Two days before the horrific massacre in Orlando, Kim McDougal said one of the biggest challenges in her new job as Gov. Rick Scott's chief of staff is that "if it happens in Florida, I feel it … because I care about everything."
McDougal, 53, replaced Melissa Sellers as the governor's top aide in April, after serving as deputy chief of staff, legislative affairs director and education policy coordinator in Scott's administration. McDougal has a lengthy resume covering her time in state government, beginning in 1989.
She's worked as governmental relations director and senior policy adviser for education commissioners. And McDougal also worked in former Gov. Jeb Bush's administration, as well as for the Legislature's Office of Program Policy and Government Accountability.
McDougal, whose rapid-fire speech is interspersed with smiles and laughter, is a self-described "policy wonk."
The News Service of Florida has five questions for Kim McDougal:
Q: What do you think the biggest misperception is about Gov. Scott?
McDOUGAL: That's a great question. Thank you for asking that. I think that the biggest misperception, from what I can tell, is that Gov. Scott is the most-humble, gracious man. So when folks meet him one-on-one, they love him. He is gracious and humble. You've met him. You've talked to him. He's a very nice man. He's a father. He's a grandfather. His eyes light up when he talks about his grandkids. He talks about the future of Florida through the eyes of his grandkids, and I love that. Not everybody sees that. And that's the biggest misperception. I don't think everyone knows that. I really wish Floridians would get to know Gov. Scott one-to-one.
(How can you rectify that?) He travels Florida. Every time he has an event, every time he shakes someone's hand, every time he says thank you, that misperception he's knocking off, one by one. The press could, obviously, write about that part of the side of him, but they typically don't. It would be great if the press wanted to talk about that, and they could talk to people that have met him one-on-one at an event, because he meets a ton of people every day.
Q: Since you've started your new job, what's surprised you the most?
McDOUGAL: How expansive this job is. There are 20 million Floridians. You have to know and learn about everything. The other jobs I've had, like leg affairs, deputy director, chief of staff, all the 20 different jobs I've had --- this job, you feel this job more than you feel any other job in state government. You hear about the good things that Floridians do, but you also hear about the tragedies that Floridians undergo, and you have to make sure, Gov. Scott wants to make sure, number one, if government was involved, did government do the right thing? If not, hold people accountable. So the governor wants to make sure that he's doing everything right with his agencies, with his people, if it's government-related. But you feel it. You feel the people involved in it, when there's accidents on the highway, when there's brush fires, when there's things at a prison, when there's things that happen to small children at school, you feel it. It's tough. But I love Florida and I have two years and six months to go and I'm going to do everything I can to help this governor. If it happens in Florida, I hear it and I feel it, because I care about everything. Even if it's not under his purview, he might call the families involved and say, "I'm sorry that happened." It may have nothing to do with government. But it's a Florida family that's hurting. Look at the people that serve in the military. If something happens, he calls the family. The press doesn't know about every time he calls people, because he does it because he's that gracious and humble man I talked about before. He reaches out and tells people, "I'm sorry. Just want to let you know I'm thinking about you and praying for you." That's who he is.
Q: What's the one thing you're most proud of working for the Scott administration, and what's your biggest disappointment?
McDOUGAL: You spent way too much time thinking of these questions, because that's a good one. Two-pronged, like the scales of justice. The most proud? The college affordability bill that passed last year. It actually took three years to get that bill passed. On the average, it takes a bill three years to get passed. It's crazy, because coming from Jeb, where we did a bunch of K-12, this governor is, we're carrying the torch forward. … This governor's done a lot of things in higher ed. Cutting the cost of prepaid (college plans) in half. That was huge. In that bill, making sure that they're going to hold the line on tuition. That was huge. Why do you want to hold the line on tuition? Because that's one of the reasons that prepaid has jacked up. And, during the recession, when everyone else's prices were flat and stagnant, tuition kept going up, like, I don't know, 15 percent. It was just crazy. So the governor really understands the value of higher education. Whether it's a state college, whether it's a university, he wants it to be affordable and accessible to everybody. So the college affordability bill, holding the line on tuition, I'm very proud of the stuff that we've done to make a difference in higher ed. And his summit was fantastic. I am so excited about the ideas coming out of the summit, getting all of the corporate people, the business people, there with the education leaders. Brandon from Gallop, he did the most interesting statistics. This has been said before, but not in a room with almost 400 people. If you ask businesses are they happy with university graduates, are they ready for the work force, what do they say? I think 11 percent of businesses think they are. And when you ask the universities how prepared is your workforce, 98 percent think they are. There's just a disconnect between what we're doing over here and what they're expecting over there. So we have to keep getting the business world together with the universities to make sure they're prepared. You have them have conversations. When you talk to people in higher ed, (they say) we're not workforce. We don't prepare people for the workforce. I agree you don't, however, you fill the jobs of the workforce. … I'm excited about the conversations the governor's driving. He'll probably have another summit next year. This summit is exactly what they've been needing.
(The governor was criticized because the faculty wasn't invited to the summit.) This was like an administration meeting. There were people there who had been faculty, so the perspective of the faculty. We weren't talking about academic freedom. We weren't talking about the content of the courses. We were talking about the successes and the direction where the institutions need to go to. And the trustees will go back and have the conversations at their institutions.
The biggest disappointment … obviously, this is the best job in my 20-something year career. This is the best job I have had or will have. But I come in and he only has two years and six months. It's disappointing because this job is like drinking out of a water hose, but it's flavored grape. I love the flavor. I love this job. I love working for Gov. Scott. I talked to 11 previous chiefs of staff before I took this job. Every one of them was like, this job is going to fly by. You're not going to be able to get everything you want done. It's the hardest job you're ever going to have, but, because it's that hard, your days fly by, and you're going to always want more time. And they're absolutely right.
Q: You've worked on the plaza level for two Republican governors. What differences do you see in Gov. Scott's and Gov. Bush's administrations?
McDOUGAL: Right off the bat, it's the difference in technology and social media. It is totally different. It's so hard to compare the two. I remember, we went from beepers --- remember beepers? You had to find a phone? Then we had Blackberries. Oh my God, huge. Then this thing called "the world wide web." We didn't even call it the internet yet. You had to pay by the minute to be on AOL. So it was very, very different. You didn't have Twitter. You didn't have all this stuff. Two very different administrations. Honestly, I believe because both Gov. Scott and Gov. Bush have big agendas, they want to deliver. They care about Florida. They want to make Florida better. It's the technology influence on the plaza level of the administration is the biggest, biggest difference by far.
Q: If you could invite three people to a dinner party, living or dead, who would they be?
McDOUGAL: I'm a picky eater. I eat like a 5-year-old. I don't like vegetables. I don't like onions. I like the kids' menu. I'm afraid no one would come because I like the kids' menu. But the first one would actually be Ronald Reagan, because I'm a fiscal conservative and he's a compassionate conservative, and I think the things that he's done as a Republican are phenomenal. Plus, I like the fact that, yes, I'm old enough to watch his original TV shows and movies and stuff. So I love that he was very popular, but then he's also caring and compassionate. He made a big difference in the country. I just have so many questions I'd like to ask him. Then the second person would be Chris Evert. … Growing up, I played sports. I played almost every sport there is. There weren't a lot of women role models back in the day, for much of anything. One of the few was women's tennis. I remember growing up and watching all of Chris Evert's matches. I ended up playing USTA (United States Tennis Association) after I left college, and played USTA here for years, and won awards out there at Forest Meadows. So I would just have a lot of questions, and would say thank you for being such a great role model. And then, the last one --- do not laugh --- Adele. I was an Adele fan before "21." She's a little out, but I like very strong women singers. I was born in the '60s. I grew up listening to Diana Ross and the Jackson Five, Donnie and Marie, that kind of stuff, The Carpenters. I was never into heavy metal or jazz. I was just like kind of a pop culture, like Petula Clark "Downtown," some of that. Adele is a lot like Wynona Judd, Martina McBride, very strong women with a strong voice that have stories to say. Adele is an old soul. She is so young, and she's an old soul. When you listen to her, and her songs, they rock.