Florida Politics: “What you talking ’bout, Mr. Corcoran!”

Funny story:

About ten-years ago, I was travelling through Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport one early afternoon, drone-walking down one of those massive concourses that connect boarding gates on my way to a conference in Long Beach, California.

Normally, as you schlep your carry-ons between arrival gate and your designated departure area – a move that invariably involves a subterranean train ride, two escalators and a half-mile hike – you pass weary business travelers, agitated children and their exasperated parents, excited holidaymakers, uniformed flight crew, service members, etc., essentially the full-spectrum of itinerant humanity all trudging along in lock-step, coming-and-going.

As I looked ahead, I noticed a hub-bub of sorts as pedestrian travelers began urgently separating – some moving left, the others dodging right – as if a massive battleship were parting the waves behind them.

Initially, I thought it was one of those annoying electric carts that beep-beep along, ploughing slowly through the masses to replenish the newsstands and fast food joints that line the corridors.

Then, trundling right down the middle of the crowded gangway came Gary Coleman.

You know, the diminutive actor who played the often-ornery Arnold on the 80’s situation comedy Diffr’ent Strokes?

One of two brothers from Harlem who were adopted by a well-to-do widower in Manhattan, whose catchphrase, “What you talking ‘bout, Willis” is still part of the popular vernacular?

Now, let me tell you, the dude was moving.

All 4’-8” inches of Mr. Coleman were stepping out with a purpose that rivaled the sight of General George Patton striding into some German-held village.  Given his size, he could have been swallowed by the crowd, or his progress stopped by fans seeking selfies – but he just rapidly advanced, pressing forward with an incredible focus.

His head was down, face fixed in a resolute stare, earbuds firmly affixed – literally bowling people out of his way as he force-marched from point A to B – carrying an oversized backpack.

He brushed past me and disappeared into the crowd as quickly as he appeared.

When I got to my gate, I took a seat and pondered my recent brush with fame.  I came to realize that in an airport this size, we are all on our own – and jet airplanes don’t wait for B-list celebrities any more than they stand-by for you and me.

I was amazed how a guy of such small physical stature cleared his way ahead with such incredible tenacity – and efficiency.  Headfirst.  Self-assured.

It was impressive.

Not so funny story:

This week, news out of Tallahassee continued to report the slow but steady stream of rats leaving Governor Rick Scott’s spooky pirate ship.

Most recently, Florida’s chief financial officer, Jeff Atwater, announced he will be leaving his Cabinet post to return to Palm Beach County where he will serve as CFO of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

In my view, Atwater’s departure has been coming for a while.

You may recall when Governor Scott singlehandedly terminated then Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey – fired him out-of-hand – without waiting for the legally mandated consent of the Cabinet – or even notifying members of his intentions.

That move went through state government like an ice water enema.

Because it was so blatantly political – and illegal.

At the start of his second term, Bailey’s dismissal confirmed that Scott could give two-shits about the rules – and exposed our state’s most important players – the Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer, and Agriculture Commissioner – as sycophantic weaklings who followed the governor’s unlawful termination of the state’s chief law enforcement official like bleating lambs.

A 2015 investigative report in the Tampa Bay Times said, “Ousted Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner Gerald Bailey claims he resisted repeated efforts by Gov. Rick Scott and his top advisers to falsely name someone a target in a criminal case, hire political allies for state jobs and intercede in an outside investigation of a prospective Scott appointee.”

 Scary shit.

Ultimately, the three Cabinet members acknowledged that Scott’s unilateral action in the FDLE matter was sketchy – however, only Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam called for an investigation into the matter.

As often happens, the water calmed and things just, well, went away.

Then, Atwater got sideways with Scott during last year’s tense deadlock over the selection of Florida’s next insurance commissioner.

At the end of the day, I think Atwater served the citizens of Florida quite well.  He was strong on veteran’s issues, and paid more than passing political interest to consumer protection.

Maybe he just got fed up treading water in Rick Scott’s fetid swamp – or maybe he finally landed his dream job.  Who knows?

One thing is perfectly clear – It will be up to Rick Scott to appoint Atwater’s successor.  In effect giving the governor two votes in Cabinet meetings until the 2018 election.

Yep.

What I find interesting is that Atwater’s resignation comes on the heels of the departures of DEP Chief Jon Steverson and Secretary of Transportation Jim Boxold.

In my view, Steverson should be wearing an orange jumpsuit for his botched handling of the Mosaic debacle – instead, he’s taking a lucrative position with a private law firm working directly for the state.

It’s called a back-handed payoff – something all too common in the Scott administration.

As you may recall, Steverson gave notice just one day after a House committee made public an amendment to an ethics bill that would ban “appointed state officers” from lobbying lawmakers for six-years after leaving government service.

Our intrepid House Speaker (and my personal hero) Richard Corcoran called it like it was:

“One day later, give or take, from the time that we noticed that committee meeting, you see an agency head who resigns who has spent $100-million of taxpayer money on legal fees go and immediately become one of the participants in that law firm that he gave millions of dollars in legal fees to,” Speaker Corcoran told reporters last week.

What you talking ‘bout, Mr. Speaker?!   Calling the scumbags out?  In Tallahassee?

That’s crazy-talk.

Of course, Mr. Steverson denied the connection, and rest assured the insinuation didn’t sit well with Rick Scott.

Are Corcoran’s reforms causing tremors in the Scott administration?

I don’t know.  But given the push-back and string of resignations – somethings up.

I hope Speaker Corcoran has the grit and determination to stick firm to his promise of cleaning up what former Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarthy so aptly described as a “state of fraudsters and hucksters” and brings a sense of ethical conduct and transparency to Florida government.

It’s amazing what one man can accomplish when he simply puts his head down and tries his best.

 

 

 

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