Carlos Lopez-Cantera’s first day as Florida’s lieutenant governor was like the job itself, with lots of style and not much substance.
The former Miami-Dade legislator and property appraiser, who ended Gov. Rick Scott’s long search for a new No. 2, took the oath of office in a brief, private ceremony Monday in Scott’s office in the Capitol. The oath was administered by Judge Joseph Lewis Jr., chief judge of the First District Court of Appeal.
“I’m very proud to be part of the governor’s team,” Lopez-Cantera said at a brief news conference with a smiling Scott standing nearby.
Lopez-Cantera has quickly mastered the governor’s main talking points. He cited the drop in Florida’s unemployment rate, creation of new jobs and the paying down of more than $3 billion in debt.
As for a Quinnipiac University poll last week that said 54 percent of voters do not want Scott to be reelected, Lopez-Cantera said: “The results matter, and when the citizens see that, I think they’ll agree that this governor has done a great job.”
Scott said Lopez-Cantera’s chief responsibility would be to secure passage of $500 million in fee and tax cuts in the upcoming legislative session that begins March 4. That shouldn’t take much work: Legislative leaders already have largely endorsed Scott’s two-pronged plan of a rollback of auto tag fees to pre-2009 levels and a small cut in the sales tax businesses pay on rents.
“He’s going to be a great partner. We’re going to have a great year running together,” Scott said.
Scott appointed the 40-year-old Lopez-Cantera Jan. 14, ending a 10-month vacancy in the office following the resignation of Jennifer Carroll last March.
Lopez-Cantera is Florida’s 19th lieutenant governor and the first Hispanic to hold the office. His ability to speak Spanish will help the Scott administration to communicate a message more effectively in Spanish-language media, but Lopez-Cantera missed such an opportunity on Monday.
He ignored two pleas from a TV crew that he make a statement in Spanish and followed Scott inside the mansion for a luncheon.
About 40 political leaders, family and friends joined the new lieutenant governor for a celebratory lunch of saffron paella, braised chicken, shrimp and warm cajeta bread pudding.
Lopez-Cantera and his wife, Renee, kept a close eye on their daughters Sabrina and Sofia. A baby stroller sat nearby.
“This is the beginning of a great partnership,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.
Along with legislative leaders, several lobbyists attended including Dean Cannon, the former House speaker who appointed Lopez-Cantera majority leader; Chris Moya, a longtime friend and political strategist who worked on Lopez-Cantera’s House races, and Bill Rubin, a Scott ally who quietly promoted Lopez-Cantera’s candidacy as a bridge to Hispanic voters.
Among the few Democrats present was Sen. Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens, who said his family and Lopez-Cantera’s are long-time friends.
Braynon discounted the possibility that Lopez-Cantera would help Scott win re-election.
“I don’t think it really matters who he picked,” Braynon said. “No matter what happens, [Scott] has to run on his own record.”
Later in the day, the House hosted the official ceremony for an audience of lobbyists, legislators and Tallahassee elite.
Lopez-Cantera spoke in English and Spanish, telling the audience that Florida Gov. Rick Scott took office in the midst of the worst economy in decades and turned it around.
In the audience were members of the Florida Supreme Court, the entire Miami-Dade legislative delegation, several Democratic lawmakers from Broward County and a host of big shots from Miami: businessman Norman Braman, Jackson Health System CEO Carlos Migoya, former Congressman David Rivera, Miami-Dade Republican Party chairman Nelson Diaz and Lopez-Cantera's former classmates in the House: Ralph Arza and Adam Hasner.
By law, the lieutenant governor has no specific duties except to take the place of a governor who is incapacitated.
Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, has filed a bill, SB 756, that would require the governor to give the lieutenant governor oversight of a specific state agency — an idea Lopez-Cantera did not want to discuss Monday.
“This is Day One,” he said. “Today’s about the announcement. Today’s about being sworn in.”