Gov. Rick Scott didn't reach too deeply into Florida's talent pool in appointing his friend Jimmy Patronis to fill a vacancy as the state's new chief financial officer. This is an exceptionally weak choice for a Cabinet post that requires a sophisticated understanding of banking and other financial services, and it reflects Scott's penchant for valuing loyalty and political expediency over competency.
Scott turned to his usual B-list of supporters in appointing Patronis, a former undistinguished state legislator from the Panhandle, as CFO. Patronis succeeds Jeff Atwater, who resigned from the post he was first elected to in 2010 to become an administrator at Florida Atlantic University. It's no surprise Scott put Patronis in the job; he is a strong supporter who backed Scott during his first run for governor seven years ago when many in the Republican establishment were behind then-Attorney General Bill McCollum in the primary.
Patronis' backing opened doors for Scott, and he repaid the favor after term limits forced Patronis from the Florida House in 2014. The governor appointed him to the Public Service Commission, the state board that regulates public utilities, where he routinely sided with utilities over consumers. Scott also appointed to Patronis to the Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years.
The previous two chief financial officers, Atwater and Democrat Alex Sink, were former bankers who held leadership positions. Atwater also had served as president of the Florida Senate. Patronis helps manage a family seafood restaurant. He was reviled by environmentalists during his time in the Legislature and brought no background in utility regulation to his PSC job. Patronis conceded Monday that "I've got a lot to get up to speed on with the CFO's office." No kidding.
Aside from managing state finances, the CFO is one of three members of the Cabinet who sets policy on a wide range of issues, from the purchase of environmental land to the restoration of civil rights for felons. Patronis sidestepped whether he plans to seek a full, four-year term in 2018. But Scott clearly sees Patronis as a plus for the Republican ticket as the governor looks to challenge Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson next year.
These shameless displays of political patronage are one reason why public trust in government is near historic lows. Scott had an obligation to find the best and the brightest to fill this vacancy, and there were plenty of viable choices who are no strangers to the governor. Instead, he used a Cabinet post to advance his own political career even as he fashions himself as a political outsider. Let's hope there is no banking collapse or crisis involving the state's finances over the next 18 months, and Patronis can go back to selling grilled shrimp and seared sea scallops on Panama City Beach.