Another great article published by Florida Voices. This article provides an insider’s view seldom available to non political insiders. A view critical to understanding why thing are the way they are in Tallahassee and dyer need for change.
May 20, 2012
Originally published: Friday, May 18, 2012
By: Paula Dockery
When newly elected governor and political outsider Rick Scott realized his inner circle’s inability to navigate the murky waters of Florida government, he turned to the ultimate Tallahassee political insider, Steve MacNamara.
The governor’s original team consisted of political outsiders, most of whom were also Florida outsiders. While intelligent and accomplished individuals, they lacked familiarity with Florida’s political players, climate and process.
And after six months in office and one unremarkable legislative session, the governor’s favorability in the polls fell to roughly 29 percent. So to improve his battered image, he brought in someone who knew all the major players: Steve MacNamara, his new chief of staff.
The press hailed MacNamara’s arrival as a smart political move, citing his close ties to legislative leaders and movers and shakers as strengths. I feared this would be a destructive move for those very same reasons.
Is he smart? Absolutely.
Is he shrewd? You betcha.
Is he well-connected? Most definitely.
Can he play hardball? With the best of them.
When he worked as chief of staff for then-Speaker John Thrasher, MacNamara kept the Republican caucus in line and used all the tools at his disposal to ensure unquestioned loyalty to the speaker’s priorities.
A decade later, when he took the same spot for Senate President Mike Haridopolos, MacNamara started with a massive house-cleaning of the Senate’s professional staff, people who had admirably served leaders of both parties for decades and were known experts in key subject areas.
The loss of institutional knowledge and the incredibly low morale proved disastrous for the Senate. The legislative session of 2011 will be remembered for the meltdown that occurred on the final night of session. Senators openly rebelled over being asked to blindly rubber stamp back-room deals that had not been vetted.
MacNamara didn’t mind firing people, exacting retribution or doing any dirty work he deemed necessary. It could be successfully argued that he is more Machiavellian than Machiavelli. His network of friends is a who’s who of powerful lobbyists, career state employees and young but eager college grads.
So it was surprising when the governor, who campaigned against the “good old boy” way of doing things in Tallahassee, hired the ultimate insider after only six months in office.
A true reformer would have developed working relationships with all 120 House members and 40 Senators to move his priority issues. Instead, with MacNamara calling the shots, deals were cut with the few people in top leadership.
In the last session, issues that Gov. Scott stressed in the campaign, such as immigration and financial accountability, were ignored. Instead, special interests dominated the agenda, including a push for prison privatization and a parent-trigger bill that would benefit private education companies. Fortunately, both bills were defeated, despite the governor’s lobbying efforts.
And despite pleas from the Council of 100, advice from Tax Watch and concerted efforts from the Tea Party, budget turkeys were approved and bad bills signed because deals had been made and votes traded. In other words, business as usual.
In the 10 months that MacNamara led the governor’s inner circle, he focused on changing Scott’s image, making him more accessible to the press and making an art out of spinning the governor’s actions.
Meanwhile, honorable people were being forced out of the administration and the facade was beginning to crack. Agency heads hired from major corporations or other state governments were dismissed for daring to express an opinion. Rumors were running rampant in the Capitol about MacNamara’s heavy-handed tactics, but most insiders conceded his job security due to the governor’s unrelenting faith in him.
MacNamara’s largest public-relations disaster happened in Miami, when he combined the governor’s signing of a bill that enacts a trade ban with Cuba with a letter saying the state wouldn’t enforce it. His job security began to unravel with a series of media stories that exposed his no-bid deals to friends, improper use of staff and political favoritism. Enemies he made along the way were eager to talk. At least one person filed an ethics complaint against him.
MacNamara claims his buddy-buddy dealings with taxpayer dollars were not illegal. While that may be true, they certainly appear to be improper. Certainly, they are unethical. It’s no surprise my ethics-reform measures regarding conflicts of interest were stymied during MacNamara’s time in the Senate.
While the governor needed experienced help to run the executive branch, he reached out to an opportunistic political insider with a questionable record, instead of enlisting the help of a proven, fiscally conservative, experienced manager with a public servant’s heart.
Paula Dockery is a term-limited Republican senator from Lakeland who is chronicling her final year in the Florida Senate. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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