Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The John Thrasher Affair, Gov. Rick Scott, and state sponsored cronyism at the ballot box in November … by gimleteye

News 4 Jacksonville: Thrasher as an extension of the politically prominent Koch brothers, whose foundation since 2008 has helped fund the FSU economics department. The billionaire brothers draw distain from some students for their support of conservative endeavors and for what is seen as the foundation's influence over the curriculum and hiring of professors.
Let's be clear. Although we live and work down here in Miami, what happened up there in Tallahassee with the insider dealing that just turned a political hack, John Thrasher, into the next president of FSU deserves full attention.

Why? Because the fight to elevate public attention was not -- as the media portrayed it -- a battle to assert the need for the president of major university to have appropriate academic credentials. (Thrasher does not.) It was the same ideological battle that is consuming other quasi public universities in one of the nation's most important electoral states. Not a battle between liberals and conservatives, although the fault lines run in that direction.

The battle over the Thrasher nomination was, while it lasted, about state sponsored cronyism that is serving to solidify the larger economic framework through which insiders have seized control of the apparatus of state government. It is also the legacy of Gov. Rick Scott.

There was never a doubt that the former GOP speaker of the House, John Thrasher, would be appointed by a board of trustees whose chairman was also a former GOP speaker of the House.

Thrasher was a foregone conclusion. Still, faculty and student resistance to Thrasher's lack of academic qualifications kept the issue in play long enough for the public to start paying attention.

Apparently, advisors to the board of trustees agreed that inserting Thrasher into the top spot without interviewing anyone else was too obvious. Then, FSU Trustees went through the motions of interviewing a few others.

The backtracking gave the public the chance to consider who and what Thrasher represents. For instance, yesterday we republished the fawning letter to the Tallahassee Democrat by one of Thrasher's backers in the state legislature; Barney Bishop, former head of Associated Industries of Florida.

In recent years, Associated Industries has funded or supported every citizen initiative threatening Florida's status quo. In 2008 Bishop and Thrasher were collaborators in lies spread about the grass roots citizen's referendum -- the last, by the way -- called Florida Hometown Democracy. The lies manifested through a multi-million dollar campaign to defeat Florida Hometown Democracy. In mailers to likely voters, Thrasher flat out lied to Florida voters.

The controversy over Thrasher's appointment didn't get into the facts of his role, nor of his support for Everglades destruction legislation on behalf of Big Sugar in the early 2000's. But that piece of state sponsored cronyism resulted in nearly 10 years of federal litigation by the organization for which I serve as volunteer board chair (Friends of the Everglades) is precisely along the lines of cronyism recently disclosed by the Tampa Bay Times: Big Sugar secretly entertained top GOP legislators at the King Ranch in Texas.

Gov. Rick Scott appointed the Florida chief of King Ranch operations to the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District that defended the law-breaking legislation Thrasher spear-headed in 2003. John Thrasher is co-chair of Gov. Scott's re-election campaign. Had enough?

The Miami Herald/AP report omits that Allen Bense, chairman of the board of FSU trustees, is -- like Thrasher -- also a former speaker of the Florida House. Bense's son-in-law, Will Weatherford, is current speaker of the Florida House. They did not just, in the words of the Herald/AP report, "work alongside one another". Bense is also a board member of the right wing James Madison Institute, whose biases shine through its own website's "links of note".

If rampant cronyism isn't enough for voters to lift Charlie Crist above Rick Scott in November, I don't know what is.

In controversial decision, FSU names John Thrasher its new president
09/23/2014 2:00 AM 09/23/2014 8:18 PM

A search that began in March and stalled over the summer because of the long shadow cast by a powerful state senator ended Tuesday when the Florida State University Board of Trustees named Sen. John Thrasher the school’s new president.

“I am honored to have been selected by the Board of Trustees to serve as Florida State University’s next president,” Thrasher said in a statement. “I look forward to leading the university to even higher levels of excellence. My goal is to advance the faculty and the research, service and teaching mission of this university. I want Florida State to be the best place for students to receive an education, so they can realize their dreams.”

Board of Trustees Chairman Allan Bense, who worked alongside Thrasher in the Florida House, led the 11-2 vote. Faculty Senate President Gary Tyson, a computer science professor, and Trustee Peggy Rolando, a Miami real estate attorney, cast the only dissenting votes.

“I think he has the skills, and it’s not all about money, but money is the big thing,” Bense said after the vote.

Supporters say Thrasher, 70, is the best person to help FSU reach its $1 billion fundraising goal and aspirations to become one of the nation’s top 25 public universities.

Opponents say the fix was in from the start and no one else ever had a chance. Some students chanted “FSU is not for sale” immediately after the vote.

“It was absolutely disgusting; I’m ashamed of this school,” said FSU junior Regina Joseph from Miramar.

Though FSU officials said early in the day that whoever was selected president would be available to reporters after the vote, Thrasher did not return to campus Tuesday evening.

The Board of Trustees interviewed all four finalists Tuesday. Thrasher, former West Virginia University Provost Michele Wheatly and Richard Marchase, vice president of research and economic development at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, all appeared in person. Michael Martin, chancellor of the Colorado State University System, was interviewed via videoconferencing due to recent surgery to repair a detached retina.

The state Board of Governors must sign off on the selection, though in the past that has been a formality. But first, FSU trustees must finalize a contract with Thrasher.

Former President Eric Barron’s salary was $395,000, and he also received fundraising bonuses.

Thrasher is running for re-election to his northeast Florida Senate seat. If he does not step down until after the November general election, Gov. Rick Scott will call a special election to find a replacement to serve the remainder of his four-year term. If he steps down before the election, Republican leaders in Thrasher’s district will appoint someone to replace him on the ballot.

“While I am hopeful that the BOG will accept the trustees’ decision, that final decision will not be known until November,” Thrasher said in a statement. “In the meantime, I intend to continue to campaign for re-election to the Senate and will continue to carry out my commitment to the people of my district. If I am ultimately selected to lead FSU, this will allow the voters to select who will be the next senator from the 6th district.”

Thrasher, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business and a law degree from FSU, said all along that his political and business connections made him the best man for the job. But opponents, including faculty and students, cited his lack of academic credentials and conservative politics as reasons not to select him.

The Board of Trustees disagreed. Many of the members have supported Thrasher politically over the years and most were appointed by Gov. Rick Scott. Thrasher is chairman of Scott’s re-election campaign.

During his final interview Tuesday morning, Thrasher stressed his humble beginnings and ties to his alma mater, where the medical school building is named after him.

“If I’ve had any success whatsoever, I owe it to Florida State University,” Thrasher said.

A lawyer and lobbyist by trade, Thrasher served in the U.S. Army between his stints at FSU and earned two Bronze Stars in Vietnam.

He served eight years in the Florida House, including two as its speaker. He returned to the Legislature in 2009 when he won a special election for a Senate seat. Thrasher also served for a year as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and is currently chairman of Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign.

The FSU Board of Trustees said it expects Thrasher to step down from Scott’s campaign in the coming days. A spokeswoman for Thrasher told the Associated Press he is expected to do that on Wednesday.

A portion of Thrasher’s interview with the trustees focused on his tenure as the first board chairman and his long history raising funds for the university. When he mentioned having helped establish the College of Medicine, trustee Emily Fleming Duda chimed in: “I think you’re being modest, you had a lot to do with it.”

Later, trustee Andrew Haggard praised Thrasher’s tenure when he served as the Board of Trustees’ first chairman from 2001 through 2005.

“I can’t compliment you enough, John, as chairman,” Haggard said. “If you can do that same job as president …” His voice trailed off without finishing the sentence.

FSU has been without a president since Eric Barron left in April to take the top post at Penn State University. The process to hire a successor has been bumpy ever since Thrasher emerged as a candidate. Initially FSU planned to interview him ahead of all candidates but that created a backlash and ultimately led to the search being delayed.

Emails obtained by The Associated Press this past summer showed that the consultant first hired to help FSU told the head of the search committee that the university was trying to "concoct a competitive process" that would end with Thrasher's hiring. Those same emails showed Thrasher reached out directly to top FSU officials about the job and that the former campaign manager of Scott gave advice about the search.

Contact Tia Mitchell at Follow @tbtia.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Read more here:

John Thrasher named new president of FSU

Florida State's board of trustees vote 11-2 for state senator from St. Augustine. A highly scrutinized search for the next president of Florida State University will ends as most people expected, with the selection of John Thrasher, the politically connected state Senator from St. Augustine.

The FSU board of trustees voted 11-2 Tuesday afternoon for the 70-year-old Thrasher over three academic candidates. The state university system's Board of Governors also needs to ratify the Thrasher selection.

Student protesters began chanting "FSU is not for sale" after the vote.

Florida State has been without a president since Eric Barron stepped down to take the top job at Penn State University.

Thrasher is a state Senator representing St. Johns and Flagler County, former state House speaker and an attorney. He has long-standing ties to the institution and worked in the legislature to help FSU gain a medical school.

Dozens of students showed up Tuesday to rally and march against Thrasher, voicing their concern over putting a politician in charge of the university rather than an educator.

“Starting back in May and June when they tried to rush to judgement, it was the combination of students and faculty together that got us to this moment,” said FSU Communications Professor Andy Opel.

Not every student was against Thrasher, the lawmaker had large amounts of support from fraternities and sororities on campus.

“I do believe he’ll do a wonderful job for this university. Resources are what we need at this university, John Thrasher can provide that,” said Pi Kappa Alpha president Joe Vance.

Thrasher touted his ties to the legislature which would help increase funding for the school and make them a top 25 institution. Fellow lawmaker and alumni Matt Gaetz dropped by to support Thrasher.

“Personally I believe that John Thrasher is the most qualified candidate. I think he’ll be equally as respected in the halls of the Florida legislature as he will be in the homes of our most substantial donors,” said Rep. Gaetz.

Thrasher is running for reelection to for his senate seat. Officials have to sort out whether he can be name before the November ballot, a special election will be required or Gov. Rick Scott can appoint a replacement.

Copyright 2014 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Steve Cody said...

As an FSU alumni, it pains me that the new President of a top level research university won't even discuss his views on evolution. If he can't come to terms with high school biology, how can he oversee programs in advanced medicine and nuclear energy? I hope his new tenure will prove that he can break from his past and remake himself and an educational leader. I will not be holding my breath, however. Prior to Thrasher's appointment, FSU ceded oversight of the Economics Department to the Koch Brothers and have given them some say in the hiring of political science professors. The only saving grace may be the fact that Thrasher's time in office will be limited. He is, after all, a man in his seventies.

Anonymous said...

It could be worse for us in Miami... um has a juicy opening for president.

Geniusofdespair said...

If I had a child at FSU I would remove them at once. If I were considering sending my child to FSU, I would remove that school as an option. This is a travesty.

Anonymous said...

He might be a man in his seventies but so am I. 90 is a plausible age nowadays.

Geniusofdespair said...

Watch out for guys with comb-overs:


Anonymous said...

Ick, another lobbyist politician ex-elected official.

Anonymous said...

This fight is as old as the hills and definitely not new to FSU. Remember T.K. Wetherell? He was a former House Speaker (a Democrat by the way) who muscled his way into the FSU Presidency. The reality is that most modern university presidents spend their time hustling money from alumni, a skill set Mr. Thrasher has perfected. Some day FSU will decide it wants to be a serious institution but today, it is comfortable trading its top job for the many legislative favors Mr. Thrasher bestowed upon it.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't it Paul Revere who said


Anonymous said...

This move by FSU just made John Birch Society University look even better.

Anonymous said...

From the Eggplant, FSU News:

College Republicans to Throw ‘White Thrash Wednesday’ Inauguration PartySeptember 23, 2014 2 Comments

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This afternoon, now ex- senator John Thrasher was officially named the new president of Florida State University. Despite fervent disapproval from the majority of teachers and students, the College Republicans are about it, and will be throwing a “White Thrash Wednesday” party tomorrow night to celebrate the university’s new overlord.

Dress code for the party will be “conservative casual” and the event will take place at the president’s house off of Tennessee Street. “What we’re really celebrating is both the Thrash man and his aggressive whiteness, which guides and inspires us all,” said College Republican ringleader Richard Donahue. “I’m not saying that we CR’s are white supremacists. But every person attending this party will definitely be white and I’d say that’s pretty supreme.”

The party will feature no musical guest, as all potential candidates have already had most of their funding cut; but there will be dubstep remixes of Rick Scott’s campaign ads blasting. Also, rumor has it that Thrasher himself will be bartending the event, but will only be serving PBR’s and his specialty drink -“the Jack and Koch Brothers”

Unfortunately for White Thrash Wednesday goers, the party is expected to be met with protest and will likely be picketed by opposing students and teachers. “Not to worry though,” said Thrasher as he carefully selected a neon “turn down for what” tie for the occasion. “I’ve got security ready to kick out anyone who actually cares about the well-being of this university.”

Anonymous said...

To the Person that won't consider FSU as an option for his child: Didn't you make that decision after the Koch Bros. donation to the School of Business in return for curriculum control? That's when FSU went off the table at our house!

Anonymous said...

Well, we are the laughing stock of the nation, again. . . .