Florida Politics

Being lieutenant governor in this state means you make $125K a year and don’t do much

Carlos Lopez-Cantera, then Florida’s lieutenant governor, during a ceremony at the Florida National Guard Robert A. Ballard Armory in January 2018. He has begun making hires for a 2020 race for county mayor, but hasn’t yet announced his candidacy.
Carlos Lopez-Cantera, then Florida’s lieutenant governor, during a ceremony at the Florida National Guard Robert A. Ballard Armory in January 2018. He has begun making hires for a 2020 race for county mayor, but hasn’t yet announced his candidacy. rkoltun@miamiherald.com

The modern office of lieutenant governor of Florida turns 50 years old this year and it’s a milestone that will be ignored — like the job itself.

The two candidates for governor, Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum, have to pick someone by 5 p.m. Thursday, and it probably won’t mean much unless something goes wrong.

The only job in state government with literally no job description pays about $125,000 a year. It was brought back to life by voters when they adopted the modern state Constitution in November 1968.

“There shall be a lieutenant governor who shall perform such duties pertaining to the office of governor as shall be assigned by the governor,” the Constitution says, “except when otherwise provided by law and such other duties as may be prescribed by law.”

That’s it. A small office in the state Capitol with a couple of assistants and very little to do. The job disappeared in 1884 and didn’t exist for the next 84 years.

It disappeared for a second time five years ago.

Gov. Rick Scott demanded the resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll following a controversy over internet cafes. He left the office vacant for nearly a year before he chose Carlos Lopez-Cantera, the 19th person to hold the office.

Scott invited reporters to Jacksonville one day in the summer of 2010 to announce his choice of Carroll, an immigrant from Trinidad and a Navy veteran, calling her “the embodiment of the American dream.”

A couple of years later, Carroll was gone. It’s an object lesson for DeSantis and Gillum as they make their first big decisions as nominees.

Scott wasn’t the only one to have running mate issues.

Jeb Bush’s choice of state Rep. Tom Feeney as his lieutenant governor in 1994 brought relentless attacks from the Democratic ticket of Lawton Chiles and Buddy MacKay, who claimed Feeney was an extreme right-winger who would abolish Medicare.

Bush narrowly lost that election, and the campaign ended with Democrats making thousands of phone calls to seniors claiming that Bush would get rid of Social Security and Medicare (something no governor can do). The Democrats justified the “scare calls” on Feeney.

On his way to victory in 1998, Bush chose as his running mate Sandra Mortham, a popular Pinellas County lawmaker and a political moderate. But controversy over her spending decisions as Florida Secretary of State led to Mortham’s being replaced by a career educator, Frank Brogan.

Brogan’s incandescent smile made him a natural fit as lieutenant governor, and his alliance with Bush helped him win the presidency of Florida Atlantic University in 2003. Two-term Senate President Toni Jennings replaced Brogan, who currently holds a high-level job in the U.S. Department of Education.

The most visible occupant of this obscure office was MacKay, a former congressman from Ocala who narrowly lost a race for U.S. Senate in 1988 and was instrumental in Chiles’ decision to seek the governorship in 1990, and is the last Democrat to have held the office.

Chiles handed MacKay a series of high-profile assignments, including chairing a blue-ribbon education policy board and helping Miami recover from a fiscal crisis. MacKay governed the state for three weeks after Chiles died of a heart attack in December 1998.

On the campaign trail one day in 1990, Chiles turned to his running mate standing behind him and offered him the microphone, but according to the Miami Herald, MacKay declined.

“Lieutenant governors don’t make speeches,” MacKay said.

Contact Steve Bousquet at sbousquet@tampabay.com. Follow @stevebousquet.

Gov. Rick Scott’s lieutenant governor joins what’s shaping up to be an intriguing Republican primary field. Video by Hector Gabino/eL Nuevo Staff

  Comments