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First thoughts on who could succeed CFO Jeff Atwater

By on January 4, 2014
atwater, jeff

At least half of the Florida Senate, along with several other ambitious politicians, are among the names already being bandied about as possible successors to Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater were he to be named the next president of Florida Atlantic University.

It’s not a lock that Atwater will win the job, but since he was recruited by the board of trustees (according to Atwater) and the current pool of candidates is less than stellar, for the moment we’ll assume Atwater will get what he wants. This will create both a vacancy which Gov. Rick Scott must fill (since there are less than twenty-eight months left in Atwater’s current term) and an open statewide post up for election in 2014.

As of early Saturday afternoon, here are some of the possible contenders for the appointment and to be candidates.

The largest name looming is Speaker Will Weatherford, simply because he’s termed out and his acolytes want to see him doing something after he’s done in the Legislature. But it’s difficult to envision Scott appointing Weatherford to the CFO post unless Atwater’s start date at FAU is after the 2014 legislative session, thereby letting Weatherford complete (most of) his duties as Speaker. It’s also difficult to see Weatherford running against Scott’s appointed CFO unless that person is just a place-holder. 

Weatherford’s deputy, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Seth McKeel, is highly interested in the CFO post and was planning to run for it in 2018. These developments certainly accelerate McKeel’s timetable, but it’s unclear why Scott would do him the favor of appointing him to this plum post. But McKeel will probably still run for the position in 2014 — with his campaign fueled by only and everything he can raise before session — even if he’s not appointed by Scott.

Among state Senators, the name which keeps coming up is Tom Lee, who previously ran for CFO in 2006. Here’s what’s interesting about Lee-for-CFO: How does he convince Scott to appoint him Chief Financial Officer after turning down the Governor’s offer to be Lieutenant Governor?  

“So let me get this straight Tom … all of that stuff about wanting to be close to your wife and young child and family business doesn’t matter so much?”

Then again, Scott obviously likes Lee, he’s vetted him, he knows Lee would likely do a good job, so he may be the right pick. 

One scenario that keeps coming up is Scott appointing Lee to CFO and leaving the LG post open until after session, when Scott will tap Weatherford to be his running mate. Scott, Weatherford, Pam Boni, Adam Putnam, and Tom Lee makes a pretty impressive slate against Charlie Crist, Dan Gelber, and three tomato cans.

Two other state Senators are also already in the mix if Atwater gets the FAU gig, but with completely different scenarios: Smart-guy David Simmons is getting chatted up simply because he’s probably the most qualified candidate for the job. Simmons does not have a statewide presence, so, by some miracle were he to be appointed, the Democrats would have a better-than-decent shot at picking up a Cabinet spot.

Democrat State Senator Jeff Clemens has no chance of being appointed by Republican Rick Scott, but he could one of the Democrats’ best options. Clemens has acknowledged (per the Times-Union’s Matt Dixon) that “people are talking to me” about running for CFO.

Looking beyond the Florida Legislature, two Tampa Bay pols have previously expressed interest in running for CFO.

“America’s Best Mayor” Rick Baker of St. Petersburg has wanted to run for statewide office for a decade but could never find the right opportunity. A close ally of Jeb Bush and the president of mega GOP donor Bill Edwards company, Baker would be a formidable candidate. 

Hillsborough County Commission Kevin Beckner, the popular, smart, openly gay Democrat, has told supporters he wanted to run for CFO in 2018. No, he is not a statewide name, but he is a charismatic politician (certainly more so than Seth McKeel or David Simmons). Is he ready to accelerate his plans?

And what about former U.S. Senator George LeMieux, who was supposedly interested in the FAU job himself? 

To paraphrase Matt Dixon, I could keep throwing out possible CFO candidates until my next birthday, so I’ll stop here and enjoy my current one. If I am missing someone, leave them in the comment section.