Multiple sources with close ties to Governor Rick Scott‘s inner circle are speculating that long-time Scott communications aide Jackie Schutz is the likely choice to be the governor’s sixth chief of staff, replacing Kim McDougal when McDougal steps down as part of a planned transition later this summer.
But a spokesperson for the governor insists that no official decisions have been made, and under repeated questioning maintained that there was no news to report on the matter.
Schutz got her start with the Scott Administration as press secretary, and was later promoted twice, the first time to Deputy Communications Director under Melissa (Sellers) Stone. When Stone left the administration to run Scott’s 2014 reelection campaign, Schutz went with her. After defeating Charlie Crist in November, Scott named Stone his new Chief of Staff, and Schutz became Communications Director. When Stone left the administration again, this time to head up Scott’s political organization, Let’s Get to Work, Schutz stayed on inside the governor’s office, serving under McDougal for the past year.
It is precisely the symbiotic relationship between Schutz and Stone that fuels the speculation that she could become the governor’s final chief of staff. With Scott’s political team already arming up for the 2018 election cycle, it makes perfect sense to have a chief of staff that not only knows Rick Scott as well as anyone in Tallahassee, but also understands the critical importance of communications in the runup to a hotly contested campaign. She fits the bill perfectly.
But Schutz is not the only name that has been swirling as a possible replacement.
News of McDougal’s move to the private sector made the rounds last Thursday, as the governor returned from a trip to Washington D.C. that appeared to be more about the 2018 election cycle than state policy. Then, however, the initial wave of speculation about possible McDougal replacements mentioned Scott’s long-time Deputy Chief of Staff Brad Peipenbrink as a likely contender for the top job. Indeed, if Scott’s only focus was on running the tightest possible policy shop and making significant inroads with the legislature, then Peipenbrink would make an excellent choice. Like Schutz, Peipenbrink worked on Scott’s 2014 campaign team. Prior to that, he served as Governor Scott’s Director of External Affairs, Deputy Chief of Staff for the Department of Education, and travel-aide to the Governor during his first term.
Although McDougal isn’t officially stepping down until July, the governor’s office will likely make an official announcement about her replacement in the coming days. That news will likely be accompanied by a slate of other staff changes, including key agency head appointments at the Florida Department of Transportation and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.