Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s long search for a new lieutenant governor ends Tuesday, when he’s expected to appoint Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a former state legislator who is Miami-Dade County’s elected property appraiser.
Scott plans to make the announcement at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday — 10 months after the resignation of former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll.
Lopez-Cantera, 40, would be the first Hispanic to hold the largely ceremonial job. His presence on the 2014 Republican ticket would add diversity and could boost Scott’s standing among Hispanic voters, especially in the state’s largest county.
As talk of his possible selection intensified over the weekend, the usually accessible Lopez-Cantera disappeared from public view. He did not answer phone and text messages and emails, and his longtime aide said “no comment” when asked whether he was working Monday.
“If anything, I want to help beat Charlie Crist,” Lopez-Cantera said last month. He recalled that he was one of the few Miami-Dade Republican legislators to endorse Crist over Republican rival Tom Gallagher in the Republican primary for governor in 2006.
Crist, now a Democrat, is widely expected to be Scott’s challenger in November, and Democrats need a big majority in Miami-Dade if they are to have any chance of victory.
Scott’s office declined to comment on the speculation over Lopez-Cantera, but five Republican sources familiar with both men said the Miami-Dade politician will be tapped. Each declined to speak publicly.
The Republican Party of Florida tweeted late Monday that Scott would announce his pick Tuesday and that the party would be first to break the news.
Lopez-Cantera’s name was not among four finalists said to be in consideration in November, including state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman. Two others under serious consideration, Sheriff Don Eslinger of Seminole County and Joseph Joyner, the appointed school superintendent in St. Johns County, said they didn’t want the job. Last week, Democrats filed suit asking the Florida Supreme Court to force Scott to appoint a lieutenant governor within 30 days.
Scott and Lopez-Cantera have been together at least twice in recent weeks. They met Sunday in Miami after Scott attended the annual Three Kings Parade, and took part in a Dec. 6 boat ride along the Miami River to survey a port dredging project.
Lopez-Cantera, of Coral Gables, has a track record of seeking to lower property values, thus reducing property taxes, and has a positive image in a county with a reputation for political chicanery. But he’s virtually unknown outside of Miami-Dade.
He served in the state House from 2004 to 2012, the last two years as majority leader, and had only write-in opposition in 2008 and 2010. He narrowly defeated Pedro Garcia in a county-wide nonpartisan primary in 2012 to become Miami-Dade’s second elected appraiser.
Lopez-Cantera is also part of the inner circle of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who defeated Crist in 2010 and who served as state House speaker when Lopez-Cantera was a state representative.
Term-limited in the House, where he was known by his initials, “CLC,” Lopez-Cantera ran for property appraiser after Garcia tried to levy property taxes on the city of Miami’s four parking garages at the Miami Marlins’ new ballpark.
Lopez-Cantera had pulled strings for a legislative fix in Tallahassee that exempted the city from a tax levy of up to $1.2 million a year, even though a House staff report said that might be unconstitutional.
He renovated the property appraiser’s offices on the seventh floor of County Hall to make the desks appear more open and inviting in a bid to be more customer-friendly. He has also stepped up enforcement of homestead exemption fraud.
He disappointed Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s administration by growing property values only slightly, keeping taxes low for homeowners but bringing in less money to fund county services. He has sued the county in a dispute over the powers of his office and clashed with labor unions over a union rep’s pay, prompting the union to successfully file an unfair labor practice complaint over his practice of paying for monthly birthday cakes for employees from an employee fund set up without union consent.
A state hearing officer ruled in the union’s favor in December.
Union leaders have accused Lopez-Cantera of being anti-labor because he tried to fire an employee who wasn’t showing up to work despite making more than $86,000 a year. The employee is a publicly funded union representative excused full time from work duties.
Married with two young daughters, Lopez-Cantera was born in Madrid and raised in Miami. He attended the elite Gulliver Preparatory School, graduated from Miami Palmetto Senior High and the University of Miami. His wife, Renee, works in the circulation department at the Miami Herald.
As property appraiser, he is paid $167,567 a year. The salary for lieutenant governor is $120,000.
Lopez-Cantera is independently wealthy and last year reported a net worth of $2.3 million, much of it from family companies, Pan American Consulting and Pan American Group, which develop and manage commercial and industrial property. He also has earned substantial income from Imagine Outdoor Advertising, a billboard company.
Behind the scenes, one of Scott’s closest political friends, Tallahassee lobbyist Bill Rubin, has been advocating Lopez-Cantera as the best choice. Rubin, of Fort Lauderdale, used to lobby for the Columbia/HCA hospital chain Scott headed before he decided to run for governor.