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  1. Florida Politics

Steve Bousquet: Tampa Bay business leader demands Gov. Rick Scott cure region's 'black eye'

Published Oct. 27, 2015

In Tallahassee, Gov. Rick Scott has his own built-in cheering section.

It's called the Florida Chamber of Commerce. The statewide business group speaks approvingly, and often, of Scott's support for creating jobs and cutting taxes.

But the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce must not have gotten the "We Love Rick" memo.

The Tampa Chamber's CEO, Bob Rohrlack, fired off a letter to Scott that didn't mince words, telling the governor he messed up big time in appointing Sam Rashid to the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority and now must make amends.

"Your previous decision has given Tampa Bay a black eye and caused unnecessary controversy in our community," Rohrlack told Scott in a letter Friday. "As you consider your selection, know that all of Tampa Bay is watching."

Rohrlack told Scott it's time to "show your leadership," and he added: "We will be watching."

Rashid, 53, of Valrico, one of Hillsborough's most influential Republicans, caused a furor in September when he referred to a female consultant with a lucrative government public relations contract as a "tax-payer subsidized slut" on his Facebook account. He later apologized and said he meant the derogatory comment about Beth Leytham in a political, not sexual, context.

He offered to resign if that's what Scott wanted, but Scott took no action and said he expected Rashid to resign. The controversy lingered for weeks until Rashid finally quit Oct. 9.

It wasn't the first incident. Rashid earlier called some local judges "dumbasses." That resulted in a resignation, too, from a board advising U.S. senators on federal judicial vacancies.

In his letter, Rohrlack cited the importance of Tampa International Airport to the economic strength of Tampa Bay. He instructed Scott to choose someone who won't use the appointment as "a platform for their personal political views or an avenue for airing personal attacks … an appointee above reproach that brings smart business experience to providing strategic direction to one of our community's most important assets."

Leytham is a former vice president for public affairs at the Tampa chamber.

Asked for a response to Rohrlack's letter, Scott's office said: "This five-member board oversees millions in tax dollars and Gov. Scott wants to take the needed time to find the most qualified candidate who will serve in the best interest of taxpayers and families."

Unlike previous governors, Scott came to power as an outsider, and he has had to stitch together a support network in places like Tampa. It's evident in the appointments process.

Scott is not known for speed in filling vacancies to boards and commissions. It's not unusual for openings to languish for months.

For example, it has been nearly five months since the terms of four of his appointees to the state Commission on Ethics expired, but they have not been replaced, even though a stack of applicants sits on Scott's desk.

"With one appointment, you can get things back to business," Rohrlack told the governor. "Make the right appointment and do it quickly."

Rashid is gone. But it sounds like it could be a while before someone warms his seat.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.