Gov. Rick Scott in no rush to pick new Florida lieutenant governor


Associated Press

It’s been five months since Jennifer Carroll abruptly resigned her job as Florida’s lieutenant governor.

Since then her suite of offices has been cleared out and her staff has long since departed. Her name has been removed from the directory of the Florida Capitol.

And yet there are no signs that Gov. Rick Scott is anywhere close to naming a replacement. Despite endless speculation in Tallahassee political circles there appears to be no short list of candidates vying for Carroll’s old job and no interviews under way.

Instead Scott has deliberately focused on other functions of his job including getting his legislative agenda passed, signing a new state budget and even going on trade missions abroad. When asked about it recently, Scott said that his administration is "working on the criteria" that will be used to pick a new lieutenant governor.

Scott’s cautious approach to finding a replacement contrasts with how former Gov. Jeb Bush handled the task.

Shortly after Bush was reelected to a second term in 2002 his lieutenant governor, Frank Brogan, accepted the presidency of Florida Atlantic University. Less than three months later Bush tapped former Senate President Toni Jennings to replace him.

Scott’s slow pace has opened him up to criticism from Democrats who contend that the Republican governor is neglecting his responsibility.

"We feel it’s a disservice to the people of the state of Florida," said Joshua Karp, a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party. "Rick Scott has spent six months campaigning all over the state and flying around in his private jet. He’s had plenty of time to vet a lieutenant governor."

Scott, who had little connections to Florida Republicans before his bid for office, tapped Carroll as his lieutenant governor just days after he defeated then-Attorney General Bill McCollum in a bitter GOP primary.

Carroll was seen a rising star in the Republican ranks. She immigrated to the United States from Trinidad as a child, served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years, retiring as a lieutenant commander and was the first black Republican woman elected to the state House and the first black lieutenant governor.

Carroll resigned after she was interviewed about work she once did for a charity alleged to be running a widespread gambling ring. She has not been accused of any wrongdoing. But even before news of the investigation, Carroll had caused some headaches for the Scott administration by making comments that caused negative attention.

Her departure gave Scott a chance to make a high-profile selection as he heads into what could be a tough reelection campaign. He could pick someone who could bolster his profile, although Scott has stated repeatedly that he wants to surround himself with people who share his viewpoints.

Scott’s ability to function without a lieutenant governor has raised questions about whether the job is needed. Florida went nearly 100 years without the post of lieutenant governor until it was revived in 1968. The job, which pays nearly $125,000, has no defined responsibilities besides replacing the governor if he leaves office or dies. That has happened twice, for brief periods. In January 1987, Wayne Mixson was governor for three days when Bob Graham resigned to be sworn in as a U.S. senator. In December 1998, Buddy MacKay became governor when Lawton Chiles died of a heart attack less than a month before his term was over.

If something happened to Scott before he picked a lieutenant governor, Attorney General Pam Bondi would take over.

Many governors, in an effort to give their lieutenant governor a job, have made them their lead negotiator with the Legislature.

Scott, in a statement, said he does not plan to remain without a lieutenant governor indefinitely.

"Florida laws make it clear that our state has a lieutenant governor," Scott said.

But while Florida law requires that the position be filled it is silent on how quickly the governor must act. The only real deadline is next year when Scott must tap someone as his running-mate two months before the November elections.

Scott, however, is under no obligation to appoint that person to the position before the election.

Florida constitutional scholars say it is unlikely any court would ever order the governor to act.

Jon Mills, a former House speaker who teaches constitutional law at the University of Florida, said a court would not intervene since there is no deadline and no enforcement provision in the law.

Mills added another reason a court would not act is that state law has a clear line of succession that would result in Bondi becoming governor if something happened.

Karp with the Democratic Party said that Scott should just go ahead and make Bondi his lieutenant governor even though Bondi has already opened her reelection campaign account for 2014.

"If Gov. Rick Scott feels Attorney General Bondi is the best choice to lead Florida, to be his second-in-command, why doesn’t he pick her?" Karp asked.

Sandy D’Alemberte, a Florida State University law professor and former legislator who has written a book on the Florida Constitution, agreed that a court would not order Scott to appoint someone.

But D’Alemberte, who also once served as president of the American Bar Association and FSU, added that the "better practice, of course, would be to make the appointment."

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