By Kathleen Haughney and Keith Laing
The News Service of Florida
Gov.-elect Rick Scott began naming top staffers on Tuesday, selecting mostly campaign loyalists and newcomers to state government as he gears up to take over from Gov. Charlie Crist in two weeks.
Scott appointed former congressional candidate and retired U.S. Army Col. Mike Prendergast as chief of staff, typically the governor’s top day-to-day adviser. Prendergast, a Tallahassee outsider who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, lost his bid to defeat incumbent U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, in last month’s election.
“Mike Prendergast will operate as COO of the administration and direct the affairs of Florida government with precision and unwavering ethical rigor,” Scott, a longtime businessman, said in announcing the pick. “Moreover, Mike’s outsider status gives him the ability to evaluate and manage issues and agencies from a perspective untainted by the business as usual culture in Tallahassee.”
The Scott transition team has remained largely quiet about who will be running the incoming governor’s office until now. Late last week, the team announced several agency heads appointed by Crist would be asked to stay on an additional month or two to help with the transition, an unusual move compared to past administrations.
In addition to Prendergast, Scott named his transition executive director Mary Anne Carter as chief adviser to the governor, former Jeb Bush legislative affairs director Hayden Dempsey as special counsel and Tallahassee governmental affairs consultant Jon Costello as legislative affairs director.
Brian Burgess, who served as communications director for the transition team, will also stay on in that job for the new administration.
The team is a generally a mix of old political hands and Scott loyalists.
Carter, who previously worked for conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, also served as the executive director of Scott’s Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, a campaign against the Obama administration’s health care overhaul.
Costello, a Tallahassee political consultant, served as a campaign adviser to Scott. Burgess also worked on Conservatives for Patients’ Rights before joining Scott’s gubernatorial bid.
In contrast, Dempsey, a lawyer at Florida powerhouse firm Greenburg Traurig, worked for both Bush and former Gov. Bob Martinez. At Greenburg Traurig, he has lobbied for a slew of different interests including several health care companies, the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and Enterprise Leasing Company of Florida.
One state senator rumored to be interested in joining the Scott administration, state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, hailed Scott’s pick of Prendergast as an outside-the-box pick and called him a “great guy.” But just as quickly, she praised the choice of Dempsey to oversee Scott’s legislative agenda.
“It’s important to have somebody who knows the Tallahassee process and knows the people in Tallahassee to say ‘OK, here’s your fresh ideas, here’s how you get them through the process,’” she said.
A spokeswoman for House Speaker Dean Cannon said that Cannon is familiar with many of the appointments, but has not yet met with them in their capacities within the new administration. Cannon’s chief of staff Mathew Bahl has had several conversations with Dempsey over the past few days, the spokeswoman said.
A spokesman for Senate President Mike Haridopolos didn’t respond to a request for comment.
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