Carlos Lopez-Cantera is the first Hispanic lieutenant governor of Florida. Gov. Rick Scott tapped him for the post in January, 10 months after the resignation of former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, and Lopez-Cantera was sworn in Feb. 3.
Lopez-Cantera represented part of Miami-Dade County in the state House from 2004 to 2012 and was House majority leader during the final two years. He was elected Miami-Dade County property appraiser in 2012.
Lopez-Cantera, 40, was born in Spain but is of Cuban descent. His grandparents left the island for the United States after Fidel Castro came to power. Lopez-Cantera has worked in industrial and commercial real estate at family-related companies. He graduated from Miami-Dade College with an associate's degree in 1994 and from the University of Miami with a bachelor's degree in business administration in 1996. He and his wife, Renee, have two young daughters.
The News Service of Florida has five questions for Carlos Lopez-Cantera:
Q: How important is it for Hispanics in Florida to have someone like you in such a visible position?
LOPEZ-CANTERA: For me, it'?s an honor to serve in this position. I recognize the importance of the culture that I was raised in. I enjoy being able to communicate in Spanish, because some people prefer to hear the message in Spanish.
But I?'ve never been one to kind of pigeon-hole any particular race when I?'m approaching or have approached anything in public service. I think everyone wants the same thing, wants opportunity. That?s why I like working with Gov. Scott, because he looks at the world the same way. When he says he wants everybody to have a job, he means everybody. So it?'s refreshing, and that?'s why I like the job, I like serving in this capacity and I really enjoy working with Gov. Scott.
Q: At Chief Justice (Jorge) Labarga'?s investiture, you said your grandfather was a lawyer in Cuba who came to the United States in his 40s and passed the Florida Bar exam. Talk about him.
LOPEZ-CANTERA: My grandfather was a considerable influence on my life. He was one of the big reasons why I got into public service. I still have a picture of him and me on my desk here in the Capitol. It?'s a picture of him holding me when I was about 4 years old.
I learned a lot from my grandfather, especially about work and work ethic and how important that was. And I see a lot of similarities in the stories that my father and grandfather told me about their struggles and the struggles Gov. Scott has gone through in his life, and coming from a household that struggled to make ends meet and having to work every day to succeed. That?'s what my family did in Cuba, and that?'s what they had to do again when they got here.
My grandfather was a big influence on my life. I wish he was still alive today to see me serving in this capacity. I know he?'s watching from above. But I miss him greatly and think about him a lot.
Q: How has the role of Hispanics changed in Florida during your time here?
LOPEZ-CANTERA: Well, there?'s always been a Hispanic influence in Florida. The name of the state is Spanish. The state was discovered by a Spaniard. But like I said, as far as Hispanics, I?'ve never looked at the Hispanic population as one monolithic group that needs to be treated differently.
Everybody in Florida wants the same thing. They want to be able to succeed, they want to be able to live their lives and live the American dream. And like I said, that?'s why I enjoy working with Gov. Scott, because he sees the world the same way I do. Everybody wants to live the American dream, and we want everybody to have those opportunities here in Florida.
Q: The U.S. embargo of Cuba has already come up many times in the gubernatorial campaign. How do you see the pros and cons of the embargo in 2014?
LOPEZ-CANTERA: Well, a lot of what I learned about Cuba, I learned from my grandfather who we were just talking about. And the thing about the embargo is this country?'s stance that it stands for freedom and liberty, things that don?'t exist in Cuba. There?'s no freedom of the press. We couldn'?t do this in Cuba and have a free flow of conversation and ideas and debate. There?'s no freedom of expression, there?'s no free and democratic elections, there are continued human-rights violations.
So this country has taken a stand that it does not agree with those abuses. It doesn'?t stand with a communist nation, because Cuba is communist. It doesn?'t stand with a terrorist nation, because Cuba is one of four countries in the world that is on the state-sponsor-of-terror list. So that?'s one of the pros, is that it represents that this nation stands for freedom and we don?'t agree with communism.
The con about the embargo is that it exists. As long as it exists, that means there is no freedom in Cuba. My grandfather died wanting to still go back and see his homeland, but he would never, ever go back while the Castro brothers were still controlling that country. Like I said, I learned a lot about Cuba and the suffering and what happened there in the late '50s and early '60s from my grandfather and my father and my other family members who lived it.
(Do you think it can be different after the Castros are gone?) I?'d like to think so, absolutely. People want the ability to live their dreams and experience freedom. I believe once that communist dictatorship leaves or expires -- which I believe it will happen one day -- I believe that Cuba will be a vibrant island community that Florida and the United States will have a lot of partnerships with, like it used to in the '50s, '40s and before.
Q: The campaign is shaping up to be a brutal one. How is that for you and your family?
LOPEZ-CANTERA: Well, you know, we?'ve been traveling a little bit more, so that'?s difficult. But at the end of the day, I?'m doing this for my daughters. I care about the state I live in, and I care about the state that they?'re going to live in going forward. That?'s why I enjoy working so much with Gov. Scott, because he has a clear vision of where he wants this state to be.
He?'s made significant strides in the four years that he'?s been governor. He did what he said he was going to do: turn the economy around and bring jobs back to our state. It'?s a stark contrast from what he inherited from Charlie Crist, with a $3.5 billion shortfall, 11.1 percent unemployment, the state losing 832,000 jobs. When the state needed leadership the most, that?'s when Charlie went and ran for the United States Senate and abandoned the position of governor.
And then Gov. Scott came in and got to work. The decisions he?'s made weren'?t always politically popular, but they were the right decisions for Florida, and that?'s why we'?ve seen the turnaround that we'?ve had. And now we have a $1.2 billion surplus in the state budget, over 580,000 jobs have come back to Florida, (the) unemployment rate?'s dropped almost 5 points -- I mean, numbers don'?t lie; results matter. These results are admirable and envious, especially from other states that aren?'t doing as well as we are.