Why wasn’t Ronnie Duncan next to Rick Scott during yesterday’s Gateway Express announcement?

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On Monday, Governor Rick Scott was in Pinellas to announce the acceleration of the ‘Gateway Express’ project — a $338 million elevated expressway linking I-275 to U.S. 19 and I-275 to the St. Pete/Clearwater Airport and Bayside Bridge. 

Behind Gov. Scott during this announcement were several local elected officials, including Senator Jeff Brandes and Representatives Larry Ahern and Ed Hooper. Even former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker was there to lend his gravitas to the announcement.

Also standing next to Scott were a handful of Florida Department of Transportation’s “Road Rangers,” whose mission is “to provide free highway assistance services during incidents to reduce delay and improve safety for the motoring public and responders.” (I imagine their mission yesterday was also to provide a few faces of color behind Gov. Scott, thereby avoiding the appearance that the announcement was just a gathering of serious-looking white men. For the record, there were no women behind Scott and very few in the room.)

There was one person in the room I am surprised wasn’t standing next to the governor: Ronnie Duncan.

One would think that the chairman of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority would be front-and-center during an announcement about transportation in the Tampa Bay area, but I think there was a reason why Duncan wasn’t standing next to Scott.

It’s because doing so would have provided just the kind of awkward juxtaposition the Tampa Tribune warned about in a recent editorial criticizing Duncan for serving double-duty as chair of TBARTA and the leader of the Greenlight Pinellas campaign.

How would it have looked if Duncan had been behind the podium in the auditorium of the Pinellas Realtors’ building for the launch of the Greenlight Pinellas campaign one day, then just a week later be behind the same podium for a TBARTA-related issue?

The word you are looking for is awkward, which is exactly what the Tribune warned against that, despite TBARTA’s attorney telling Duncan he can be on the steering committee for the Greenlight campaign as long as he makes it clear he is doing so as a private citizen and not in his capacity as TBARTA chair, Duncan’s “legal cover doesn’t eliminate the appearance of a conflict.”

Duncan told the Tribune he doesn’t want to do anything that might jeopardize Greenlight, and understands that appearances matter.

And that’s why he was in the back of the room at Gov. Scott’s announcement, even though his role as TBARTA chair should have had him up front. 

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.