Gov. Rick Scott names Melissa Sellers new chief of staff

Melissa Sellers, who successfully managed Gov. Rick Scott’s reelection campaign, will handle the reins of state government as his new chief of staff.

Sellers, 32, a Texas native and University of Texas journalism graduate, will start Dec. 1. She replaces Adam Hollingsworth, who long ago planned to resign after the election. He was paid $151,000 a year.

“It’s humbling,” Sellers said Monday. “I’m honored.”

Though not widely known outside Republican Party circles, Sellers soon will hold the most influential appointed job in state government. It will complete a rapid rise to prominence that began when Scott hired her to be his chief spokeswoman a little more than two years ago.

The chief of staff regulates access to the governor, oversees hiring and promotions, and speaks with the governor’s authority in dealing with the three elected Florida Cabinet members, agency heads and the Legislature in what can become a grueling cycle of long days.

At the top of Sellers’ priority list is fulfilling Scott’s package of second-term campaign promises, which include increasing public school funding to record high per-pupil levels and $1 billion in tax cuts over the next two years. In addition, at least two of Scott’s agency heads are expected to resign and return to the private sector in the coming weeks.

Sellers is not the youngest person to hold the position. Brian Ballard was 29 when he worked under Gov. Bob Martinez more than two decades ago, and used it as a springboard to a lucrative career as a Tallahassee lobbyist.

In a 1990 profile of Ballard in the Orlando Sentinel, state Rep. Dale Patchett offered an apt job description for the chief of staff: “the governor’s designated SOB.”

Sellers will accompany Scott to Boca Raton on Tuesday for meetings of the Republican Governors Association. The RGA, chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, steered $22 million into Scott’s campaign. Scott defeated Democrat Charlie Crist in the Nov. 4 election.

Christie will be one of many potential 2016 presidential contenders at the RGA conference. Another is Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who gave Sellers her first big political break as his communications director in 2007.