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Thursday, Jul 24, 2014
South Tampa News

O’Neill: Lopez-Cantera can be reliable point man


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The state of Florida — for the 19th time — now has a lieutenant governor. He’s Carlos López - Cantera, 40, and he has filled a nearly year-long void since the embarrassing departure of his predecessor, Jennifer Carroll.

Will he be more like Ray Osborne and Tom Adams, who served unremarkably under Govs. Claude Kirk and Reubin Askew? Or more like Buddy MacKay and Frank Brogan, who served quite capably under Lawton Chiles and Jeb Bush?

Will he remind observers of the undistinguished Jeff Kottkamp, who worked under Charlie Crist? Or will the former Florida House majority whip and majority leader invoke memories of the legislatively savvy Toni Jennings, the former Senate president appointed by Bush (after Brogan resigned to become president of Florida Atlantic University)?

If pragmatically smart politics and common sense prevail — hardly a given — López-Cantera will not be the second coming of Kottkamp nor merely next up in the minority-appointee playbook. If he’s only used as a would-be Hispanic shill, he will be an insulting, net minus. A South Florida Cuban can’t be all things to all Hispanics just because he speaks Spanish.

But López-Cantera looks good, speaks well, understands the game and knows his way around Tallahassee. He can actually assist an inherent outlier who’s now an awkward incumbent.

While lieutenant governors, any more than vice presidents, don’t flat-out determine elections, they can be useful administratively and complement the top of a ticket. Gov. Rick Scott, up for re-election in nine months, is still an unpopular, hustings-challenged campaigner who needs help.

What the Scott administration should consider is issuing some serious portfolios, representing some serious priority updates and changes, to López-Cantera. And then, rather than relying solely on the ham-handed political skills of the personally divisive Scott, allowing López-Cantera to help make the case.

And there are cases that need making to voters beyond the usual conservative suspects.

“Stand your ground,” for example, should no longer stand as is. The Second Amendment can still be saluted without rhapsodizing over a gun culture that has resulted in more than a million Floridians with conceal and carry licenses. It speaks volumes that we even know who George Zimmerman and Curtis Reeves are.

And maybe Sen. René García, the Hialeah Republican, could use some help with Round 2 of the Medicaid-expansion endeavor. She recently filed a bill in support of accepting the federal government’s help that is worth billions — with implications for the uninsured as well as the economy.

The governor is on record as favoring Medicaid-expansion acceptance, but never deigned to lobby Will Weatherford or anybody else over it. Why not López-Cantera as a surrogate?

And there are plenty of other point man priorities that López-Cantera might be suited for. They range from the ultimate restoration of — and net addition to — education and environmental funding to incentives toward solar-energy viability in this Dark Ages Sunshine State. Scott, of course, is no longer an outsider, but he can’t be his own effective insider without coming across as an expedient hypocrite.

Scott, given the antipathy target he still wears, can’t afford to relegate López-Cantera to the roles of ceremonial fill-in and cheerleader, one who just might mitigate matters with Hispanics.

By law, the lieutenant governor has no specific duties — other than replacing a deceased or incapacitated chief executive. But there’s another law. The law of political survival. Even against a flawed challenger, Scott needs to do more than take credit for Florida’s participation in the national economic recovery with the addition of jobs that still skew to the service sector.

Florida is already a well-known, low-tax state. For it to ultimately woo the “jobs, jobs, jobs” and lifestyle employees of the future, it will have to make the case for quality of life, infrastructure and education. That case, arguably, is not made convincingly by gimmicky tax cuts nor by the man who embodies that approach.

Typically, the lieutenant governor isn’t an important factor in a gubernatorial race — especially a re-election where there is a track record. But there’s nothing typical about what’s coming up this November.

Medical marijuana and voters

We’ve all heard the range of speculation on medical marijuana now that it’s assured of being on the November 2014 ballot.

John Morgan isn’t the only one who thinks it’s “advantage Democrats” because it’s a “progressive” issue in a nonpresidential election year. But others note how less than convincing the correlation data is from previous states that have had medical marijuana ballot initiatives. Still others think there are more than a few closet GOPster potheads, so it might just be an ironic wash.

All the pondering is prompted by the sobering reality that less than half of registered voters typically determine who their mayors and governors are.

But wouldn’t it be refreshing — even a new subset of “American exceptionalism” — if we didn’t routinely muse and strategize over the impact of certain issues on voter turnout? As if societal right and citizen duty were actually motivation enough.

As if we practiced democratic self-determination via the vote as fervently as we preach it as an ideal in regime-change scenarios overseas.

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