Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Tallahassee's training ground for cronyism

Sure, at first blush it might appear that Rick Scott is the all-powerful grand and glorious governor of Florida. But as it turns out, the Caesar of Tallahassee is little more than the Wizard of Facade.

The real power behind the throne, the chap who seems to be in control of things, is the governor's unelected fixer, chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth, who makes Machiavelli look like the palace court jester.

Look closely, and you wouldn't be surprised to see more marionette strings attached to Scott than Howdy Doody, with Hollingsworth orchestrating the puppet's dance.

It was with great fanfare that Scott, only days into his administration, recklessly rejected $2.4 billion in federal transportation money to develop a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. The project would have eased congestion along the I-4 corridor and created thousands of construction jobs.

The project, or so the tea party-inspired talking points fed to Scott dictated, was an egregious intrusion of the evil federal government into state affairs and a waste of money. So confident was Scott of high-speed rail as a pathway to perdition that he rejected the money even before state transportation officials could present him with an analysis of the project.

At the time, the architect of Scott's opposition to high-speed rail was Hollings­worth, then an adviser to the governor on transportation issues.

But as the Naples Daily News has reported, Hollingsworth then went to work for Parallel Infrastructure, a company owned by Florida East Coast Industries, which also owns All Aboard Florida, the project to develop a private rail line between Miami and Orlando.

Although Hollingsworth had been an ardent opponent of the federal high-speed rail project, he turned into a veritable Henry B. Plant lover of choo-choos as he lobbied Scott's office to get behind All Aboard Florida, which when completed is expected to generate $170 million in revenues to the company.

It also helped to make Hollingsworth's lobbying job easier that he had helped pick Ananth Prasad for the job of Florida transportation secretary. Fate.

And Hollingsworth's employment fortunes only got better after Scott appointed him to become chief of staff, or Chief Ear Whisperer to the governor.

Little surprise then, as the Daily News reported, that Scott absolutely swooned over the All Aboard Florida initiative, fully swallowing the gibberish like a fully hooked grouper that All Aboard Florida would not cost the state so much as a bus token in taxpayer money.

Let us not forget, Hollingsworth had worked for Parallel (Universe?) Infrastructure. And thus, pay no mind the $1.5 billion federal loan that All Aboard Florida wants. Avert your eyes from the more than $250 million in state money that has been set aside for projects that will assist this train. Ignore the $44 million in direct state-funded grants the company plans to seek.

It's a tossup whether Hollingsworth depends more on his iPhone or a lube can as he makes his way around Tallahassee making sure Scott's automaton gear wheels remain well oiled.

Perhaps nothing best embodies the Scott administration's willful disconnect from reality and/or truth than the fairy tale propagated by his Renfield that All Aboard Florida is a pinnacle of privately funded capitalism unburdened by the oppression of government intrusion. That's only true if you pretend the roughly $1.8 billion in public monies that could wind up associated with the project come from the government of Brigadoon.

Then again, Tallahassee is truly a mystical place, where a governor's chief of staff can zig-zag in and out of government — advising on transportation hires one minute, working for a deep-pocketed transportation company the next and then parachuting back into government as Scott's most influential factotum to help a former employer develop a mass transit rail line.

Only in the Potemkin Village of Tallahassee could a company claim it was creating a unique private sector rail system devoid of government interference while it was hoping to cash taxpayer checks, coordinating virtually every aspect of its development with Florida's secretary of transportation and vetting every public pronouncement with a former employee who also happened to be Scott's muse in chief.

There is more home cooking going here than pot-luck night at the Waltons.

As recently as last month, anyone complaining about All Aboard Florida to the governor's office received a cheesy form letter in return, still insisting: "The state has no involvement in this railway."

This happens when a self-deluding governor has his chief of staff book a seat for him on the Last Train to Cronyville.

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