to expand that pilot program, which shifts patients away from the fee-for service model and into managed care plans such as HMOs.

Levine, who worked at Bayonet Point Medical Center when Scott's Columbia hospital chain took it over in 1992, said Scott was "extremely metric driven" and expected the new governor to apply the same philosophy to state government and its projected $2.5 billion budget gap.

"We've got to be creative given the budget challenges of this state," Levine said. "We need to look at what programs are affecting the most people and how to get the most impact for every dollar spent."

Times/Herald staff writers Steve Bousquet and Mary Ellen Klas and Times researchers Carolyn Edds and Natalie A. Watson contributed to this report.

Despite a tight lid, picture of Gov.-elect Scott's administration emerges 11/21/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 22, 2010 6:08am]
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