By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
After almost a year without a second-in-command, Gov. Rick Scott announced he appointed former state lawmaker Carlos Lopez-Cantera to be his new lieutenant governor.
Scott’s previous lieutenant governor, Jennifer Carroll, resigned early last year after getting caught up in a criminal investigation into a veteran’s charity that was tied to internet cafes hosting illegal gambling operations.
Scott had taken almost a year to announce a replacement. He was even recently sued because he was taking a long time to choose an LG. However, the streak ended on Tuesday.
Scott ended a 10-month guessing game by choosing Lopez-Cantera, 40, who served in the state House for eight years before winning the appraiser’s position in a nonpartisan county-wide election.
Lopez-Cantera will be the state’s first Hispanic lieutenant governor and the first person from Miami-Dade to hold the position since it was re-established by voters in 1968. He replaces Jennifer Carroll, who resigned last March.
Bilingual and media savvy, Lopez-Cantera brings youth and diversity to Scott’s ticket. The question is whether he brings a “wow” factor in his new partnership with a governor who continues to struggle to gain favor with voters.
Lopez-Cantera will serve as a bridge to Hispanics, who make up the fastest-growing segment of the Florida electorate. He can spread Scott’s jobs message in Spanish language media.
“I’ve always done Spanish language media, so that won’t be something new,” he said. “It’s not a prerequisite for the job, but I certainly have no problem doing it.”
In his first interviews shortly before his appointment was announced in Miami, Lopez-Cantera said he took the job with assurances that he would have input on policy decisions and not be a ceremonial officeholder or a ribbon-cutter.
He would not address specific policy issues, such as Scott’s controversial veto last year of a bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrants with temporary legal status in the United States to get Florida driver’s licenses.
Scott is also getting push-back from the Hispanic community on his renewed effort to purge non-citizens from the state’s voter rolls. The last voter purge in 2012 was riddled with problems and disproportionately targeted minority voters.
This week, minority groups held a press conference speaking out against the purge.
…Tabitha Frazier, vice chair of the Florida Democratic Hispanic Caucus, said 82 percent of the names pulled in the first voter purge were non-white and 60 percent were Hispanic.
“The reason we are (concerned) is Florida has one of the largest naturalization rates of any state in the union,” she said. “We have Puerto Rican communities, we have people of Cuban populations that may not have voted two years ago or even last year that are eligible to vote this year.”
Lopez-Cantera is currently Miami-Dade’s property appraiser. Before that, he served eight years in the Florida House of Representatives representing a heavily-Hispanic district.
As The Palm Beach Post points out, “Lopez-Cantera could help Scott with the state’s Hispanic voters, and especially in Miami-Dade, which is both heavily Hispanic and Democratic.”
However, both Lopez-Cantera and Scott are being careful not to frame this appointment as a way to reach out to Hispanic voters during the campaign.
According to The Post:
Scott was asked more than once about the importance to the GOP ticket of a Hispanic running mate, but refused to frame the appointment that way. Scott instead praised Lopez-Cantera’s work in the legislature and also his experience as a small business owner.
“I chose him because he’s good,” Scott said.
Scott and Lopez-Cantera said their main goal is to achieve tax cuts of $500 million in the coming legislative session.
Lopez-Cantera, like Scott, tried to stay away from the question of his heritage and if that might have played a strong role in his being named, but he did allow himself one aside.
“I think there will be a bit more Cuban coffee in the governor’s office,” he said.
As Herald/Times reporter Steve Bousquet pointed out, though, whether or not it was intended, the appointment of Lopez-Cantera is a politically savvy move. According to Bousquet, “Rick Scott lost Miami-Dade in 2010 by 69,720 votes, more than his statewide victory margin. Now he has a Hispanic running mate from Dade.”
Scott is facing a significant Democratic challenger during his reelection this year, which makes his LG appointment more important than ever. Former GOP Governor-turned Democrat Charlie Crist is running for his old seat this year. Already, Crist has raised a large amount of money in a short time. However, Scott’s campaign coffers have been steadily growing for a long time now.
This year’s gubernatorial race in Florida is going to be one of the most closely watched races in the country.