Marc Caputo: Hollingsworth’s lie about PR degree bad spin for Gov. Rick Scott

12/08/2013 5:17 PM

12/08/2013 8:18 PM

Adam Hollingsworth sometimes gave an aw-shucks self-deprecating line when he gave advice: “I’m just a guy with a P.R. degree from Alabama.”

It was a lie.

And it caught up with Hollingsworth, now Gov. Rick Scott’s chief of staff, when The Miami Herald-Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee bureau exposed the academic fraud on Friday.

Hollingsworth didn’t just verbally deceive people. He twice explicitly allowed his former employer, CSX Corporation, to issue press releases in 1998 and 2002 saying he graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree.

Hollingsworth had no degree at the time. He earned one years later.

“I am not proud of this and I deeply apologize for this misrepresentation,” Hollingsworth said in a written statement.

“I have learned from this failure in judgment and know that, over the last several years, my life and character have and will continue to grow from this.”

Is Hollingsworth now telling the full truth?

Hollingsworth denied his deception contributed to his departure from the railroad giant. But a tipster who worked at CSX with Hollingsworth said his lies played a part.

Something noteworthy clearly happened after Hollingsworth unexpectedly left CSX to work for Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton in 2004: He stopped lying about his academic record.

Why the sudden decision to become honest about it? If he hadn’t been caught lying at CSX, how would the corporate tipster know about the deception, which Hollingsworth kept secret for years?

Hollingsworth won’t explain. CSX wouldn’t comment.

Hollingsworth has shown he’ll keep a lie secret until caught. He didn’t tell the governor about his “misrepresentation” until the media busted him.

Cover-ups often compound the crime of a lie, but Scott is sticking by him, saying in a statement that he has “confidence in Adam as my chief of staff, and my friend … I know him to be a man of tremendous integrity and character.”

Considering Hollingsworth is his third (and most-effective) staff chief, Scott is running out of replacement options as he faces reelection.

In this election atmosphere, Hollingsworth is no longer just someone shaping politics and policy behind the scenes. He’s now a political issue in a campaign season where Scott and his Democratic challengers are calling each other untrustworthy.

“Rick Scott was unaware his top aide had lied for years, and when told, did absolutely nothing about it,” Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant said in a press release Sunday.

“This is another unfortunate example of Scott and his allies acting as if the rules every other Floridian must follow don’t apply to them.”

DOUBLE STANDARD

Republicans say Democrats are trying to score cheap political points, and note that Democratic candidate Charlie Crist saw his campaign manager last week mysteriously depart before he started.

However, Hollingsworth’s case is different, owing to his current position and the transgression.

And aside from the double-talk, a double standard abides.

Four top state officials have left office during Hollingsworth’s term when headlines turned bad. Of them, three faced troubles over issues that occurred prior to joining Scott’s team, and they said they didn’t want to become a “distraction” hurting the governor or the state.

•  Commissioner of Education Tony Bennett resigned in August amid claims that, in his prior job in Indiana, he had changed grades to benefit a charter school. Bennett decried the “malicious, unfounded reports,” and an independent review board later cleared him of any wrongdoing. But Bennett said he stepped down because he didn’t “think anything should distract us.”
•  The Department of Economic Opportunity’s executive director, Hunting Deutsch, quit a year ago when word surfaced that he collected unemployment benefits while traveling in Europe before he was hired. Said Deutsch in a letter to Scott: “I find the current media focus on my personal matters a distraction to the agency and your administration and believe it is best for me to leave.”
•  Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll resigned in March right after state investigators interviewed her in a criminal case against Allied Veterans of the World, an illegal gambling operation that masqueraded as a nonprofit charity. Carroll, before she joined Scott’s ticket in 2010, did P.R. work for the company. She was later cleared of wrongdoing. “I thought it would be better to remove myself from being a distraction,” Carroll explained to the Associated Press. Hollingsworth wrote her resignation letter and told her she had to sign it.

After helping engineer Carroll’s ouster, Hollingsworth then began boxing out Scott’s top political advisor and pollster, Tony Fabrizio, and other Scott supporters.

ALL TO HIMSELF

Now, as the most-influential voice whispering in Scott’s ear, Hollingsworth’s power has increased because he’s the top official vetting replacements for lieutenant governor — a post he helped make vacant.

The position has been open for an exceedingly long time — nine months — and Republican insiders say Hollingsworth has advocated for his close ally, state Sen. John Thrasher, to get the post or has positioned himself for it.

Hollingsworth also might be in line to become the official manager of Scott’s reelection campaign.

For months, Hollingsworth has been a de facto campaign chief for Scott. He assumed his post in 2012, telling staffers that they’d partly measure success by public-opinion polls. Scott’s approval ratings have essentially remained flat, though.

Hollingsworth also issued a 20-point “Rules of the Road” document to staffers.

The first: “Teamwork, Trust, Respect.”

From his lies to his behind-the-scenes maneuvers, Hollingsworth’s leadership has so strained those three tenets that it’s part of the political dialogue in Tallahassee.

It’s not helping Scott.

You don’t need a P.R. degree from Alabama or anywhere else to figure that out.

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