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Midnight oil loses appeal for Bush staff


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 1, 2000

Slow down, Governor.

You are burning out the folks around you. Working all day and all night is not healthy for any of us, especially for the people who make key decisions important to the citizens of Florida.

In the past few months the exodus has been striking, particularly among staffers who have decided to put the well-being of their families above the prestige of working for a politically popular governor.

The first to exit was Ken Plante, a former Republican senator and lobbyist who left the private sector to help out the governor during his first legislative session. After guiding Gov. Jeb Bush to one of the best first-term sessions any governor ever had, Plante departed for his old job and to spend more time with his family.

Plante didn't need to build up his own prestige and could not be expected to donate his nights and weekends to governing at a time when many men and women his age are cutting back.

At his age and place in life, Plante, 61, wanted to spend more time with wife, Sandy, who has since been through heart bypass surgery.

Then Deputy Chief of Staff David Rancourt, father of two small children, left to join the private sector and lobby the Legislature. He traded night and weekend work for a couple of tough months when lawmakers are in town.

The rest of the year, Rancourt can work more normal hours.

General Counsel Carol Licko was the next to walk, saying she'll return to her law practice and family in Miami.

She had been commuting back to spend weekends with her husband and working endless hours in the Capitol.

She's being quickly followed by Allison DeFoor, the governor's Everglades policy coordinator. DeFoor is taking his very sound environmental credentials -- probably the best in the Bush administration -- and going back to a private law practice. He'll divide his time between St. Marks south of Tallahassee and the Florida Keys.

Tony Villamel, the governor's top economic development adviser, is also leaving, to spend more time with his family.

It's not all that unusual for the staff that accompanies a governor into office to have some turnover after the first year, but the people Bush is losing are the people with valuable state government experience he desperately needs.

Plante, who had years of private lobbying experience, took a huge pay cut to return to the public payroll and help a new Republican governor. His departure was a big loss.

Attracting people like Plante back to state government is a good way to recruit experienced hands and find people who are not trying to merely build a resume and gain influence.

Rancourt didn't have as many years in the Capitol, but he had a lot of connections. He once ran the state Division of Elections and was the top deputy in the secretary of state's office when Bush found him.

I'm not suggesting that the bright young campaign-seasoned faces around Bush are not competent, but some of them also have lives and families and could use a break.

Bush also needs some gray hair around his place. I know he likes to show Floridians that he is not bound by the way things used to work around Tallahassee, but a certain number of "old hands" who know how to find the Department of Transportation wouldn't be all bad.

Besides, they might even be able to teach the governor how to spell "Tallahassee."

Maybe you noticed recently when Bush and Education Commissioner Tom Gallagher sent out a letter to the state's teachers -- of all people -- misspelling the name of the state capital in the letterhead!

Maybe this is a Republican problem. Remember potato?

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