Politics

Gov. Rick Scott appoints transportation secretary

On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott chose Jim Boxold, a longtime capital insider, to be Florida’s next transportation secretary.

Boxold, who since 2013 has been former Secretary Ananth Prasad’s chief of staff and director of legislative affairs, was one of three finalists recommended Thursday by the Florida Transportation Commission.

“It is an absolute honor to be appointed as secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation today,” Boxhold said in a statement.

A virtual unknown outside of transportation political circles, Boxold now holds one of the most powerful jobs in Florida government.

Boxold, 40, lacks an engineering degree and has limited transportation experience, but he has consistently held key political posts. Boxold served 10 years as director of cabinet affairs under Agriculture Commissioners Adam Putnam and Charles Bronson. He also served two years as deputy director of Cabinet affairs under Gov. Jeb Bush.

He graduated in 1995 from George Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

“Jim will bring passion, energy and experience to our mission of making Florida the premier destination for jobs,” Scott said in a statement.

The pick showed Scott’s preference of the status quo. Scott passed over the two outsiders: Eugene Conti, who served as secretary of the North Carolina Department of Transportation, and Art Misiaszek, deputy division engineer overseeing Amtrak’s construction projects in New England.

Boxold was described Thursday by Florida Transportation Commission member Jay Trumbull as the candidate who “gives the governor somebody to completely continue with what’s taken place in the last four years.”

It’s the second time that Scott has named a top DOT official to replace the departing secretary. When Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos left in 2011, Scott chose Prasad, then a DOT assistant secretary, after a national search drew 46 applicants from all over the nation. Among the nine finalists were top officials from Georgia, Indiana and Minnesota.

This year’s search was abbreviated, running only two weeks and drawing a total of eight applicants. Commission Chairman Ronald Howse said he decided on the shortened search because it would have taken too long, about a month and a half, to advertise and review applicants.

Commissioner Maurice Ferre said that two people called him to complain that the shortened process was rigged in favor of a candidate Scott had already decided to pick. Ferre said the two people didn’t specify whom Scott intended to hire.

Boxold was a clear favorite. On Thursday, commissioners lavished the most praise on him.

“What’s going on with Cuba is going to affect us, the whole issue of trade and change, and our relationship with Washington is going to be important,” said John Browning of East Palatka. “(Boxold) has worked in Washington (he served as the legislative director for U.S. Rep. Porter Goss from 1995-2001) and he’s worked with Adam Putnam.”

Howse defended the shortened search and dismissed speculation that Scott had already made his choice.

“Every time I’ve seen what he’s done, he interviews, he really does go from his heart,” Howse said. “It’s almost like a gut feel.”

Scott’s choice didn’t come as a surprise to Misiaszek, who said he spent 30 minutes on the phoneThursday with Scott talking about the job. He was informed Friday morning that he didn’t get it.

During Prasad’s tenure, the state’s budget woes receded, allowing the DOT’s budget to grow from $6.9 billion to about $10 billion. The job pays about $141,000 and oversees 6,500 employees and a work plan through mid 2019 that has nearly 7,000 projects, including 762 new lane miles, 7,345 repaved miles, 190 repaired bridges and 76 replaced bridges.

Contact Michael Van Sickler at mvansickler@tampabay.com. Follow @mikevansickler.

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