David Royse of the News Service of Florida reports that Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday defended his decision to hire tea party activist Robin Stublen as a new “deputy director of public liaison” at $70,000 a year, pledging to “hold him accountable” to the taxpayers.
Stublen is one of seven people working around the state with a goal of keeping their ear to the ground for what the public wants, Scott said. While Stublen is just one of two deputies in the office, his hiring drew immediate criticism from Democrats and other critics of the Republican governor, who has gotten heavy backing from the tea party movement.
In all, the seven people in the office are paid $400,000.
A statement put out by the state Democratic Party said Scott was offering his “Tea Party cronies” jobs.
“It looks like Rick Scott only believes in less government when it means slashing jobs for hardworking Floridians,” the statement said.
But Scott said he didn’t hire Stublen because he was a tea party activist.
“I hired him because he’s good – and don’t worry I’ll hold him accountable,” Scott said during a brief question-and-answer session with reporters Tuesday afternoon.
Scott said the seven special assistants who work around the state are “there to make sure I hear what people – what’s important.”.
Scott spokesman Lane Wright said the office is headed by Michael Dew, with two new hires, Greg Williams, a former aide to former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, and Stublen working as deputy directors. Dew has been there for several months, as have been the other five people in the office, Wright said.
The office itself isn’t new either, with several other governors going back several years having similar positions in their budget.
Dew makes $90,000 a year.
Stublen, of Punta Gorda, owns a pest control and lawn business and has long been active in Charlotte County politics. He is the founder and editor of the website Hotteanews.com and has run unsuccessfully for the Charlotte County Commission.
He’s perhaps just as famous in Punta Gorda for covering his house at Christmas time with 350,000 lights, drawing admiring crowds, who have given Stublen thousands of dollars to donate to local Kiwanis clubs. An article in Mother Jones said Stublen calls his hobby “extreme lighting.”
Scott got several questions from reporters on Tuesday on the new hires, and his staff eventually pulled him away. As he was leaving, a reporter noted that Stublen will be making $70,000.
“He’d better do a very good job,” Scott replied.
The other staff in the liaison office are Russ Abrams Adam Giery, Roger Roscoe, Sheela Venero and Jose Bermudez.
Having the office try to gauge public opinion appears to fit in to Scott’s broad new approach to boost his popularity, though Wright pointed out that the office has been in existence all along.
The governor’s office has brought on several new staff lately, instituted a series of public appearances where the governor works in ordinary Floridians’ jobs for a couple hours, and made the governor far more available to the press than he previously was.
Scott also on Tuesday did just his second appearance before a newspaper editorial board, sitting down with The Tallahassee Democrat. Scott says he will do numerous editorial board interviews aimed at explaining his policies.
Scott denied he’s got a new public persona.
“I’m no different,” Scott told reporters.