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DeSantis Rewards Friends With Appointments. Experience Must Wait.

| January 28, 2019

He is rewarding friends. (Ron DeSantis/Flickr)

He is rewarding friends. (Ron DeSantis/Flickr)

By Nancy Smith

You knew Gov. Ron DeSantis’ thank-you paybacks were coming.

Every new Florida governor we’ve seen in the last 40 years — and probably longer than that — repaid his loyal campaign staff and supporters with jobs in his administration. It’s a normal, if immoral right of passage in Tallahassee. You just hold your breath and hope he won’t appoint too many square pegs to round holes.


But this year it strikes me as especially egregious.

DeSantis, remember, is the hero mainstream media celebrate for yanking 46 “lame,” last-minute Rick Scott appointments.

Maybe some of the Scott critics should shudder to think of who he’s going to put in their place.

Look at the pile of mismatches the governor has installed in critical state agencies so far. I’m going to cite just a handful  (which doesn’t even include recently departed Secretary of State Mike Ertel)

Chad Poppell. He’s our new secretary of the 10,000-plus-employee Department of Children and Families (DCF). Zero experience protecting children, zero promoting strong families or advancing personal or family recovery. But he did quit as secretary of the Department of Management Services in 2017 to lobby state government for campaign donor IBM. DCF apparently did get a number of large contracts from IBM recently …

Danny Burgess. He’s the governor’s 32-year-old executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs. Elected to the Zephyrhills City Council in 2005, while he was still in college, Burgess has always pursued elected office. Right out of law school he was commissioned in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps of the U.S. Army Reserve as a first lieutenant and continues to serve with the rank of captain. But he has absolutely no administrative experience. Perhaps not a political appointment, but certainly a questionable one. Veterans who have served beyond the Reserves, in a theater of war, are telling me, “We don’t get it.”

Jordan Wiggins. Who knew the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had a new deputy chief of staff until Friday, when Tampa Bay Times environmental writer Craig Pittman introduced us. Wiggins, 33, has never worked for a wildlife agency before, or for any other state agency. But he did raise a lot of money to help get DeSantis elected and after that he helped run his inauguration, which earned him a rewards card. Pittman reminds us, on Jan. 10 DeSantis “emphasized his interest in ensuring the use of sound science at the state’s environmental agencies” — to which Frank Jackalone of the Sierra Club responded, “The appointment of somebody who doesn’t have any wildlife experience (Wiggins) would make one wonder whether DeSantis was being genuine.” You think?

And there are any number of downcard appointments that have nothing to do with qualifications, but in all honesty, the state is unlikely to crumble if they fail. Still, I can’t help drawing your attention to the governor’s director of appointments, Makenzi Mahler, age 23. She was deputy finance director for the DeSantis-Nuñez campaign, another rewards card entitlement. Dial up her Facebook page. It’s an application for a job. [Editor’s note at 1 p.m. Jan. 28: Makenzi Mahler’s Facebook page was taken down.]

I’m hoping Mahler will grow into the job. She has a way to go. Last week she telephoned Melanie Peterson, formerly of the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board, asking what Peterson’s intentions were, would she resign from the SFWMD board early or continue to serve out her term? She was clueless Peterson was long gone.

“It wasn’t much of a conversation,” Peterson told me. “I informed her I had already resigned to Governor Scott (effective Jan. 1).”

“A governor who sends little girls to do his business doesn’t give me much confidence,” she said. “At least I served a governor who called people directly like a real man.”

I admit, I really do need to look more thoroughly at DeSantis’ picks so far. DCF secretary, executive director of Veterans Affairs, deputy chief of staff for Fish and Wildlife — these are mighty big slots. Seems to me the governor has tried to mate a Great Dane with a Yorkie. If Rick Scott had appointed these people, the media would have crushed him like a grape.

nancy smith sunshine state news columnistNancy Smith is the editor of Sunshine State News. She started her career at the Daily Mirror and The Observer in London before spending 28 years at The Stuart News/Port St. Lucie News as managing editor and associate editor. She was president of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors in the mid-1990s. Reach her by email here, or follow her on twitter at @NancyLBSmith.

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9 Responses for “DeSantis Rewards Friends With Appointments. Experience Must Wait.”

  1. David S says:

    Florida has turned to crap…..

  2. Makeitso1701 says:

    DeSantis has taken a page right out of the trumpy book.Looks to me that these so called “republicans”, or more accurately, trumpsters, are expanding the trump’s swamp to other states, and unfortunately, by misguided and misinformed voters here in Florida, we are stuck with another buffoon. PEOPLE, wake up!

  3. gmath55 says:

    What is the point? We have lots of people apply for positions (jobs) without experience. Just look at applicants for Flagler County Administrator position. We even have presidents with no experience run and even get elected.

  4. Flagler voter says:

    Didn’t DeSantis say he was going to “drain the Tallahassee swamp”? I guess he meant only deep enough for his cronies to wade through.

  5. Roy says:

    Compare and contrast very liberal Daytona News Journal editorial – “DeSantis Off to a Good Start.” 1/29/2019

  6. Alphonse Abonte says:

    Just be happy that a Democrat is not in this place. WHOA! What a mess it would become. The Democratic platform? Any one know what it is? Just look at the headlines- Tax the rich- most politicians fit this category, Open borders-sanctuary cities ,Medicare for all, and abortions up to 9 months, taking the phrase “so help me God” out of the oath of witnesses. WOW! America is going to take the short cut to hot place real fast if Democrats have their way. You say Trump has hurt Americas values, Democrats will kill Americas values.
    Check out the Democratic Platform- https://democrats.org/democratic-national-platform/
    Check out the Republican Platform- https://www.gop.com/platform/

  7. Agkistrodon says:

    Charlie Christ did the VERY same thing when he was Governor. And Barak Obama gave MANY friends Jobs in his admin, who had NO experience. That is how they do things, BOTH R’s and D’s, THEY are all corrupt, pure and simple.

  8. lenamarshal says:

    Ni, its Florida Politics all over again.

  9. mausborn says:

    The story doesn’t end with President Trump, Bob Kraft, and a chain of massage parlors conducting human trafficking in FLORIDA.

    Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida Senator Rick Scott, Eric Trump, and Donald Trump Jr. also have associations with the founder of the massage parlor chain.

    As conservative Christians look the other way.

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