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Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014
Commentary

Waiting anxiously (snicker) for a new ‘Flori-duh’ lieutenant governor

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The best-kept secret in Tallahassee that is of zero consequence to Florida is who will Gov. Rick Scott select to be his lieutenant governor (and when will he do it).

For a guy who has built his entire political purpose around “jobs,” this is one job he can’t seem to fill. And who can blame him? The position is largely ceremonial, having only one constitutionally delegated power — to succeed the governor in the event of his death, resignation or incapacitation.

Any politician with the slightest yearning for a political future would take a pass if offered the opportunity to serve as lieutenant governor. In modern times, the lieutenant governor from Florida has never gone on to higher elective office.

This doesn’t keep Tallahassee insiders and political pundits from debating over which demographic group (women, blacks, Hispanics) Scott needs the most help with in his re-election campaign — and speculating whom he will pick to fill the biggest electoral demographic void. This is complete bunk, of course, because with the exception of the newly-minted lieutenant governor’s immediate family, pretty much no one is going to vote for Scott just because his lieutenant governor is black, or female or Hispanic.

Even though the position has been vacant for the past 10 months, a very bored media has kept the story in the news despite the fact that zero Floridians have been adversely affected by the absence of Florida’s chief funeral attendee and ribbon-cutter. On a positive note for taxpayers, not having filled the position has saved the state an estimated $416,000. Thanks, governor!

For 80 years, Florida got by without a lieutenant governor. In 1968, the state adopted a new constitution that reinstituted the position so dead county commissioners and other VIPs would have someone from the governor’s office at their funerals. Actually the constitution just mentions the part about succession, not the funerals.

Since 1969, the lieutenant governor has succeeded the governor twice.

In 1987, Wayne Mixson served three days as governor when Gov. Bob Graham resigned to assume his seat in the U.S. Senate. In 1998, Buddy MacKay served 23 days after the death of Gov. Lawton Chiles.

So for the past 45 years, we’ve been funding a full-time (now six-figure) position so someone could be ready to fill in for a whopping 26 days of constitutionally prescribed work. That’s an expensive succession plan.

Before 1968, if the governor dropped dead, the president of the Florida Senate would become the governor. Under current law, if Scott slipped on a help-wanted sign and died today, Attorney General Pam Bondi would become governor.

Since the constitution requires that Scott’s name appear on the ballot with a candidate for lieutenant governor, he will have to appoint someone soon, and I expect he will pick an obscure running mate with no political future (Chris Christie comes to mind).

But for the long-term — and since Scott loathes waste in government — he should get his pals in the Legislature to do one of the following:

1. Draft a ballot question asking voters to amend the constitution by abolishing the position of lieutenant governor and stating the succession of office in the event of the governor’s demise shall be the attorney general.

2. Draft an amendment asking voters to approve a change to the constitution that says the lieutenant governor’s duties shall include Cabinet-level authority over the department of education (currently this is an appointed position, though it used to be elected, and there has been talk of returning it to an elected post).

3. Draft an amendment asking voters to approve a change that says the lieutenant governor shall serve as president of the state Senate (as is the case in California, Georgia, Texas and other states) where he or she would oversee legislation in the upper body of the Legislature.

One way or the other, something should be done. Though I personally prefer option two or three, neither of those will ever happen because it would mean someone in the Legislature would lose some authority, and realistically, either of these efforts would require support from the Legislature to get on the ballot. But just getting rid of the position of lieutenant governor is risk-free and saves the state money, so the Legislature should support that effort.

Why someone hasn’t already proposed that option can only be explained by recognizing the obvious: This is “Flori-duh.”

Chris Ingram is a Republican political consultant and analyst at Bay News 9. Email him at Chris@IrreverentView.com.

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