Florida’s got its own Winston Wolfe.
You remember “The Wolfe.” He was the character played by Harvey Keitel in the Quentin Tarantino movie, Pulp Fiction.
“I solve problems,” was how The Wolfe described his many-faceted job working for a powerful, but unseen boss.
Florida’s Winston Wolfe is Pete Antonacci, who fixes things for Gov. Rick Scott.
Five years ago, Scott picked Antonacci, a 63-year-old career lawyer, to briefly fill a vacancy as Palm Beach County State Attorney, then brought him to Tallahassee to be Scott’s own legal counsel.
Antonacci was the guy who was tapped by Scott to remove the politically disloyal head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Gerald Bailey, from his office two years ago.
Bailey, who had served atop that agency for eight years, had complained that Scott had tried to politicize the state’s police agency during the 2014 campaign by soliciting for campaign contributions on work computers, using the FDLE inappropriately at campaign events and trying to get Bailey to falsely single out a public official as a suspect in a criminal investigation.
This was a problem. Scott sent The Wolfe to fix it.
A month after the election, Antonacci paid Bailey an unannounced visit and quietly removed the top cop from his office in one afternoon, telling him he was fired and had to leave immediately. But Bailey had been appointed by the entire Florida Cabinet, not just the governor. So Scott didn’t have the authority to summarily fire Bailey.
Another problem. It was fixed by telling the remaining cabinet members that Bailey had resigned voluntarily, and telling Bailey that the other members of the cabinet, and not just Scott, had decided to fire him. Which they hadn’t.
Messy, but it got the job done. Bailey complained, but in the end, he was gone and Scott got off unscathed after issuing a vague, feeble apology to the other cabinet members he had played.
“It is clear in hindsight that I could have handled it better,” Scott told them.
The Wolfe had done his job. And Scott would soon send him off on another dirty-work mission.
This time it was to appoint Antonacci as executive director of The South Florida Water Management District to replace an outgoing director who resisted Scott’s call to lower taxes and spend less money on protecting Florida’s water resources.
Scott’s interest in protecting Florida’s environment is on par with his interest in protecting the hundreds of thousands of Floridians who were left without health insurance when he rejected the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.
So without even posting the water-management position to willing and knowledgeable applicants, Scott appointed his lawyer to head the board to oversee this $750 million-a-year environmental agency — and to make sure tax cuts and budget cuts would continue.
This month, The Wolfe wrote a letter announcing that the South Florida Water Management District would be cutting its ties with scientists hired by Congress to oversee the cleanup of the Everglades, which is supposed to be a joint federal-state project.
Antonacci wrote that the state wouldn’t be cooperating with the scientists due to “top down Washington nitpicking into the management and operations.”
But it’s probably because the scientists have been advocating buying land south of Lake Okeechobee for water storage. And that would take tax dollars that could be used for Scott’s other priorities — corporate handouts in the name of business development.
Which is The Wolfe next assignment.
Last week, Scott picked The Wolfe to run Enterprise Florida, the controversial business recruitment agency that uses mostly public money to produce announcements of future jobs that often don’t materialize.
The agency, which has been derided as “corporate welfare” by Florida lawmakers, got reworked this year to provide $85 million in grants to targeted industries, training programs, and infrastructure projects.
No audits. No job-creation requirements. No application requirements. And all subject to the sole approval of the governor.
So having Antonacci run Enterprise Florida for $165,000-a-year is like Gov. Scott picking himself to lead an agency that reports directly to himself.
It must be comforting for Scott to have a go-to guy like The Wolfe around. No dirty work seems beyond his grasp.
Or as Harvey Keitel said in Pulp Fiction:
“Get it straight, buster, I’m not here to say ‘please.’ I’m here to tell you what to do, and if self-preservation is an instinct you possess, you better (expletive deleted) do it, and do it quick. I’m here to help.”