TALLAHASSEE -- The search that began in March and stalled over the summer because of the long shadow cast by a powerful state senator is expected to end Tuesday.
Florida State University will pick a new president this afternoon, and Sen. John Thrasher is among four finalists. Several members of the Board of Trustees who will make the final selection have supported Thrasher politically over the years.
All four finalists will interview with the board for about an hour today. 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, are all in Tallahassee. Michael Martin, chancellor of the Colorado State University System who is still recovering from surgery to repair a detached retina, will interview using videoconferencing.
Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican, continues to draw the most attention. He enjoys support of members of Florida’s political and business community with FSU ties, but has faced strong opposition from students and faculty. His interview is up first.
The Board of Trustees meeting will begin no earlier than 2:15 p.m. and includes a public comment period before a selection is made.
Thrasher has a long political career that includes eight years in the Florida House, including two as its speaker, and he returned to the Legislature in 2009 when he won a special election for a Senate seat. Thrasher served a yearlong stint as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and is currently chairman of Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign.
The majority of the 13-member board of trustees are appointed by Scott either directly or indirectly via the Board of Governors, which itself consists mostly of Scott appointees. Student body President Stefano Cavallaro and Faculty Senate President Gary Tyson are automatic members of the board.
Many of the remaining 11 have financially supported Thrasher campaigns or the Republican Party during the time Thrasher was chairman.
Trustee Emily Fleming Duda, who was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush, married into the family that owns A. Duda and Sons agriculture and real estate company that has donated $3,600 to Thrasher since the 1990s. While he was Republican Party chairman, the Duda family donated $80,000 to the party.
Most of the other donations were far less substantial when taken into consideration that Thrasher has raised millions over his political career.
Trustee Ed Burr, who was chairman of the presidential search committee that recommended these four finalists, has personally donated $2,500 to Thrasher’s Senate campaigns over the years. He is president and CEO of GreenPointe Holdings in Jacksonville, which gave Thrasher another $1,500 during that period.
Lobbyist Brian Ballard, husband of FSU trustee Kathryn Ballard, has donated personally or through his company $1,500 to Thrasher. The company also wrote a $300 check to the Florida GOP during the time Thrasher was its chairman.
Trustee Peggy Rolando is partner of a law firm that has donated $1,250 to Thrasher over the years.
During the time Thrasher was chairman, the Republican Party also received donations from Brent Sembler, Leslie Pantin, Joseph Gruters and and Andrew Haggard or their business interests. Those donations ranged from $190 to $30,000.