Insiders, cronies fill crucial positions at Florida agencies

Florida is full of technology talent. There’s a 17-year-old in Tampa who hacked the Twitter feeds of billionaire Masters of Technology Bill Gates and Elon Musk. There’s a 16-year-old at South Miami Senior High who brought Miami-Dade’s first week of virtual school to a virtual standstill.

Florida also has law-abiding adults who know how to design and manage technology that customers can count on. The state desperately needs such a person to head up the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), the state agency that houses CONNECT, the laughably named digital trainwreck that workers must navigate to access what meager unemployment benefits state law allows.

Failed candidates

Gov. DeSantis himself vilified CONNECT as a jalopy for which the state paid a Lamborghini price. Yet he gave the task of cleaning up the DEO mess to Dane Eagle, a former state representative and recently failed congressional candidate. Eagle is a real-estate broker, and the only mess he has successfully cleaned up is his own DUI arrest following a late-night snack at a Tallahassee Taco Bell.

To be fair, Eagle is not the first, or the worst, unqualified individual hired by this and previous governors to lead an agency that controls the quality of life and, often, life itself, for Florida residents and visitors. The bipartisan tradition of giving important jobs to politicians rejected by the electorate has put down deep roots. Governors from both parties have handed out state agencies as consolation prizes to manifestly unqualified individuals who, like Eagle, have made friends in what Tallahassee movers and shakers smugly refer to as “the process.”

Term limits accelerated the pernicious qualifications-optional trend. DeSantis could earn a place on the short list of genuinely great Floridians if he put an end to it. To date, however, he has followed in the dishonorable tradition of his predecessors.

Consider: Following her failed 2018 bid for governor of Maine, Mary Mayhew spent a few weeks running federal Medicaid for President Trump before moving south — presumably with Trump’s blessing — to serve DeSantis as secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), where the mission, we are told, is to provide “better healthcare for all Floridians.”

New job for Mayhew

In the time it took for 12,000 Floridians to die of coronavirus, Mayhew’s agency awarded a $135 million technology contract to the same company that designed CONNECT.

Mayhew says she wasn’t involved in the deal — perhaps because she was busy plotting her exit strategy from AHCA. In her brand-new job as president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association, she’ll be paid a small fortune to help her board of directors hang on to their large fortunes; meanwhile, lower-wage workers who provide hands-on patient care will continue to spend their off-duty hours waiting in line at food banks and scrounging for PPE.

Florida governors have been using the state agencies they control as golden parachutes and short-term parking for so long that we hardly notice.

But for millions of Floridians, economic opportunity is entirely out of reach. That should not come as a shock to the Legislature, whose members have been inundated with pleas for help from desperate constituents facing hunger and homelessness in unprecedented numbers.

Florida’s state agencies, courts, universities and non-profits have, for far too long, served as dumping grounds for political hacks, has-beens and hangers-on.

It has to stop. The governor should step up here.

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