TALLAHASSEE — Former governor and now-U.S. Sen. Rick Scott appeared fleetingly in Tallahassee on Tuesday, sitting next to Gov. Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis for just under an hour before he left to take his private plane to Washington.
Scott ended up missing DeSantis' speech, where he was praised for bringing a "laser-like focus" on job creation during his eight years governing Florida. DeSantis tweaked his pre-written remarks to tell the crowd that Scott had to leave early for his own 4 p.m. swearing-in ceremony, but wished him well.
It was a small moment, but not the first time Scott disrupted his successor's plans to take the reins.
At 6 p.m. Friday, Scott announced the appointments of more than 70 people to various boards and committees. Then, on Monday, mere hours before DeSantis technically became governor, Scott issued several more appointments, bringing the grand total to 84.
DeSantis told reporters Monday that he will "definitely rescind" some of the "lame duck appointments," and that he's "going to look at all of them."
Behind the scenes, Scott's handiwork received a cooler reception. U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Panhandle Republican who served as a co-chair on DeSantis' transition team, said the team was "frequently frustrated" with Scott. Gaetz said he was personally "put off" by Scott's flurry of last-minute appointments.
"When he stood up [to leave during DeSantis' inaugural ceremony] I was wondering if he was running back to the office to make nine or 10 more appointments," Gaetz said.
It's all part of what insiders see as political arm-wrestling as both men jockey for the spot as Florida's top Republican, possibly in case of a wide open 2024 presidential race.
DeSantis only has the power to rescind a handful of the appointments, but they're the most high-profile ones which require confirmation by the Senate. That includes two to the state Board of Education and one to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. DeSantis is currently weighing whether he will rescind a few choice appointments or all of the ones he has power over, and then re-appoint the ones he likes.
"He should pull back every single appointment," Gaetz said. "That's the advice I gave him."
It's not that unusual for a lame duck governor to make appointments on his way out the door. But the sheer number of Scott's announcements — plus the importance of those needed to be confirmed by the Senate — amounted to a major slight to the DeSantis team, which had asked Scott to refrain from the picks.
Adding insult to injury, one of the major appointments, developer Carlos Beruff to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, ran against DeSantis in the Republican primary for Sen. Marco Rubio's seat in 2016. (When Rubio dropped his presidential bid and announced he would run to stay in the Senate, DeSantis dropped his bid while Beruff remained and lost in the primary).
Other picks could be more agreeable. Andrew Pollack, the father of Parkland shooting victim Meadow Pollack, has become highly active in advocating for better school safety. Scott appointed him to the state Board of Education.
Scott told the Tampa Bay Times in Washington Tuesday that he hopes all his appointments are kept in place by DeSantis.
"I tried to find really good people so my hope would be that he would (keep them)," Scott said. "That's his choice, he has a right to pick the ones that have to go back through the Senate. But I think there's thousands of appointments I make and so I just try to find good people because every month we had openings."
When asked a follow-up question about the timing of the final appointments and whether that infringed on the DeSantis administration, Scott declined to answer and got into an elevator.
The transition tension hasn't escaped notice by lawmakers in Tallahassee.
State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, said Scott's actions were certainly unusual but that he had "no obligations to anyone to stand down."
"He had decided at some point … that he would be governor until the last day. And so he has," Lee said. "He has used every opportunity to maximize his political influence and that is somewhat unprecedented. But there's no question that it's his prerogative."
Meanwhile, Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, said he appreciates how DeSantis won't simply accept Scott's picks because the two men are from the same party.
"So much of this process has become so partisan and political and the attitude that I think developed was that if it was part of your team that did it before you shouldn't undo it when you come in," he said. "I commend Gov. DeSantis, if he sees something that he thinks should go a different way, he is now the governor of the state of Florida."
Miami Herald reporter David Smiley contributed to this report. Steve Contorno reported from Washington, D.C.