Rick Scott adviser had inside track to keep All Aboard Florida rail project rolling

Publish Date: 
Saturday, July 5, 2014 - 12:15pm

By Matt Dixon July 5, 2014 full Article at Naples News

When Gov. Rick Scott ran for governor in 2010, the GOP establishment supported former Attorney General Bill McCollum.

So, when Scott, a former health care executive, spent nearly $40 million of his own wealth to beat McCollum in the Republican primary, fences needed to be mended between the rookie politician and the party he now led.

Enter Adam Hollingsworth.

At the time of the 2010 primary, Hollingsworth was making $189,000-per-year as chief of staff to then-Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton. He took a leave of absence, recruited by both the Republican Party of Florida chairman and Scott campaign manager Susie Wiles, to help fix the relationship between Scott and the party’s elite.

Hollingsworth became one of Scott’s most trusted advisers, a position he used to influence the administration’s rejection of billions in federal high-speed rail money, then later lobby for a rail project that would benefit his employer, emails, text messages and administration documents obtained by the Scripps/Tribune Capital Bureau show.

Hollingsworth, through his office, declined to comment.

After the November 2010 election, Hollingsworth was brought on to serve as a transportation adviser to Scott’s transition team.

His role was not ceremonial. As adviser, Hollingsworth penned a draft letter informing federal administrators Florida was rejecting $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail line between Orlando and Tampa.

“Please find attached a draft letter for the governor to send US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood on high-speed rail,” Hollingsworth wrote in a Feb. 13, 2011, email to a handful of Scott advisers.

Hollingsworth’s letter included links to a study authored by the Libertarian-leaning Reason Foundation that found cost overruns could cost state taxpayers $3 billion, a number later cited by Scott.

After the state rejected the federal money, Hollingsworth became an executive at Parallel Infrastructure, a company owned by Florida East Coast Industries. That company also owns All Aboard Florida, now pushing a Miami to Orlando rail project.

Julie Edwards, All Aboard Florida’s chief marketing officer, said Hollingsworth working to reject the federal money didn’t help All Aboard Florida.

“It is completely different market, a completely different way to think about transportation,” she said of the different route proposals.

Because it’s a “small transportation world,” employment conversations between Hollingsworth and Parallel Infrastructure were likely occurring while he was advising Scott, Edwards said.

She said no one should “infer” those conversations included talk about the project.

After accepting a job with Parallel Infrastructure, Hollingsworth’s rail advice to Scott changed.

Almost immediately, he started lobbying the administration to support his employer’s new project, which now is being helped by millions in state taxpayer dollars and is expected to generate more than $170 million in revenue annually.

Hollingsworth’s close ties to Scott didn’t end when Hollingsworth went to work for the rail company. In May 2012, he became the Naples governor’s chief of staff, a job he holds today.

Back in 2010 in his advisory role to Scott, Hollingsworth helped assemble the state Department of Transportation that later signed off on the All Aboard Florida project.

Hollingsworth vetted candidates for transportation secretary, including current Secretary Ananth Prasad, helped shape policy decisions and received internal assessments of the department shortly after Scott was elected.

“We will have our DRAFT agency review document to you no later than midnight tonight,” wrote Doug Callaway, president of Floridians for Better Transportation, an industry trade group, in a December 2010 email to Hollingsworth and another adviser.

That was two weeks before Scott was sworn into office.

The Florida Transportation Commission proposes a slate of three secretary candidates for the governor to choose, a process that involved Hollingsworth.

“The three-name slate, from the Commission, goes to the governor on Monday,” he wrote in a Feb. 12, 2011, email to other Scott advisers. “From there, I would recommend that: we complete a vet on the three by Tuesday.”