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Will Florida’s First Hispanic Lt. Gov. Help Or Hurt Gov. Scott’s Re-election Chances?

Wilfredo Lee
Governor Rick Scott (left) congratulates Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera after naming him lieutenant governor and his running mate for 2014, during a news conference, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 in Miami.

Former House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera has been hailed as a person who can help get Governor Rick Scott’s 2014 legislative agenda off the ground as Scott’s new Second-in-Command. But, it’s the fact he’ll be Florida’s first Hispanic Lieutenant Governor that has all sides talking.

“I’m proud to officially announce that Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera will be the next Florida Lieutenant Governor,” announced Governor Rick Scott at a recent Miami event.

There’s been no lieutenant governor for about ten months, ever since Jennifer Carroll resigned amid a veterans’ charity scandal. Lopez-Cantera is slated to start a month before the start of the 2014 Legislative Session. And, with his eight years in the Florida Legislature, Scott says he’s perfect for the job.

"He’s got a great legislative background.  He’s also got a good business background, and he knows local government. He’s going to be very helpful this session, as we focus on cutting taxes by $500 million. He’ll be a big help," said Scott, following his announcement.

Saint Augustine Republican Senator John Thrasher—named this week to be the chairman of Scott’s re-election effort—agrees.

“I know Carlos very well. I served with him when he was in the House, when I first got back to the Senate. I have a great respect for him. He’s a very, very competent legislator. I think he’ll be a great partner for Governor Scott, both in the legislative process and in the Hispanic community,” said Thrasher.

But, some lawmakers, like Orlando Democratic Senator Darren Soto, say voters will likely not be swayed by the appointment. He says Hispanics voters, in particular will be watching Scott’s platform, which Soto says lack in issues affecting the Hispanic community.

“The Governor vetoed my Dream Act driver’s license bill, which was a big issue. He came into office pushing an Arizona-styled immigration law, and even ended up signing a bill to try to stop companies who we invest in from doing business with Cuba, and then declared it unconstitutional the same day he signed it in,” said Soto.

Marcos Vilar, director of the minority advocacy group Florida New Majority, says with decisions like that, it’s clear Governor Rick Scott’s new appointment is, “a cynical act because it’s a political move to pander to Latino voters. It’s very clear that his agenda has been implementing anti-Latino policies and now he appoints a Lieutenant Governor with a Hispanic last name, who will most likely be a rubber-stamp to the Governor’s Latino agenda.”

“Everything Rick Scott does is political. That’s what we’ve learned about this guy.  He’s been constantly campaigning since he was Inaugurated three years ago. This is absolutely a ploy by him to try and court a certain segment of the electorate,” agreed Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Scott Arceneaux.

But University of Central Florida Political Scientist Aubrey Jewett says if that’s the case, then having Lopez-Cantera on the ticket could work in Scott’s favor, helping him court the Hispanic voters so he won’t have to rely on Tea Party votes to get re-elected.

“It would certainly help him if he could do well amongst Hispanics, in particular, Cuban Hispanics. And, Cuban Hispanics traditionally have been Republican in Florida, but particularly, the younger generations have been drifting Democratic, including some indication they were about evenly split in the most recent Obama re-election. And, so by choosing Lopez-Cantera, a Cuban from South Florida perhaps, Governor Rick Scott helps his chances in getting more of a Cuban Republican vote,” said Jewett.

And when Lopez-Cantera becomes Lieutenant Governor, Jewett says there’s a general rule he should follow—one Lopez-Cantera’s predecessor broke.

“Sort of like a doctor treating a patient, well for Lieutenant Governor’s, don’t harm your Governor’s chances of re-election! Don’t harm your Governor’s chances of pushing through the legislation he wants to get through. And, so, it’s a fairly low bar, but it’s amazing how many Lieutenant Governors don’t quite achieve it, and actually do hurt their Governors, as we saw in the case of Jennifer Carroll, who resigned because she probably thought she was hurting the Governor,” added Jewett.

For his part, Lopez-Cantera appears optimistic about his prospects.

“Very excited to be part of this team, and looking forward to getting involved in the action in Tallahassee, very excited to getting involved with getting $500 million back into the pockets of the citizens of the state of Florida, very excited about what this Governor has done over the last several years,” said Lopez-Cantera.

As for Republican-turned-Democrat gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, he says Lopez-Cantera made the wrong choice hitching his wagon to Scott.

“Carlos is a fine fellow, but he’s with the wrong guy,” said Crist, at a recent Tallahassee fundraiser.

Lopez-Cantera’s first day on the job is February 3rd, the same day he’ll be sworn in.

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

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.