George LeMieux Makes Sense for Rick Scott as Lieutenant Governor
Around the State
Buzz is building that Gov. Rick Scott could choose former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux as lieutenant governor -- and the idea makes a lot of sense for both Florida Republicans.
LeMieux accompanied Scott to France this week for the Paris Air Show. While over there, LeMieux praised Scott for bringing jobs to Florida. This has set tongues wagging that LeMieux could be a contender to be Scott’s lieutenant governor, a position which has remained vacant since Jennifer Carroll resigned back in March.
At first glance, this makes little sense. LeMieux has never won elected office, does not have much of a political base and his bid to challenge U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., went nowhere. LeMieux also has a number of ties to former Gov. Charlie Crist, the former Republican who is now one of the leading contenders to take Scott on next year as a Democrat.
But LeMieux brings some assets to the table for Scott. He comes from Broward County and could help the governor in that populous area. Scott only took 33 percent of Broward back in 2010 when he took on Alex Sink.
LeMieux has also deftly handled his connections with Crist. When he ran for the Senate in 2012, LeMieux would go out of his way to express his disappointment in Crist, despite their past ties, and he would also add that many Republicans across the state shared the same feelings. If Republicans want to continue to attack Crist’s trustworthiness, LeMieux would make an ideal running mate for Scott.
Despite his ties to Crist, LeMieux could help Scott round up conservatives, some of whom remain dissatisfied with the governor over agreeing to accept federal money for the Obamacare-mandated Medicaid expansion. During his short -- less than a year and a half -- time in the Senate, LeMieux focused on fiscal issues, calling for the federal government to return to its 2007 budget. At the very least, Republicans won’t be turned off with having LeMieux on the ticket as opposed to, say, a Democrat like Orange County Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins.
LeMieux also brings something else to the table -- a gift for political attacks. Traditionally, the running mate’s job is to go after the opponents. Scott is down in the polls and already the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) is launching daily attacks against Crist. During the 2012 election, LeMieux bombarded fellow Republican Connie Mack with attacks. Many of the same attacks LeMieux used were picked up by Nelson in the general election. With the Republicans looking to drill the Democrats next year, LeMieux has already shown he has no problem throwing mud when he needs to.
One other factor works in LeMieux’s favor. He could do a credible job as lieutenant governor and, if something happens to Scott, as governor. During her bumpy ride as lieutenant governor, Carroll often showed poor judgement and Scott often seemed exasperated by her actions. With his experience as Crist’s chief of staff and in the Senate, LeMieux is a political pro. He won’t make unforced errors the way Carroll did.
For many politicians, being lieutenant governor would be a demotion. Maybe not for LeMieux. He yearns to remain politically active as his activities at the LeMieux Center for Public Policy at Palm Beach Atlantic University demonstrate. Despite his time in the Senate, LeMieux remains unknown to most Florida voters. Being Scott’s lieutenant governor will help LeMieux become better established. If Scott pulls off a political comeback, LeMieux will be able to claim some of the credit.
Remember, LeMieux is only 44. He’s young for a politician but the Republican bench is starting to get a little crowded -- and some of the other GOP leaders he has to keep an eye on are the same age or younger. The likes of Jeff Atwater, Will Weatherford, Adam Putnam, Ron DeSantis and Tom Rooney could be looking to move up the Republican escalator. LeMieux starts at a disadvantage to some of these other Republicans if he wants to return to the Senate in 2016 or 2018. If he wants another shot at the Senate, LeMieux needs to do something to remain visible and help his standing with the voters, especially his fellow Republicans. In short, LeMieux has reasons to take the position if Scott offers it to him.
Tallahassee freelance political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.