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  1. Environment

New state wildlife agency official has no wildlife background, but he did help get Gov. Ron DeSantis elected

The governor's deputy campaign manager now has a $91,000-a-year job with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission — one apparently created for him.
Published Jan. 25, 2019

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a new deputy chief of staff with an unusual background. He has never worked for a wildlife agency before, or for any other state agency.

He's Jordan Wiggins, 33. His two most recent jobs involved helping get Gov. Ron DeSantis elected and then helping run his inauguration.

Wiggins has been a political operative for a decade. Prior to serving as DeSantis' deputy campaign manager and then the director of operations for the inaugural celebration, he worked for Marco Rubio's doomed presidential campaign, as well as serving as national field director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

He has a bachelor's degree from Western Michigan University in international relations,.

He started his $91,000 job on Tuesday, according to wildlife agency spokeswoman Susan Neel.

"We are pleased that Jordan joined our FWC team," Neel said in a statement emailed to the Times. "We know his professional background will enhance our ability to fulfill our conservation mission."

According to Neel, "Jordan is in an overlap position with David Rathke who is currently serving as our Chief Operations Officer." Rathke previously worked as chief of staff at the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Neel's new boss, wildlife commission chief of staff Jennifer Fitzwater, has a master's degree in wildlife science from Auburn University, spent two and a half years as chief of staff at the state Department of Environmental Protection and has been employed by the wildlife commission since 2013.

In an email Fitzwater sent to the staff, she urged them to welcome her new deputy. She wrote that Wiggins "has excellent operational as well as strategic planning skills." She promised he "will provide valuable insight into a number of our initiatives."

"Perhaps just as importantly," she added, "Jordan is an avid bowhunter and can be found in the woods in his free time."

Repeated attempts to contact Wiggins were unsuccessful Friday.

Wiggins' lack of experience and education in dealing with wildlife management seems to contrast with what DeSantis recently said regarding who he is picking to fill important Florida government jobs.

PRIOR COVERAGE: DeSantis' pick for Florida Supreme Court has never been a judge before.

"I don't want to just be putting people in from some good ol' boys network," DeSantis told a congregation at the First Baptist Church Piney Grove in Lauderdale Lakes on Martin Luther King Day.

In a Jan. 10 speech about saving the Everglades and other environmental issues, DeSantis emphasized his interest in ensuring the use of sound science at the state's environmental agencies. Frank Jackalone of the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club said putting someone like Wiggins into such a position at the state's wildlife agency runs counter to that promise.

PRIOR COVERAGE: DeSantis offers sweeping environmental program.

"The appointment of somebody who doesn't have any wildlife experience would make one wonder whether DeSantis was being genuine," Jackalone said.

Other environmental activists were more circumspect. Julie Wraithmell of Audubon Florida said she would "look forward to meeting him."

Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Contact Craig Pittman at craig@tampabay.com . Follow @craigtimes.

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