Florida

Rick Scott’s Chief of Staff Brings Liberal Activism to Governor’s Mansion

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Political analysts expressed surprise during the past two months as Florida Gov. Rick Scott abruptly abandoned many of his conservative principles and began championing iconic liberal causes such as expanding Medicaid and giving pay increases to government workers. While many wonder what may be the impetus for Scott’s recent liberalism, a Media Trackers Florida investigation suggests the driving force behind Scott’s dash to the political left may be Adam Hollingsworth, who Scott appointed as his chief of staff in late 2012.

When Scott announced his appointment of Hollingsworth, the Florida media spun Hollingsworth’s background as consistent with Scott’s grassroots conservative base. A Sunshine State News article announcing the appointment provided a typical media assessment:

“On paper anyway, this Jacksonville native looks almost the perfect cross between tea-party outsider and party-vetted insider. He is highly regarded among the state’s Republican leadership, having worked as chief of staff for former Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton, a tea-party favorite who had no experience in political, or even public, office.”

“Adam is a problem solver and that’s what we need to continue on Governor Scott’s successes,” then-Republican Party of Florida Chairman Harold Fry told Sunshine State News.

In reality, however, Hollingsworth’s record is far from that of a Tea Party conservative or even a mainstream Republican.

At the time Scott appointed Hollingsworth to be his chief of staff, one of Hollingsworth’s most outspoken advocates was longtime Democratic legislator James Harold Thompson. Sunshine State News reports that “Hollingsworth considers [Thompson] a personal mentor.”

Thompson spent 12 years representing Democrats in the Florida legislature, including a term as House Speaker.

Hollingsworth’s connections to high-profile Democrats extend far beyond considering a former Democratic Speaker of the House to be his personal mentor. Hollingsworth also worked on the staff for Democratic U.S. Congressman Charlie Bennett, Democratic U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown and Jacksonville Mayor Ed Austin, who flip-flopped between being a Democrat and a Republican.

Most troubling to conservatives is Hollingsworth’s work for Corrine Brown, who for the past 20 years has been one of the more liberal members of the U.S. Congress. Brown voted for the Obama stimulus, the TARP bailouts, cash for clunkers, aggressive affirmative action programs, renewable energy subsidies, and global warming restrictions. Brown voted against school choice, free trade agreements, energy production on federal lands, requiring photo identification to vote in federal elections, and legislation defining marriage as one man and one woman. Brown received an “F” from the National Rifle Association for her repeated votes against gun rights.

A closer examination of Hollingsworth’s work for former Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton reveals that neither Peyton nor Hollingsworth were nearly as consistent with conservative or Tea Party values as the Sunshine State News originally asserted.

Although Peyton campaigned as a conservative Republican when he first ran for Jacksonville mayor, he quickly moved to the left upon taking office. Peyton launched an expensive “early reading” program in which taxpayers footed the bill for new government programs aimed at preschoolers, including giving books about the city of Jacksonville to all mothers giving birth in Jacksonville hospitals. Studies showed the programs conveyed no long-term educational benefits to Jacksonville schoolchildren.

Peyton moved even further to the left in 2008 after naming Hollingsworth his new chief of staff. Peyton successfully pushed for a 9 percent property tax hike during 2009 and pushed for an additional 14 percent property tax hike in 2010. With Hollingsworth helping direct policy as his chief of staff, Peyton strayed so far from his professed conservative values that the Jacksonville Examiner published an article titled, “Crist, Peyton and politics as usual

“Back in 2003, John Peyton ran for mayor as the major conservative candidate,” Examiner columnist Kevin Michael Derby noted.

“I don’t remember tax hikes being part of the conservative credo,” Derby observed.

“I’m starting to think conservatives are the biggest group of suckers in America….” Derby continued. “Conservatives rage against government spending and supported the GOP during one of the largest periods of federal growth under President Bush, Speaker Hastert, and Senate Majority Leader Frist. Peyton and Crist are just the latest pair who have gotten away with it.”

The sum of Hollingsworth’s record is quite different from the media’s assertion that Hollingsworth is a Tea Party favorite who has been deeply vetted by conservative Republicans. To the contrary, Hollingsworth’s record is clearly one of a longtime Democrat who occasionally joins Republican politicians to help steer them to the left.

The only remaining question is, did Hollingsworth give birth to Rick Scott’s dash to the political left after Hollingsworth became Scott’s chief of staff, or did Scott choose Hollingsworth as chief of staff precisely because of Hollingsworth’s strong connections with Democrats and his experience assisting Republicans dash to the political left?

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