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Politics / Issues

Rick Scott's Not So Good, Very Bad, Month

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.Gov. Rick Scott was sworn in for his second term on Jan. 6 --- a little more than two weeks ago. It's pretty much been all downhill from there.

Since then, Scott has seen the state's three Republican Cabinet members grow increasingly critical of his decision to oust the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, while a grassroots revolt at the Republican Party of Florida rejected his preferred choice for chair of the organization.

The questions about Scott's move to push out FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey mark one of the more serious political crises of his administration. In a rare nod to public pressure, Scott's office issued a two-page response Thursday to questions being raised by the media, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi about Bailey's departure, which the governor initially characterized as a resignation.

"Prior to December 16, 2015, the Governor’s staff notified cabinet staff (including the offices of the Attorney General, the Chief Financial Officer, and the Commissioner of Agriculture) that the Governor wanted new leadership at FDLE," the document says. "Cabinet staff raised no objection."

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers aren't exactly tripping over each other to endorse some of the governor's budget goals.

It could be the normal pre-session posturing, but Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, was cautious Thursday when asked about Scott's push to slash taxes on cell-phone and television services by $470 million.

"Whether or not we can do that and still address the needs of the Senate and House kind of remains to be seen," Lee said. "As I said, everybody has to walk out of here with their priorities addressed to some extent. We're all in this together. And while I support all of these tax cuts at some level, there's only so much resources to get them done."

Some of this is to be expected. Like presidents, governors start to lose influence at some point in the second term, as their ability to punish or reward lawmakers wanes and insiders begin looking toward the next chief executive. Figures like Atwater and Putnam are often mentioned as candidates for statewide office and want to steer as clear of controversy as they can.

It's also no secret that Scott wasn't supported by much of the Tallahassee establishment when he ran for office in 2010. In fact, the vast majority of the establishment backed then-Attorney General Bill McCollum in the GOP gubernatorial primary. And the threat of a Charlie Crist governorship, which served to unite Republicans ahead of the 2014 elections, is gone.

(It's worth noting that not all of the problems Scott faces fall neatly into the category of the governor vs. the establishment. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, and Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, both joined Scott in supporting Leslie Dougher's unsuccessful bid for a full term as party chair.)

If Scott has another successful session and the growing rift between the Cabinet and the governor is smoothed over, this month could be nothing more than a speed bump. But if Scott fails to get much out of the Legislature this spring, it will likely be perceived (at least) as the beginning of something more.

MORE POT COMPLAINTS

Lobbyists representing nurseries and other entities interested in getting in on the ground floor of the state's new medical-marijuana industry are grumbling about a panel selected by Department of Health officials for an upcoming "negotiated rule-making" session in early February.

The group will work out kinks in a new rule governing who will grow, process and distribute strains of cannabis authorized by the Legislature last spring.

The panel includes Joel Stanley, one of the Colorado brothers who created and manufacture "Charlotte's Web," a type of marijuana that is low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD. "Charlotte's Web" has become synonymous with low-THC pot approved by Florida lawmakers, although it is just one of many strains already on the market in other states.

Also on the panel is Holley Moseley, who with her husband Peyton was a near-permanent presence in Tallahassee before the law was passed last year. The Moseleys, who live near Pensacola, have entered into an agreement with Stanley, and together they are in talks with Panhandle nurseries who want to get one of the five licenses health officials will eventually grant to growers.

Jill Lamoureaux, government affairs director of Denver-based CannLabs, is another of the nine members of the panel also linked to the Stanley brothers. CannLabs is listed as a "partner" on the website of the Colorado-based "Realm of Caring," founded by the Stanley brothers.

Some naysayers are also whispering that one of the five growers on the panel --- George Hackney, of Hackney Nurseries in Quincy --- is tied to the Moseley-Stanley-CannLabs consortium.

Not so, said Realm of Caring Florida spokeswoman Ryan Wiggins. The Florida organization is independent of the ROC group in Colorado, Wiggins said.

"(Hackney Nursery) is not tied to my clients. The testing person is not tied to my client either," Wiggins said.

The folks whose clients didn't make it onto the panel --- or who didn't make it on themselves --- complain that it isn't fair to have two-thirds of the panel made up of folks who have an interest in crafting a rule that benefits them.

"They're absolutely right that they have a single agenda. Their single agenda item is to make sure that children get the medication. That has always been their single agenda item," Wiggins said.