As reported here yesterday, the departure of long-time aide Rob Johnson from the Office of the Attorney General to a new private-sector gig is likely a harbinger of Pam Bondi’s eventual departure for the Trump White House. Bloomberg News reporter Jennifer Jacobs broke the news on Twitter earlier today that Bondi would be appointed to an unspecified role:
NEW: Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi will be named to a post in the Trump White House, sources tell me. Trump aides finalizing her role.
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) January 5, 2017
Under Florida law, if Bondi leaves before her term is up, the Governor appoints her replacement. Almost certainly, he’s going to make a pick who, after serving out the remainder of Bondi’s term, can win an election in their own right. Here’s a quick look at the unauthorized and very unofficial list of people who are currently being whispered about in downtown Tallahassee:
Jose Felix “Pepi” Diaz – As mentioned yesterday on this site, the smart money is currently on Diaz. But the bright lights and spotlight that will inevitably shine on the appointment process could easily upend Tallahassee’s conventional wisdom. That’s because there’s a huge difference between being the front-runner on a speculative short list when Pam Bondi might step down versus being a front-runner on a list when everyone’s weighing in, suggesting names, dropping opposition research and trying to influence the governor’s decision. Still, Diaz represents a solid pick for Scott because he wouldn’t merely be a placeholder. Diaz knows how to campaign and win elections, which means he could be elected in his own right in 2018, giving Governor Rick Scott a chance to influence Tallahassee beyond his own term in office. Official bio here.
Jesse Panuccio – Although he’s never been a candidate for elective office, Panuccio is a Scott loyalist and, like Pepi Diaz, would almost certainly be willing to put his name on the ballot to extend his tenure as Attorney General by running for election in 2018. He’s got an impeccable resume, graduating from Harvard Law magna cum laude. He previously served as General Counsel to the Governor, and later ran the Department of Economic Opportunity. Panuccio has a reputation as a tough-minded conservative lawyer with ties to the influential Federalist Society. Background info here.
Simone Marstiller – This pick is one of those outside-the-box names that would let Scott play “kingmaker,” elevating a relatively unknown political entity to the forefront of state politics. She’s the one featured in the photo accompanying this story. Marstiller retired in 2015 after serving six years as an appellate judge at the 1st District Court of Appeals. A few years back, she served as Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor Jeb Bush. She’s also a staunch conservative thinker, a bit of a fireball, and strikes me as someone rank-and-file Republicans could embrace as potential A.G. candidate – not only because she’s got the fire in the belly for politics, but also because she’d throw a wrench into the flailing and failing identity politics machinery of the Florida Democratic Party. She’d be an absolute joy to watch – not only arguing cases and in press conferences, but on the campaign trail, too.
Joe Negron – Admittedly I’m just throwing this one out there because his name keeps coming up in highly speculative “what if” conversations. So, here it is. By appointing the current Senate President, Bill Galvano (or, as some suggest, Jack Latvala) would surge to the head of the pack in the Florida Senate, and through either of those, Scott might wield more influence over the legislative process in his final two years as governor. Is this a likely scenario? Why not? If it seems crazy, it’s only because it would totally disrupt the current status quo. But if others are openly talking about, as they indeed already are, Rick Scott can’t help but give it some thought, too. It’s just part of how things work – he’ll consider the obvious, he’ll think outside the box, and he’ll ultimately choose a course of action that gives him the best chance for him to achieve his own goals.
Ron DeSantis – If you read yesterday’s predictions for 2017, you were warned to expect something from Rep. DeSantis. Being appointed as A.G. certainly qualifies. As with Diaz and Panuccio, DeSantis checks the aforementioned “candidate” box – he’s someone who could easily stand up a statewide campaign for Attorney General in Florida, especially since he already had a U.S. Senate campaign up and running until Rubio jumped back into the mix. Like Rick Scott, DeSantis served in the U.S. Navy (and is currently a Lt. Commander in the Naval Reserve). His stints on active duty included time as a JAG officer advising a US Navy SEAL commander in Iraq.
Mary Thomas – If Scott really wants to appoint someone who has the fire in the belly to serve, he needs to look no further than Thomas. She came up a bit short in the race to replace Gwen Graham in CD-02, losing to Neil Dunn by a slim margin, but she ran a solid race and garnered the support of a number of conservative groups. She also served inside the Scott Administration as a Deputy General Counsel. Like Simone Marstiller, she checks a few of the boxes that Democrats think are oh-so-important in their quest to paint Republicans as nothing more than a bunch of old white men.
Other names who still might get the nod, but didn’t make my short list (and why they didn’t):
Pete Antonnaci – Another Scott loyalist, the governor has appointed Antonnaci to a number of roles in the past, so he could be a dark horse candidate for the AG spot too. But Antonnaci is one of those political insiders that wouldn’t excite the Republican base as much as a Marstiller or DeSantis.
Charlie Trippe – Possessing charm and impeccable integrity, Charlie Trippe would make a fantastic Attorney General, if all that were involved were the day-to-day activities without all the politics. Trippe served as Scott’s first general counsel and helped him navigate a number of thorny issues. But I don’t see him making the shortlist simply because he doesn’t strike me as the type of guy who wants to be the center of attention. In fact, he’s probably mildly irritated I’ve mentioned his name at all. Sorry, Charlie. 😉
Tom Grady – Another favorite of the governor, Grady previously served as interim President of Citizens Property Insurance, a stint that didn’t end well. But Grady is the type of guy who just keeps showing up, often because he’s not afraid to throw his own hat into the ring and fight for what he wants. That said, picking Grady would immediately draw fire from the media and Democrats, and there are other choices that could do the job without those drawbacks.
Tim Cerio – The fourth name on this list who previously served as General Counsel to the Governor, Cerio is another name that gets mentioned in conversations about a potential Bondi replacement, if only because he’s another lawyer the governor seems to really like. Cerio is respected by his peers, easily navigated ScottWorld and the potential minefields associated with a handful of different chief’s of staff, and doesn’t have any obvious liabilities. Cerio is now back with Gray Robinson, and the main reason he’s not on the short-short list is his lack of political experience as a candidate.
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Brian, what are your thoughts on Rob Bradley? His name popped up a couple years ago re: AG and I know he ran the Governor’s health care stuff during the 2016 session.
He’s not one of the names currently making rounds in the rumor mill, but that doesn’t mean he’s out of the discussion. ScottWorld is pretty good at playing their cards close to the vest – it’s always been that way – so he may be on the short list too and I just don’t know it. But my gut says Bradley is viewed as too valuable an ally inside the Senate. Scott needs all the legislative help he can get.
Besides the shrillness of Mary Thomas is the wholesale lack of legal experience in general and trial experience, in particular, that is concerning. She has held only administrative legal positions and it is doubtful that she has seen the inside of a courtroom. She and her politico-husband, John Konkus fled Florida for political appointments in D.C., evidently because they wish to continue to live off the public dole.