BY DARA KAM
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE – Gov. Rick Scott named 14 people – nearly all of them loyalists who have served the governor or been appointed by him in other capacities – to the state Constitution Revision Commission.
Scott’s selections on March 3 included a number of Republican political allies, including influential insurance lobbyist Fred Karlinsky, a major Scott political fundraiser, and Brecht Heuchan, a Tallahassee GOP consultant who has been a key player with the governor’s “Let’s Get to Work” political committee.
In a statement accompanying the announcement, Scott said the picks “stood out as exemplary choices” whose “diverse backgrounds and experience in education, business and policy will ensure we continue to champion policies that make Florida the best place for families for generations to come.”
Scott’s appointees included his former general counsel Tim Cerio; state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart; and utility regulator Jimmy Patronis, a former Republican lawmaker from the Panhandle appointed by Scott to the Public Service Commission more than two years ago.
The governor also named Darlene Jordan, a Palm Beach Republican who served as state finance chair of Scott’s 2014 re-election campaign and was appointed last year by Scott to the state university system’s Board of Governors; Florida Board of Education Chairwoman Marva Johnson; and Nicole Washington, a onetime Scott aide who serves on the board of Florida A&M University.
And Scott picked Belinda Keiser, vice chancellor of Keiser University; Gary Lester, a vice president of The Villages; Frank Kruppenbacher, an Orlando attorney and chairman of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority; Jose “Pepe” Armas, a Miami doctor appointed by the governor to serve as a trustee for Florida International University; Lisa Carlton, a former GOP lawmaker from Sarasota; and Emery Gainey, an official in the Attorney General’s Office who was tapped last year by Scott to temporarily serve as Marion County sheriff.
“The group of people the governor selected are as diverse as any group, geographically, ethnically, just in terms of their backgrounds and their experiences,” said Heuchan, who served as a top aide to former state House Speaker Daniel Webster, now a congressman.
‘He knows them’
Heuchan coordinated Webster’s picks to the 1997 Constitution Revision Commission and monitored the panel’s work, “giving him a deep understanding and familiarity of the CRC process,” Scott said in a statement.
Scott’s appointees are “extremely talented people and they have a broad range of skill sets,” Heuchan told The News Service of Florida in a telephone interview Friday.
“The governor is a people-person. So if there’s a common theme among these people, it’s that he’s comfortable with them because he knows them. They are a blend of very different experiences. He’s comfortable with them because their personalities blend together,” Heuchan said.
Last week, Scott named Manatee County developer Carlos Beruff, who lost a bid for the U.S. Senate last year, as the chairman of the Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every two decades to decide on constitutional proposals to put before voters.
“My goal for the CRC (the commission) is to fight for policies that will ensure a strong future for Florida, and I know Carlos also shares this vision. As we undertake this historic review, I am hopeful that this commission will propose policies that build a legacy upon which the families and businesses in our great state will thrive for generations to come,” Scott, considering a run for U.S. Senate next year, said in a statement Wednesday announcing Beruff’s appointment.
Scott has the legal authority to appoint 15 members to the commission, including its chairman.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron each have the power to appoint nine commissioners. Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga named his three appointees, and Attorney General Pam Bondi is automatically included in the 37-member panel.
While Republicans who share Scott’s ideology – or were hand-picked by him for other posts – dominated the governor’s selections, Negron’s picks included former Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who frequently butted heads with GOP leaders before leaving office in 2016 due to term limits.
It’s not unusual for governors to pick commission members who reflect their ideology, said Florida State University political science professor Carol Weissert.
“We wouldn’t necessarily expect him to go out and do a random selection process. It looked like it was a pretty diverse group, geographically and racially,” said Weissert, who also serves as director of the LeRoy Collins Institute, which is leading an educational effort focused on the commission’s work.
“The proof is going to be in the pudding. When those people get together are they going to put aside their partisanship and look at the issues that are the best for Florida? And we don’t know that until they meet.”