Bipartisan Push To Get Florida’s New Lt. Gov. To Have Concrete Duties, Goals

Feb 7, 2014

Now that Florida has its 19th Lieutenant Governor, many people want to know what his goals will be moving forward. But the position, which usually becomes whatever the Governor wants it to be, is now the subject of bipartisan legislation. And, it’s also a topic of discussion among members of the Hispanic Legislative Caucus, who wonder how the state’s first Hispanic Lieutenant Governor will work to help their agenda.

“Now, I would officially like to introduce you to the state of Florida’s 19th Lieutenant Governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera,” said Governor Rick Scott, as a group of lawmakers clapped and cheered Monday during a ceremonial swearing-in.

And, the newly-sworn in Lieutenant Governor, Lopez-Cantera, said he couldn’t be happier.

“Governor, thank you so much for this opportunity. Very proud to be a part of this team, and very excited about today, and the days and months, and years to come,” said Lopez-Cantera.

"So, use their expertise in promoting policy, rather than just being the Governor's right hand."

What Are His Goals, Responsibilities?

Despite the fact he’s only been on the job a few days, lawmakers and reporters alike want to know what’s on Lopez-Cantera’s agenda. Scott says for now, Lopez-Cantera’s main goal is to help him with his legislative agenda.

“First off, he’s responsible to make sure that we get that $500 million tax cut. So, the first thing we talked about when we sat down is what our agenda is. We want this $500 million back to Florida families, but on top of that, he’s going to work with job creators around the state. He’ll be traveling the state, making sure we continue to build the state where your kids and grandkids can get a great job,” said Scott.

Bipartisan Bill

According to the state Constitution, the Governor handpicks the Lieutenant Governor, who serves at the pleasure of the state’s top elected official. But, some feel that position should have more responsibility, as in other states.

“In New Jersey, the Governor gets to pick which agency or which department they want the Lieutenant Governor to run,” said Orlando Republican Representative Bryan Nelson.

Nelson is the main author of a bill that would require the Governor to assign the Lieutenant Governor to head a state agency or department. A similar Senate bill has been filed by Margate Democratic Senator Jeremy Ring. Nelson says he’ll soon file the House companion, which is based on New Jersey’s model.

"Let’s just say you’ve got a Lieutenant Governor who has a real experience in starting businesses. Maybe you put them in charge of DEO. Maybe, they’re the former Superintendent of schools. Put them in charge of some kind of educational department. So, use their expertise in promoting policy, rather than just being the right hand man or gal for the Governor,” added Nelson.

Speaking to reporters on his swearing-in day, Lopez-Cantera says taking over an agency is not on his mind right now.

“Well, this is Day 1. Today is about the announcement, today is about being sworn in. There will be many days to come to talk about those things,” said Lopez-Cantera.

Any Hispanic Legislative Priorities?

Still, state lawmakers want to know what is on Lopez-Cantera’s mind, including those in the Hispanic Legislative Caucus. During a recent meeting, Democrats and Republicans talked to both the Governor and Lieutenant Governor about their legislative priorities. Governor Scott dominated most of the conversation, as Miami Lakes Republican Representative Jose Oliva later pointed out.

“I think we’re all very proud to have the first Hispanic Governor and I think he’s going to do a great job, but I’d like to hear a little bit from him on what he thinks about what we need to do around the state, and in particular, how we can highlight the fact that Hispanics in the state are playing a major role, not just in elections, but in the general representation and the governing of the state,” said Oliva.

The talk touched on in-state tuition for U.S. born children of undocumented immigrants, but Lopez-Cantera, like Scott, never made a full commitment to any one issue, except to say he’s willing to act as a go-between.

“I know the Governor cares about all Floridians and he cares about the individual issues that you guys have brought up. And, to whatever extent I can act as a conduit for any of you guys to talk about your individual priorities, talk about your pieces of legislation—like the one you filed—I’d be happy to! I know the legislative process—I can’t say I was the most successful at it—but I do know it and I get it,” said Lopez-Cantera.

Re-election Focus

Florida State University Political Scientist Charles Barrilleaux says neither Scott nor Lopez-Cantera are setting too many goals because they don’t want to take any focus away from getting re-elected, Lopez-Cantera especially.

“This is a near-powerless lieutenant Governor. Texas’s Lieutenant Governor is arguably more powerful than the Governor because the lieutenant Governor sets the Senate agenda, and that’s not the case in Florida. So, this lieutenant Governor really serves at the pleasure of the Governor, so he’s not going to strike out with his own model legislation or anything like that,” said Barrilleaux.

While it’s uncertain what Scott will have Lopez-Cantera do, Barrileaux says it’s more than likely he’ll help implement Scott’s legislative goals or serve as a mostly ceremonial office-holder, where “he might just be cutting ribbons.”

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.