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Politics

Scott seems in no hurry to fill lieutenant role


Published:   |   Updated: June 30, 2013 at 03:11 PM

TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Rick Scott, going on four months without a lieutenant governor, hasn't been in a rush to pick a new one.

He also hasn't given much thought to what he wants a new No. 2 to do.

"Well, right now, we just finished (the legislative) session and we're still reviewing all these bills, so that's what I'm focused on right now," Scott said recently, when asked what duties he would assign to that person.

In fact, Scott doesn't need a lieutenant governor until September 2014, when his running mate must be selected by law for re-election purposes. Though he no doubt will pick someone sooner, the vacancy gives him an opportunity to rethink the position, observers said.

Lieutenant governors serve in a position that could be described as "in case of emergency, break glass."

Jennifer Carroll, who served under Scott until her March resignation, didn't have a specific job portfolio but still spent more than $200,000 in state funds on travel in 2011, according to reports.

Scott's options range from having his lieutenant give out awards, to tasking him or her to head a state department, according to state law.

Other states, such as Texas, have powerful lieutenant governors, while five states - Arizona, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, Wyoming - get by without one.

"The value in that office is if you get a lieutenant governor to do something more than go around and give speeches at civic clubs," said Bob Sanchez, policy director for The James Madison Institute, a conservative, Florida-based think tank.

Carroll, who was paid $125,000 a year, quit after an investigation into an Internet gambling operation resulted in almost 60 arrests. Carroll, who is not accused of wrongdoing, had done public relations work for the company before her election. She did not respond to written questions submitted last week.

With no second-in-command, Attorney General Pam Bondi - formerly Hillsborough County's top prosecutor - is next in line to become acting governor.

The lieutenant governor's post, abolished in 1885, was brought back in the 1968 rewriting of the state constitution. The constitution now says there "shall be a lieutenant governor, who shall perform such duties pertaining to the office of governor as shall be assigned by the governor, except when otherwise provided by law, and such other duties as may be prescribed by law."

State law doesn't add much, though.

In the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the law says the lieutenant governor can declare a state of emergency "arising from the discharge of oil, petroleum products or their byproducts." Another law exempts the lieutenant governor from jury duty.

But state law does say that the "Governor may assign the Lieutenant Governor, without Senate confirmation, the duty of serving as the head of any one department, the head of which is a secretary appointed by the Governor ..."

For example, Wayne Mixson, lieutenant governor under Democratic Gov. Bob Graham, also served as head of the state's now-defunct Commerce Department.

"The office has been generally underutilized," Mixson said. "It's kicked around by people who don't understand what it can be."

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Lieutenant governors "should have things to do," said former Gov. Bob Martinez. "But it's the governor's prerogative how he wants to use that person."

Martinez, a Republican who also served as Tampa's mayor and as the federal government's "drug czar," said he had his lieutenant, Bobby Brantley, help him press his legislative agenda with the House and Senate.

"Mainly, the governor has to choose based on who he can get along with," Martinez said.

The structure in other states is across the board:

Texas' lieutenant governor serves simultaneously as the state's Senate president, is elected separately and can be a member of a different political party than the governor. That person decides committee membership, leadership and which bills the chamber will consider.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst made the news last week for his role in cutting off a senator's filibuster against a bill that opponents said would have all but banned abortions in that state.

California's lieutenant governor also is that state's Senate president, voting in case of a tie.

The position includes membership on the Board of Regents of the University of California, board of trustees of the California State University system and chairman of the California Commission for Economic Development, among other duties, the state's website says.

Still, current Calif. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, formerly San Francisco's mayor, has called the job "dull" and told the Sacramento Bee he only commutes to the capital a couple of days a week.

Massachusetts' lieutenant governor just quit for another job, and that state's Constitution makes no provisions for an appointed replacement.

That means Gov. Deval Patrick has to go without an understudy until his term ends in January 2015.

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Some states, such as Illinois, may get rid of the job. Its House last month approved a proposed constitutional amendment abolishing the lieutenant governor's office.

The governor, Pat Quinn, was a lieutenant governor who moved up in 2009 when his predecessor, Rod Blagojevich, was impeached.

Others have added it. New Jersey, which hadn't had a lieutenant governor since Colonial days, created one in 2005 after serial vacancies in the governor's office caused the Senate president to repeatedly step in.

Critics there said that caused a concentration of legislative and executive power in one person who wasn't elected statewide.

Former Florida Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, who served under Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, said the beauty of Florida's position is that it has no assigned duties.

Kottkamp, who served in the state House from 2000-06, said he used the job to be Crist's "lobbyist-in-chief" to the Legislature. But he also was chairman of Space Florida and the Florida Sports Foundation, and oversaw the Office of Drug Control and the Film and Entertainment Office.

In picking Carroll's replacement, "this is an opportunity for this governor to have a teammate who's got his back on a lot of stuff," said Kottkamp, now a Tallahassee-based lobbyist. "... Look, it's a big job."

jrosica@tampatrib.com

(850) 765-0807

Twitter: @jlrosicaTBO

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