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  1. Florida Politics

Bousquet: Where's the backbone of Florida's Cabinet?

Published Dec. 16, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott was a true laggard at the polls in November. The numbers speak for themselves.

All three of Scott's fellow statewide elected Republicans got more votes — which is why their current behavior is so puzzling.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater received nearly half a million more votes than Scott. The same goes for Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. And Attorney General Pam Bondi got about 400,000 votes more than Scott.

It's true that all three Cabinet members had historically weak opposition, a sign of how inept Democrats are at fielding credible candidates for these obscure but very powerful statewide positions.

Here's the larger point: All three have stronger political support than Scott, and they should have the nerve to stand up to him in a crisis. But they haven't.

It remains a mystery why the gang of three had no backbone to stand up to Scott and publicly demand an explanation as to why his office decided to drive out Gerald Bailey, the respected commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

As Bailey tells it, he got an unannounced visit Dec. 16 from Scott's top lawyer, general counsel Pete Antonacci, who told the FDLE chief he had the "concurrence" of all three Cabinet members.

Really?

Why would Atwater, Bondi and Putnam so casually throw away their political power and their integrity?

Florida law is specific.

It says that the head of the FDLE "shall be appointed by the governor with the approval of three members of the Cabinet and subject to confirmation by the Senate. The executive director shall serve at the pleasure of the Governor and Cabinet."

In another section of the state laws, it says that the head of a state agency reports to "the board under which direct administration of the department is placed by statute." That's clear. Scott can't fire Bailey by himself, but he did.

None of the three Cabinet members raised a peep of protest, and all three have said, in various ways, that they didn't know Scott was going to ax Bailey.

That's not good enough.

The three Cabinet members are independently elected statewide officials, and each has his or her own constituency.

"I have a great deal of respect for Commissioner Bailey," said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, a former state prosecutor. "But I must defer to the governor and the three Cabinet members about this situation. That is in their purview, and that is their job."

Well said, senator.

We're in a time in which Bondi, with the best of intentions, parades homeless dogs through Cabinet meetings as she tries to get them adopted.

The people of Florida deserve better.

They deserve a Cabinet in which powerful elected officials hold the governor personally accountable for the backroom sacking of a respected law enforcement official.

To do any less is to be Gov. Rick Scott's handmaiden.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-2763. Follow @stevebousquet.