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Politics

Tom Lee open to taking state CFO job

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Published:   |   Updated: January 6, 2014 at 09:33 PM

TAMPA ­­— State Sen. Tom Lee indicated Monday he’s open to considering running for state chief financial officer if the current CFO, Jeff Atwater, leaves the office vacant to become a university president.

Lee has also been under consideration by Gov. Rick Scott for an appointment to replace former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, and wouldn’t say Monday whether he’s given Scott a firm yes or no answer on that post.

“I’ve been getting phone calls from Friday night from people asking me to consider” running for CFO, said Lee, a Brandon Republican. “I haven’t really spent much time at this point thinking about that. I’ll be in Tallahassee this week, and I’ll have a chance to think about that and how it would affect my life and my family’s life.”

He said speculation that a planned appearance by Scott in Brandon Wednesday is to announce Lee as the new lieutenant governor is wrong.

Most likely, he and other Republicans said, the appearance is for an announcement by Scott concerning economic development or tax cuts.

Lee ran for CFO in 2006, losing to Alex Sink of Tampa.

With a name known statewide, however, he’d be a strong candidate for the office.

So far, there is no politically prominent Democrat running for CFO in the November election. If Atwater leaves the seat open, however, it could attract a strong candidate, giving Democrats a chance to capture a seat on the state’s four-member Cabinet.

The Cabinet, which consists of the governor, CFO, attorney general and agriculture commissioner, wields much of the executive power of Florida government. It’s been all-Republican since Sink left the seat to run for governor in 2010, losing to Scott.

Atwater, a Republican from Palm Beach, confirmed this weekend he’s applying to become president of Boca Raton-based Florida Atlantic University, at the request of university officials.

Scott could appoint a replacement to serve the last year of Atwater’s term, possibly giving that candidate a leg up in the race for the coming term.

The lieutenant governor’s position, meanwhile, has been vacant since Carroll resigned in March over her links to a company charged with charity fraud.

Scott’s search for a replacement, who likely would be his running mate in November as well, has hit snags.

Over the summer, several prominent Republican legislators said they weren’t interested.

After a list of four candidates headed by Lee leaked in November, two of the four said they didn’t want the job, and neither Lee nor the fourth candidate, Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman, would say they’d accept it.

Lee said Monday he’s continuing to have conversations with Scott and Scott’s chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, about the position, but wouldn’t comment on the content of those conversations.

Lee said his family situation would make it difficult for him to move to Tallahassee. His wife is a Hillsborough County circuit judge, and they have a young daughter. He also has two young sons in Tampa from a former marriage.

Lee said the family issues would be just as much of a problem for him as CFO as they would as lieutenant governor.

On Monday, Democratic political activist Barbara DeVane of Tallahassee sued in the state Supreme Court to force Scott to appoint a lieutenant governor.

DeVane, who also lobbies for the Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women, said the office’s vacancy “upsets the order of succession” and could create a constitutional crisis.

With no lieutenant governor, Attorney General Pam Bondi is next in line to become acting governor in case of the death or incapacitation of the governor.

The state constitution says there “shall be a lieutenant governor,” but provides no guidance on how quickly a governor needs to pick a replacement when the office is empty.

State law says the governor “shall” appoint a successor “upon vacancy” in the lieutenant governor’s office, which means “at the time of, and clearly does not mean several months later,” DeVane argues.

Tribune staff writer James L. Rosica contributed to this report.

wmarch@tampatrib.com

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